Hip-hop has long had a love-hate relationship with drugs, particularly cocaine, which has been intertwined with the culture dating back to its inception. However, with most things taboo in society, cocaine was also looked at as an ill to society, with many pointing to it as an agent of self-destruction within Black and Latino communities. As time progressed and the crack epidemic began to ravage low-income communities across America, the line between glorification and condemnation began to become increasingly blurred.
While the famous ‘Crack Is Wack!’ slogan would be ingrained into the hip-hop consciousness during the latter half of the 1980s, it would also coincide with the emergence of various cocaine peddlers-turned-entrepreneurs, budding music moguls, and even rap artists, who parlayed the illegal gains into legitimate careers of the legal variety. The violence and addiction that came as a result of the crack epidemic may have been denounced by many in hip-hop initially, but by the late ’80s, the role of the street hustler became one that was in vogue in hip-hop, with many rushing to claim the persona of a street-wise entrepreneur and a boss in his own right.
As the mid ’90s arrived, the culture saw an influx in artists claiming ties to the drug game and even detailing their exploits on wax. Many of rap’s greatest bodies of work from that era are steeped in the drug dealer aesthetic and would help advance rap’s ascent into the mainstream, ultimately assisting in it becoming the dominant genre in pop culture. The turn of the millennium would bring much of the same, albeit from a new crop of artists eager to carry on tradition, resulting in ‘coke-rap’ becoming a sub-genre of itself.
Throughout the genre’s history, rap has had a countless amount of albums that fit those parameters, however, there are a select few that are considered definitive and have helped shift and/or impact the culture as a whole. In the immortal words of Rick James, cocaine is a hell of a drug, and the rush that many rap fans get from hearing our favorite orators wax poetic about it is like no other. In acknowledgment of its impact on the culture of hip-hop, REVOLT TV compiled a definitive ranking of the greatest coke-rap albums of all-time that spoke to the souls of hustlers worldwide. Does your favorite make the cut?
15 | The War Report, Capone-N-Noreaga
With names derived from notorious crime bosses Al Capone and Manuel Noriega, it was a safe bet that Queens crimies Capone-N-Noreaga would have many of their rhymes on their seminal debut The War Report laced with blow. From robbing their coke connect on “Stick You,” to Noreaga sneering “you never sold crack, so stop fronting” and alluding to his history as a low-level drug dealer throughout, Capone-N-Noreaga put forth an album that may not be as overtly drug-related as other classics on this list, but is deserving of inclusion off sentiment and influence alone.
14 | Am I My Brother’s Keeper, Kane & Abel
Former No Limit Records rap duo Kane & Abel made a major statement with their third studio album Am I My Brothers Keeper, which is full of parables about the life of a drug trafficker on the road to the riches. The Master P-assisted single “Time After Time” may have been the main draw upon the LP’s release, but album cuts like “Tryin’ 2 Have Sumthin’,” “The Game,” and “Betta Kill Me” are among the selections that make the album an unsung classic and present Kane & Abel as murderous coke lords with an affinity for criminality.
13 | My Name Is My Name, Pusha T
Originally introduced as part of a package deal as one-half of the Clipse, Virginia rep Pusha T had already helped revive the trend of coke rap alongside his brother Malice when he unleashed his highly-anticipated solo album My Name Is My Name in 2013. Including appearances from fellow trap mavens Young Jeezy and Rick Ross, MNIMN further plays up Terrence Thornton’s dope-dealer persona as he puts “Numbers on the Boards” up while giving coke-rap enthusiasts the “Nosetalgia” they all deserve.
12 | Units in the City, Shawty Lo
Atlanta is regarded as the trap capital of the south, with no shortage of hustlers willing to boast about their reputation as entrepreneurs, and 2008 marked the rise of Shawty Lo. The founder of D4L records, which produced the smash hit “Laffy Taffy,” Shawty Lo would step from behind the scenes with his debut album Units in the City, which saw him waging war with fellow Bankhead native T.I., in addition to waxing poetic about the drug game. Powered by the hit single “Dey Know,” Units in the City also included anthems like “Dunn Dunn,” “Foolish” and “Got ‘Em 4 The Lo,” making it one of the premier coke-rap albums of its time and a cult classic to the streets.
11 | The Inspiration, Young Jeezy
In winter of 2006, Young Jeezy contributed to the seasonal snowfall with his sophomore album The Inspiration, a release that continued to make his case as rap’s resident trap griot. “I Luv It,” the album’s lead-single, announced a triumphant return for the Snowman, while standout heaters like the Don Cannon-produced “Mr. 17.5” helped spark commentary on the actual wholesale price of coke, resulting in The Inspiration being a pivotal moment for coke-rap.
10 | Mr. Ice Cream Man, Master P
1997 would be the year that No Limit Records would blow up on the national scene, but the year prior, Master P would take the rap world by storm with his Ice Cream Man album, his second with Priority Records. Long before his evolution into a beacon of positivity, Master P had the streets on lock with hustler poems like “Mr. Ice Cream Man,” “Bout It Bout It 2,” and “Time to Check My Crackhouse,” all of which would become anthems for generations of cocaine merchants.
9 | Federal, E-40
E-40 is one of rap’s more tenured artists, an independent maverick that has afforded himself a career spanning thirty years and counting. Known for spitting game over beats and his infectious linguistics, back in his heyday, the Bay Area native was more concerned with slinging cocaine, which is the overarching theme of his 1993 album, Federal. Standout inclusions include “Drought Season,” “Outsmart the Po Po’s,” and the album’s title cut, all of which are steeped in coke residue and helped put E-40 on the national radar beyond his regional borders.
8 | Too Hard 2 Swallow, UGK
In stark contrast with the landscape of rap today, the early 90s were very regional, with many rappers outside the confines of the East or West coast struggling to gain traction. Building on the momentum set by Texas rap vanguards Rap-A-Lot Records and the Geto Boys, Port Arthur natives UGK would hit the ground running with their 1992 debut Too Hard To Swallow, an album that would mark them as the preeminent purveyors of coke rap in the south of their time. The tracklist, which includes songs with titles such as “Use Me Up,” “Pocket Full of Stones,” “Cocaine in the Back of the Ride,” and “Feel Like I’m the One Who’s Doin Dope” paint a clear picture of Bun B and Pimp C’s lyrical intent, and solidifies Too Hard To Swallow as a landmark album that has influenced trap stars aplenty.
7 | Hell Hath No Fury, Clipse
After striking platinum with their debut album, the Clipse ran into contractual red tape that would delay their sophomore album, resulting in the brothers Thornton creating the group Re-Up Gang with Philly rhymers Ab-Liva and Sandman and unleashing their now classic mixtape series We Got It 4 Cheap. The first volumes of We Got It 4 Cheap would serve as a precursor to the group’s long-awaited sophomore effort Hell Hath No Fury, an album that captured the group’s mastery in the realm of coke rap. Brooding deep cuts like “Hello New World” give off sinister undertones, while boisterous tunes like “Ride Around Shining” and “Keys Open Doors” balance out the proceedings on this masterpiece.
6 | Port of Miami, Rick Ross
After years of plying his trade in Miami’s rap scene, Rick Ross caught his big break with his 2006 single “Hustlin’,” which would dominate radio and become one of the more ubiquitous rap songs of the year. “Hustlin’” would precede Rick Ross’ Def Jam debut, Port of Miami, which was released later that same year, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and announcing the rapper as hip-hop’s newest drug lord-turned-star talent. Sticking to the theme of his hit single, Ross flooded Port of Miami with dope-boy anthems like “Push It,” “Blow,” “White House,” and “Pots & Pans,” setting the template for a career that has been built on tales of drug transactions and opulence.
5 | Super Tight, UGK
Too Hard To Swallow and Riding Dirty may get the majority of the fanfare when speaking of UGK’s classic material, but when strictly judged by the merits of its content, the duo’s sophomore album, Super Tight, is their most coke-centric album to date. “Front, Back & Side to Side” may be the jamboree of this outing, but the true spirit of Super Tight can be found on “It’s Supposed to Bubble,” “Feds in Town,” and the sequel to “Pocket Full of Stones,” all classics that stamp Super Tight as one of the most lauded coke-rap albums of all time.
4 | Lord Willin’, Clipse
There’s nothing quite like the first time, and about fifteen years ago was the first time rap fans would hear “Grindin’,” the Neptunes produced lead-single from the Clipse’s debut album, Lord Willin’. The beat, which would inspire a generation of rap fans and producers, was enough to cause a raucous in itself, but when matched with lyrics from Virginia brethren Malice and Pusha T, the public was put on notice that something special was bubbling beneath the surface. And when Lord Willin’ finally touched down in late summer of 2002, songs like “Virginia,” “Comedy Central,” and “I’m Not You,” those notions proved to be true, as it would be hailed an instant classic and set the barometer of how brilliant coke-rap could be when executed with precision and nuance.
3 | Reasonable Doubt, JAY-Z
Originally JAY-Z was supposed to record one album, his debut Reasonable Doubt, and then ride off into the sunset and become a player behind the scenes, which may explain why it’s so rich and layered with insight into the life and times of a career criminal. From beginning to end, JAY-Z rhymes from the perspective of a callous, street-wise hustler, hardened and jaded by his past experiences while attempting to look forward to a future on the other side of the triple-beam scale. “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” “Dead Presidents II,” “D’Evils,” and “Can I Live” are just some of the classics that comprise this album, which is now regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and has come to be known as the ultimate hustler’s handbook.
2 | Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Young Jeezy
Sometimes it takes the perfect storm of events and timing to manufacture special moments in time, and Young Jeezy’s star turn was one of those instances in which all the stars seem to align. Inking a distribution deal with Def Jam for his CTE imprint, Jeezy hit the ground running, following up his appearances on Bad Boy Records’ supergroup Boyz N Tha Hood’s debut album with his major label LP, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Aside from the blatantly rampant mentions of kilograms and scales, Jeezy’s close affiliation with Black Mafia Family leader Big Meech afforded him even more street credibility and lent validity to his tales of drug transactions and the extended reach of his crime family alluded to in his music. Boasting a murderers row of classic material that helped spark a movement and shift the tide for southern rap, Thug Motivation 101 is arguably the greatest coke-rap album of the millennium and surely one of the more memorable releases in rap history.
1 | Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Raekwon
The year was 1995. Wu-Tang Clan had shocked the world two years prior with their debut album, a release that would earn the crew out of Staten Island platinum plaques while simultaneously helping restore the feeling on the east coast rap scene. Breaking uncharted territory with their non-exclusive recording contracts with Loud Records, members of the Clan were allowed to sign solo record contracts wherever they pleased, resulting in a wave of solo albums that followed 36 Chambers. Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard may have been the first two members to release solo material, but the third solo release from the crew came courtesy of Raekwon, whose 1995 album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… would leave listeners in astonishment, as they marveled over the sheer brilliance on display.
Running eighteen tracks in length and produced entirely by the RZA, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…‘s sonic structure was built around various samples, most notably compositions and dialogue lifted from the 1989 kung-fu flick The Killer, as well as films like Shaolin Vs. Lama, The Mack, and Carlito’s Way. Raekwon, Wu-Tang Clan’s resident street hustler, is fully engaged throughout the album, as he crafts tales of high-stakes drug deals gone awry, the spoils that go to the victor, and the more grim realities of it all, amid shouts to “Incarcerated Scarfaces” and others of his ilk. From the coke-sniffling adlibs to Ghostface Killah’s invaluable presence, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… didn’t only see Raekwon “Striving for Perfection,” but actually reaching it, as his debut is the pinnacle of what coke-rap has to offer, even more than twenty years after the fact.
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