We look at some of the stacked rap album release battles of the past and present.
You have $20 in your pocket and you can only take one rap album home with you. Which one will it be? We’re a long way from where the days where one would have to line up outside record shops to grab the latest offerings in rap music. The biggest rap album battles found a way to transform their release dates into Major Events. It’s a fascinating way to track the evolution of rap through history, some of these release dates forever serving an entry point of discussion amongst rap fans. Culled from thirty years of data, we present to you the ten most stacked release dates in rap album history...so far.
June 28, 1988 - Public Enemy vs. Big Daddy Kane
It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back / Long Live The Kane album covers
Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane were clairvoyant. Their 1988 releases It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and Long Live The Kane predicated the future of rap by taking it into new directions unfathomed by fans and practitioners of the genre. Public Enemy looked to create a raucous document of their politicized rebel rousing, fueled by the Bomb Squad and Chuck D’s booming lyricism. Meanwhile, Kane transformed himself into your rapper’s favourite rapper: a smooth player who could rhyme like butter, a huge step beyond the schoolyard rhyme boasts from Run-DMC and LL Cool J and the next step towards modern rap acts such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar, showing just what the influence of great albums can do.
September 13, 1988 - Ice-T vs. Eazy-E
Eazy-Duz-It / Power album covers
Besides Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane, 1988 was a pivotal rap year thanks to NWA, Slick Rick, Eric B. & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions and Too $hort and far more. NWA’s success meant more eyes would be focused on Eazy-E’s first solo album Eazy-Duz-It, produced and written largely by his NWA bandmates, but Ice-T’s second album Power also showed just what the West Coast was like in ‘88. Both albums, featuring songs like “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” “I’m Your Pusher,” and “Ruthless Villain,” showcased an aggressive Los Angeles with both Ice-T and Eazy-E scoring massive wins from fans and critics alike for their uncompromising portrayals of their worlds.
November 24, 1992 - The Pharcyde vs. Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo
Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde / Live and Let Die album covers
Both of these albums came before a major shift in rap: namely, the release of the Chronic in December ‘92. In hindsight, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde feels like a bizarre take on West Coast rap, sounding honest but goofy and refusing to be pigeonholed in any distinct trend going on at the time. Live and Let Die, on the hand, was a mafioso album through and through: its album cover as chilling as the lyrical content within.
November 9, 1993 - Wu-Tang Clan vs. A Tribe Called Quest
36 Chambers / Midnight Marauders album covers
In his book Mo Meta, Mo Blues, Questlove mentions the day he bought both 36 Chambers and Midnight Marauders, describing it as the end of rap's "innocence...and the last pure, unadulterated moments in the genre.” In a lot of ways, he wasn’t wrong – Midnight Marauders signaled a sea change for rap and a temporary closing of the curtains for the Native Tongues ensemble: Tribe, De La Soul, Pharcyde and others all took a bow on high. Meanwhile, the rise of Wu Tang predicated the beginnings of a raw and revitalized New York sound. Capturing lightning in a bottle, 36 Chambers was a dense, chaotic piece of work, leagues different from the jazz rap Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Mohammed was perfecting elsewhere.
February 13, 1996 - 2Pac vs. Fugees
All Eyez On Me / The Score album covers
Were you a “Killing ‘Em Softly” person or a “California Love” person? Both albums dropped by Fugees (The Score) and 2Pac (All Eyez On Me) were huge: the latter a massive comeback after Pac’s 1995 prison sentence and the former released in response to the middling critical reception towards the Fugees’ first album Blunted on Reality. They were superstar statements with superstar hits – The Score scored a Grammy for Best Rap Album while the sprawling force that was All Eyez On Me eventually went diamond.
September 29, 1998 - Jay-Z vs. Outkast vs. A Tribe Called Quest vs. Black Star vs. Brand Nubian
Vol 2... Hard Knock Life / Aquemini/ Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star / Foundation / The Love Movement album covers
The day Jay, Outkast, Tribe, Black Star and Brand Nubian went head-to-head has been considered by some fans as one of - if not the sole - greatest release dates in rap history. It was the last release date record stores could probably enjoy before the Internet changed everything. Tower Records employees treated it like the second coming of Titanic. Then there were the albums themselves; Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, the beloved underground act making a major splash. Jay had released Vol 2... Hard Knock Life, cementing his place in the upper echelons of rap superstardom. Meanwhile, Outkast had dropped Aquemini, which pushed their progressive. Both acts signified a transition into a new era where rap albums were treated with as much attention and reverence as blockbuster pop releases. It helped that aging acts such as Tribe (The Love Movement) and Brand Nubian (Foundation) were by no means ready to let go of the spotlight, both releasing albums that made strong arguments for their continued success.
September 11, 2007 - Kanye West vs. 50 Cent
Graduation / Curtis album covers
This matchup between Kanye’s Graduation and 50’s Curtis was big enough that both ended up in Rolling Stone about it (it’s worth noting that both Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and Fabulous’ Ghetto Fabulous dropped on this day six years earlier), vowing for supremacy with their first week numbers. Both rappers had no problem playing up the stakes, with 50 going as far as threatening to quit entirely if he didn’t win. The reality is both rappers won. Certainly, Graduation felt incredibly futuristic but Curtis was street music done well and while ‘Ye snagged “first place” with a first week result of 957,000 copies sold to Fif's 691,000 copies, both rappers understood the merits of making it feel more than just a release date. In many ways, this match-up is the start of fandom’s obsession with first-week sales numbers truly began; 50 and Kanye weaponized one of the ways fans debated about rap albums.
June 18, 2013 - Kanye West vs. Mac Miller vs. J. Cole
Yeezus / Born Sinner / Watching Movies with the Sound Off album covers
Kanye spared no turn with promoting Yeezus, his first proper solo album in three years; premiering new music on building projections across the country, appearing on Saturday Night Live, even going as far as recording American Psycho homages. Coming off debut Cole World: The Sideline Story, J. Cole was eager to throw himself into the fracas, pushing his album release date back and even going as far as mentioning it in song, telling people it was less about the disrespect and more about making a statement. In hindsight, he had nothing to worry about: Born Sinner made it to 2 on the Billboard 200, only falling short by an estimated 40,000 copies to Yeezus. Meanwhile, Mac Miller’s Watching Movies With The Sound Off comfortably slid into third.
Do What Thou Wilt. / 4 Your Eyez Only / Stoney / The Storm album covers
July 2015 saw a pivotal change – album release dates were shifted from Tuesdays to Fridays on a global basis. Fridays began to feel like blockbusters as acts major and underground alike battled for attention with their slate of new releases. One night in December saw the releases of new projects by Ab-Soul (Do What Thou Wilt.), J. Cole (4 Your Eyez Only), Tech N9ne (The Storm) and an emerging Post Malone (Stoney). (Honorourable mention goes to Odd Future lieutenant Hodgy who dropped the formidable Fireplace: The NotTheOtherSide.) And with Injury Reserve, Kid Cudi and T.I. following closely the next week and a Yasiin Bey project, that winter was a great one for rap fans.
August 3, 2018 - Mac Miller vs. Travis Scott vs. YG
Astroworld / Swimming / Stay Dangerous album covers
June 2018 was stacked thanks to a slate of blockbuster rap releases – the run of G.O.O.D Music’s Wyoming albums, Drake’s Scorpion and for a brief flash, so did the Carters with Everything is Love. It’s wild to suggest that we would have to wait just another month for anything closely resembling it but August 3 felt like a gasp of breath thanks to three monster releases from YG, Travis Scott and Mac Miller. Fans had been waiting on Astroworld for years and Travis Scott’s acid-soaked tribute to Houston seemed fitting. Every YG release feels like a triumphant celebration and thanks to reuniting with DJ Mustard, Stay Dangerous succeeded at being an engaging callback to YG’s mixtape era. Then there’s Swimming - a now bittersweet note for Mac Miller but an enlivening one nevertheless.
What epic rap album release dates were you most excited for?