The Grammy Award for Best Rap Album of the year has pretty much a running joke. Each year, hip hop heads wait to see the Grammys release their nominations so that we can throw our hands up in the air and say “what the fuck were they thinking?”
Having said that, the Grammys have gotten it right on a number of occasions – they’ve just gotten it wrong so many more times. Ever since introducing the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, the committee had bestowed 27 rap albums with the honour. On this list, we’re going to rank them all.
From Naughty by Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise to Tyler, the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost, we rank every Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in history.
27) Release Therapy by Ludacris
- Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor
- Pharrell – In My Mind
- The Roots – Game Theory
- T.I. – King
Was it the best rap album? Absolutely not. I don’t know what the Grammys were thinking this year. Even if you’re not going to give the award to the beloved hip hop band or the conscious lyricist with all the buzz and a Hov co-sign, give it to the Atlanta superstar who dropped his best album to date. Save for the number one single “Money Maker”, there’s nothing memorable about Ludacris’ Release Therapy.
26) The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
- Drake – Nothing Was the Same
- Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
- Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
- Kanye West – Yeezus
Was it the best rap album? Another horrible pick from the Grammys, but they’ve always been known for their safe choices so there’s not too much surprise here. You had Drake dropping quite possibly his magnum opus, Kendrick with a groundbreaking major label debut and Kanye pushing the boundaries with Yeezus and the Grammys decided to go with Macklemore. The Grammys were so wrong that even Macklemore acknowledged the award should have went to Kendrick.
25) Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B
- Mac Miller – Swimming
- Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap
- Pusha T – Daytona
- Travis Scott – Astroworld
Was it the best rap album? No it wasn’t but you know what? I don’t hate this pick. I personally would have voted for Daytona or Astroworld but can understand why Cardi picked up the win. Invasion of Privacy is a solid rap album and Cardi was the rapper of the moment with non-stop number one hits dominating the charts.
24) Recovery by Eminem
- B.o.B – B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
- Drake – Thank Me Later
- Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
- The Roots – How I Got Over
Was it the best rap album? No, I would have gone with How I Got Over but the story of Eminem’s comeback journey from a methadone overdose to sobriety and a best-selling album of 2010 was too good to pass up.
23) The Marshall Mathers LP 2 by Eminem
- Iggy Azalea – The New Classic
- Common – Nobody’s Smiling
- Childish Gambino – Because the Internet
- Wiz Khalifa – Blacc Hollywood
- ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Was it the best rap album? No, Common’s Nobody’s Smiling and ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron were better rap albums, but The Marshall Mathers LP 2 was a worthy follow-up to Eminem’s monumental 2000 release. I’m just thankful that the Grammys didn’t give it to Iggy, which, given their track record, wouldn’t have been a surprise.
22) Relapse by Eminem
- Common – Universal Mind Control
- Flo Rida – R.O.O.T.S.
- Mos Def – The Ecstatic
- Q-Tip – The Renaissance
Was it the best rap album? I think Relapse gets a lot of undeserved hate from fans, especially after Eminem disowned it just a year later. The album has aged incredibly well over the years – the concept is catchy, Em’s flow is phenomenal and Dre’s production is banging as always – I would even put it in my top five Eminem projects. Having said that, I’ll probably go with Mos Def’s The Ecstatic for the best rap album.
21) Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
- De La Soul – And the Anonymous Nobody…
- DJ Khaled – Major Key
- Drake – Views
- ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
- Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Was it the best rap album? At the time it felt like the right choice. Chance was leading the independent movement and this win made him the first artist to win a Grammy without selling physical copies of his music. But looking back at it now, Coloring Book hasn’t aged particularly well, whereas Blank Face LP and The Life of Pablo are still in regular rotation for me.
20) No Way Out by Puff Daddy and the Family
- Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly
- Wyclef Jean – Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival
- The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
- Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever
Was it the best rap album? No, Big’s Life After Death and Wu-Tang’s sophomore album were better. You could even make an argument for Missy’s Supa Dupa Fly. But don’t sleep on No Way Out, it’s got some of the most iconic 90s hip hop songs of all time like “Victory”, “Been Around the World”, “Young G’s”, “It’s All About the Benjamins”, “I’ll Be Missing You”, and “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.”
19) The Slim Shady LP by Eminem
- Busta Rhymes – E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
- Missy Elliott – Da Real World
- Nas – I Am…
- The Roots – Things Fall Apart
Was it the best rap album? You could probably make an argument for The Roots’ Things Fall Apart picking up the win – they had already won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “You Got Me” – but yeah, The Slim Shady LP deserves it.
18) Poverty’s Paradise by Naughty by Nature
- 2Pac – Me Against the World
- Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – E. 1999 Eternal
- Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
- Skee-Lo – I Wish
Was it the best rap album? It’s not a bad pick. Even though Poverty’s Paradise didn’t have the crossover appeal of Naughty by Nature or 19 Naughty III, it’s a still great album from the New Jersey trio with deep street cuts and commercial hits like “Feel Me Flow.” However, I would pick Me Against the World or E. 1999 Eternal for the top award.
17) King’s Disease by Nas
- Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
- Royce Da 5’9″ – The Allegory
- Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony
- D Smoke – Black Habits
Was it the best rap album? No one saw this one coming – the Grammys suddenly recognising all the lyricists and spitters in 2021. Who could have predicted that the Queensbridge legend would be going up against the likes of Royce da 5’9″, Freddie Gibbs and Jay Electronica for the best rap album? Nas ended up taking down the prize and I’m perfectly fine with that. he also became the oldest rapper to win a Grammy.
16) Igor by Tyler, the Creator
- Dreamville – Revenge of the Dreamers III
- Meek Mill – Championships
- 21 Savage – I Am > I Was
- Cordae – The Lost Boy
Was it the best rap album? Yes, but is it even a rap album? If we take Tyler out of the nominations then I’d probably go with 21 Savage for the top pick.
15) Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by OutKast
- 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’
- Missy Elliott – Under Construction
- Jay-Z – The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse
- The Roots – Phrenology
Was it the best rap album? Tough year. I personally would have gone with Get Rich or Die Tryin’, but OutKast did their thing here. The Atlanta duo managed to really push the boundaries of hip hop on this double album while retaining all of the appeal that made them stars in the first place.
14) The Eminem Show by Eminem
- Ludacris – Word of Mouf
- Mystikal – Tarantula
- Nelly – Nellyville
- Petey Pablo – Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry
Was it the best rap album? 2003 was a weird year for the Grammys. I can’t exactly imagine the committee members voting for Petey Pablo or Mystikal for this award. The Eminem Show is the safest and probably right pick out of these nominations. Otherwise you could go with Nellyville and still keep everyone happy.
13) Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
- Jay-Z – American Gangster
- Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool
- Nas – Untitled
- T.I. – Paper Trail
Was it the best rap album? No, American Gangster and Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool are better. But Lil Wayne was having his moment and not only did Tha Carter III cement him as the best rapper alive, it also pushed him into the conversation of greatest rapper of all time.
12) Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler, the Creator
- J. Cole – The Off-Season
- Drake – Certified Lover Boy
- Nas – King’s Disease II
- Kanye West – Donda
Was it the best rap album? Yes absolutely. Tyler was up against some tough competition with Cole, Drake, Nas and Kanye all up for the award, but the best album won at the end of the day.
11) Take Care by Drake
- 2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story
- Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
- Nas – Life Is Good
- Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don’t
- The Roots – Undun
Was it the best rap album? Yeap I’ve got no problems with this pick. I personally preferred Nas’ Life Is Good over Take Care but the right album won this year.
10) Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life by Jay-Z
- A Tribe Called Quest – The Love Movement
- Big Punisher – Capital Punishment
- Jermaine Dupri – Life in 1472
- Mase – Harlem World
Was it the best rap album? Out of the nominations? Yes. This was also the year that Hov boycotted the Grammys because DMX wasn’t nominated. “The first time I boycotted the Grammys was for him,” the Brooklyn rapper said in an interview on The Shop: Uninterrupted. “We both came out that year, he didn’t get nominated. He dropped two albums, had two number one albums in the same year, they didn’t even nominate him. I won that year, for rap album. So my first Grammy win, I wasn’t in, I wasn’t even in the building because I boycotted for him.”
9) Late Registration by Kanye West
- 50 Cent – The Massacre
- Common – Be
- Missy Elliott – The Cookbook
- Eminem – Encore
Was it the best rap album? Yes, but you could also go with Common’s Be and that would be the right choice also.
8) The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
- DMX – …And Then There Was X
- Dr. Dre – 2001
- Jay-Z – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
- Nelly – Country Grammar
Was it the best rap album? Yes no question about it. The Marshall Mathers LP was the best and biggest album of the year. It was the moment Eminem went from a controversial rapper with a few runs on the charts to becoming a mega-ultra-superstar.
7) The College Dropout by Kanye West
- Beastie Boys – To the 5 Boroughs
- Jay-Z – The Black Album
- LL Cool J – The DEFinition
- Nelly – Suit
Was it the best rap album? Yeap easy win for Kanye.
6) Stankonia by OutKast
- Eve – Scorpion
- Ja Rule – Pain Is Love
- Jay-Z – The Blueprint
- Ludacris – Back for the First Time
Was it the best rap album? Wow, Stankonia vs The Blueprint is super tough. There were the two best rap albums of the 2000s, with Hov bringing back lush soul samples back to hip hop and OutKast emerging as ATL superstars. You could flip a coin here, you really could.
5) Graduation by Kanye West
- Common – Finding Forever
- Jay-Z – Kingdom Come
- Nas – Hip-Hop Is Dead
- T.I. – T.I. vs. T.I.P.
Was it the best rap album? Yeap another easy win for Kanye. None of the other albums even come close.
4) The Score by Fugees
- 2Pac – All Eyez On Me
- A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes and Life
- Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise
- LL Cool J – Mr. Smith
Was it the best rap album? Yes it was, The Score was a critical and commercial blockbuster, and one of the best rap albums of the 90s. After that you could go with Pac’s All Eyez On Me.
3) To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
- J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
- Dr. Dre – Compton
- Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
- Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint
Was it the best rap album? Yes it definitely was, this was an easy win for Kendrick, the Grammys were never going to give the award to any other rap album that year. But can we take a moment to appreciate the fact that the big three rappers of the 2010s all dropped arguably their best work right next to each other.
2) DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
- Jay-Z – 4:44
- Migos – Culture
- Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
- Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
Was it the best rap album? What a great year for the Grammy nominations. You had Hov’s grown-up, confessional release, Migos with their trap blockbuster, Rapsody with another classic Laila’s Wisdom and Tyler exploring artistic possibilities with Flower Boy. It was a really diverse line-up that showcased just how rich hip hop culture is. At the end of the day, however, the best rap album did win the award.
1) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
- Lupe Fiasco – Lasers
- Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
- Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday
- Lil Wayne – Tha Carter IV
Was it the best rap album? By far. The nominations for this year were pretty terrible. Lupe’s Lasers is far from his best work and the project was largely manufactured by Atlantic to turn Lupe into a pop star. Pink Friday is fine, and Tha Carter IV is cool, but definitely not one of the best rap albums of the year. Nominating Watch the Throne is fine. I would probably remove Nicki, Wayne and Lupe and replace them with albums from Rick Ross, Big Boi and The Roots that year to give Kanye some tougher competition. Maybe even Kid Cudi.