1988 changed everything.
Hip-hop had been on wax for about a decade and had gone through a few permutations. The early disco and funk-influenced party raps of artists like Spoonie Gee and the Funky Four+1 were ancient history, and the ascendance of Run-D.M.C. and the artists of Def Jam Recordings had broken rap music through to the mainstream in a major way. With multi-platinum album sales, movie deals and major tours featuring rap artists, the genre’s staying power was becoming more and more evident.
Also, rap videos were becoming a hot commodity. Via shows like “Yo! MTV Raps” and “Rap City,” hip-hop culture was being beamed into living rooms around the country. Kids in the suburbs and in rural areas were now seeing hip-hop live and direct — just as the genre was beginning to splinter into several different subsets.
1988 saw hip-hop truly come into its own — and diversify. By year’s end, gangsta rap, pop-rap, alternative rap and political rap would all be firmly cemented into the hip-hop conversation. The genre was no longer easily defined and streamlined — it was now multilayered and growing broader by the album.
And, the albums were amazing. 1988 is constantly mentioned alongside 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2003 as one of the genre’s most significant years musically.
It’s not hard to see why.
So, as these classics reach their 25th anniversaries, here are the 15 greatest hip-hop albums of 1988 …