8. Late Registration - Kanye West
It's hard to even imagine a time in pop culture where Kanye West wasn't at least an annoyance for the rap industry. Despite having some of the most essential listening for any hip hop head to dig into, the initial release of the College Dropout almost felt like a fluke, considering how different this backpack-toting rapper was to the gangsta regime reigning over the country. This kid was supposed to fall on his face, and instead made one of the best rap albums of the decade.
Hooking up with superproducer Jon Brion after hearing his work on film soundtracks, Late Registration shows Kanye at his most razor focused. Taking influences from the jazz greats, West has gone into detail about approaching this more from an improvisational background, going more for what was riffing at the top of his head in the booth than what was planned out ahead of time.
Even with some heavy source material, this is also one of Ye's most playful releases, from the mammoth single Gold Digger to eventually hearing his most heartfelt ode to the woman who raised him on Hey Mama. This wasn't the kind of rap you heard on the radio, but it wasn't the kind of introspective hip hop either. This was just some good ass music, and sometimes that's enough to give you an amazing record.