1998 was a momentous year for hip-hop music. Some of the most groundbreaking records from the genre were released that year from the likes of Cash Money’s first breakout star, Juvenile, Method Man with his sophomore effort, Tribe with their fifth studio album, and many more fan favorites.
Almost a quarter of a century later, many of these artists have stood the test of time, solidifying themselves as iconic acts responsible for contributing some of the most timeless and legendary pieces of music in the genre.
We at Rock The Bells were faced with one question. Who was the hottest emcee in the world in 1998? With countless classic albums and chart-topping singles, ‘98 stands as one of the most electrifying times in hip-hop history, marking the tail end of the golden era. As we dissected some of the times most iconic works, here are the top 10 hottest albums of 1998.
Noreaga, the inspiration for this listicle, claims he was “the hottest rapper in the world” after dropping his debut self-titled studio album in 1998. The album peaked at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after selling 165,000 copies on the week of its release. The album’s lead single, “Superthug,” produced by The Neptunes, reached #1 on the Hot Rap Singles chart, which was Pharrell and Chad Hugo’s first high-profile placement, kickstarting their abundant production run crafting some of the most essential records throughout the early and mid-2000s.
Underground hip-hop supergroup, Hieroglyphics, consisting of Del The Funkee Homosapien, Pep Love, A-Plus, Souls Of Mischief, Casual, Domino, Jay-Biz, Toure, and Extra Prolific craft a complete body of eccentric alternative hip-hop with their 1998 masterpiece, 3rd Eye Vision. The album would be a blueprint for DIY indie hip-hop artists who break barriers and go against the grain from the masses.
The eccentric New York City trio of punk-rock rap nerds, Beastie Boys, returned to music after a four-year hiatus with their fifth studio album, Hello Nasty. The record is the Beastie Boys take on a more polished pop album after the trio went down a more experimental hip-hop route with their two previous projects. Dubbed as the ‘perfect party soundtrack by the perfect party band,” by The Guardian, Hello Nasty, finds the Beastie Boys making fun, energetic, rap-rock bridging the gap between alternative rock fans and hip-hop heads.
Gang Starr’s fifth studio album, Moment of Truth, is their most commercially successful album to date, debuting at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop charts. DJ Premiers’ classic boom-bap production and Guru’s gritty introspective storytelling make for a timeless piece of hip-hop music, home to some of the group’s fan-favorite singles, including “Work,” “Above The Clouds,” and the albums title song “Moment of Truth.”
The late, great, Big Pun came out the gates blazing as the next promising emcee to come out of New York City for his unbounded wit and wordplay, rapid-fire flow, and undeniable swagger. Pun has since been regarded as one of the greatest emcees of all time for his unmatched technical ability and lyricism. Unfortunately, this would be the only project Pun would release in his lifetime before his life and career would tragically be cut short.
Jay-Z’s third studio album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, is the project that propelled the Brooklyn emcee into mainstream stardom. It was his first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200, going on to sell over 5 million copies in the United States alone.
Home to some of Jay's most iconic records, including “Money, Cash, Hoes,” featuring DMX, the iconic Annie sample in “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” “Can I Get A,” featuring Ja Rule, Hard Knock Life continues to be not only a Jay-Z fan favorite but a staple of hip-hop history.
After the Fugees disbanded in 1997, Lauryn Hill would go on to branch off, releasing her solo debut just a year later. The album is a staple of hip-hop and R&B for Hill’s introspective songwriting about motherhood, sex, heartbreak, God, and the music industry.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a holy grail of hip-hop music. Recognized as one of “the most definitive albums of all time” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this project single-handedly changed the status of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s legacy, solidifying her as one of the most essential emcees of all time.
In 1998, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli were two young emcee’s making their way up the ranks in the rap world. As they solidified their place in the New York City alternative hip-hop scene, the two would build a strong creative bond, sparking the idea for the emcees to put each of their solo projects on hold, introducing the world to Black Star.
The album dissects black life in inner-city New York, the state of hip-hop culture, and love for black women. Yasiin Bey and Talin Kweli may have never been the hottest emcee’s in the world but they damn sure created a timeless piece of hip-hop history that will be hot forever.
Aquemini is undoubtedly OutKast’s magnum opus. Always creative and innovative, the Atlanta duo’s third studio album immersed listeners in an Afro-futuristic version of their home city as they dissected the human condition, tackling topics of drug addiction, relationships, and even the Atlanta club scene in the classic “Spottieottiedopalicious.”
The album lives on to be one of the most innovative and progressive albums in hip-hop history. The group created an ethereal world with their introspective lyricism and ethereal jazzy and experimental production.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that the one and only Dark Man X takes the number one spot for the hottest emcee to break out in 1998. Dropping not one, but two groundbreaking albums in the same calendar year with It’s Dark And Hell is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh Blood of My Blood.
The Yonkers emcee takes us on a dark, nihilistic journey through the thoughts and emotions of a man who dedicated his life to the streets. DMX is paranoid, violent, vengeful, and hungry all making these albums some of the most passionate hardcore rap albums in hip-hop history.