Hip Hopera – The Ultimate List of Rap Concept Albums
This is meant to be the ultimate list of Rap Concept Albums ranked from Good to Best. A concept album has its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical.
It began out of a love for Rock Operas like The Who’s Tommy and every Pink Floyd album from the 1970s. There are countless lists out there detailing all the great rock concept albums, but there is a serious lack of a comprehensive list of Rap Concept Albums. This is my effort to fix that. I also try to summarize each concept album to its single central narrative/story or theme.
This list of rap concept albums is updated frequently, as I listen to them.
According to Big Sean, the story of I Decided is: "Imagine you went through life and you made all the wrong decisions your whole life. You get to the end of your life and you’re at a moment where it’s like, ‘God, I did everything wrong. I didn’t work it out with the love of my life. I messed it up with my parents. I’m not doing the job I was sent here to do on earth. Imagine something happens, and you get one chance to redo it all. I Decided is a chance of having that wisdom of an old man while you’re young, then going through life and figuring it out.
Futuristic – As Seen on the Internet
As Seen on the Internet is a conceptual album based on the idea of using computer noises and techno-like synths to create a digital-feeling rap album. This songs also reference different aspects of the internet like video games and social media.
Brotha Lynch Hung - Mannibalector
The 3rd entry in the Coathanga Strangla Trilogy, The Hang, a normal, everyday man transforms into a serial killer at night and murders rappers.
Brotha Lynch Hung - Coathanga Strangla
The 2nd entry in the Coathanga Strangla Trilogy, The Hang, a normal, everyday man transforms into a serial killer at night and murders rappers.
KMD – Mr. Hood
It follows Zev Luv X (A young MF DOOM) and friend’s encounters with the fictional Mr. Hood and how the MCs interact with Mr Hood’s robotic and ridiculous phrases.
Ithaka - Stellafly
Stellafly was written and recorded in Lisbon, Portugal in 1997, (where Ithaka lived and worked between 1992 and 1998) and is based upon his own personal adventures in Western Europe.
Dr. Octagon - Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation
The story about a time-traveling gynecologist from Jupiter continues in this sequel to 1994's Dr. Octagon.
clipping. - Splendor & Misery
Splendor & Misery is an Afrofuturist, dystopian story that follows the sole survivor of a slave uprising on an interstellar cargo ship, and the onboard computer that falls in love with him. Thinking he is alone and lost in space, the character discovers music in the ship’s shuddering hull and chirping instrument panels.
Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagon
The story of Dr. Octagon, a homicidal, extraterrestrial, time-traveling gynecologist and surgeon originally from Jupiter and his place in the history of hip hop.
Organized Konfusion - The Equinox
The concept for The Equinox basically revolves around two young teenagers, Life and Malice, who start to get caught up in the street life. Killing, drug dealing, partying, etc.
Madlib - Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes
A bit of a different departure as this is an INSTRUMENTAL hip hop concept album: Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes is meant to be a soundtrack to a nonexistent movie in Madlib's imagination.
Jay Electronica - Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)
Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) is an EP, fifteen continuous minutes of music, without drums, built from Jon Brion’s soundtrack to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There are five segments or movements marked by changes in music and mood and raps by Jay Electronica.
Ill Bill & Stu Bangas - Cannibal Hulk
A bad batch of LSD causes people to turn into the Cannibal Hulk. It turns normal people into monsters that possess this superhuman strength and no ability to feel pain.
DC the Midi Alien - East Coast Avengers Present Avengers Airwaves
The East Coast Avengers breaks into a radio station, tie up a Rush Limbaugh-like character and hijacks his broadcast in order to start the revolution.
Ugly Duckling - Taste the Secret
In Taste the Secret, "MeatShake" is a fictitious chain of restaurants offering meat-based thick shakes. The story involves working at the fast-food chain and its inter-business war with Veggie Hut, an all-vegetarian fast-food stand.
The Goats - Tricks of the Shade
Tricks of the Shade starkly explores the dark side of American history through the then-current setting of the Bush Sr. presidency. It's told through the lens of Chicken Little and Hammerhead as they navigate the 'freak show' of American politics and its paradoxes, exploitation, and trickery.
Leak Bros - Waterworld
in Waterworld, every song revolves around PCP and the first-ever Drug theme park.
Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein
The Cold Vein is set in a cold dystopian world that chills the blood
Masta Ace - MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne
MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne is dedicated to Masta Ace's departed mother, Yvonne, it follows a short story of Masta Ace's upbringing over beats taken from MF DOOM's Special Herbs instrumental series.
Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Deep
6 Feet Deep cleverly mixes horror movie imagery and layers of dark humor with explorations on the psychological impact of slavery, social commentary, and autobiographical tales of growing up in the streets
XV - Popular Culture
In Popular Culture, XV uses samples taken from various TV shows and Movies (Breaking Bad, Zombieland, and Inception to name a few) to craft a personal story about himself reflected through said pop culture.
DANGERDOOM - The Mouse and the Mask
The Mouse and the Mask is a collaboration where Danger Mouse samples music from various television shows airing on Cartoon Network's programming block Adult Swim while MF DOOM spits over it.
De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead
De La Soul Is Dead is the concept of a career suicide album: Jeff, a teenager finds a cassette tape copy of a De La Soul album in the garbage. Bullies appear, beat up Jeff, and steal the tape. Ensuing skits feature these bullies harshly criticizing the songs on the album. In the end, they throw the tape back in the trash, exclaiming, "De La Soul is dead."
Frank Ocean - Blonde
Blonde is essentially Frank overcoming a relationship. Another theme of the album is nostalgia, so it's much more a reflection on his youth as the basis for his life's falling out in general, and Frank learning how to live in the present without holding grudges from the past.
Brotha Lynch Hung - Dinner and a Movie
Dinner and a Movie, the 1st in the Coat Hanga Strangla Trilogy, is about The Hang, a normal, everyday man who transforms into a serial killer at night and murders rappers. It begins in an interrogation room, where the Coat Hanga Strangla is promising to confess to his crimes. The skits throughout the album tell of how the local police department is desperately trying to put a stop to the murders.
Dave - PSYCHODRAMA
PSYCHODRAMA follows the narrative of a therapy session with Dave, primarily detailing the impact of his elder brothers' prison convictions, along with his struggles with mental health, strained relationships, and the tough social conditions that confront black working class youths.
Mick Jenkins - The Water[s]
A concept mixtape, the lyrics of The Water[s] are immersed in the symbolic meanings of water. "Water is a direct metaphor for the truth, which is just as important as water is to the world. By truth I mean the true nature of things like beauty, success and wealth... So when I reference water like that, it’s really synonymous with saying, 'Learn more things, gain more knowledge and seek more truth.'" - Mick
Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is about the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing project in Chicago, Illinois. Mike transforms the high-rise, low-rent, government-owned “affordable housing” apartments into something more, influenced by cartoons and comics as much as gangs and drug trade.
Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons
36 Seasons follows the story of Tony Starks as he returns to Staten Island seeking a quiet life but he finds this will be difficult to accomplish. Tony Starks has just came home from nine years in jail, his girlfriend has left him, and he's about to get caught up in the drug game once more.
Childish Gambino - STN MTN / Kauai
Technically two projects, they are each considered dual sides of a concept album. The mixtape STN MTN follows the character known as “The Boy” as he dreams of running Atlanta, and the EP Kauai follows “The Boy” waking up on a beach.
Aesop Rock - Labor Days
Labor Days details the struggle of working class citizens and the ups and downs their lives take.
Tyler, The Creator - WOLF
WOLF is the prequel to BASTARD and GOBLIN. Tyler is sent to Camp Flog Gnaw to deal with the loss of his grandmother and his inability to contact his father suggesting that Camp Flog Gnaw may be a misnomer for the therapy and asylum sessions set out on BASTARD and GOBLIN, respectively. Tyler gets into it with multiple characters at camp, falls in and out of love, and goes to war. The album ends with Tyler getting sent to Dr. TC for getting caught masturbating.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata
Piñata is not a narrative theme, but according to Gibbs is "blaxploitation on wax" and while Gibbs is flirting here and there with classic blaxploitation film tropes, he mainly utilizes jazz and soul sampling to solidify the mood.
eMC - The Show
The Show follows a day in the life of eMC doing a show on the road, covering every imaginable kind of tour issue or annoyance, including unreliable promoters, hotel expenses, the grind of press interviews, angry merchandise sellers, and the impact of being away from family.
Ghostface Killah - Twelve Reasons to Die
Twelve Reasons to Die is set in 1960s Italy. Tony Starks is an enforcer for the DeLuca crime family, who is murdered by his former employers after striking out on his own and falling in love with the kingpin's daughter. His remains are melted in vinyl and pressed Tony’s remains into 12 vinyl records, one for each member of the family that when played, resurrect him as the Ghostface Killah, which allows him to take his revenge from beyond the grave.
Handsome Boy Modeling School – So...How's Your Girl?
So... How's Your Girl is an album organized by two ficitonal boozy dilettantes, Nathaniel Merriweather (in actuality, producer Dan the Automator) and Chest Rockwell (Prince Paul), who are two geeky producers masquerading as jet-set male models centered around the musical curriculum of a men’s modeling school.
Tyler, The Creator - Flower Boy
Flower Boy is a journey to self-discovery and confronting the parts of yourself you typically avoid confronting. We aren’t always who we were yesterday, and certainly, most of us aren’t who we were at age 17. Tyler uses driving as a metaphor for his journey through life—he raps about driving away from his problems and fears, almost crashing, switching gears, and touches on what owning a car means to him outside of, you know, getting somewhere.
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
channel ORANGE is about the twentysomething experience in Los Angeles... a state of mind in Ocean's world: numb, deceptively luxurious and self-satisfied, where the denizens live disconnected from one another and the world.
Pharoahe Monch - PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD follows a veteran through combat experience, his return home, relationship dissolution, drug addiction, painful depression, and, finally, a triumphant but realistically rendered decision to keep living and struggling
Blu & Exile - Below the Heavens
Below the Heavens is the story of Blu's life to that point, his ruminations on his life and upbringing. He reflects upon being the product of a father who was a hip-hop fan, and a mother and pastor stepfather who forbade him from listening to secular music.
Deltron 3030 - Event 2
Ultimately about human nature in trying and desparate times. A sequel to Deltron 3030, Event 2 takes place a hundred years later with Big Brother being in control of everything and pretty soon you won't have any sort of privacy or personal say in your life 'cause government is all up in your life. "That was the idea -- to get people to think for themselves." - Del
L'Orange & Mr. Lif - The Life & Death of Scenery
The Life & Death of Scenery is set as a future realm where all music and art have been destroyed along with humanistic transgressions and thus culture as a whole. The Scribe (Mr. Lif) and his cohorts are the only hope for saving culture as art from the overlords.
Shad - A Short Story About a War
A Short Story About a War is focused around a character, The Fool, in a war controlled by the Snipers, Revolutionaries, the Establishment, and the Stone-Throwers, as described by Shad as "holding a mirror to our world."
Childish Gambino - Because the Internet
Because the Internet tells the story of rapper Rick Ross’s nameless (to us, at least) son. Gambino calls this character The Boy, and we follow him on a Great Gatsby-esque adventure around Los Angeles and Sweden as he keeps up his Twitter fame by retweeting celebrities' goofy comments, taking video of somebody getting shot up outside a club, selling weed, and falling in love (sort of).
De La Soul - Plug 1 & Plug 2 Present... First Serve
The story centers on Whitter and Barrow’s trials and tribulations as they attempt to rise up from their parents’ basement to become rap stars. It's similar to Prince Paul’s classic album A Prince among Thieves. First Serve, unlike Paul’s album, isn’t so much a cautionary tale as it is a nostalgic celebration of hip-hop’s golden days.
Logic - The Incredible True Story
The album follows Quentin Thomas, William Kai, and Thalia, who are listening to The Incredible True Story on their way to Paradise. They use the album as a backing track to the queries they have on life, often contemplating the point of finding Paradise, and what it will hold should they arrive. During the journey, they stumble upon a damaged audio distress signal of another ship.
Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Strickland Banks is a soul singer who rejects on obsessive fan who then falsely accuses him of rape. The subsequent trial results in his being sent to prison, and much of the rest of the album is about his experience inside
A-1 - After School Special
in After School Special, A-1 fakes being sick so that he can stay home from school and watch TV all day, remixing classic shows like Pokemon, All That, Power Rangers, Reading Rainbow and Goosebumps.
Cold 187um - The Only Solution
A story about the "Psychopathic Assassin" Hutch, who is hired by "The Company" whenever someone "needs to be taken care of". The Only Solution begins with Hutch being brought into the business by his father and uncle, who brought Hutch along during "hits" because the targets are more vulnerable when a child is present. At the height of their success, Hutch's uncle, Black Swan, murders his brother out of greed, and Hutch swears to avenge his father by seeking revenge against Black Swan.
The rest of the album's storyline focuses on Cold 187um in the present day as he performs assassinations of several people, a greedy, corrupt preacher, a corrupt judge who proclaims excessive sentences to the plaintiffs that face him, and the corrupt Senator Jones.
MF DOOM - Mm.. Food
DOOM employs many food-related samples, and many of his lyrical themes are based on food metaphors.
OutKast - ATLiens
ATLiens is less narrative but has the re-occurring themes of being an alien. feeling isolated from typical American culture and also samples alien and space sounds to go with the theme of alienation.
Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager
A sequel to his previous album, in Man on the Moon II he plunges into a world of bravado and after-parties, with their endless supply of drugs and women amidst his newfound fame while dealing with family issues. In the end, he paid the price for all of his antagonizing actions, but became a better person because of it. "Experience = Wisdom, this is the theme of the album" - Cudi
Madvillain - Madvillainy
Madvillainy is a collaboration between MF DOOM and producer Madlib, about two nice boys who just happen to be on the wrong side of the law. And it takes place in Madvillain Bistro Bed and Breakfast Bar and Grill Cafe Lounge on the water.
Masta Ace - The Falling Season
The Falling Season is a prequel of sorts to Masta Ace's previous albums, that follows him through his high school years.
Common - Nobody's Smiling
The album’s name and overall lyrical theme is largely inspired by the high crime rates in Common's native Chicago.
Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon: The End Of Day
In Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, a lonely guy sits in his room and dreams of success. He uses drugs to calm his fears and fend off night terrors. He eventually gets recognized as the star he always knew he was, and lives the superstar life… or maybe he's still dreaming about that stage of his life, and we're just witnessing what his dreams sound like.
A.S.M - The Jade Amulet
A forgotten ancient world of bloodstained samurai swords and majestic sunsets over desert landscapes, ASM’s third album, The Jade Amulet, is their Magnus Opus. Imagine a Quentin Tarantino movie set in ancient Greece and scored by Ennio Morricone and A Tribe Called Quest.
Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer
A Long Hot Summer follows Ace, an underground rapper through his "Long Hot Summer" in Brooklyn, accompanied by buddy Fats Belvedere. Ace ventures through the Brooklyn streets and goes out on tour with Fats as his unofficial manager.
88 Keys - The Death of Adam
The entire album The Death of Adam is about the power of the punani if you will. The album follows the storyline of my man Adam who passed away and basically how he died. It all started off with him catching a boner one morning, morning wood, and his life starts to spin out of control from there.
Mr. Lif - I Phantom
I Phantom is described as "an exploration of the dynamics of everyday life, and the pursuit of our dreams, in a rapidly decaying society." The narrative begins with death ("A Glimpse At The Struggle") and resurrection ("Return Of The B-Boy") and ends with the nuclear holocaust.
Sticky Fingaz - [Blacktrash] The Autobiography of Kirk Jones
Scripted like a movie, the concept album portrays the fictional character Kirk Jones, a felon just released from prison who is now struggling to come to terms with life outside jail.
Prince Paul - A Prince Among Thieves
A Prince Among Thieves is about an aspiring young emcee named Tariq who needs to collect money to record a demo tape before a meeting with Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA. The story follows a desperate Tariq, who quits his low-paying job and turns to his friend True who introduces him to drug dealing. The two make their way through the drug world, a police ambush, jail, and, finally, a deadly showdown.
The Roots - Undun
Undun has a reverse-chronological narrative that discusses the short, tragic life of Redford Stevens, set in urban poverty. It isn't a sprawling, rise-and-fall crime story, not a condemnation or a veneration of a man living outside the law, not explicit details of soldiers getting cut down. It's a character study of a man whose existential crisis ends only with his death—a death gone largely unspecified, the glamour and tragedy washed over with a doomed resignation.
Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
An expansion of the character "The Cool" from the song of the same name on his first album. The story follows "Michael Young History" and his eventual downfall into street life and death.
Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030
The album's story casts Del in the role of Deltron Zero, a disillusioned mech soldier and interplanetary computer prodigy rebelling against a 31st-century New World Order. In a world where evil oligarchs suppress both human rights and hip-hop, Del fights rap battles against a series of foes, becoming Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion.
King Geedorah - Take Me To Your Leader
Citizens of Earth, a three-headed monster from outer space named King Geedorah has landed on our planet and he's taking over! His weapons? Mad rap skills and a nasty habit for telling the truth as he sees it. This side project from MF DOOM absolutely slays.
Little Brother - The Minstrel Show
About a fictional television network called "UBN" (U Black Niggas Network), which is a satire of stereotypical programs and advertisements for African Americans.
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free
A story of the protagonist's relationship with a girl named Simone, alongside the mysterious loss of £1,000 from his home (the eponymous "grand")
The Roots - ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin by the Roots abandons a linear narrative for a more impressionistic exploration of urban violence, sketching caricatures of drug-slinging, destruction-bound ghetto casualties.
Masta Ace - The Institute of Disposable Arts
A New York rapper is released from a long stint in prison and moves back into the projects with his mother. Ace is reintroduced to the violence of the hood and wants to get out of there as soon as he can. After seeing a television commercial, Ace believes he has found his perfect way out of the hood: The Institute of Disposable Arts, a college for those who want to specialize in a career in Hip-Hop.
CunninLynguists - A Piece of Strange
Utilizing religious imagery, it tells the "tale of the pathway to and from sin"
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
A coming of age story of “K.Dot” – a youthful teen experiences in the drug-infested streets and gang lifestyle of his native Compton – as he transitions into “Kendrick Lamar,” the iteration of the emcee who has come to embody the uplifting voice we know today.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
At the end of every song, Kendrick starts a poem but adds more and more to it each time & when the song kicks in it’s highlighting what he’s just touched on in the poem, it turns out to be a poem he wrote and performs for Tupac.
CunninLynguists - Oneirology
Each and every song revolves around Oneirology, the scientific study of dreams. The theme is furthered to an amazing extent by producer Kno's intricate, detail-intensive unparalleled dreamy beats.