THE COMPLETE AND DEFINITIVE LIST OF TDE PROJECT RANKINGS
Following Kendrick Lamar’s highly-anticipated recent release of ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’, we’re faced with the reality of living in a post-Kendrick/TDE world. As K Dot embarks on his new chapter with pgLang, there’s never been a more appropriate time to rank the best projects from the extensive Top Dawg Entertainment catalogue.
While we didn’t include all the projects from Lance Skiiiwalker, SiR, Reason, and Zacari, (as well as newer signees like Doechii and Ray Vaughn), we thought it was right to celebrate TDE’s biggest hitters and their imprint on the culture.
So we gave it a go. One of the deepest, most influential hip-hop movements of all time, we proudly present to you the definitive, complete and final (tbh it’s just our top 20) list of TDE project rankings.
Go flame us in the comments…
Mr Morale & The Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar (2022)
It’s too early to judge Kendrick’s latest and last project on TDE. Clearly, a strong and thought-provoking body of work – accurately judging with only a three-week sample size of listenability isn’t fair (we know, we’re the exception to the rule), and doesn’t reflect Kendrick’s intention for the album. In what was easily the most anticipated hip-hop album of recent times, it unsurprisingly currently has the highest debut this year, and marked Kendrick’s solo album return, ending a five-year hiatus.
Habits & Contradictions – ScHoolboy Q (2012)
The potential for ScHoolboy Q was evident upon his sophomore release, Habits & Contradictions. Featuring staples in his discography with ‘There He Go’, ‘Hands on the Wheel’ with A$AP Rocky, and ‘Blessed’ with Kendrick Lamar, Q reflected on his upbringing and struggles in his childhood. He allowed himself to be extremely vulnerable while showcasing his aggressive, raw flow as he adjusted to his newfound fame at the time.
Reason – New Beginnings (2020)
Carson emcee and relatively recent TDE signing Reason delivered his major label debut in the midst of the pandemic in 2020. Having first appeared on the Black Panther soundtrack after a run of head-turning mixtapes, New Beginnings was the official introduction to the talented lyricist who presented an insight to fear, anxiety, and renewal supported by features from Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Vince Staples.
20. CrasH Talk – ScHoolboy Q (2019)
CrasH Talk was ScHoolboy’s ‘industry’ album. He changed his approach going for an upbeat, melodic, and slow style as opposed to the aggressive street rap that he was closely associated with in the past. With artists like Travis Scott, Lil Baby, Ty Dolla $ign and Kid Cudi featured, it was received with widely positive reviews, however, his more classic sound was sorely missed by fans. Nevertheless, it debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200.
19. Untitled Unmastered – Kendrick Lamar (2016)
As fans demanded access to Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly vault, he eventually dropped the 8-track compilation album of demos he cut from the 2015 masterpiece. He randomly dropped it in early 2016, and it immediately shot to the top of the Billboard 200. It explored similar themes as TPAB and is one of the most unique releases of the last decade. With no real album artwork, no named tracks, and an essentially blank name; Kendrick let the music speak for itself. It’s clear to see why he decided to release it, as Untitled Unmastered tops a lot of rappers’ best work, putting K in a league of his own.
18. These Days – Ab-Soul (2014)
With his third TDE album, Ab-Soul, now a TDE OG, returned with a solid follow up to his critically acclaimed debut entitled Longterm Mentality. He recorded the majority of the album at the late Mac Miller’s home studio, whom Ab-Soul was close friends with. In the psychedelic journey, Ab-Soul took a much different approach to his debut. Trying something new, in a more ‘trap’ line, Ab gained the respect of a wider audience due to his willingness to experiment, while still keeping the same lyrical quality that he was known for. Enlisting hip-hop icons in Action Bronson, Rick Ross, Lupe Fiasco, and Mac Miller under his Delusional Thomas alias, ‘These Days’ is easily amongst the highlight reel of TDE releases.
17. November – SiR (2018)
November was SiR’s introduction to a wider audience, with his performance on ‘D’Evils’ being a standout. Known for his vocal ability and wide instrumentation, the Inglewood singer made a name for himself, certified as a promising act. He was able to create a strong atmosphere with jazz-infused production and his heavy, yet delicate vocals. Enlisting ScHoolboy Q and Etta Bond as the only two features, SiR took listeners on an enchanting musical journey. He made a name for himself internationally after being an opener for the third leg of Kendrick Lamar’s 2018 ‘DAMN’ tour in Oceania.
16. Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q (2016)
ScHoolboy Q’s ‘Blank Face LP’ was introduced as ‘THat Part’ with Kanye West echoed around the world in 2016. He dropped a 9-minute short film upon release, entailing a day in ScHoolboy’s shoes throughout his local stomping grounds in South-Central LA. He embodied his neighbourhood and made anthems such as ‘JoHn Muir’ and ‘Dope Dealer’ on an LP that accurately reflected his sound and where he was career-wise. Working with world-renowned producers such as Southside, Metro Boomin, Swizz Beats, and The Alchemist, ScHoolboy was now the face of modern-day West Coast street rap.
15. Black Panther: The Album (2018)
Accompanying the legend of T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther, The Album was a significant milestone within pop culture and hip-hop. As Marvel introduced their first black superhero backstory to the big screen, it was only fitting to make the soundtrack overflow with black excellence. While the spine of the album is Kendrick, the album features the industry’s elite with Travis Scott, The Weeknd, SZA, Anderson Paak, and James Blake (among many others). It went on to be nominated for multiple Grammy awards, taking home the award for Best Rap Performance for the rendition of ‘Kings Dead’. This album marked a resurgence of movie soundtracks in the streaming era, with their benefit becoming increasingly evident.
14. Overly Dedicated – Kendrick Lamar (2010)
By 2010, Kendrick Lamar was a name spreading like a wildfire in the LA underground. Overly Dedicated was his fourth and last mixtape before his debut album. For Kendrick at the time, a freshman in the rap game, OD was a sophisticated piece of work that realigned his trajectory from a promising star into the G.O.A.T potential that he’s lived up to. It caught the attention of Dr Dre, who immediately wanted to work with him and even considered signing Kendrick to Aftermath Entertainment. Moments like these would lead to Kendrick being crowned the hottest face of the new class of lyricists and hip-hop artists in general, alongside peers like Drake, J.Cole, and Meek Mill, all of whom were referenced in Lamar’s legendary ‘Control’ verse to come.
13. Z – SZA (2014)
SZA burst through the door of the R&B estate in 2014 with Z, her first EP under TDE. With TDE’s connections, she gained access to notable producers such as Mac Miller and Emilie Haynie, SZA made sure ‘Z’ was her most polished to date. With Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper listed alongside frequent collaborator and fellow TDE signee Isaiah Rashad, SZA established herself as one of the hottest up-and-comers in the music industry. Her range and diversity as an artist were on show; effortlessly using soundscapes including neo-soul, hip-hop, and 80s pop.
12. The House Is Burning – Isaiah Rashad (2021)
Isaiah’s latest instalment to his ever-impressive discography was last years’ The House Is Burning, a contender for 2021’s rap album of the year. This release marked Isaiah’s first time charting in the top 10 on the Billboard 200, with THIB debuting at number 7. While he kept it largely in-house with Jay Rock and SZA features, Isaiah also branched out and collaborated with a range of artists from 6LACK to Lil Uzi Vert. It was a refreshing LP as Isaiah kept his authentic, Southern rap-infused sound, re-establishing and reminding the hip-hop faithful why he’s one of the most revered rap artists of the last decade.
11. Section.80 – Kendrick Lamar (2011)
Section.80 marked Kendrick’s first major steps on his quest to take over hip-hop. It was a statement, bringing the idea of a ‘concept’ album to a new age. Embodying characters and talking listeners through their stories with songs like ‘Ronald Regan Era’, Kendrick touched on life in the 80s during the crack epidemic for African-American people, and specifically the lives of two personalities named Tammy and Keisha. Section.80 was released during the early beginnings of Kendrick and J Cole’s musical relationship with Cole producing the outro, ‘Hiiipower’. The album featured some of Kendrick’s earliest hits including ‘A.D.H.D’ and ‘Rigamortus’, demonstrating his incredible writing ability and advanced viewpoints on social and political topics.
10. Redemption – Jay Rock (2018)
Debuting at number 13 on the Billboard 200 as his commercially most successful, Redemption is a landmark amongst the high rises that Jay Rock has constructed throughout his lengthy career. Redemption summarised Jay Rock’s career up to that point. With songs featuring his raw, diverse flow, a back-and-forth track with Kendrick, a great J.Cole verse, and THAT Future feature, Jay Rock had arrived commercially, it was a big WIN.
9. Control System – Ab-Soul (2012)
When LA mogul Ab-Soul, released his second album in 2012, it was met with a global appreciation. Known for his intricate lyricism and commanding presence, Ab-Soul didn’t hold back on Control System, exploring his mind and consciousness with a refined level of intimacy. His best work to date, CS opened up the gates for him to work with a wider variety of artists as his career progressed. This project is now synonymous with the early 2010s era of hip-hop and sits as a definitive fan favourite.
8. DAMN – Kendrick Lamar (2017)
DAMN was the latest addition to, at this point, already one of the greatest discographies in hip-hop history. With hits like ‘Loyalty’ with Rihanna and ‘Humble’ dominating radios that year, ‘DAMN’ unsurprisingly debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and moved a whopping 603,000 units in its first week. The 14-track statement saw Kendrick take home a Grammy and became the first non-jazz album to win a Pulitzer Prize. It was a history-making achievement and a huge lift for hip-hop as a genre, which cemented Kendrick’s already legendary status in music. DAMN was named 175th in the top 500 albums ever by Rolling Stone, following suit with every album Kendrick has ever dropped: the epitome of greatness.
7. 90059 – Jay Rock (2015)
After a prolific mixtape run throughout the early 2000s, Jay Rock had already cemented himself as the pillar of TDE. 90095, his second studio album, debuted at number 16 on the Billboard 200 and saw the LA rap star put on for his neighbourhood with the postal code album title. 90059 sees Jay Rock collaborate with mostly TDE artists including Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Isaiah Rashad in a truly gritty, raw style synonymous with his status in Los Angeles.
6. The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad (2016)
By 2016, Isaiah Rashad had become one of the most beloved artists on the roster and highly appreciated in hip-hop purists’ eyes. The Sun’s Tirade was extremely highly-anticipated, serving as the follow-up to Cilvia Demo. Apart from a few features, Isaiah kept it in house with his second LP, housing verses from Kendrick Lamar, SiR and SZA. He recorded the majority of the album while struggling mentally, with this becoming a constant theme throughout. It was another acclaimed album added to the list for Isaiah as he continued to grow as an artist.
5. Oxymoron – ScHoolboy Q (2014)
Regarded as ScHoolboy Q’s best work to date, Oxymoron put him on the map internationally with hits like ‘Collard Greens’, ‘Man of the Year’, and ‘Studio’. Debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and selling 142,000 units in its first week, Oxymoron highlighted Q’s best attributes; aggressive flows and storytelling over dark production. Pushed by the standard Kendrick had set on TDE to put out his best work, Q rose to the limelight bringing the essence of ‘gangsta rap’ back to prominence.
4. Cilvia Demo – Isaiah Rashad (2014)
No Billboard peak or first week sales will define the greatness that Isaiah Rashad released with Cilvia Demo. It’s an album that progressively changed the current landscape of hip hop through its production and subject matter, and thrusted Isaiah into the hip-hop limelight. As TDE’s newest star, Isaiah combined classical, mellow sounds that are slow paced to create an impeccable ‘lo-fi’ experience on Cilvia Demo. Isaiah introduces himself to the world ahead of a memorable appearance in the XXL Freshman Class of 2014, with Cilvia Demo exploring topics such as police brutality, childhood, and personal struggles. To this day it’s held on a pedestal and encapsulates the peak era of TDE music.
3. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar (2015)
To Pimp A Butterfly, K.Dot’s third studio album is now considered one of the most important albums ever. Kendrick’s follow-up to GKMC was inspired by a visit to Nelson Mandela’s jail cell in South Africa. On the LP, Kendrick addressed social, economic, and political issues in the black community, intertwining sonics of jazz, soul, and funk into hip-hop. It was timely while also simultaneously timeless, and was subsequently celebrated by the world as it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, moving 342,000 units in its first week.
2. good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar (2012)
good kid, m.A.A.d city was arguably the best rap album of the 2010s. It took TDE to new levels within the industry, and cemented Kendrick Lamar as the new face of hip-hop, especially in the West Coast. As the critically acclaimed LP moved 242,000 units in its first week, Kendrick could do no wrong. He won five Grammy Awards for this release with the success not slowing down. Now a decade old, GKMC has spent 500 weeks on the Billboard 200, making it only the second hip-hop album to ever achieve this feat behind Eminem’s 2005 Curtain Call: The Hits.
1. Ctrl – SZA (2017)
SZA dropped an irrefutable classic with her 2017 debut album Ctrl. While SZA was already a well-appreciated artist, Ctrl propelled her to astronomic levels of fame and success, finally receiving the limelight she deserved. With a heavy Rick Rubin influence, this album separated her from the crowd, making her stand amongst few in the elite heights of R&B. The combination of her incredible vocal and songwriting ability was highlighted, and reflected in success as the album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. That alone is an unbelievable achievement for a debut studio album of an R&B artist, however, she also went on to receive an additional five Grammy nominations.