This feature originally ran in 2013 and has since been updated.
Some stars shine brightest as part of a constellation, and others burn stronger on their own. Of course, there’s no telling which category an artist falls into until he or she drops that solo album. With Wu-Tang legend Raekwon just releasing his latest in a string of strong independent outings, The Wild, we turned our minds to thinking about some of our other favorite solo efforts.
But before we digress, allow us some context: An album was eligible for inclusion here only if its creator was better known as a member of a group at the time of release. Inevitably, that left some gray area, as we reluctantly ruled Snoop’s Doggystyle ineligible, but, in a previous installment of this list, decided Juicy J’s Stay Trippy was fair game, even though Juicy has been better known in the past couple years than he ever was with Three 6 Mafia.
So, here they are: our updated Top 20 Hip-Hop Solo Albums.
20. Q-Tip – Amplified (1999)
Member of: A Tribe Called Quest
You wouldn’t call Q-Tip a minimalist, but Amplified – even more so than his work with A Tribe Called Quest – was decidedly stripped back. It’s also the quietest record on this list; Busta Rhymes’ cameo on “N.T.” is the only surge of energy over its 47 minutes. Then again, Tip always thrived in sedative moods (think of Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation”), and its smoothness is what makes Amplified such a cohesive listen. A decade later, Tip would be enlisted by Kanye to work on the decidedly maximal My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But Amplified, though its sound wouldn’t likely interest the masses if released today, was a thoroughly characteristic album from one of the ’90s’ most fluid MCs. –-Mike Madden
19. Eazy-E – It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa (1993)
Member of: N.W.A.
Some may point to Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It as his definitive statement as a solo artist. Produced by Dr. Dre, it certainly feels like a spiritual successor to N.W.A.; however, it was the record that he dropped after he began feuding with Dre that is the most notorious. While most rappers dedicate a lyric or verse to diss their nemeses, It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa is a concept album about how much Eazy, never one for subtlety, hates his former producer. Every track – except the porn-pop novelty “Gimme That Nutt” – is volatile and anarchic, raw and uncut. –Jon Hadusek