10 of the Most Valuable Cassette Tapes From the ‘80s and ‘90s

Calling all Gen Xers and elder millennials: Your old cassettes could be worth a bundle.
Calling all Gen Xers and elder millennials: Your old cassettes could be worth a bundle. / Israel Sebastian, Moment Collection, Getty Images

In the age of easy-to-access digital music, it’s hard to imagine a time when audio cassette tapes were popular. But back in the 1980s and ‘90s, cassette tapes were everything, even surpassing vinyl as the go-to way to listen to music (or even win over a prospective love interest).

Nowadays, music you can actually hold in your hands feels novel compared to its digital brethren. Although cassettes are making a slow comeback, most people probably don’t think of tapes as a must-have item, let alone anything of value—but those folks would be wrong. One of the most coveted, for instance, is a self-titled, self-released demo tape by Linkin Park (issued under the band’s original name, Xero), which recently sold for about $4500. 

You don’t have to have rare demos or impossible-to-find collectibles to make money off your cassette tapes. While first pressings or tapes that are still sealed typically command the highest resale value, you can still make a pretty decent buck even if they are opened. With that in mind, we’ve scoured eBay for the most valuable finds from the ‘80s and ‘90s that you probably have somewhere in the back of your closet.

1. Pearl Jam // Ten (1991)

Pearl Jam’s seminal debut album Ten was instrumental in the rise of grunge and alternative rock during the 1990s. It was also the band’s most commercially successful album, selling over 15 million copies and producing hits like “Even Flow” and “Jeremy,” the latter of which inspired a music video that was in heavy rotation on MTV.

If you have a sealed, first pressing of Ten on cassette, it could net you up to $4000 on eBay. Others have sold for less, but still go for between $400 to $700, while a used copy averages about $20 or so.

2. Nirvana // Nevermind (1991)

It may not be hard to figure out why Nirvana’s sophomore album Nevermind is worth a lot of money these days. In January 1992, it became the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, and its lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was later inducted in 2017 into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

While there’s been some controversy around Nevermind in recent years—Spencer Elden, the infamous naked baby featured on the cover, sued Nirvana in 2021, alleging sexual exploitation and emotional distress, among other things—it’s still considered an iconic part of the alt-rock revolution. Completely sealed, the tape could bring up to $1500 on eBay. No worries if you happen to have one that’s unsealed; those can be sold for about $50 and up.

3. Beastie Boys // Licensed to Ill (1986)

The Beastie Boys’ first studio album, Licensed to Ill, featured a lot of firsts: In March 1987, it became the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard 200. And in 2015, it was certified diamond after reaching 10 million in U.S. sales, a feat accomplished by no other hip-hop album from the ’80s. 

If you have an unsealed version of this audio cassette tucked away in your attic, you could potentially sell it for up to $1500 on eBay. For copies that are already used, you might get between $25 to $40.

4. Metallica // Ride the Lightning (1984)

Named after a line from Stephen King’s novel The Stand, Metallica’s Ride the Lightning was greatly influenced by Cliff Burton, an iconic bassist who helped push the boundaries of the band’s thrash metal sound for their second album. Often considered one of their best, it includes standouts like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Creeping Death,” and is notable for being the last album to include work from Dave Mustaine (who would go on to form Megadeth) and the first to feature lead guitarist Kirk Hammett.

Sealed cassette copies of Ride the Lightning could earn up to $1000 on eBay, and even used copies can sell for a surprising amount, about $150. If you have one of the original green-sleeve versions—a misprint from when it was released in France, and considered a “white whale” of a collectible for metalheads—you could stand to get upwards of $200 to $300 for it.

5. Nas // Illmatic (1994)

Nas’s debut album Illmatic featured a memorable cover photo of the rapper (born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) at age 7, superimposed over a city-block backdrop. It sold 60,000 copies in its first week alone and was considered a landmark album for East Coast rap as a whole; now, it’s regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. In 2021, it was even inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. 

You can sell your sealed audio cassette of Illmatic on eBay for up to about $900. Used copies can turn a decent profit, too: Many have sold for about $150.

6. Alanis Morissette // Jagged Little Pill (1995)

Although it was Alanis Morissette’s third studio album, 1995’s Jagged Little Pill was her first to be released worldwide. The added exposure paid off: The LP sold over 33 million copies across the globe, making it one of the bestselling albums of all time. It was later nominated for nine Grammy awards and won five, and even inspired a musical, which premiered in 2018 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before later ending up on Broadway, then hitting the road.

Hits like “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic” still have a special place in the hearts of ‘90s kids, and if you have a sealed copy of Jagged Little Pill, you could sell it on eBay for up to $600. Unsealed? You can sell it for a modest $10.

7. The Notorious B.I.G. // Ready to Die (1994)

Another debut album makes the list with Ready to Die, the first studio release from The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Christopher Wallace). With hit bangers like “Big Poppa” and “Juicy,” it brought more spotlight to the East Coast rap scene and helped build Biggie’s legend as one of the most influential figures in ‘90s hip-hop (and arguably, within the genre forever).

But there’s a bittersweet aspect to it, as sadly, it was the only complete album released by Biggie during his lifetime. His second album, Life After Death, was released on March 25, 1997, 16 days after his murder. You can sell sealed cassettes of Ready to Die for about $500 to $600 on eBay, whereas it will bring you around $90 if it’s already been used.

8. Snoop Dogg // Doggystyle (1993)

If this roundup is any indication, debut albums seem to be the most valuable over time. Case in point? Snoop Dogg’s inaugural 1993 release, Doggystyle, also makes the list. Debuting at No. 1 on the charts, it broke records, selling a stunning 806,000 copies in the U.S. within its first week and becoming the fastest-selling hip-hop album ever—until Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP dropped in 2000.

Tracks like “Gin and Juice” and “What’s My Name” both earned a gold certification from the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) and helped bring West Coast hip-hop to the mainstream. Sealed, this tape can bring in more than $500 on eBay (although it typically averages around $330). If you were blasting it back in the day and want to sell your old copy, that will go for between $30 to $60.

9. Madonna // Madonna (1983)

Madonna’s self-titled debut album, Madonna, spent 168 weeks on the Billboard charts thanks to hit tunes like “Lucky Star” and “Borderline,” but it was the future Queen of Pop’s style that really captivated fans too. With her bangles, black lace gloves, mesh knit tank tops, and heavily teased hair, the Desperately Seeking Susan star inspired tweens and teens of that era alike, who couldn’t help but copy the look.

This particular album was later re-released in 1985 under the title Madonna: The First Album. But if you happen to scrounge up any of the international releases of the sealed 1983 cassette, you could be looking at between $250 to $350 in profit from it on eBay. With used versions, you can make between $30 to $65, depending on the condition.

10. Jay-Z // Reasonable Doubt (1996)

He might be better known as an entrepreneur (and as Beyoncé’s plus one) these days, but back in the ‘90s, Jay-Z was a musical force to be reckoned with. Although it would take until his third album, 1998’s Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life, for Jay-Z to achieve worldwide success, his debut studio album Reasonable Doubt still had a big impact on the hip-hop landscape.

He co-founded Roc-a-Fella Records to release the album (the label later helped launch Kanye West’s career, too), and it was ultimately awarded gold status by the RIAA in 1996, then went platinum in 2002 for its album sales. On eBay, a sealed tape of it can rake in up to $400, but used copies are usually valued at about $100 on average.