(March 25, 2022). The first rap album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart (which measures the best-selling and most consumed albums each week) happened in March 1987. It was the Beastie Boys’ License To Ill, which at the time was considered a major triumph for a genre that only months earlier had its highest peak and closest near-miss (Run-DMC’s Raising Hell, at No. 3). Prior to that, no other hip-hop album (in the eight years that they’d been charting) had even gotten a whiff of the top.
It was during those first eight lean years (1979-87) that some of hip-hop’s greatest MCs emerged, folks like Grandmaster Flash (and Melle Mel), Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, Whodini, KRS-One, Public Enemy just to name a few. And while they certainly were bridge builders for a rap genre that has now been the most consumed form of music for five years and counting, most of those early icons missed out on the fruits of what has been a very lucrative business for rappers (and record companies) since.
In the 35 years since that first No. 1 triumph by the Beasties, 239 No. 1 albums by more than 120 different rap artists—both soloists and groups—have topped the main Billboard list, with nearly half of those occurring in the last ten years alone. Jay-Z leads the pack with 14 different No. 1 albums, while Eminem, Kanye West and Drake are all tied for second with 10 each.
The most recent rapper to get his first No. 1 was the Kid Laroi, an Australian teenager whose maiden voyage to the top of the chart occurred last August. By doing so, he avoided a fate that has befallen a number of classic hip-hop artists over the past five decades who’ve never had a No. 1 album.
Djrobblog has compiled a list of (at least) 50 noteworthy rap acts throughout hip-hop history that have never topped Billboard’s premier weekly album ranking, the Billboard 200. Some of these rappers are iconic MCs whose only fault was predating rap’s commercial explosion in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Other more recent artists have come close, but due to a combination of bad timing (going against stronger releases) or, perhaps, gender biases (there are a lot of women on this list), they never quite made it to the top.
Here they are, listed alphabetically. The (solo) designation after an artist’s name indicates that the rapper never topped the chart as a solo artist but managed to hit No. 1 as part of a group. You might be surprised who’s on this list…
Big Daddy Kane
Boogie Down Productions/KRS-One
Boosie Badazz (aka: Lil Boosie)
D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (Will Smith)
Doug E. Fresh
Dr. Dre (solo)
Eightball & M. J. G.
Ghostface Killah (solo)
Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five/ Melle Mel
Kid ‘n Play
Kool Moe Dee
Luke Skywalker/2 Live Crew
Megan Thee Stallion
Method Man (solo)
Sugar Hill Gang
Okay, so maybe not all of them are “icons,” but they’re at least well known names in the hip-hop community, either today or in years past. Were any of them your favorites? Or did any surprise you to be on this list of rappers that never had a No. 1 album?
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DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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