Which rappers have topped the album chart in the UK?
The presence of rappers in the UK album chart has grown steadily since 2000. In the last 18 years, we’ve seen a significant dominance from the US rather than the homegrown talent, with one name standing out in particular.
So, which rappers have topped the album charts in the UK?
Marshall Mathers, better known by stage name Eminem, is the first rapper to hit number one in the UK album charts since 2000. He first hit the top spot with his third studio album, The Marshall Mathers LP, in June 2000. The album looks back at Em’s turbulent childhood, difficult relationships with his mother and wife – no stone was left unturned. Despite the dark nature of some of the lyrics on the album, it won the Grammy for Best Rap Album and was up for Album of the Year. In the US, the album sold more than 1.78 million in its first week alone.
The Marshall Mathers LP wouldn’t be Eminem’s only visit to the top spot. In fact, between 2000 and 2013, Marshall would top the charts with a total of eight albums – including one album with his group D12. The sequel, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, is Em’s most recent chart success back in 2013.
Eminem reigned supreme for almost five years, waving the flag for rap both by himself and with D12. That is until March 2005 when 50 Cent’s second album The Massacre went to number one on the UK album charts – but Eminem can take some credit for that one, as he signed 50. The Queens rapper hit the top spot in the US album charts too, selling over one million copies in its first week.
Unlike Eminem who helped make 50 Cent the star he is, 50 would only manage to top the charts on this occasion. The rapper who followed him by grabbing that coveted number one spot was – you guessed it – Eminem with his Greatest Hits compilation, Curtain Call.
It would be 2006 before we have a British rap act topping the charts in their home country. The Streets, led by Mike Skinner, had their third album The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living debut at number one. Their second album, A Grand Doesn’t Come for Free had debuted at number two before eventually clinching the top spot.
The Streets’ first two albums were focussed on working class Britain whereas their third was more about the pitfalls of fame as Skinner had experienced it. We’d have to wait for a few years before a Brit rapper would see the number one spot again as the next rapper to do so was from the States.
In winning his famous feud with 50 Cent, Kanye topped the charts with his third album, Graduation, back in September 2007. West primarily produced the album which saw a shift from his more old school, classic sound into a new wave of rap. He produced epic anthems that could fill arenas like smash-hit single Stronger. It ties up the school-focussed first three albums, named College Dropout, Late Registration and finally Graduation.
It’s not just the UK where Kanye snagged the number one album spot, he managed it in Canada and the US too. It would take six years before Kanye would top the UK charts again, with critically acclaimed Yeezus in June 2013. The man waiting in the wings as the rapper to take Kanye’s temporary crown was Eminem’s comeback album, Relapse, in 2009.
Ben Drew became just the second of the four British rappers who bagged an album that debuted at number one since 2000. Even better, Plan B did it twice. First was in 2010 with his critically acclaimed second album The Defamation of Strickland Banks. Drew moves away from the gritty raps on his debut in order to showcase his softer style – namely, his singing voice.
Lead single Stay Too Long peaked at number nine on the charts, with second single She Said reaching the number three spot – giving Plan B his most successful singles to date. His soundtrack album Ill Manors also took the top spot when it was released in 2012.
After the inevitable outcome Eminem scoring yet another #1 album, Tinie Tempah’s debut Disc-Overy debuted at number one. Unsurprising, giving the immense hype around the artist after the success of debut single Pass Out. A total of seven singles came from the strong debut, released over the course of more than 18 months including Wonderman with Ellie Goulding and Written in the Stars.
After a decade of male domination, it was time for the Queen to conquer.
Nicki Minaj was – and is – a breath of fresh air in the rap industry. Her debut album Pink Friday didn’t break into the top 10 in the UK but her follow up, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded shot up to the top spot. Roman Reloaded saw Minaj move away from straight rap into a more dance fuelled arena. With this, she reached a wider audience which was key to her massive successes.
The next rap debutant topping the album charts wasn’t a debutant at all – he just waited a long time before he’d snag the number one position.
His first album Reasonable Doubt may have dropped in 1996 but it would be 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail that would see him top the charts on the other side of the Atlantic. Jay Z struck a deal with Samsung in the run up to his release, with one million copies being released 72 hours before general sale on specially made apps for the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II. Timbaland, Swizz Beats and Pharrell all produced for the album – having worked with Jay many years before.
He’s one of the most talented rappers to hit the scene in the last decade, so it was only a matter of time before Kendrick Lamar would emulate his successes in the UK. Third studio album To Pimp a Butterfly took the top spot in March 2015, having received overwhelming critical acclaim. The album has been certified Gold in the UK, Platinum in the US and was up for 11 Grammy nominations – the most nominations on the night and Kendrick took home the most awards. Lamar won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for Alright, Best Rap Album for To Pimp a Butterfly, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for These Walls and Best Music Video for Bad Blood with Taylor Swift.
Andre Young may have made his name in recent years through the immense success of his Beats by Dre headphones, but he was once known as part of the influential rap group, NWA. After Dre left, he went solo, creating the immense albums The Chronic and 2001. For years, we waited for the sequel dubbed Detox, which was eventually cancelled. Instead, Dre dropped Compton. It was inspired by the NWA biographical film Straight Outta Compton, detailing the group’s rise to fame. Kendrick Lamar made an appearance on the album as did Snoop Dogg, The Game and Eminem.
It may be somewhat surprising that it took one of the biggest artists in the world this long to grab the number one spot on the album chart. But, it would be 2016 before Drake managed this. VIEWS was originally stylised as Views From the 6, as an ode to his hometown of Toronto. It was packed with club classics like Hotline Bling and One Dance, with Hotline Bling being named Best Rap/Sung Performance as well as Best Rap Song at the Grammy Awards. He topped the charts again in July 2018 with the eagerly anticipated Scorpion.
Finally, a British rapper back at the helm! Stormzy has become one of the most important grime artists; he won Best Grime Act at the 2014 and 2015 MOBO Awards before BBC included him in their BBC Introducing Top 5 list in 2015, behind Years and Years and James Bay. At the end of that year, Stormzy would perform his standout track Shut Up for Anthony Joshua’s ring-walk and the rest, as they say, is history. Gang Signs and Prayer was finally released in February 2017, becoming the first grime album to reach number one.
American rapper Post Malone represents the new generation of rap. His first single White Iverson – a nod to NBA legend Allen Iverson – gained over a million views in just a month of the video’s release which brought him attention from record executives. It would be his second album, Beerbongs and Bentleys, that would secure him a number one album across the water. It was finally released in April 2018, despite having been slated for December 2017. The album was promoted through lead single Rockstar featuring 21 Savage.
Here are the rappers whose albums have reached Number One in the UK Album charts:
- 50 Cent
- The Streets
- Kanye West
- Plan B
- Tinie Tempah
- Nicki Minaj
- Jay Z
- Kendrick Lamar
- De Dre
- Post Malone
Whilst the rap scene has infiltrated the UK album charts, it’s still on the fringes, with only two rap albums taking the top spot in the last 12 months. Want to learn more? Pick up albums by these rappers at musicMagpie Store!