Give me knowledge with a side of head nodding
December 4, 2008 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I need intelligent hiphop/rap with good beats. Any recommendations?

I was a huge hip hop head back in the day. I love a lot of '90s west coast rap with phat beats. The misogyny and gunplay is a bit much for someone my age though. Some of my favorites in terms of good beat/bad content artists are Snoop, Dre, Nelly, DJ Quik, E-40, Ice Cube, Mack 10, WC.

The problem I have with a lot of underground or intelligent hiphop is the lack of good beats. Some lyricists I love who often have horrible beats are Ras Kass, Saafir, and Aceyalone.

Yesterday, I picked up Talib Kweli's "Eardrum" and it was exactly the sort of thing I love. Intelligent lyrics with slammin' beats. I also liked Hieroglyphics back in the day. Blackalicious and the rest of Quannum are awesome too. I'm not a big Jurassic 5 fan, and I've seen them mentioned a lot in previous threads.

I've checked the other hip hop related threads and none of them seemed to directly ask this question. I'm open to all styles of hip hop as long as it meets the preceding criteria.

posted by reenum to Media & Arts (69 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
MF Doom. Anything by him.
posted by creasy boy at 9:53 AM on December 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Check your mefimail.
posted by jon_kill at 9:53 AM on December 4, 2008

I feel ridiculous even feeling the need to mention the Roots, but they weren't on your list. They changed their name; at first it was "The Square Roots". For a group of people as dangerously hip as they are, that's a pretty nerdy bit of history.
posted by louigi at 9:55 AM on December 4, 2008

Blowout Comb by Digable Planets
Black on Both Sides by Mos Def
posted by milarepa at 9:56 AM on December 4, 2008

If you like that g-funk style, you might enjoy Devin the Dude. And check out Acey's Magnificent City album, with beats by RJD2. Dilated Peoples might be up your alley, too. And, naturally, you'll want to learn a little bit more about your current faves, and check out the collaborations, side projects (The Mighty Underdogs, Maroons, Reflection Eternal), labelmates, producers, remixers, guest mc's, etc.
posted by box at 9:58 AM on December 4, 2008

Dan the Automater, and all of his various aliases. I linked to Wikipedia so you could check the sidebar to see the acts he's been in.
posted by theichibun at 9:59 AM on December 4, 2008

Gang Starr, Mos Def, The Roots, J5/Ozomatli (i.e. Chali 2na/Cut Chemist/Nu Mark), De La Soul, Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas, Tribe.. try Pandora. There's a lot of depth in this area, it'll help you find the specific ones you like most.
posted by kcm at 10:02 AM on December 4, 2008

I'd definitely pick up Kweli's first album, Reflection Eternal - Hi-Tek's beats make that record timeless. And I'll second Black on Both Sides. The Blackstar record (Kweli + Mos Def) is probably up your alley too, as is Brother Ali.
posted by antonymous at 10:04 AM on December 4, 2008

Also, it might be helpful if you clarify two things: first, what do you like in beats? Some of those guys on your list are known for their samples, others for their drum programming. And Dre's Straight Outta Compton production style is very different than his Chronic 2000 one, y'know?

And second, what do you mean by 'intelligent'? How dumb is too dumb, and how violent/misogynist is too violent/misogynist? There are smart guys who rhyme about misogyny and gunplay (say, Big L), and there are dumb guys who rhyme about consciousness and positivity and whatnot (use your own example). Do you like wordplay, storytelling, punchlines, what?

Not narrowed down, your question is basically 'what's some good hip-hop music?,' and that might be too broad to gather the best possible answers.
posted by box at 10:06 AM on December 4, 2008

Seconding MF Doom, Mos Def, adding Aesop Rock.
posted by syntheticfaith at 10:06 AM on December 4, 2008

nthing Mos Def and the Roots...I'd also check out Lupe Fiasco's The Cool for something more mainstream but still intelligent.
posted by theDrizzle at 10:08 AM on December 4, 2008

Pick up anything by K-Os. Perhaps starting with his Joyful Rebellion album.
posted by xotis at 10:20 AM on December 4, 2008

I have been made aware of an entire genre of hip-hop called "Nerdcore." May be worth a look.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on December 4, 2008

Also The Last Emperor is awesome but never got alot of attention.
posted by theDrizzle at 10:21 AM on December 4, 2008

This is a real reach, because to call these guys "slammin" is a little...iffy? But Grand Buffet is pretty awesome. Couple of white dudes from Pennsylvania, great beats, funny/clever lyrics, and a vibe you can almost always appreciate.

They sometimes veer towards pop, but try out their album "Five Years of Fireworks" and "The Haunted Fucking Gazebo" EP.
posted by AlbatrossJones at 10:28 AM on December 4, 2008

Oh, and if you just need a starter song to test them, give "Bears & Bricks" a run.
posted by AlbatrossJones at 10:28 AM on December 4, 2008

You might enjoy Blue Scholars (Pacific Northwest hip-hop, absolutely terrific as far as both music and lyrics are concerned). Check out the link for a few of their songs.
posted by halogen at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2008

Investigate Anticon (cLOUDDEAD may be too weird, but smartness abounds). And the works of El-P. And The Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox. I, Phantom by Mr. Lif is a brilliant conceptual album with some great (and some not so great) beats.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:32 AM on December 4, 2008

Seconding Dan the Automator - check out the Handsome Boy Modeling School album for some great head-nodding stuff.
posted by jquinby at 10:33 AM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Common Market
posted by arcanecrowbar at 10:34 AM on December 4, 2008

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "intelligent." If you mean clever in general, I think Ludacris's stuff, especially his non-singles, are great. All of his stuff has good beats. I find Ludacris to be more tongue-in-cheek than actually promoting violence or misogyny, insofar as some of his lyrics could be construed that way.

Some songs in particular: "Large Amounts," "Runaway Love," "Screwed Up." (For some reason, I can't find the first and last song anywhere online. Weird.)
posted by Nattie at 10:37 AM on December 4, 2008

Response by poster: @box:

To clarify, I like Dre's production on "The Chronic" and "Doggystyle". "Chronic 2001" was good, but nothing outstrips his work on "Chronic".

As far as intelligence and violence/misogyny, I don't like hiphop/rap like Master P or some of the newer commercial stuff that's out today, like Rich Boy and The Game. Ditto 50 Cent. They have good beats, but the message is non-existent. I can take some violence and misogyny in the music, but it shouldn't be all about shooting up the block and banging as many ho's as possible. I really enjoy Ludacris. He's misogynist, but at least he's clever about it.

As far as what I like in beats, I like samples. I love DJ Premier and Kanye West's sound.

As far as rhymes, I'd rank it as follows: punchlines, storytelling, wordplay.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. Please keep em' comin'.
posted by reenum at 10:39 AM on December 4, 2008

Seconding Common Market in addition to Blue Scholars.
posted by halogen at 10:42 AM on December 4, 2008

Everything here is pretty good. Try these also:

J-Dilla/Slum Village
Mr. Lif
Dead Prez

lyrics rom Dead Prez:

Uh, one thing bout music, when it hit you feel no pain
White folks say it controls your brain
I know better than that, thats game and we ready for that
Two soldiers head of the pack, matter of fact who got the gat?
And where my army at?
Rather attack and not react
Back the beats, it dont reflect on how many records get sold
On sex, drugs, and rock and roll, whether your projects put on hold
In the real world, these just people with ideas
They just like me and you when the smoke and camera disappear
Again the real world (world), its bigger than all these fake ass records
When poor folks got the millions and my womans disrespected
If you check 1,2, my word of advice to you is just relax
Just do what you got to do, if that dont work then kick the facts
If you a fighter, rider, ? bouter? , flame ignitor, crowd exciter
Or you wanna just get high, then just say it
But then if you a liar-liar, pants on fire, wolf-cry agent with a wire
Im gonna know it when I play it
posted by plexi at 10:52 AM on December 4, 2008

With a salad, a fresh bed of lettuce with croutons
Later we can play a game of chess on the futon
posted by box at 11:08 AM on December 4, 2008

nthing RJD2, Lupe Fiasco, Aesop Rock, and Dilated Peoples. You might also like El-P (same label as RJD2 and Aesop Rock) and Sage Francis.
posted by xbonesgt at 11:12 AM on December 4, 2008

Brother Ali is fantastic, you should definitely check him out.
posted by puddpunk at 11:18 AM on December 4, 2008

Well, it sort of depends on your definition of intelligence. But if you can stand some drugs, violence and misogyny in your music as long as there's a payoff (and it sounds like you can), check out Ghostface Killah's solo work. Especially the last three major releases The Pretty Tony Album, Fishscale and The Big Doe Rehab. He's been around so long and has so much cred that I think he's just allowed to do whatever the fuck he wants to on his albums now.

You'll hear plenty about selling drugs and fucking hos, but the man is a great storyteller and he loves old soul samples. It's probably not for everyone, but if you want to hear someone paint a picture with words try these on for size: Shakey Dog and Holla.
posted by thebergfather at 11:31 AM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should check out The Herbaliser, DJ Krush, Kid Koala, and DJ Spooky. Some of it's more hip-hop than rap, but it's really, really good.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:35 AM on December 4, 2008

Yeah, good point about Ras Kass - ok lyrics, but garbage beats...

So here is my list (and your really missing out if you neglect J5, especially their early stuff)

Check these guys out (most are not mentioned above)

Jedi Mind Tricks
Weerd Science <> Louis Logic
Trip Lee <> OuterSpace
Swollen Members
Dr. Octagon, Kook Keith
Jazz Poets Society

thats a start but...check em out. Oh and if your going to look into The Roots (which I recommned) dont look into their new stuff, its garbage.
posted by TeachTheDead at 11:45 AM on December 4, 2008

Seconding Grand Buffet, who I'm delighted someone else has heard of. But really, AlbatrossJones, not "slammin"? I've got half a mind to send them a MySpace message ratting you out for saying that.
posted by contraption at 11:47 AM on December 4, 2008

I second Immortal Technique. I found his latest a bit disappointing. But "Peruvian Cocaine" on his Revolutionary, Vol. 2 says more about the drug trade than all of Traffic - plus you can bob your head to it.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:56 AM on December 4, 2008

Came in to suggest Blue Scholars, but Halogen beat me to it. Really, vehemently seconding that suggestion. If you find you like them, Atmosphere is also worth a listen.
posted by messylissa at 11:57 AM on December 4, 2008

Rhymefest is Kanye's ghostwriter. He's probably the reigning king of punchline rhymes right now. He's constantly stepping across the line of intelligent social commentary and misogyny, though. Great beats and fun to listen to.

You absolutely MUST listen to both of Lupe Fiasco's albums or else you're out of the hip-hop fanclub. Seriously.

TeachTheDead: As a Philly kid, I will defend the Roots to my death. No way, no how are the Roots recent albums garbage. While nothing will touch albums 2-4, their last three albums are complex and subtle, and absolutely worth listening to. They are a ridiculously tight set of musicians that continue to innovate and push hip-hop into new sonic territory.

Louis Logic....meh. His shit is as violent & misogynistic as it comes, clearly not what the OP is asking for. Swollen Members....what the eff have they done since 2000? Not much. Jedi Mind Tricks... okay, they have a cool name, but their shit is unremarkable. None of these MCs could even hold Black Thought's jockstrap. How you could suggest any of these artists over the recent Roots albums is completely beyond my comprehension.
posted by gnutron at 12:00 PM on December 4, 2008

Also, check Pharoah Monch's album "Desire" and Jean Grae's "Jeanius". You won't be disappointed.
posted by gnutron at 12:08 PM on December 4, 2008

Are counting out 80s rap?

Slick Rick - Children's Story, Hey Young World
posted by collocation at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2008

Seconding Brother Ali--really smart lyrics and good music to back him up.
posted by eralclare at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2008

Okay, one more and then I'm out for reals. Frontline. From the Bay Area, they are what intelligent gangstas sound like. Great beats if you love the Cali sound.
posted by gnutron at 12:12 PM on December 4, 2008

MC Frontalot. Nerdcore!
posted by zzazazz at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2008

posted by bradly at 12:59 PM on December 4, 2008

Another vote for Immortal Technique. Paris is great too
posted by euphorb at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2008

I'm not sure if it will meet your beats requirements, but K'naan's The Dusty Foot Philosopher was one of my faves a year or two back. He's worked with some of the other people named on this page if that helps any - and hey, a rapper from Mogadishu who learnt English phonetically from rap records has got to be worth a look, yeah?
posted by mandal at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2008

Don't know if it'll be to your taste, but there's Michael Franti (Hole in the Bucket) / Spearhead / Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy; Jalal (e.g., On The One); The Last Poets; Gil Scott-Heron ....
posted by coffeefilter at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2008

Mc Buzz B
posted by lalochezia at 1:57 PM on December 4, 2008

Response by poster: I can't believe I forgot Slick Rick. The Ruler is the man in my book.

Can any of you recommend any specific El-P songs? I had the Funcrusher Plus album back in the day, and I remember the beats being very spare. El-P does know how to rip up the mic, though. That is true.

Murs is the bomb too. I love that song "Risky Business" he did with Shock G/Humpty Hump.

I'm lovin' these recommendations, guys. Keep it flowing!
posted by reenum at 2:03 PM on December 4, 2008

Killer Mike.

(The first link is a pretty fucking great interview, the second is a smart, angry song)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2008

I agree with much of the above (except that the last couple Roots albums are dope), and will add:
Black Milk
Pete Rock (a legend, and goes in with your like of DJ Premiere),
some Damian Marley,
this cat named Edan [I like his beats, some people don't. Most people agree he's a great lyricist],
De La Soul is surprisingly still pretty damn good,
Cage is who Eminem wanted to be,
Foreign Exchange
, Cee-lo (his first solo album is great),
along with that Goodie Mob.
Oh. ..and find yourself a copy of The Grey Album.
posted by nameless.k at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2008

a lot of good suggestions here. looking through these replies, i realize that i've already tried out most of them because i signed up for a while back and went exploring.
posted by some idealist at 2:49 PM on December 4, 2008

posted by some idealist at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2008

Q-Tip has a new album.
No one has mentioned Common
posted by cnc at 5:53 PM on December 4, 2008

Have you listened to Aceyalone's "Book of Human Language"? The production on that album is actually excellent, in my opinion.

Common's 1994 album "Resurrection" has great beats and amazing lyrics.

Also, Outkast's "Aquemini" is great. People sleep on them because they're so popular, but that album has great production and Andre Benjamin is just amazing on it.

I'll second Cee-lo, or rather Goodie Mob's "Soul Food" and to look out for cee-lo on it specifically.

I'll also second De La Soul, and in particular paying attention when Posdnuos is rapping.

That said, I can't recommend The Roots based on your criteria because of their mediocre rapping (Black Thought has a decent voice but that's about it), or Pete Rock because he's a pretty awful rapper (and so is CL Smooth).

Cage is dope, but I don't know if you'd like his beats.

Aesop Rock is great. Slug's older stuff with Atmosphere is good, but the production is hit or miss (mostly miss), but he was a great MC (haven't heard much his newer stuff sadly). Other names to check out: KMD/MF Doom, the Juggaknots, Percee P and Organized Konfusion, but these all might have too much of an East Coast/NYC aesthetic for you.

I'm not a big J5 fan either, so maybe some of my suggestions will resonate with you.
posted by AceRock at 5:59 PM on December 4, 2008

Saigon. Arguably the best rapper alive. Tons of beats by Just Blaze, but all his shit is golden.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2008

I was just listening to Cyne appropriately enough.

De La Soul
Danger Doom (mix of MF Doom and Danger Mouse)
Kero One
Sound Providers
The Mighty Underdogs
The Procussions
Ugly Duckling (I really dig Journey to Anywhere)
posted by robofunk at 8:12 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most of what I came in to say has already been recommended, but definitely check out now-defunct, underground, Atlanta hip hop group Live on Arrival. Their production values are impressive for an unsigned band, and I think they'd be right up your alley. They used to have their first two albums available online for free, but I couldn't find anything after a cursory search (and unfortunately some Canadian rock band stole the name, making them harder to search for).

Some of the members went on to form Collective Efforts, who are also very good.

Psyche Origami is yet another Atlanta-based underground crew with solid rhymes and good production.

Busdriver, from LA, is ok every once in a while, though it seems like a lot of the time his tracks suffer at the expense of what seems to be a race against himself to see how fast he can rap.
posted by fantastico at 8:14 PM on December 4, 2008

Nthing Black Star (I think that album is so much better than either of their solo efforts) and Dan the Automator.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:27 PM on December 4, 2008

Specifically in reference to your preference for West Coast, funky stuff, I'd strongly recommend you check out The Coup. Very traditional heavy West Coast beats, and Boots is a spectacular lyricist, with a very Bay Area flow -- a bit of Cube, a fair helping of Short, and some pretty sharp Marxism. Give "Me & Jesus the Pimp" a listen, or Underdogs (or for something less depressing, Wear Clean Draws).

I think the folks who have recommended 90s Dungeon Family -- Outkast and Goodie Mob, specifically -- are really on-target, too. You really can't go wrong with Aquemini or ATLiens, or Soul Food.

Someone suggested Killer Mike a (former) DF affiliate who's as intelligent as it gets (that's a self-link to an interview with him on my public radio show), and can absolutely rap his ass off, though you might find him misogynist (actually you might find the same of Goodie Mob, I dunno). If you like that, I would check out Cunninlynguists and B.O.B.

I love Devin the Dude (seriously, my favorite MC), but he is as misogynist as it gets -- albeit in a light-hearted, self-depracating way.

Someone suggested Blowout Comb by Digable Planets. Maybe my favorite album ever, and I think you'd really love it. Nobody in Digable is superlyrical, but they have unique styles, great voices and some insights from time to time.

And on the sort of remedial front, do you have Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders? What about Illmatic?

In conclusion: never trust anyone who tells you Aesop Rock is a good rapper but Black Thought isn't.
posted by YoungAmerican at 10:46 PM on December 4, 2008

OK as someone who goes for.. the beats & sound of the voice first, sometimes lyrics get too contorted when trying to be clever.. a lot of stuff called 'intelligent' these days I don't really care for.. but..

Cosign on Goodie Mob Soul Food, you would probably like it, also Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt, these came out a long while ago..

UGK Underground Kingz. here's the last song on that album Living this Life.. just listen.

Oh you know what, DC hip hop artist Walé has done a couple mixtapes you might like, the most recent being The Mixtape about Nothing which is.. a riff on Seinfeld. really.
posted by citron at 12:00 AM on December 5, 2008

2nding The Coup. Can't believe I forgot them. Boots is the best storyteller MC since Slick Rick. "Me and Jesus the Pimp..." is a great song, and also check out "Fat Cats and Bigger Fish".

Also check out Soul Position (Blueprint and RJD2). Good stuff there.
posted by AceRock at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2008

Response by poster: I love the Coup, Devin, Tribe, De La, and old Jay-Z. Also, Aquemini has to be one of my all time favorites.

I feel the Roots, but I really like their second album. It was the album right before they blew up, I think. Their sound has gotten a bit repetitive for my tastes, though.

Thanks for all the suggestions, guys. This has given me a lot of new stuff to listen to. If there any more people who want to insert their $.02, please do.
posted by reenum at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2008

Oh yeah, and I have to second Ugly Duckling. They're like a smarter version of the Beastie Boys with more soul.
posted by eralclare at 8:27 AM on December 5, 2008

Seconding Doom and Dilla...those guys are exactly what you are looking for. Also, seconding that Ghostface has awesome beats and smart rhymes, even if he's often talking about selling coke and whatnot.
posted by saul wright at 9:47 AM on December 5, 2008

Atmosphere and Brother Ali, for that crunchy Minnesota hiphop sound.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2008

Coming from a slightly different perspective (electronic / breakbeats), you may like Bassnectar's Underground Communication (or this mix), and Tipper's Tip Hop. A hybrid of hiphop and crunchy, wobbly, glitchy dance music worth checking out.
posted by Xelf at 1:44 PM on December 5, 2008

I can't believe no one mentioned Little Brother. Their albums got me back into hip-hop a few years back. I used to be a ridickerous hip-hop head in the 80's and 90's, and then just got sick of horrible beats and lyrics. Do yourself a favor and download some of their tunes. Case in point:

"Yo, my girl's a grown woman who ain't trynna get her eagle on
She'd rather be in bed gettin' her Kegel on"
posted by jasondigitized at 1:46 PM on December 5, 2008

Check out the Stones Throw Records catalog
posted by muta at 3:12 AM on December 6, 2008

Anybody for Nappy Roots' Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. Soulful and funky.
posted by up in the old hotel at 7:12 PM on December 6, 2008

Ratatat. I love their remix album? Anyone else dig them?
posted by jkruse at 1:39 AM on December 7, 2008

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