There’s an old saying in the music industry: “You have your entire life to make your debut album.” Some artists need time to find their artistic sound, while others come out of the gate swinging with an incredible collection of songs.
There’s no denying that music has drastically changed in the past 30 years. With that, let’s look back at the past three decades of incredible music with the greatest debut album of each year.
3 Feet High & Rising By De La Soul
Leave it to New York’s own to flip the script in rap. The genre was turning street-centric and the trio made songs that were goofy and uplifting. Calling themselves hip-hop hippies, the trio went against the commercial rap culture at the time.
Their tactic would work, but it was the heavy production work by Prince Paul that went unnoticed. Paul is credited with pioneering new approaches to hip hop production. He added elements like mixing and sampling, as well as adding comedy sketches to the album.
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm By A Tribe Called Quest
De La Soul created a movement in hip-hop, and A Tribe Called Quest took a lot of the same elements. They were inventive on sample uses by creating new story songs with a wry sense of humor. At one point, there’s a bass line that’s all too familiar from Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” with “Can You Kick It?”
Overall, the group’s musical dynamic was anchored by Q-Tip and the album is credited for influencing many artists in hip-hop.
Gish By The Smashing Pumpkins
Grunge began to unfold on the American airwaves in the nineties. For a band like The Smashing Pumpkins, their psychedelic debut is described as a “very spiritual album about spiritual ascension.” With their fused heavy metal guitars and dream pop, the album garnered comparisons to Jane’s Addiction.
Gish became a minor success, and the single “Rhinoceros” received quality airplay on the radio. The Smashing Pumpkins went on to achieve more success after the release, but some argue Gish and Siamese Dream are their best work.
What’s The 411? By Mary J. Blige
As the hip-hop culture evolved, so did its music. But, hip-hop soul was introduced by Mary J. Blige with her spectacular debut. While producer greats like Puff Daddy provided solid beats, it was Mary who stole the show. She showcased her straightforward delivery in classics such as “Real Love” and “Sweet Thing.”
Since the release in 1992, What’s the 411? has been viewed by many as one of the decades most important records.
Debut By Björk
Pop music would be lost with Björk’s outstanding innovations. Her album was called Debut because it was her coming into her own as a songwriter, singer, and producer. It marked the Icelander’s first recording following the breakup of her previous band, the Sugarcubes.
However, Björk’s real introduction to the world showed that she refused to stick to one genre. With styles including jazz, house music, and electronic pop, Debut remains the musicians best selling album in North America.
Blue Album By Weezer
The eponymous debut by the rock group was produced by The Cars frontman Rick Ocasek. The “Blue Album” tackles various life experiences of lead singer Rivers Cuomo. He included subjects such as his brother’s car accident in “My Name Is Jonas” while incorporating emo, alternative rock, power pop, and pop rock into one album.
Since the 1994 release, the Blue Album has become one of the most highly regarded albums of the nineties.
Former Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie singer Shirley Manson teamed up with Nirvana producer Butch Vig and a few others for this debut album. Together, the rock band’s combined energy crafted a distinct niche for alternative rock. It’s full of lasting hooks and songs that tackle topics like depression and female sexuality.
Their single “Stupid Girl” was nominated for two Grammy’s for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
Endtroducing…… By DJ Shadow
As hip-hop production continued to get innovative, DJ Shadow notched things up. Josh Davis made an album with no rappers, and instead almost entirely of samples, mostly from vinyl records. Every song on the album is creating a new universe of scratches, drum breaks, and spoken-word edits.
Endtroducing became a driving force in the development of instrumental hip-hop music. This would inspire numerous DJs and producers to create sample-based music, leaving a lasting influence from the record producer.
Homework By Daft Punk
As the nineties kept rolling, more groups were experimenting with dance and electronic elements. Suddenly, a French duo decided to bring house and club music to the norm, pioneering the subgenre known as Big Beat.
The success of Homework would bring worldwide attention to Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. “Around the World” will forever be a classic by the electronic music duo. Deeper singles such as “Revolution 909” felt like a soundtrack to a party that never ends.
The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill By Lauryn Hill
Following the breakup of the Fugees, Ms. Hill’s pregnancy, including other circumstances in her life, inspired the artist to make a solo album. Its lyrics tackle Hill’s pregnancy in “To Zion”, the turmoil within the Fugees in “Lost Ones”, along with themes of love and God in “Forgive Them, Father”.
At the 41st Grammy Awards, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill garnered 10 nominations. Ms. Hill won five awards, making her the first woman to receive that many nominations and awards in one night.
…Baby One More Time By Britney Spears
Her debut album was good, but there’s better ones than this. But, there are many things that stood out on her debut LP. It was crafted by producer Max Martin and his team of Swedish songwriters and producers.
Throughout the album, the pop songs were undeniably catchy, and girls would sing “…Baby One More Time” at the top of their lungs. Little did anyone realize the album ended up defining a generation of pop music.
Hybrid Theory By Linkin Park
In 1999, the music that would be on the album was first produced by the group as a nine-track demo tape. The album’s lyrical themes discuss Chester Bennington’s problems from his youth, including drug abuse, fighting, and his parent’s divorce. Four singles were released from the album including “One Step Closer”, “Crawling”, and “In The End.”
All of the singles were responsible for launching the group into mainstream popularity. “In the End” was the most successful of the four, with all of the singles remaining as some of the band’s most successful songs to date.
Is This It By The Strokes
The New Yorkers helped usher in the garage rock revival movement of the early 21st century. It didn’t take long for the group to be praised for its charisma and rhythm from singles such as “Hard to Explain”, “Last Nite”, and “Someday.”
The album is a crucial innovator in the development of other alternative groups. And, in the post-millennial music industry, it’s been featured on numerous publications’ lists of the best albums of the decade.
Turn On The Bright Lights By Interpol
The debut full-length album by the Manhattan lads caused a sensation upon impact. With it being closely associated with the 9/11 era of New York, the album assisted in defining indie rock in the early 2000s.
Not only that, but Interpol has been credited for ushering in the New York-born post-punk revival scene. Turn On The Bright Lights has been cited as an influence from many indie rock bands, including The Killers.
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ By 50 Cent
It came as a surprise when 50 Cent’s debut album lived up to its expectations. With icons like Dr. Dre and Eminem serving as producers, the duo worked together on defining the gangsta rap and R&B combo in New York hip hop.
With the number of guest verses throughout the soundtrack, 50’s career wouldn’t have been possible without this return to basic gangster rap. It did incredibly well, even after being released a week early to prevent bootlegging and internet leakage.
Funeral By Arcade Fire
Merge Records were willing to sign the Canadian multi-instrumentalist collective, however, the band insisted that before signing, they needed the label to see them live. Needless to say, they saw why. The group blended drama and pathos with songwriting that was lyrically personal.
Funeral was the title after several band members had recently lost members of their families. The Canadian indie rockers continue to craft their sound today, and they’ve come a long way since “Rebellion (Lies)” became big.
LCD Soundsystem Self-Titled
With influences from David Bowie and The Talking Heads, James Murphy’s project was incredible. The album comprises different genres from dance-punk to electronica. His group’s debut took a mix of everything, with synth-rock tunes including “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and the Beatles-inspired single “Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up.”
Despite some weak spots, the group made sure to have their music known as they released seven different singles to promote it.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not By Arctic Monkeys
The album surpassed Elastica’s self-titled album to become the fastest-selling debut album in British music history. By the end of January 2006, the album had sold over 300,000 copies, which is more than the rest of the Top 20 combined.
The standard features included indie rock, garage rock revival, and punk rock. It’s on full display with the group’s first single “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.” It’s often cited as one of the best rock albums of its decade.
Cross By Justice
While Daft Punk took an awfully long break between albums, another French duo emerged. Justice was happy to provide its arena-rocking, floor-pounding debut release. Everyone from people like Kanye West copped moves from this very same record.
The album is supported with the songs “Waters of Nazareth”, “D.A.N.C.E.”, “DVNO” and “Phantom.” A controversial music video was released for the song “Stress.” The video features young Parisian teenagers who go about the city and commit acts of gang violence.
Vampire Weekend Self-Titled
The cover photo of the album is a Polaroid picture from one of their early shows at Columbia University. In the albums first three months of its release, it sold nearly half a million copies. The album is also known for inspiring a wave of indie bands with world music influences. Paul Simon has spoken out in favor of the album, responding to the derision of some for perceived similarities to Simon’s 1986 album Graceland.
Man On The Moon By Kid Cudi
The concept album was narrated by rapper Common. Cudi’s creativity on Man on the Moon: The End of Day continues to be felt to this day. The nature of his music isn’t isolating or anything like that, but it’s deeply personal and genuine. Cudi looks inward in an attempt to make sense of the contents of his mind.
Cudi’s style of delivery and atmospheric presentation of his music is very compelling.
Pink Friday By Nicki Minaj
After signing a record deal with Young Money Entertainment in 2009, the rapper began planning her debut album. Following a much-anticipated release thanks to Minaj’s featured appearances on other artists singles, Pink Friday climbed into the top 20 in Australia, Canada, and the United States. The album sold over 375,000 copies in its first week.
It marked the second-highest sales week for a female hip hop artist behind Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.
Blue Slide Park By Mac Miller
The title of the album was named after a section of Frick Park in Miller’s hometown of Pittsburgh. With no guest appearances on the album, Miller had no problem putting his debut on the charts. Miller’s highest charting single “Frick Park Market” out beat his other single “Donald Trump.”
Blue Slide Park debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, making it the first independently distributed album to top the chart since Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food in 1995.
Channel Orange By Frank Ocean
Nostalgia, Ultra was the mixtape that hyped fans up for Ocean’s debut album. It was at a fevered pitch, especially with his reveal of coming out of the closet shortly before its initial release. It was a wonderful surprise to see Channel Orange live up to the hype people anticipated and leave an immediate mark on his fans.
The co-founder of Odd Future gave us all-time jams ranging from “Super Rich Kids” to “Pyramids” to “Pink Matter” to “Forrest Gump.”
Pure Heroine By Lorde
Lorde’s debut album is described as dream pop, electronica album with minimalist production. “Royals” received widespread acclaim thanks to its minimalist production and lyrics. Overall, the album was praised for its genres and take on pop. Plus, it challenged present-day music and its performers, including Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. The popularity of Pure Heroine is a polished and important place for pop music.
It’s no surprise that the album received such high acclaim.
LP1 By FKA Twigs
While Björk has long been go-to figureheads of the modern experimental pop movement, FKA twigs went a step further. She rooted her alien production and cryptic comedowns in contemporary soul, the result being something that has pushed the envelope forward. Working with pop icons Paul Epworth, the debut album sounded alluring and everlasting.
The album spawned three singles: “Two Weeks”, “Pendulum”, and “Video Girl.”
The Epic By Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington has played tenor saxophone on tracks for artists like Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and George Duke. His debut album, a three-CD epic appropriately titled The Epic, would have to deliver to ever live up to a title so wonderful.
His exceptional grasp of song structure and clever arrangements made this overambitious debut less of a chore and more of constant delight. His single of “Clair de Lune” is a masterful one at that.
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter By Margo Price
Margo Price’s debut album didn’t make a lot of units in the country world. However, when it comes to the critics, this album marked the second coming of Loretta Lynn herself. Her songwriting was crystal-clear, and her lyrics sometimes devastatingly honest.
“Hands of Time” became a country song fans would enjoy while driving down a road. This album will go down as one of the greatest country records of the decade.
Ctrl By SZA
Championed early by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, it took people a bit to warm to the charms of the St. Louis native. Nevertheless, when the extraordinary studio full-length album dropped, people were shocked by her casually confrontational lyrics and gift for crafting an incredible vocal hook.
Ctrl would throttle SZA as one of the new leading voices of R&B, and we’re happy that she’s one of the faces of the genre.
Invasion of Privacy By Cardi B
While Cardi B fully embraces her inspirational stripper-turned-rapper origin story, she was ready to do more. Cardi wasn’t selling her funniest lines or lyrics to the world; she was selling her attitude.
Invasion of Privacy is more than just a good rap album. Songs such as “Be Careful” introduced fans to her vulnerable side, painting the artist as a three-dimensional personality people want to spend more time with. Thankfully, this isn’t the last of Cardi B.