What Are The Elements That Make the Greatest Hip Hop Albums of All Time?

 By Tawanda Chari 

Hip hop is highly subjective. A lot of emotions are thrown around especially during awards season. This is obviously way too early for this discussion, but it needs to be done anyway. The greatness of an album is always up for debate and turns ugly if it is a rapper claiming best album. Some opinions inflated, some well-structured. 

The artwork for Jungle Loco's Bata MaStreets: The First Book of Loco that won Best Album at the 2020 Pogues Zim Hip Hop Awards 

This debate is what differentiates the hip hop experience from any other genre. Not only is there competition between rappers to be the top emcee, but competition also exists between the fans/listeners to validate their claims. But what are the elements necessary for a GOAT album? This piece will offer a more educated, layered, and nuanced discourse for that little bit of more sense.

Cohesion and Story Progression

This is a metric that evaluates the ability of the artist to tell a story through the songs, the order of the songs and the sound of the songs themselves (although this could be a metric on its own). If an album is just a collection of singles that by their own and more importantly as a whole do not mean anything then that album fails the cohesiveness metric.

An album should tell a story, stimulate interest, and inspire new ways of thinking and feeling/emotion.  Jungle Loco's Bata MaStreets: The First Book Of Loco or Asaph's Kingsvillas come to mind when we talk about cohesion and story progression. Noble Stylz excels at this too with almost all of his projects.

What makes an album sonically cohesive yet still different?

A lot of projects feel cohesive yet seem to just fizzle into an uninteresting collection of songs. Albums need to have all the tracks sonically matching but still varying enough to engage the listener, thus keeping it interesting. That is mostly on the producer.

On The Producer 

Production Techniques

Good producers are able to subtly make an album sound cohesive by bringing in recurring elements, transitioning in interesting ways between songs. Indigo Saint’s Portland 51 had two elite producers who made that album great cohesively in terms of sonic soundscape. You can have a lot of musical variance without it seeming fractured.


One of the problems when you encounter an album that becomes an "uninteresting blob" is that there is not enough variance with the tempos of the songs. You got to love it when a really beautiful, meditative slow song ends, and you are jolted by some up-tempo bop. The pacing of albums is really, really important and that is an aspect which is often overlooked.

On the artist


The best way to be cohesive is to maintain an overarching motif throughout the lyrics of the songs. Not necessarily as a concept album or anything like that but albums that are very cohesive seem to have at least some common thread traversing the album.

Cultural Impact

Ideally, albums should blow up, even for all the wrong reasons. It does not matter. As long as it is talked about. If an album is talked about for weeks— maybe inspire a social media challenge – that album gets a high score on cultural impact. Takura’s Someone Had To Do It is the best example here.

Holy Ten got cultural impact locked in. Although we are yet to get an album from him, his singles made or are making impact for the culture. He is getting Hip-Hop about in a nation where its consumers only take up a small part of the population.

There are albums that are sonically conscious and movement-provoking, and these albums provide more than just bop factor. These albums make you feel something. Something in your heart as a human. These albums do not have to be fan favourites or exceedingly popular. They are simply great enough to be crowned album of the year. Conceptually and thematically, these albums are above just Hip-Hop music. Again, Jungle Loco's Bata MaStreets: The First Book of Loco is a good reference.

Replay Value

This is in reference to the quality or fact of being suitable for or worth playing more than once. Songs that are instantaneous and liked instantly tend to have very little longevity.

This is where after a few days the song sounds stale and does not have the same punch as before. What makes a song worth replaying is a combination of what it makes a person feel, as well as how many subtle elements are going on, and the captivating nature of those elements.

So, the initial emotion or interest grabs the listener, but the unearthing of hidden elements through more listens keeps us coming back.  As professed by Tehn Diamond's record The Year Before Rap or perhaps Indigo Saint's The Blunt EPs or maybe Soko Matemai's (then Sharky) Soko Matemai album.

The sounds they used were unique, combined with a lot of emotion and musical layers. Each new listen unearths some new detail over years of listening.  More like character development in stories or movies. It is the same person, but along your time with them you learn more and more, and that is what keeps you coming back and eventually even caring about them.

Sonic Soundscape

What about a funky, catchy sound that gets your head nodding? This is GZE's bag. You just can't help but nod. A head nod that can quickly get you into dancing spirit. Tanto Wavie has those bops in spans.

How many of those factors, as an artist and/or listener, does your favourite album have? 

The best albums got to tick at least three or four of those factors. We enjoy the debates of course but when it comes to awards or GOAT conversations, it does not matter if you think your album or career is great, but if it does not  tick those boxes then it does not make the cut. It is what it is.

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