Here Are the 10 Most Influential Chicago Hip-Hop Albums of All Time

We celebrate Hip-hop’s 50th Birthday and Chicago’s indelible influence on the genre.

Hip-hop is officially old enough to start getting mail from AARP. 

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of its founding, a historical benchmark for one of the most innovative, transgressive, and revolutionary music genres.

The popular narrative is that Hip-hop music was born on August 11, 1973, when a man named DJ Kool Herc used two turntables to create a breakbeat at a Bronx birthday party. Hip-Hop music in New York and Los Angeles flourished in the first two decades, but there was little mention of Chicago’s vibrant and fertile scene. 

Chicago’s Hip-hop Story

But it was there. Beginning in the early 1990s, the city would birth popular Hip-hop artists like Twista, No I.D., Crucial Conflict, Common, Da Brat, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and much more. 

Throw in the contributions of contemporary artists like Lil Durk, Polo G, Chance, Chief Keef, Vic Spencer, Mick Jenkins, NoName, Saba and Defcee. Now you have a valid argument for Chicago having multiple chapters, really sections, in the Hip-hop storybook. 

And if somebody knew nothing about Chicago’s contribution to the genre, what albums would you play them?

That’s a question I pondered when coming up with the list of the most influential Chicago Hip-hop albums of all time. Full disclosure, I am a Brooklyn, New York dude looking at this thing from an outsider’s perspective. That’s why I consulted with two men who are authorities on Chicago Hip-hop — DJ Jay iLLA and Gq.

Jay ILLA thought the list of albums I compiled was solid. But he also mentioned Chief Keef’s profound impact on Hip-hop and the Drill movement in general.

“He championed a whole new lane; though it may not be our type of Hip-hop, you can’t front on its impact with his mixtapes/albums if you wanna count those,” he said.

Gq, on the other hand, made me rethink the list. At first, I named it the “10 Best Chicago Hip-hop Albums of All Time,” 

But I changed that designation to “influential” because most of the albums mentioned saw nationwide release through a major label. Plus, a galaxy of Chicago Hip-hop artists deserve recognition and continue to put out quality music. 

With that said, here are the “10 Most Influential Chicago Hip-Hop Albums of All Time,” in some particular order:

10. Da Brat, “Funkdafied” (1994)

Da Brat became the first female rapper to go platinum with this Jermaine Dupri-produced debut album — a seamless, funk-laced sonic journey. 

9. Do or Die, “Picture This” (1996)

The “Po Pimp” single introduced the world to Tung Twista and propelled this West Side Chicago collective to create this soulful collection of street tales and survival.  

8. All Natural, “No Additives, No Preservatives” (1998)

When this album dropped, the duo created an underground classic with boom-bap beats and bars executed at the highest level — Windy City style. 

7. No I.D., “Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album)” (1997)

The early project by the influential producer who would work with Common and Kanye showcased jazz-inflected beats and easy rhymes, a fine pairing. 

6. Crucial Conflict, “The Final Tic” (1996)

The four-man crew introduced the world to their distinctive “Rodeo” style of boisterous rhymes and funky bounce, and it rode hard.   

5. Chance the Rapper, “Acid Rap” (2013)

Manic, uplifting, reflective and melodic, that’s “Acid Rap” as a whole as Chance flaunted his effortless lyricism over an alluring blend of gospel, soul, jazz and Hip-hop — distinctly Chicago. 

4. Lupe Fiasco, “Food & Liquor” (2006)

This philosopher poet’s stunning debut album is an opus replete with flawless, intelligent lyricism that few can match. 

3. Common, “Resurrection” (1994)

Few artists can match Comm’s discography, as he has three other albums that could have qualified for this list. But we went with this sophomore album because of its effortless lyricism and jazz-inflected grooves. I Used to Love H.E.R. remains the centerpiece, but there are so many solid album cuts here.

2. Twista, “Adrenaline Rush” (1997)

The album title characterizes listeners’ sensation when they hear this brother spit his signature rapid-fire rhymes. Twista puts on a master class on how to flow with clarity and technical precision. 

1. Kanye West, “The College Dropout” (2004)

One of the best debuts ever jarred the Hip-hop landscape when it dropped. When the dust settled, it sold over 4 million copies and was the start of a run that few recording artists, regardless of genre, could match. Remember Jordan’s 63-point playoff game against the Celtics early in his career? This debut is that for West, a monumental feat for a Chicago legend. 



To follow Jay ILLA on Instagram, head here.

To follow Gq on Instagram, go here.

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