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Ranking the Best Top Dawg Entertainment Albums

Picture this: a small, independent record label from California, birthed from the heart of Compton, catapults itself into the history books off the strength of some of the greatest rap albums dropped in the 2010s. More than just a label; Top Dawg Entertainment is a creative powerhouse that has shaped the course of hip-hop over the past decade.

Let’s take a moment to admire the gallery of masterpieces that TDE has given us. There’s Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly , an sprawling work of art that weaves together jazz, funk, and hip-hop into a hard-hitting narrative of black America. Or how about Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP , a gritty and unabashed exploration of street life that doubles as a reflection on fame’s unforgiving mirror?

Then there’s Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade, a meditative album that deftly balances personal introspection with broader commentary. And we can’t forget about Jay Rock’s Redemption , which encapsulates the very essence of resilience and perseverance. These works, along with countless others, form the cornerstone of TDE’s musical legacy.

So let’s get into it. From Kendrick Lamar’s game-changing good kid, m.A.A.d city to Ab-Soul’s Control System and Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo , we rank the top 10 best TDE albums.

10. Jay Rock – Redemption

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Released: June 15, 2018

Singles: “King’s Dead”, “Win”, “The Bloodiest”

Features: Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Sir, Dcmbr, Future, Tee Grizzley, J. Cole, Jeremih, and Mozzy.

We’re kicking this list off with Jay Rock’s Redemption — a raw, unfiltered dive into the heart of Watts, LA. The album, hitting number 10 is an ode to survival and, as the title suggests, redemption. From the gritty anthems like “The Bloodiest” to the radio-friendly banger “WIN,” Jay showcases his range and superb mic skills, proving why he’s TDE’s secret weapon. His storytelling ability? Unparalleled. Listen to “OSOM” and you’ll know what I mean; the track’s haunting aura mixed with Rock’s gut-wrenching tales of paranoia is gripping. Then there’s the introspective “Broke +-,” a compelling narrative on poverty’s mental toll. At its core, Redemption is a comprehensive exploration of Jay Rock’s life experiences, serving as a microcosm of the struggles and triumphs of many growing up in similar environments.

9. Isaiah Rashad The Sun’s Tirade

Top 25 Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2016 Isaiah

Released: September 2, 2016

Singles: “Free Lunch”

Features: SiR, Zacari, Kendrick Lamar, Deacon Blues, Kari Faux, Syd tha Kyd, Hugh Augustine, Jay Rock and SZA.

Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade , sliding in at the 9th spot, is a laid-back, introspective trip that’s packed with enough soul to rival Sunday dinner with the family. The Chattanooga, Tennessee native brought something different to the TDE table with this one. This album isn’t just about dope beats and bars; it’s an emotional experience that commands a deep-dive listening session. Tracks like “Free Lunch” and “Wat’s Wrong” display Rashad’s unique blend of Southern charm and West Coast coolness. The production across the board is stellar, but what really pushes this album into the stratosphere is the way the TDE rapper navigates his innermost fears, triumphs, and vulnerabilities with a level of poise and honesty rarely seen in hip-hop today. Whether he’s exploring themes of addiction on “Stuck in the Mud” or reflecting on his rocky road to success on “4r Da Squaw,” Isaiah Rashad delivers a candid view into his world. The Sun’s Tirade isn’t just a great album; it’s a therapeutic journey worth taking again and again.

8. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

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Released: July 2, 2011

Singles: “HiiiPoWeR”

Features: GLC, Colin Munroe, Ashtrobot, BJ the Chicago Kid, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Alori Joh.

Now let’s take it back to where it all started for Kendrick Lamar, before the Pulitzer Prizes and the platinum plaques, back to Section.80 . The 8th pick on our list, this project marked Kendrick’s rise from Compton’s best-kept secret to the global phenom he is today. From start to finish, K.Dot weaves a complex tapestry of stories about his generation. Tracks like “A.D.H.D” and “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” exemplify the poignant storytelling that has become a signature of Kendrick’s music. What truly sets Section.80 apart is its sonic diversity, seamlessly shifting from jazz-infused numbers to bass-heavy bangers. Producers like Sounwave, THC and J. Cole laid down some phenomenal beats that set the stage for Kendrick’s lyrical acrobatics. All said and done, Section.80 is an impeccable debut that heralded the arrival of hip-hop’s newest torchbearer.

7. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions

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Released: January 14, 2012

Singles: “Druggys wit Hoes Again”, “Hands on the Wheel”

Features: ASAP Rocky, Jhené Aiko, Dom Kennedy, Currensy, Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock.

Released in 2012, just before the madness that came with the success of good kid, m.A.A.d city , it took a minute for people to truly recognize the brilliance of Schoolboy Q’s sophomore album. Habits & Contradictions is a project full of paradoxes, reflecting the duality of Q’s life on tracks like “Hands on the Wheel” and “Blessed”. He manages to juggle a hustler’s cold heart with vulnerability and realness. He’s unapologetic about his past, bringing a dark, hard-hitting sound that contrasts with the introspective moments scattered throughout the record. The sonics on this album are diverse, blending West Coast hip hop with dark, gritty trap elements. It’s a palette that perfectly suits Q’s voice and delivery, which can oscillate between laid-back and aggressive with ease. It’s an album that truly feels like a journey through Q’s psyche.

6. Ab-Soul – Control System

Ab Soul Control System

Released: May 11, 2012

Singles: N/A

Features: Jhené Aiko, Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kendrick Lamar, JaVonte, Punch, Ashtrobot and Alori Joh.

At number 6, we got Ab-Soul’s Control System – the album that established Soulo as the dark horse of TDE. No disrespect to the other rappers from the label, but Ab-Soul brought a different energy on this project. It’s philosophical, it’s intense, and it’s straight-up raw. Don’t get it twisted, though. While the album is packed with thought-provoking lyrics that challenge societal norms, it also includes street tales and introspective bars that examine his own struggles. Tracks like “Terrorist Threats” and “Pineal Gland” reveal Ab’s profound thoughts, while “The Book of Soul” touches your heartstrings, letting us peek into the depth of his soul.

5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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Released: April 14, 2017

Singles: “Humble”, “Loyalty”, “Love”

Features: Rihanna, Zacari, U2.

On his fourth album, DAMN. , K.Dot takes us on a sonic journey through his inner conflicts, societal pressures, and black America’s harsh realities, all set against a backdrop of masterful production. It’s a stark departure from the rich, jazz-infused soundscapes of To Pimp A Butterfly , opting for a more stripped-back, hard-hitting approach. From the raw aggression in “DNA.” to the introspective musing in “FEEL.,” Kendrick exhibits his versatility as an artist. What’s beautiful about DAMN. is that it’s as dense or as accessible as you want it to be. You could bob your head to the infectious beat of “HUMBLE.” or plunge into the profound storytelling of “DUCKWORTH.” This album can function as a turn-up soundtrack or a late-night contemplation companion—take your pick.

4. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo

Isaiah Rashad Cilvia Demo

Released: January 28, 2014

Singles: N/A

Features: Jean Deaux, Michael Da Vinci, SZA, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock.

From the jump, Cilvia Demo is an introduction to Rashad’s raw talent and undeniable charisma. It’s less of an EP and more of a well-crafted, introspective journey, a personal letter penned with lyrical finesse. The rapper tackles topics like depression, fatherhood, and substance abuse with a candid honesty that hits you right in the gut. On tracks like “Webbie Flow (U Like),” Rashad demonstrates his deft lyricism over slick beats, while on “Heavenly Father,” he delves deep into his emotional vulnerability. The sonic landscape of the project, a mix of laid-back southern charm and West Coast boom-bap, serves as a perfect canvas for Rashad’s verbal portraits.

3. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

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Released: July 8, 2016

Singles: “Groovy Tony”, “That Part”, “Overtime”

Features: Kanye West, Jadakiss, E-40, Tha Dogg Pound, Miguel and Anderson .Paak.

Let’s slide into the third spot on our TDE top 10 with Schoolboy Q’s masterpiece of a third release, Blank Face LP . This album right there is where Q took the gritty reality of street life and weaved it into a compelling hip-hop narrative that sticks with you. It’s an immersive, no-holds-barred peek into the raw underbelly of street culture, laced with tales of paranoia, survival, and resilience. From the ominous opener “TorcH” to the claustrophic closing track “Tookie Knows II,” the rapper holds nothing back, taking us on a wild ride through the grimy streets of L.A. Standout tracks like “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane” and “John Muir” showcase Q’s prowess as a storyteller, blending woozy, beat knockers with eye-opening lyricism.

2. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

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Released: October 22, 2012

Singles: “The Recipe”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Backseat Freestyle”, “Poetic Justice”, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”

Features: Drake, Dr. Dre, Jay Rock, Anna Wise, and MC Eiht.

Sitting comfortably at number two, we’ve got Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 magnum opus, good kid, m.A.A.d city . Talk about a game-changer. This record didn’t just elevate K-Dot to superstar status; it shifted the whole damn culture. good kid, m.A.A.d city is a sonic journey through Kendrick’s formative years in Compton, capturing the essence of a young man navigating a world defined by gang violence, systemic injustice, and complex personal relationships. Each track in this cinematic body of work unfolds like a chapter of an autobiographical novel, detailed, gripping, and painfully honest. From the chilling narrative of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” where Kendrick paints a poignant picture of life and death in the city, to the infectious allure of “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the album is an intricate, thought-provoking masterpiece that doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult themes. But what makes this album an undeniable classic is its universality. Despite its geographic specificity, good kid, m.A.A.d city resonates universally, tackling timeless issues like identity, peer pressure, and the struggle between right and wrong. The beauty in its narrative is that it transcends Compton; it’s a snapshot of life’s raw realities that resonate across the globe.

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Best Hip Hop Album Every Year Since 1986 To Pimp

Released: March 15, 2015

Singles: “I”, “The Blacker the Berry”, “King Kunta”, “Alright”, “These Walls”

Features: Thundercat, George Clinton, Bilal, Anna Wise, Snoop Dogg, James Fauntleroy, Ronald Isley, and Rapsody.

And here it is, the pièce de résistance of TDE’s catalog — Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly . Crafting a follow-up to the seminal good kid, m.A.A.d city would have been a herculean task for any artist. But Kendrick didn’t just step up to the plate; he obliterated expectations. On To Pimp a Butterfly , he delivered an expansive, genre-blending, politically-charged project that’s as eclectic in its musical influences as it is profound in its lyrical content. Kendrick doesn’t hold back in this complex exploration of blackness, societal ills, and personal demons. The political becomes intensely personal, the personal unflinchingly political. Tracks like “Alright” became anthems for a movement, while “The Blacker the Berry” dives headfirst into the ocean of racial tension and self-examination. The soundscape — provided by luminaries like Flying Lotus, Sounwave, Thundercat, Knxwledge, LoveDragon and Terrace Martin — is just as ambitious, with jazz, funk, soul, and spoken word bleeding into the corners of traditional hip-hop. To Pimp a Butterfly is a bold, audacious testament to Kendrick’s mastery and the crowning glory of TDE’s lineup. A visceral exploration of the black experience, a rallying cry for change, and a dissection of personal struggle, it isn’t just the best album Top Dawg has ever released, it’s one of the greatest hip hop albums ever made.

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