1996 was a monumental year for hip-hop. The genre’s crossover momentum had been building for a decade and in 1996, it hit an undeniable peak. Rappers had slowly and steadily becoming less wary of embracing R&B and by 1996, the resistance that many rappers had shown towards R&B sounds in the early 90s had given way to unapologetic fusions of the two genres from high-profile artists like the Notorious B.I.G. and LL Cool J. And in 96, there was no resistance to hip-hop stars incorporating R&B hooks into their music to rise to the top of the pop charts.
But 1996 wasn’t only a significant year in hip-hop because rap singles were all over pop radio; nor is the drama of the East Coast/West Coast feud the only noteworthy aspect of the year. 1996 saw a steady stream of classic albums from some of the genre’s most significant artists. 2Pac became a full-blown superstar–and the genre’s most tragic figure–in 1996; his status as both a hip-hop folk hero and as a confrontational rebel came to a head when he joined Death Row at the end of 1995, and he capitalized on it by dropping All Eyez On Me, his most high-profile album. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, a pair of female emcees that had emerged in 1995, dropped Hard Core and Ill Na Na–two highly successful albums in 96; and OutKast showed that they were one of the most visionary acts in the game with their forward-pushing sophomore album, ATLiens.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, go ahead and check out our list of the 25 greatest albums of 1996. This is a chance to celebrate all of those albums and more.
Check out the 1996 albums gallery above–and if you want to revisit 1991, the classic rap albums turning 25 this year are below.