Ten hip hop albums that commit to believable, overarching narratives.
About a week and a half ago, Tory Lanez put out I Told You, an album more devoted to an autobiographical through-narrative than any other we've heard this year. Interspersing almost every track with skits that held our hands through the trials and tribulations of his come up, the Toronto singer/rapper revisited a style of album that's never been hugely en vogue at one time or another, but has been a key facet of hip hop for over 25 years. Making a song that's structured as a chronological story is hard enough, so it's no wonder that so few rappers have even attempted to stretch that method into an album's worth of material.
Albums like Lanez's differ slightly from another ambitious album format, the concept album, in that their plots are believable (if not 100% true) and relatable. Making 66 minutes of music about a demented gynecologist from Jupiter coming back in time to terrorize women on Earth is a challenge in and of itself, telling a similarly lengthy story based on your own experiences may be even more difficult, depending on the extent of your imagination. Today, we're focusing on the latter, though there is some overlap with our previous list of the best hip hop concept albums (most realistic narrative-driven albums are considered concept albums, but not all concept albums have realistic narratives).
Some more guidelines for this list: many rappers release albums that have overarching themes or very loose concepts (think Kanye's college-themed trilogy or Tyler, The Creator's bizarre therapy episodes on Goblin), but we're looking for more concrete, chronological storytelling. Jay Z's released a few albums loosely based on his drug-dealing past, but none supply distinct beginnings, rising actions, climaxes, and conclusions. Also, the more close-to-reality, the better. Mr. Lif's I Phantom is one of the most vividly illustrated plot-driven albums ever, but as it takes place in the waning days of a nuclear holocaust, it's a little more sci-fi than documentary.
Without further adieu, here are the ten best narrative-driven hip hop albums, fittingly presented in chronological order.