Hip hop music has long been a part of the American consciousness. From the days of Eric B. & Rakim, The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, through the first signs of widestream popularity with LL Cool J, Biggie and Tupac, hip hop has been a form of expression and cultural importance that has spoken to a vast ocean of people in a way few genres can. Even as rap hit its awkward phase in the 90s, it was taken fully to the mainstream by Eminem and Jay Z, then morphed into the various poppy subsectors it has today. Hip hop has maintained its place among rock, country, jazz and pop as one of the most important genres in music. It's not going away any time soon, and in fact it's only getting stronger. And more and more profitable.
As Drake once said, we "started from the bottom now we're here." But how did hip hop music get "here," exactly? To be one of the most pervasive and influential music genres in the world? A great way to get the full picture is to look at the most important - and lucrative - rap albums of all time. These are the albums that were in everyone's hands, went nonuple and decuple (that's 9x and 10x) platinum, held the highest of positions in American culture and made millions upon millions of dollars for the artists, their labels, and everyone involved. It doesn't get any better than this in the world of hip hop.
Here is a list of the 25 best-selling hip hop albums in US history that no one will ever forget.
While DMX never quite achieved the career longevity many thought he would have, his third studio album, ...And Then There Was X, is one of the all-timers. Featuring the hit singles, "What's My Name," "What These Bitches Want" and "Party Up (Up in Here)," the album sold 5 million copies (nearly 700,000 in its first week) and went 5x Platinum. 1999 was a good year for the always-barking Dark Man X.
Tupac Shakur had long used the alternate stage name "Makaveli" or "Makaveli Da Don" (no, Garth Brooks and Beyonce didn't start that trend), but it wasn't until The 7 Day Theory that 'Pac had decided to make an entire album rapping as the alter ego. Thus titled because the whole album was recorded in seven days from start to finish, the original release date was supposed to be March of 1997. But because of Shakur's murder on September 7, 1996, Suge Knight decided to release it four months early. Selling 5 million copies, the album contained some of the last songs Tupac recorded before his death.
It would not be his last album that would make this list, however.
Topping the US Billboard charts for two consecutive weeks, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's sophomore effort E. 1999 Eternal became the melodic hip hop group's best selling album of their longstanding career. Released only four months after the death of Eazy-E, the group's mentor and executive producer of the album, E. 1999 Eternal is dedicated to him. Featuring the legendary songs, "1st of tha Month" and "Tha Crossroads," the album sold over 5 million copies and is certified 5x Platinum.
Very few albums wholly defined a year like No Way Out. Recorded by Puff Daddy and his Bad Boy record label (who make up "The Family"), the album was delayed so as to include several songs about the death of Puff's close friend, The Notorious B.I.G. Featuring the enduring singles, "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," "It's All About the Benjamins," "Been Around the World, and "I'll Be Missing You" (which becomes less impressive when you realize Puff's ode to his friend wasn't actually written by Puffy), the album went 7x Platinum and sold over 5 million copies. You couldn't go anywhere in 1997 without hearing one of its legendary songs.
When Dr. Dre and Eminem discovered and unveiled 50 Cent, few could anticipate that his early record sales would be this impressive. Yet with his second studio album, The Massacre, 50 proved he was here to stay. The album sold 5.3 million copies domestically and comes in at #21 on this list. Featuring pop sensations, "Candy Shop," "Disco Inferno," "Just a Lil Bit" and "Hate It or Love It," 50 Cent was all over the charts in 2005, and his sophomore album endures even today, nearly 10 years later.
The first of Eminem's four (four!) albums on this list, Marshall Mathers' Encore rode the coattails of his first offerings on hype rather than strength of content. Yet it still holds a place on this list despite not being the rapper's critical best. Coming two years after his magnificent The Eminem Show, Encore sold 710,000 copies in its first 3 days, topping out at 5.3 million in the US. It stands as one of the most lucrative of all time, though Eminem would have even better to add later to this list.
The third studio album by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter is lauded as one of the first-ballot HOF rapper's best. Riding "Can I Get A...," "Hard Knock Life" and "Money, Cash, Hoes" to 5x Platinum status, it's still one of Jay's best selling albums, despite his long and storied career. 5.4 million albums domestically will do that for anyone, even an artist and entrepreneur worth $520 million.
One of the most enduring albums of all time from one of the most enduring rappers of all time. Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle still stands the test of time. Debuting in 1993, it sold 802,858 copies in its first week alone, making it the second fastest-selling hip hop album of all time. Snoop's first album gave us "What's My Name?," "Gin and Juice" and "Doggy Dogg World" and was certified 4x Platinum on its way to being one of the widely-held best albums of all time.
Long before he was a mega A-List movie star, Will Smith was a rapper who had it made. Combine that talent with his acting fame, and what you get is 1997's Big Willie Style, an album that sold 6 million copies and was certified 9x Platinum. Riding "Men in Black," "Gettin' Jiggy wit It," "Just the Two of Us" and "Miami," The Fresh Prince was everywhere in the late '90s. Big Willie went on to win two Grammys in the Best Rap Solo Performance category for "Men in Black" in 1997, and "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" in 1998 and became the only rap artist to win two Grammys in this category for two songs from the same album.
You don't get much more legendary than The Score. The beloved Fugees final album sold over 6 million copies and gave the world "Fu-Gee-La," "Killing Me Softly," "Ready or Not" and "No Woman, No Cry," all Mount Rushmore singles. Though the group would never record another album, they left their enduring mark on hip hop with 1996's The Score, changing music forever. in 2003 The Score made Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
File this one under "popular," not "long lasting and critically important." Still, no one can deny Nelly's popularity in the early 2000s. Nellyville, the St. Louis rapper's sophomore album, sold 6.5 million copies and gave us songs-of-the-time like "#1" and "Hot in Herre." History has not been the kindest to Nelly, but his high spots on this list will stand the test of time for quite a while. Despite its high sales figures, the album was released to mixed reviews, earning 3/5 from Rolling Stone and a 7/10 from NME.
Along with MC Hammer, there is no other artist on this list that's as "fashion of the time" as Vanilla Ice. No one is surprised the album that contains "Ice Ice Baby" in 1990 went 7x Platinum. But selling 7 million units and still the 13th best selling hip hop album of all time? Now that's a show stopper. The album may not have aged anywhere near as well as some of the others on this list, but there's no doubt Ice played a role in introducing hip hop to a more mainstream audience.
Two years after the breakup of the Fugees, lead singer Lauryn Hill would announce her presence with her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Selling over 7 million copies and going 8x Platinum, the album most notably gave us the enduring single, "Doo Wop (That Thing)," still a staple of of radio stations everywhere nationwide. Though she would have some legal issues that would hamper her career thereafter, Miseducation still stands at #12 on this list and is one of the most lucrative hip hop albums of all time.
Though we're all still waiting for a sequel to The Chronic 2001, Dr. Dre's 1999 solo effort is one of the pinnacle hip hop albums ever made. From "Still D.R.E." to "Forgot About Dre," to "The Next Episode" and "The Watcher," 2001 is still on loop on many iPhones around the country. Although Dre has moved almost exclusively to producing these days, he'll always have the album that sold 7.6 million records and is still a cultural mainstay.
Once again, Nelly finds himself extremely high on this all-time list. Yet his debut album, Country Grammar, at least has some critical acclaim to go along with it. Cornell Haynes, Jr. took the world by storm in 2000, marrying rap with enormous mainstream pop, one of the first to do so. The album sold 8.5 million copies and went 9x Platinum. Country Grammer and follow-up Nellyville contributed to Nelly becoming the third most successful hip hop artist of the 2000s.
Most of the albums from this point on in this list are legends, and possibly none more so than Licensed to Ill. New York rap group the Beastie Boys changed the world in 1986 with their debut album, still to this day regarded as one of the most influential of all time. With "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)," "Brass Monkey," "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and "Girls," the album sold 9 million copies and was the first rap LP to top the Billboard album chart. One of the best ever.
One of four double albums at the top of this list - and each sale of one of these bad boys counted as two. Tupac's legendary All Eyez On Me went 10x Platinum in 1996 and might be the HOF rapper's most memorable output. Featuring "California Love," "How Do U Want It" and "I Ain't Mad at Cha," Shakur was rarely better than he was on this cultural phenomenon of an album. Truly one of the greats, and this record proved it.
Another double album, Greatest Hits was released a year after Tupac's death. Peaking at #3 on the charts in 1999, it spent 77 weeks on the Billboard 200. Riding the previously unreleased "Changes," as well as the rest of his most popular songs throughout his career, the album sold 10 million copies and is one of the best selling albums of any kind in US history.
1990 was a great year for one-hit wonders, as MC Hammer added his name alongside Vanilla Ice's in the one-and-done category. A dubious honor for sure, but when that "one hit" rockets your sophomore record to the fifth best-selling hip hop album of all time, I'm pretty sure that's a win. "U Can't Touch This" sold Hammer 10 million copies of this album and made got the record certified 10x Platinum. That's a powerful song.
Another double album in which each sale counted as two, The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death was just that - released after the GOAT rapper's infamous 1997 killing. Considered by far one of the most important hip hop albums of all time, Death gave the world "Hypnotize," "Mo Money Mo Problems" and "Sky's the Limit." To this day it's sold north of 10 million copies. We can be sure that as long as there's hip hop music, this album will never truly go away.
Of the top 3 best selling hip hop albums of all time, Eminem has 2. That's quite the accomplishment, no matter how you look at it. At the height of his popularity, Slim released The Eminem Show in 2002, right around the same time he won an Oscar and walked around the planet like a Beatle. The album sold 10.3 million copies and might very well be his most critically acclaimed release. Still, it didn't sell quite as well as his next entry on this list...
For those who know Eminem, it doesn't get much better than The Marshall Mathers LP. With legendary songs like "The Real Slim Shady," "The Way I Am," "Stan," "Kill You," "Drug Ballad" and "Amityville," the album is a classic from start to finish. And its sales mirror that sentiment - 10.8 million copies domestically, certified 10x Platinum, one of the greatest of all time. Both commercially successful and critically acclaimed, it's a legend in the world of music.
Very few musical groups walk the line of popularity and reverence as well as Outkast. And never have they done it with as much success, acclaim or aplomb as on their double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. With each member of the duo taking an album of their own, Andre 3000 and Big Boi took the world by storm on the way to an 11x Platinum record and 11.4 million copies sold - the only hip hop album to accomplish either of those feats. With a mix of multiple styles of music and everlasting singles like "Hey Ya!" and "The Way You Move," Outkast's crowning commercial achievement did everything right. It belongs on the top of this list as the best-selling US hip hop album of all time.