The Complete List of Platinum Hip-Hop Albums by Year

Bet you don't know which year had the most platinum albums...
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“1994 was the best year for hip-hop”

“Platinum albums are dead”

“Back in 2003 anyone could go platinum”

If you’ve ever talked to a hip-hop head, chances are you’ve heard them say one of those quotes above. We love to talk about platinum albums in a general sense, what the music industry is like and used to be like, but how often do we really get into specifics? How often do we back up our opinions with actual facts? 

Never. 

That’s why, after putting together the list of every rapper to ever have a platinum hip-hop album, we were eager to dive back into another breakdown of the Platinum Master List we compiled which had not only every artist, but every album and the year the album was released. Looking over that Master List it became clear what we could really chart hip-hop's commercial rise by looking at platinum albums by year of release, so we sorted by the date and got this: 

The Breakdown:

Most Popular Year: 1998 (30 albums)
Least Popular Year: 1984, 2014 & 2015 (1 album)
Mode (number that appears most often): 4
Average # of Platinum Albums Per Year: 10.25

The Numbers:

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  • 1984: 1
  • 1985: 2
  • 1986: 3
  • 1987: 4
  • 1988: 11
  • 1989: 9
  • 1990: 9
  • 1991: 12
  • 1992: 9
  • 1993: 13
  • 1994: 11
  • 1995: 11
  • 1996: 16
  • 1997: 18
  • 1998: 30
  • 1999: 29
  • 2000: 22
  • 2001: 16
  • 2002: 14
  • 2003: 16
  • 2004: 20
  • 2005: 14
  • 2006: 7
  • 2007: 5
  • 2008: 4
  • 2009: 3
  • 2010: 5
  • 2011: 4
  • 2012: 3
  • 2013: 4
  • 2014: 1
  • 2015: 1

OK, let's take a deep breath. There’s so much to chew on here, let's try to hit the big points. 

The First Platinum Explosion: 

It's interesting to see the number of albums increase slowly and sequentially in hip-hop's first few years then absolutely shoot up in 1988. 1988’s eleven albums isn’t that many compared to the years that would come, but in just one year, the number of platinum albums almost tripled; what happened in 1988? It appears the West Coast happened. In 1987, there wasn’t a single platinum album from a West Coast artist, up until that point platinum plaques had been completely dominated by east coast artists. But in ‘88 you see the arrival of N.W.A, Ice-T, MC Hammer (Oakland) and Sir Mix-A-Lot (Seattle). Add that to albums from established New York market artists (Run D.M.C and Public Enemy) and suddenly the hip-hop market is far larger. 

The Peak, 1998-2000:

How about 1998 to 2000? 81 platinum albums in three years?! That’s insane. We often talk about 1994 being the best year for hip-hop and the '90s being the Golden Age, but if we are going by sales, it’s that late 90’s to early 2000’s period where hip-hop had the most commercial success (1994 isn’t even in the top three). To extend that even further, from 1998 to 2004 there were 125 platinum albums. That’s 125 albums in seven years. For some perspective, the preceding 14 years (1984-1997) there were 129. That seven year span really was the Platinum Era. Almost as quickly as it came up, though, it dropped off just as sharply. In the next seven years (2005-2011) there were only 42 platinum certifications. What the hell happened in that seven years to elevate sales to those levels?

Similar to in ‘88, the late '90s featured another geographic explosion. By this time, the West Coast was as well represented as New York, but it was the South that really exploded. 8 Ball, Scarface and Lil Troy represented for Memphis and Houston and New Orleans started to emerge as the next hot spot with albums from Juvenile, Mystikal, Silkk Tha Shocker and more. Paired with the peak of the CD era and an Internet Age that hadn't yet arrived and you've got a perfect storm where albums were flying off shelves.

Full Circle:

The biggest takeaway, however, is how album sales have come full circle. Back in 1984 there was one platinum album. 15 years later there were 30. 15 years after that? One platinum album. It’s pretty incredible to see the industry essentially return to its original form. I believe the math term is “bell curve.” At the exact same time that hip-hop is more popular and more influential than ever the album as the primary method of music consumption has been minimized, which means albums sales in 2015 look exactly like they did in 1984, further driving home the point that the Peak Era, from 1998-2000, was far more the historical anomaly than the norm. People really only bought albums for a relatively short period in the music industry's history. The more we look at the present and forecast the future the more it looks like the past.

People have been stressing for years that the platinum album is dead, and it is, but that claim never came with any sort of data; it was kind of assumed. To really dig into the numbers and really see how it has progressed and regressed is fascinating. It's crazy that platinum albums have been the measure of success when, in reality, the "platinum era" was more ephemeral. The platinum album is the exception, but we make it the rule, the standard. I also think this shows how important it is to look at how geography, and the expansion of hip-hop into new markets affected the numbers.

This investigation will only continue, as we plan to dig into the geography behind these albums. Hip-hop has always had a strong emphasis on markets, so it'll be quite interesting to see what we can learn about the success of these regions we take so much pride in.

Until next time...

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. You can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Additional reporting by Nathan Slavik, this is his Twitter. Image via Winter Knights.]

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