In the ever-evolving world of hip hop, a select few artists have managed to carve their names into the annals of the culture’s history through consistently groundbreaking album releases.
Ask any rapper and they’ll tell you it’s hard enough to create one classic album, let alone, two, three or even four releases. From the politically charged, socially conscious approach of Public Enemy to the raw emotion and vulnerability of 2Pac, these artists have undoubtedly shaped the hip hop landscape with their iconic releases. Each of their remarkable album runs offers a unique perspective on the culture, pushing boundaries and setting new standards for generations to come.
From OutKast’s legendary first four albums to Jay-Z’s meteoric rise in the ’90s to Tyler, the Creator’s transformation over the past decade, here are the 25 greatest 4-album runs in hip hop history.
25. ASAP Rocky
- Live. Love. ASAP (2011)
- Long. Live. ASAP (2013)
- At. Long. Last. ASAP (2015)
- Testing (2018)
From the moment A$AP Rocky burst onto the scene with his mesmerizing mixtape, Live. Love. A$AP (2011), it was clear that the young Harlem rapper was destined for greatness. As he journeyed through the intoxicating soundscapes of Long. Live. A$AP (2013) and embraced experimentation on At. Long. Last. A$AP (2015) and Testing (2018), Rocky solidified his reputation as a patient, creative force who prioritised quality over volume.
24. Tyler, the Creator
- Cherry Bomb (2015)
- Flower Boy (2017)
- Igor (2019)
- Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)
Tyler, the Creator’s fearless exploration of the hip hop landscape has produced some of the genre’s most intriguing works. With Cherry Bomb (2015), he started his transformation from the rebellious Odd Future frontman to a more thoughtful, diverse artist. Yet, Tyler’s metamorphosis was only beginning – Flower Boy (2017) peeled back layers of vulnerability, while Igor (2019) blurred genre lines and won him a Grammy . By the time Call Me If You Get Lost (2021) arrived, Tyler had proven that his creative journey was as unpredictable as it was captivating.
23. Vince Staples
- Big Fish Theory (2017)
- FM! (2018)
- Vince Staples (2021)
- Ramona Park Broke My Heart (2022)
Vince Staples’ four-album run is akin to a rollercoaster ride through the depths of human experience. Big Fish Theory (2017) plunged listeners into an ocean of electronic beats and introspection, while FM! (2018) transported them to a vibrant, radio-show-inspired world. With Vince Staples (2021), he brought us back to his Long Beach roots, only to sweep us away once more with the emotional waves of Ramona Park Broke My Heart (2022). Throughout this odyssey, the L.A. rapper’s gift for storytelling and genre experimentation remained a constant beacon, and cemented him as one of the best rappers alive .
22. Pusha T
- My Name Is My Name (2013)
- King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
- Daytona (2018)
- It’s Almost Dry (2022)
Already a revered figure from his time in Clipse, Pusha T embarked on a solo voyage that would further etch his name into hip hop’s annals. My Name Is My Name (2013) was a powerful opening salvo, showcasing his unparalleled storytelling and signature grit over Kanye’s expensive production. Pusha’s exploration of darker realms in King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015) set the stage for the modern classic, Daytona (2018), produced entirely by Kanye West. The relentless excellence of It’s Almost Dry (2022) only reinforced Pusha T’s indomitable spirit and artistic prowess.
21. Run the Jewels
- Run the Jewels (2013)
- Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
- Run the Jewels 3 (2016)
- RTJ4 (2020)
The ferocious collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike, Run the Jewels, began with their self-titled debut (2013), igniting a spark that became an unstoppable inferno. With each successive release, RTJ2 (2014), RTJ3 (2016), and the most recent RTJ4 (2020), the duo redefined hip hop’s possibilities, crafting anthems that fused hard-hitting beats and unapologetic lyricism, while saturated in personality and humour.
- Rhyme Pays (1987)
- Power (1988)
- The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say (1989)
- O.G. Original Gangster (1991)
Ice-T’s unrelenting exploration of West Coast street life and social commentary began with Rhyme Pays (1987), continued with Power (1988) and The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say (1989), and culminated with his magnum opus O.G. Original Gangster (1991). These records cemented Ice-T as one of the most influential artists in the game, inspiring a generation of West Coast rappers to follow in his footsteps.
19. DJ Quik
- Quik Is the Name (1991)
- Way 2 Fonky (1992)
- Safe + Sound (1995)
- Rhythm-al-ism (1998)
With the release of Quik Is the Name (1991), DJ Quik made one of the most iconic entrances ever into the rap game. Way 2 Fonky (1992) saw the Compton rapper refining his sound, incorporating more of the smooth, G-funk-infused beats that would become his signature. By the time Safe + Sound (1995) and Rhythm-al-ism (1998) were released, DJ Quik had fully established himself as a West Coast powerhouse, with innovative production techniques and laid-back, razor-sharp lyricism that influenced a generation of L.A. artists.
- King’s Disease (2020)
- King’s Disease II (2021)
- Magic (2021)
- King’s Disease III (2022)
Nas’ four-album run from King’s Disease (2020) to King’s Disease III (2022) reflects not only his prowess as a gifted lyricist but also his ability to adapt and stay relevant in a constantly changing musical landscape. With each release, Nas delved deeper into his artistry, tackling social issues and reflecting on his storied career, while managing to sound fresh yet golden age at the same time. The albums exhibit a maturation of sound, with solid production from Hit-Boy, while still maintaining the essence of what makes Nas a hip hop legend.
- Take Care (2011)
- Nothing Was the Same (2013)
- If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
- Views (2016)
Drake’s ascent to global superstardom is encapsulated in his phenomenal four-album run. Take Care (2011) showcased Drake’s introspective side, with its moody beats and vulnerable lyricism. Nothing Was the Same (2013) served as a musical diary of his rise to fame, full of confessional verses and infectious hooks, while showcasing more of the aggressive Drizzy we’d all come to love. The surprise release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late displayed Drake’s versatility with a grittier, trap-influenced sound. Finally, Views (2016) cemented his status as a pop culture icon, with massive hits like “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling” dominating airwaves worldwide.
16. The Roots
- Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995)
- Illadelph Halflife (1996)
- Things Fall Apart (1999)
- Phrenology (2002)
The Roots’ groundbreaking four-album run demonstrates their commitment to pushing the envelope in hip hop. Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995) introduced the world to their unique blend of live instrumentation and thought-provoking lyricism. Illadelph Halflife (1996) saw the band digging deeper into their sound, with darker, more introspective tracks. Things Fall Apart (1999) is a seminal album in their discography, addressing socio-political themes and showcasing a polished, mature sound. Phrenology (2002) continued the band’s experimentation with genre boundaries, incorporating elements of rock, punk, and electronic music, further solidifying The Roots’ reputation as trailblazers in the hip hop world.
- Run-D.M.C. (1984)
- King of Rock (1985)
- Raising Hell (1986)
- Tougher Than Leather (1988)
With their self-titled debut, Run-D.M.C. (1984), the Queens trio burst onto the scene with a fresh, innovative sound that combined hard-hitting beats, clever wordplay and street aesthetics that separated them from hip hop’s disco era. King of Rock (1985) elevated their status, embracing rock influences and further solidifying their crossover appeal. Raising Hell (1986) proved to be a game-changer, with tracks like “Walk This Way” breaking barriers between hip hop and mainstream audiences. Tougher Than Leather (1988) continued their winning streak, showcasing their lyrical prowess and innovative production.
14. Ghostface Killah
- Ironman (1996)
- Supreme Clientele (2000)
- Bulletproof Wallets (2001)
- The Pretty Toney Album (2004)
Ghostface Killah’s four-album run highlights his unique storytelling abilities and unparalleled lyrical dexterity. Ironman (1996) introduced listeners to his vivid imagery and distinctive flow, while Supreme Clientele (2000) elevated his status as a solo artist, with tracks like “Nutmeg” and “Apollo Kids” showcasing his raw talent and indecipherable wordplay that would go on to influence the likes of MF DOOM . Bulletproof Wallets (2001) offered a more introspective side to Ghostface, demonstrating his ability to adapt and evolve. The Pretty Toney Album (2004) served as a testament to his staying power, with its soulful production and diverse range of subject matter.
13. Eric B. & Rakim
- Paid in Full (1987)
- Follow the Leader (1988)
- Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990)
- Don’t Sweat the Technique (1992)
Eric B. & Rakim’s groundbreaking four-album run revolutionized hip hop with their innovative lyricism and production techniques. Paid in Full (1987) set the bar high, introducing Rakim’s intricate rhymes and Eric B.’s masterful sampling (aided by Marley Marl). Follow the Leader (1988) continued their dominance, offering thought-provoking tracks that pushed the boundaries of what rap could be. Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990) demonstrated their ability to evolve, with more complex beats (with assistance from Paul C and Large Professor) and more god-level lyricism. Don’t Sweat the Technique (1992) capped off their legendary run, showcasing their unwavering commitment to pushing the envelope in rhyming and production.
- Reasonable Doubt (1996)
- In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)
- Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)
- Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)
Jay-Z’s four-album run from Reasonable Doubt (1996) to Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999) captures the meteoric rise of one of hip hop’s most iconic figures. Reasonable Doubt introduced the world to Hov’s unmatched storytelling skills and streetwise sensibility, over glamorous boom-bap production. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997) saw Jay-Z honing his craft, with tracks like “Streets Is Watching” and “Where I’m From” doubling down on his intricate wordplay and storytelling finesse. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998) catapulted him to superstardom, thanks in part to the anthemic title track as well as the Ja Rule-assisted “Can I Get A…”. Finally, Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999) maintained his momentum, showcasing his versatility and ability to adapt to a rapidly changing musical landscape, and cemented his position as the best rapper alive of that year .
- Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991)
- The World Is Yours (1993)
- The Diary (1994)
- The Untouchable (1997)
Scarface’s impressive stretch of albums exemplified the raw power and emotional depth that defines Southern lyricism. Beginning with Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991), which introduced the world to his gritty storytelling and unapologetic delivery as a solo artist, the Houston rapper continued to make waves with The World Is Yours (1993). This album tackled themes of power and success while maintaining his streetwise edge. The Diary (1994) solidified his status as a hip hop heavyweight, with tracks like “I Seen a Man Die” showcasing his haunting storytelling and supreme lyricism. Finally, The Untouchable (1997) displayed Scarface’s versatility, seamlessly blending gangsta rap with a more introspective side.
10. Public Enemy
- Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987)
- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
- Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
- Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)
Public Enemy’s politically charged, socially conscious approach to hip hop is exemplified in their unforgettable series of albums. Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987) introduced their revolutionary sound, blending hard-hitting beats with incendiary lyrics. Their follow-up, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), is considered one of hip hop’s greatest albums , with tracks like “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” igniting a fire in hip hop culture. Fear of a Black Planet (1990) continued their mission, tackling topics like racism and media manipulation, while Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) rounded out their run, delivering a powerful sonic assault against societal ills.
- Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… (1993)
- Me Against the World (1995)
- All Eyez on Me (1996)
- The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
2Pac’s enduring impact on hip hop and his status as a cultural icon are evident in his legendary stretch of albums. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… (1993) showcased his undeniable charisma and raw emotion, with tracks like “Keep Ya Head Up” offering inspiration and hope. Me Against the World (1995) solidified his legendary status, displaying his vulnerability and introspection amidst his growing fame. All Eyez on Me (1996) was a sprawling double album that captured the many facets of 2Pac’s persona, with hits like “California Love” and “How Do U Want It.” Posthumously released, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996) cemented his legacy as one of hip hop’s most influential and iconic figures.
- Strictly Business (1988)
- Unfinished Business (1989)
- Business as Usual (1991)
- Business Never Personal (1992)
EPMD’s reign as one of hip-hop’s most dynamic duos is evident in their string of classic albums. Strictly Business (1988) laid the foundation with Erick Sermon’s funk-infused production and Parrish Smith’s hard-hitting rhymes. Unfinished Business (1989) expanded on their success, with tracks like “So Wat Cha Sayin'” proving they were one of the funkiest and most innovative duos in the game. Business as Usual (1991) continued to showcase their raw energy, while Business Never Personal (1992) offered a fitting end to their consecutive album streak, with tracks like “Crossover” becoming their biggest hit to date.
7. A Tribe Called Quest
- People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
- The Low End Theory (1991)
- Midnight Marauders (1993)
- Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996)
A Tribe Called Quest’s eclectic fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and Afrocentric themes shines through their remarkable discography. People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990) served as an innovative debut, with tracks like “Can I Kick It?” displaying their unique blend of sounds. The Low End Theory (1991) further solidified their status as pioneers, with tracks like “Buggin’ Out” highlighting Phife’s lyrical prowess. Midnight Marauders (1993) showcased a refined and polished sound, with hits like “Award Tour” and “Electric Relaxation” captivating fans. Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996) closed out their iconic run, introducing a darker tone while maintaining their signature style.
6. Gang Starr
- Step in the Arena (1991)
- Daily Operation (1992)
- Hard to Earn (1994)
- Moment of Truth (1998)
Gang Starr’s indelible mark on hip hop is showcased in their remarkable series of albums, defined by Guru’s smooth delivery and DJ Premier’s innovative production. Their breakthrough sophomore, Step in the Arena (1991), put the duo on the map, with tracks like “Just to Get a Rep” and “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” demonstrating their unique chemistry. Daily Operation (1992) built on their success, offering an effortless blend of jazz-infused beats and thought-provoking lyrics. The iconic Hard to Earn (1994) solidified their status as hip hop legends, with tracks like “Mass Appeal” and “Code of the Streets” becoming instant classics. Moment of Truth (1998) served as a triumphant return after a brief hiatus, tackling themes of perseverance and resilience, while showcasing more of Guru’s potent lyricism and Premier’s elevated production techniques.
5. Ice Cube
- Straight Outta Compton (with N.W.A.) (1988)
- AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)
- Death Certificate (1991)
- The Predator (1992)
Ice Cube’s transformation from N.W.A.’s breakout star to a successful solo artist is displayed in his incredible run of albums. As the lead MC and writer on N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton (1988), Cube introduced himself to the world with his aggressive delivery and unapologetic lyricism. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) marked his solo debut, with Cube continuing to address societal issues and racial tensions over the bombastic funk of Public Enemy. Death Certificate (1991) deepened his exploration of race and politics, featuring highlight tracks like “No Vaseline” and “True to the Game,” while The Predator (1992), released in the aftermath of the L.A. riots, captured the era’s tension and provided anthems like “It Was a Good Day” and “Wicked.”
4. De La Soul
- 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
- De La Soul Is Dead (1991)
- Buhloone Mindstate (1993)
- Stakes Is High (1996)
De La Soul’s distinctive approach to hip-hop, characterized by their quirky, innovative sound and clever wordplay, is best showcased in their legendary series of albums . 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) served as their groundbreaking debut, introducing the world to their whimsical style with hits like “Me, Myself and I.” De La Soul Is Dead (1991) showcased their versatility, with a darker, more introspective tone. Buhloone Mindstate (1993) further solidified their status as pioneers, featuring collaborations with jazz legends and intricate lyrical content. Stakes Is High (1996) provided a raw, unfiltered look at the state of hip-hop, with the title track serving as a rallying cry for the genre’s future.
3. Kanye West
- Late Registration (2005)
- Graduation (2007)
- 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Kanye West’s undeniable impact on hip-hop culture is highlighted by his string of groundbreaking albums. Late Registration (2005) expanded on his soulful production and introspective lyricism, with hits like “Touch the Sky” and “Gold Digger.” Graduation (2007) saw Kanye embracing electronic sounds and stadium anthems, exemplified by tracks like “Stronger” and “Flashing Lights.” 808s & Heartbreak (2008) marked a stark departure, with Kanye delving into themes of heartbreak and loss using a minimalist, auto-tuned sound, that would go on to influence the rise of Drake. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) is widely regarded as one of the greatest rap albums ever, featuring epic production, incisive rhymes, and A-list collaborations with a who’s who of contemporary hip hop.
2. Kendrick Lamar
- good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
- To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
- Damn (2017)
- Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)
Kendrick Lamar’s meteoric rise to the forefront of modern hip hop is captured in his stunning sequence of albums. good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012) served as a gripping coming-of-age tale, with tracks like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Poetic Justice” illustrating the struggles of growing up in Compton. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) showcased a jazz-infused, politically charged sound that tackled themes of race, inequality, and self-acceptance. Damn (2017) is his best album to date , while Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022) continued his innovative approach, blending various styles and personal themes while maintaining his unique voice.
- Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
- ATLiens (1996)
- Aquemini (1998)
- Stankonia (2000)
OutKast’s genre-defying exploration of Southern hip hop has solidified their place as one of the greatest duos in hip hop history . Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994) introduced the world to Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s smooth flows and clever lyricism, with tracks like “Player’s Ball” becoming instant classics. ATLiens (1996) saw the duo venture into more experimental territory, embracing extraterrestrial themes and showcasing their growth as artists. Aquemini (1998) further expanded their sonic palette, with hits like “Rosa Parks” blending funk, soul, and hip hop. Stankonia (2000) pushed boundaries even further, with tracks like “Ms. Jackson” and “B.O.B.” demonstrating their ability to craft timeless, genre-blurring music.