16 Classic Political Rap Albums You've Gotta Hear

Hip-Hop has always been political.

From the first block parties organized by former gang members in the Bronx to help refocus the energies of Black and Latino youth, Hip-Hop has forever been tied to the sociopolitical happenings of the communities from which it sprang. But there is something to be said for the rap artists who have delivered music with a consistent, persistent, sociopolitical slant. And the album has been the means by which some of Hip-Hop's greatest cultural commentators have delivered their most potent work.

So we've explored a cross-section of rap history for a handful of our top picks for great political rap albums. It should be noted that these are albums that have consistent political themes, so there are certain projects we excluded because their focus may not be specific enough. But here are some political rap albums everyone should hear.

 

 

The Iceberg/Freedom Of Speech...Just Watch What You Say - Ice-T


Ice-T built his legacy on unflinchingly real lyrics, and his third album cemented his enviable rep.

Ice spends most of the album addressing his critics, but also attacking the hypocrisy inherent in American media and culture. He put a microscope and a mirror up to his fiercest detractors.

 

 

 

Edutainment - Boogie Down Productions


The fourth album from KRS-One and the BDP crew emphasized his persona as "The Teacha" and Hip-Hop's most polarizing cultural commentator.

With their Afrocentric imagery and messaging, X-Clan's debut took some shots at contemporaries like KRS and P.E. while announcing the crew as a potent collective. One of the most controversial rap albums of the 1990s. 

 

 

Still Standing - Goodie Mob


With their sophomore album, the foursome from Atlanta delved deep into mysticism and ethereal moods. But the commentary was still intact.

Having established themselves as the South's most thoughtful rap group on their stellar first album, Cee-Lo, Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo got even more ambitious this time around; all while addressing addiction, crime and the then-recent murder of Ennis Cosby.

 

 

Fear Of A Black Planet - Public Enemy


The third album from Public Enemy had a hard act to follow (more on that later).

But the Strong Island collective more than met the challenge. Attacking everything from their own controversies ("Welcome To The Terrordome") to the motion picture industry, ("Burn Hollywood Burn") Chuck and Flav proved that they weren't loosening their grip, despite the mainstream fans they now had. 

 

 

Eve - Rapsody


With her 2018 album, the introspective rhymesayer from North Carolina crafted a conceptual masterpiece.

It's an album that paid homage to the significance of Black women and groundbreakers. With songs titled after notables like Nina Simone and Serena Williams, Rap proved that a Black woman basking in the radiance of Black women makes for compelling art. 

 

 

Soul Food - Goodie Mob


If OutKast was Atlanta's Run-D.M.C. (the world-crushing, universal icons), then Goodie Mob was ATL's Public Enemy.

The Mob was the voice for street wisdom, rage and insight. And they established themselves as one of the most socio-political acts in Hip-Hop from their very first, conspiracy-baiting single. 

 

 

The Devil Made Me Do It - Paris


Paris was too militant for early '90s BET. That says something.

The Bay Area legend has always been unapologetic and unfiltered, and on his debut album, he set his sights squarely on oppression and systemic racism while evoking everyone from Huey Newton to Kwame Ture. 

 

 

Death Certificate - Ice Cube


The Nigga Ya Love To Hate always had a socio-political slant in his music.

But it hadn't been as obvious and explicit as it was on his second solo album. Firing verbal shots at the American military, Korean grocers in Black neighborhoods, and even his former bandmates in N.W.A., Cube affirmed his status as the early 90s voice for Black rage in Hip-Hop. 

 

 

To The East, Blackwards - X-Clan


Professor X, Brother Jay and the crew brought the teachings of organizations like The Nation of Gods and Earths and the Black Hebrew Israelites squarely into the mainstream

With their Afrocentric imagery and messaging, X-Clan's debut took some shots at contemporaries like KRS and P.E. while announcing the crew as a potent collective. One of the most controversial rap albums of the 1990s. 

 

 

By All Means Necessary - Boogie Down Productions


The murder of Scott La Rock shifted the destiny of KRS-One and BDP immediately.

Scott was killed just as Boogie Down Productions was rising on the success of their debut album, Criminal Minded. But following the death of his partner, and after a stabbing at a BDP show, KRS rebranded as "The Teacha" and dropped this firebomb of social commentary, clear-eyed critique and, yes, straight up Hip-Hop.

 

 

3 Years, Five Months, And 2 Days In the Life Of... - Arrested Development


They became unlikely crossover stars circa 1992/93, but Arrested Development's debut album wasn't meant for bohos in coffee shops.

The crew led by Speech and born of Atlanta's eclectic music scene delivered a catchy-but-topical debut album that covered everything from colorism to diet; and even though they became a go-to for pop audiences looking to turn them into the rap version of Counting Crows; A.D.'s focused is steady on their debut.

 

 

Let's Get Free - dead prez


At the height of the bling era, these two rhymers came together and delivered a molotov cocktail of thoughtful, topical, fiery rhyming.

stic.man and M1 almost single-handedly reinjected some militancy into mainstream Hip-Hop's landscape with 1999s Let's Get Free. A project that saw the duo looking at everything from the educational system to Black love as a revolutionary act, let's get free holds up as a testament to the power of a closed Black fist.

 

 

Steal This Album - The Coup


Before he was a critically-acclaimed, subversive filmmaker, Boots Riley fronted one of the greatest indie rap acts of all time.

And in 1998, The Coup released one of Hip-Hop's greatest indie albums of all time. Steal This Album merges epic storytelling and precise social commentary for an album that evokes counterculture and revolution in subject matter, title and approach. It's on the short list of projects everybody should hear at least once. Maybe twice. Maybe eem three times.

 

 

To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar


He'd already become the most critically-acclaimed major star in Hip-Hop. Then Kendrick rewrote the rules.

At a time when so many believed that topical Hip-Hop was the province of "alternative" or "underground" scenes; K. Dot delivered one of the greatest albums ever made, addressing the joy and pain of Blackness in the last days of the Obama administration. What a time to be alive. We gon' be alright.

 

 

One For All - Brand Nubian


The Native Tongues had built a name on positive Afrocentricity; but Brand Nubian offered a more revolutionary take for the quirky rap crew.

Lord Jamar, Sadat X and Grand Puba wore their Five Percent leanings on their proverbial sleeves, and Brand Nubian went headfirst into social commentary and pro-Black teachings on their first album. It wasn't without controversy, but they set themselves apart from virtually everyone at the time by not watering down or overplaying their perspective.

 

 

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back - Public Enemy


Public Enemy's second album didn't just make the group superstars, it turned popular music on its ear.

Chuck D had shown himself to be an insightful commentator on P.E.'s debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, but he really comes fully formed here. Chuck takes a blowtorch to the racism in American culture, and delivers what could be the finest moment in his legendary career: the unsettling "Black Steel In the Hour Of Chaos."

 

 

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