Who the fuck is Eminem, anyway?
August 19, 2010 9:01 PM   Subscribe

What rap/hip hop music should a very un-hip fella start by listening to?

So, I'm extremely embarrassed by this hole in my musical culture. I know nothing about rap/hip hop. I don't even know if rap and hip hop are different (my guess is that hip hop is an evolutionary step beyond rap). But I watched 8 Mile tonight and was simultaneously blown away and stricken with shame that I've ignored this genre until now. Help please? I'm not looking for "significant" & innovate hip hop artists so much as artists who can ease a total square into an awareness of the scope of the genre, if that makes any sense. I'm not a fan of misogynistic or gratuitously violent lyrics (bringing this up because it features in the "controversy/criticisms sections of the Wikipedia articles I've been reading), but I'm down with anger, sure. I'm totally grooving on the seemingly spontaneous verbal kung fu.
posted by YamwotIam to Media & Arts (62 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Oooh man, check out jurassic 5, and anything chali 2Na does! Those guys are AWESOME oldschool rap.

He also played with ozomatli (also a fantastic mixed/fusion band)- one of my go-to bands for summer time cookouts- but I really just like the album chali 2Na and cut chemist play on (their self titled album).
posted by TheBones at 9:06 PM on August 19, 2010

Outkast is accessible and excellent and Andre on their older stuff was one of the best rappers on the planet (but not in as obvious a way as Eminem).

Blackalicious (Gift of Gab) and Latyrx (Lateef and Lyrics Born) are some of the best rappers around right now and they are pretty accessible.

For East Coast stuff, I would check out Mos Def, De La Soul, Aesop Rock... All great rappers and they stay away from misogynistic and violent stuff.

Midwest we're talking Common (his sophomore album Resurrection came out in 1994 and might be the greatest hip-hop album of all time), Lupe Fiasco, Diverse, Atmosphere's older stuff.

Jay-Z can be misogynistic and violent, but really he's quite good and well respected among hip-hop heads and mainstream music fans alike.
posted by AceRock at 9:10 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two terrific independent labels spring to mind: Rhymesayers (Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Eyedea & Abilities) and Quanuum (Blackilicious, Lyrics Born, etc.). Very cool, very thoughtful and fun music. Brother Ali and Lyrics Born are probably my two favorite voices in the idiom, great booming bass-baritones.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:14 PM on August 19, 2010

This is less a recommendation of a new rapper, but if you liked 8 Mile, you might like:

eminem freestyling to words thrown at him
posted by surenoproblem at 9:18 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Chronic is still THE house party hip hop album.
posted by VTX at 9:21 PM on August 19, 2010

Also, I second all of AceRock's suggestions. Rap is actually a subset of hip hop, which is an artistic idiom/culture that is huge and widely varying internationally. The "pillars" of the idiom are DJing, emceeing, breaking, beat boxing, and graffitti. The Wikipedia article is a great place to start, but there is a ton of delightful art out there to discover within the cultural umbrella of hip hop. Have fun!
posted by LooseFilter at 9:22 PM on August 19, 2010

Public Enemy. I'd start with It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
posted by lukemeister at 9:31 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Del tha Funkee Homosapien is a classic. On the more esoteric end: Anti-Pop Consortium.
posted by griphus at 9:34 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Big Boi's new album Sir Lucious Leftfoot is probably one of the best hip hop albums to come out in the last ten years. He's the (I think) better half of Outkast (which are already really great), and his new album is stellar. Absolutely killer. Just put it on in your car and turn up the volume.

Note: If you do not want to listen to "misogynistic or gratuitously violent lyrics" DO NOT listen to any rap produced during the 90's. Sorry, that's just the way it is. NWA, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Jay-z, Wu-Tang, Nas, 2pac, Biggie, Geto Boys, UGK, any West Coast rap (especially Too Short), any southern rap. All of it contains misogynistic or gratuitously violent lyrics, sometimes to absurd degrees (I'm looking at you Kurupt). Except for more socially conscious rap (like A Tribe Called Quest), misogyny and violence were the bread and butter of rhymes until about 2000 or so, when rappers started making a lot of money. Then they just rapped about how much money they made.
posted by fryman at 9:42 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, GZA's album Liquid Swords is also really, really amazing. One of my all time favorites. It's violent rhymes, sure, but more like ninja violence. Ninjas that sell crack.
posted by fryman at 9:46 PM on August 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Note: If you do not want to listen to "misogynistic or gratuitously violent lyrics" DO NOT listen to...EMINEM.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:49 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you wanted to go historically, I would say you could start with Afrika Bambataa, Sugar Hill Gang, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five from the 70s, then move into the 80s explosion: Run-DMC, Salt-n-Pepa, Digital Underground, The Beastie Boys, Big Daddy Kane, NWA, KRS-One, and Public Enemy. But some of the early stuff will probably sound dated to you, and maybe you're not looking for a history lesson.

I would say the contemporary sound of hip-hop probably dates from two early-90s albums: Dr. Dre's The Chronic, mentioned above, and Enter the 36 Chambers by Wu-Tang Clan. But be warned -- both of those are kind of hard listening. Dre's pretty casually sexist, and Wu's um, catastrophically violent (though it's often clearly intended as empty rhetoric).

For sheer lyrical flow, I second the Del Tha Funkee Homosapien recommendation, along with Young MC (very old school), the above-mentioned Chali 2na and Jay-Z, and, well, you know Eminem.

I also highly, highly recommend The Roots, especially Game Theory, The Tipping Point, Things Fall Apart, and Rising Down. Unlike most rap bands, they play their own instruments, giving their music a looser, jazzier feel.

(On the other end of the spectrum, you could try late-80s/early-90s Public Enemy albums -- Fear of a Black Planet, Apocalypse 91 -- whose backing tracks are built entirely from hundreds of tiny samples. The effect is electrifying -- hair-raising even today. Also, they were angry as hell.)
posted by thehandsomecamel at 10:00 PM on August 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

It's an obvious choice, but the Beastie Boys did release legitimately good rap. But I can't really say anything else that hasn't been said here.
posted by LSK at 10:03 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, crap. Missy Elliott. Forgot Missy Elliott. She's a little on the pop side, but she's got a terrific, powerful delivery and she's pretty much a shot of pure hedonistic pleasure coming out of your earbuds. IMO.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 10:09 PM on August 19, 2010

Most of the hip-hop music I listen is doesn't really get played on the radio. I think underground hip-hop is the way to go if you are trying to appreciate the genre. Artist like Braille, Homecut, Cyne, Atmosphere, Awon, Cosmo, Span Phly, State of the Artist, Zion I, SonReal, and ZKPRZ. Just give them a quick Google and it will help you discover more artist in the underground scene. I don't think anyone mentioned Slum Village or Talib Kweli. They are awesome to listen to as well. Some songs from Nas contain misogynistic and violent lyrics, but most of his songs come from things he has seen or social issues in urban environments. (I.E. Nas- Black Girl Lost , One Love , One Mic, Memory Lane, If I Ruled The World.) If you are feeling adventurous, check out Nujabes. Most of his works are jazzy, hip-hop instrumentals, but the beats from this man is just a big bowl of happy... Good luck and happy hunting!
posted by Junior687 at 10:12 PM on August 19, 2010

Again OutKast Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
posted by at the crossroads at 10:17 PM on August 19, 2010

A note about those I'm going to mention: I am not an old school rap fan, so what a lot of people have already said good stuff if you want that. Most of what I like is new and pretty popular, so take these suggestions for what they're worth.

Eminem - if you liked "8 Mile," it's worth listening to his latest CD. SO. GOOD.

P.O.S. - out of minneapolis. part of the Doomtree crew, which you should also check out. it includes a mighty awesome woman by the name of Dessa, also. i cannot stress how good P.O.S. and Dessa are.

Kanye West - say what you want about him as a person, the music is GOOD.
mc chris - for the nerd in you.
Travie McCoy/Gym Class Heroes - for the catchy, poppy side of you.

other things that have been popular recently, but that I don't care for...
lil' wayne
kid cudi <-- not bad.
posted by itsacover at 10:22 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nas - NY State of Mind (from the greatest ny hip hop album, Illmatic)

Outkast - Two Dope Boyz (in a Cadillac)

Notorious B.I.G. - Juicy (from another great ny hip hop album, Ready To Die)
posted by Bunge at 10:28 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Some late 80's/early 90's rap that holds up well:

Ultramagnetic MC's album Critical Beatdown. It is where Kool Keith got his start (i think).
Jungle Brothers album Done by the Forces of Nature= Urban Hippie rap from late 80's.
DeLa Soul's Buhloon Mindstate was groundbreaking, as was Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. Both are great for multiple listens. Also, add another Jurrasic 5 recommendation to the list.

Each of these are 'posse' style groups where several different voices trade off during each tune, keeping the texture fresh. I like that stuff alot.
posted by palacewalls at 10:28 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pharcyde's Drop was the first rap music video that I remember liking, and I love the line about assemblin'.

I don't listen to a lot of hip-hop and rap, so maybe consider me versed in outsider appreciation of the genre?

I loooove Blackalicious' Blazin' Arrow. Feel That Way is one of my favoritest tracks of all time, and might even be kid-friendly, if you can imagine that. Who else has tracks about "eating right and feelin' conscious like health is first?" Alphabet Aerobics is also one of the funnest and most approachable tracks for people who don't normally listen to rap things.

I enjoyed the heck out of Outkast's Stankonia and SpeakerBoxxx and some of the tracks from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (that I only discovered on their Greatest Hits collection, i'll admit it.). Ain't No Thing is a little rougher than their later songs, but still sounds like a laid-back summer slice of fun, even if you don't smoke pot (I don't.). Outkast songs are fun for the first hundred listens, but then the radio hits were getting so oversaturated that I backed off for a while.

If you like horror movies, you might like this little ditty from Aesop Rock and John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats. And this song from Sage Francis, Will Oldham, and Saul Williams is another great crossover track (The first rapper is Sage Francis, the later guy is Saul Williams).

Saul Williams' videos never seem to do the songs justice, but his spokenword/rap/whathaveyou is terrific. His songs aren't always super accessible, but start with the catchy ones, like Black Stacey. A lot of Saul Williams' stuff drops in crazy mystic themes, which can be fun if you're feeling it.

If I think of any other tracks, I'll drop some more links in. Enjoy!

-sincerely, a lady who listens to rap and hip hop sometimes.
posted by redsparkler at 10:32 PM on August 19, 2010

Wikipedia and Youtube's Related Videos are all you need. Just follow your ears...
posted by msittig at 10:50 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Note: If you do not want to listen to "misogynistic or gratuitously violent lyrics" DO NOT listen to any rap produced during the 90's.

Largely true, but there are exceptions. If you take Tupac, for instance, Changes is politically conscious and awesome, and Keep Ya Head Up explicitly speaks out against misogyny.

I'll definitely second Talib Kweli - Get By hooked me on him.

Many other great suggestions here too. Have fun!
posted by sigmagalator at 10:57 PM on August 19, 2010

You should just listen to all of it, in my opinion. You're going to find things you like and things you don't but you're never going to find a way to get filter out the negative trappings of the genre unless you just listen to Coup albums over and over again.

One way to understand rap music is to think of it as an evolving conversation that takes place in a very specific language . . . as a kind of folk music that happens to have been borne out of popular culture. Any rap song that you hear is going to reference an older rap song, which in turns references older rap songs (either by beat or by rhyme or by cadence or whatever), which in turn reference older rock and funk and jazz and whatever else.

To me the joy of this genre comes from learning that language and learning those references. If you filter out what you listen to based on your own moral dilemmas within the music, you'll never be able to listen to 80% of it, and you will not fully understand any of it. Part of what rap tries to do at its best is involve the listener in the larger conversation that takes place over three decades and thousands of songs. If you ask rap music to mirror back to you what you believe in, you will not understand the larger conversation about issues like drugs and violence and the relationships between men and women in difficult economic circumstances (as expressed primarily by young men, yes, true). And so on and so forth

This is preachy, I know. It's just that there's so much good, great rap music, and none of it does anything except reflect back to us various aspects of our own culture in this country, sometimes in a very exaggerated way.
posted by kensington314 at 11:56 PM on August 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

I guess I'm just saying it would be a shame for you to miss out on Illmatic. Check out that one.
posted by kensington314 at 11:58 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh man, so many good suggestions already. Here are some Youtube links to classics (I'm dating myself here):

Mos Def New World Water, Umi Says

De La Soul Oooh, Eye Know

Jeru da Damaja Playin' yo self, History 101

The Coup Me and Jesus the Pimp, Fixation

KRS One Sound of da Police, Hip Hop Lives

Aceyalone Anywhere, Makeba

Gang Starr DWYCK

Tribe Called Quest Scenario, Electric Relaxation

and my new favorite-listen-all-the-time:

Shabazz Palaces Bellhaven Meridian, Blast it

Hope you enjoy 'em!
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 12:09 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the best rapper in history is Ice Cube in the first three or four years of the 1990s. Check out Amerikkka's Most Wanted and Death Certificate. Nobody could touch Ice Cube in 1991, on any coast. And Amerikkka's Most is produced by the Bomb Squad, so it's like listening to Public Enemy if Chuck D could actually rap.

Both these albums are very seriously ugly in parts, but the 90s were very seriously ugly in parts.

Then check out Predator and even Lethal Injection. They have great moments, less great moments, it's all illuminating.

Check out "Burn, Hollywood, Burn" on Public Enemy's Nation of Millions album. Chuck D, Ice Cube, and Big Daddy Kane. They both rap circles around Chuck D, and it's a really fun listen.
posted by kensington314 at 12:17 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Beastie Boys, for sure. And don't just think of "Fight for Your Right" from their first album (Licensed to Ill), which in their words was a joke song that people took too seriously for their liking. Try out their "Sounds of Science" double-disc compilation for an overview of their stuff, some of which is just plain funny to boot. Or the albums from their peak years: Paul's Boutique, Check Your Head, and Ill Communication.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:25 AM on August 20, 2010

The MTV compilations Lyricist Lounge vol I and II have a great sampling of artists.
Redman w/ Sokrates - WKYA
Big L - Still Here

Legend of the Liquid Sword is another excellent release from GZA.

Knock Knock

Dead Prez - Let's Get Free .... The best in political hiphop
I'm A African

Black Star - Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star ... Great conscious rap.

Fugees - The Score. I can take or leave Wyclef
and Pras, but the album is worth it for Lauryn alone.
The Beast

Gangstarr - Moment of Truth, also the compilation Full Clip collects various singles
unavailable elsewhere. Some of the best in east coast hiphop.


Also although Cool Calm Pete only has a few releases, his album Lost is
definitely worth a listen.

Wind Sprints

One caveat: many of these will contain varying degrees of misogyny and
violence, but there is really only so much so-called conscious rap out there.
Also, here's a bonus: Comparing Thomas Pynchon and the Wu-Tang Clan.
posted by Lorin at 12:54 AM on August 20, 2010

Previously, a question I asked that got amazing answers. One of the delights in there is The Rub's Story of Hip-Hop series, podcasts covering 1979 to 1999 year by year.

Oh, also! While I really get where you're coming from about lyrical content, I kind of got to a point myself where I realised I was ok with murder ballads etc, and should probably extend the same it's-part-of-a-genre understanding to rap and hip hop. I'm glad I did, my life is better for having Biggie's Ready to Die in it and there's a lot of amazing shit going on in gangsta rap if you can get into it, and I've found a lot of 'conscious rap' deadly dull. But I've probably emerged with Eric B & Rakim as my real favourites.
posted by carbide at 3:40 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

As already mentioned, start with The Rub's History of Hip mix series. Note that they have finished the aughts as well - not listed on that page, but available on their blog.
posted by stachemaster at 4:35 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Missy Elliot's collaborations with Timbaland are some of the best contemporary hip-hop has to offer, IMHO. But I strongly encourage you to simply explore with Pandora or Last.fm or Youtube/Vimeo's suggestions. Even the artists you instinctively dislike from textual descriptions should be screened if only to give you a sense of what you don't like for sure. I say give everything a chance -- including the "gangsta rap" of the 90s or, more modernly speaking, Eminem; not everything Em produces is misogynistic and violent, and the material that is isn't necessarily bad music, just maybe not to your taste.

Have fun with this quest to expand your horizons :)
posted by asciident at 5:14 AM on August 20, 2010

Response by poster: OMG, what an amazing collection of answers, thank you. I'll give all your recommendations a serious listen. Off to make some space on my ipod now...
posted by YamwotIam at 6:06 AM on August 20, 2010

I really like Kool Moe Dee and Run-DMC.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Public Enemy is a great starter. Some rock critic a documentary about them summed it up by saying that when he first heard them, he was like, "This...isn't...supposed...to...be...possible!" It helps if you've ever had a taste for jazz, industrial, or both.
posted by Beardman at 6:46 AM on August 20, 2010

KMD is worth a listen because the group includes MF Doom way way before he was MF Doom. I think Mr. Hood just got re-released, so it should be available. Excellent album.

People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, A Tribe Called Quest's debut album. Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders are also excellent. Not so much Q-Tip's solo stuff.

Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. Really funny and overall a solid album. One of my favorites.

Also, check out the documentary Beef about hip-hop feuds. A lot of the feuds are uninteresting, petty shit, but it gives some context especially to early hip-hop, especially in the KRS-One/BDP vs. MC Shan and Marley Marl, Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee.
posted by electroboy at 6:57 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If Eminem's performance on the mic in 8 mile is what impressed you and is the kind of thing that you're looking for... you will be thoroughly unimpressed by Missy Elliot, Jurassic 5, the Roots, Kanye... because they are mediocre if not straight up bad rappers. However, these artists can be enjoyed on other levels.

Honestly, Eminem is an exceptional talent, a legit master of the technical aspects of MCing and one of the most impressive lyricists ever. The vast majority of rappers both popular and underground do not even compare. Rappers that are on a similar playing field in terms of talent: Pharaoh Monch, Aceyalone (his album A Book of Human Language is nearly flawless), Andre from Outkast, Lateef, Gift of Gab, maybe Cannibal Ox, Ghostface, Aesop Rock, Slug from Atmosphere on his older stuff, Percee P, Breezley Bruin from the Juggaknots, Siah, Mos Def at his best (but he is inconsistent).

That's not to say you only have to listen to the most talented MCs, but you have been a bit spoiled starting off with Eminem.
posted by AceRock at 7:01 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, seconding the Coup and MF Doom/KMD.
posted by AceRock at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2010

I asked a similar question previously and a lot of the artists recommended are good starting places for hiphop in general.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2010

try mixtapes of rappers who are just starting out. sure some of them may have a few sexually/violently gratituous lines but there's a real art. mixtapes offer some raw talent. i also like kanye west and last donna. check around on youtube as well!
posted by UltraD at 8:13 AM on August 20, 2010

Blue Scholars
posted by emmling at 8:15 AM on August 20, 2010

My rap life started in the mid 80s and sort of tapered in the 90s, so most of my suggestions to anyone are 80s and 90s. And they lean towards the radio-friendly/crossover as opposed to the underground or critical darling stuff.

Every DJ on the planet has Peter Piper by Run DMC in his repertoire, if only for mixing in these days. It's a classic. It's minimalist by today's standards but that can be a nice intro. That album Raising Hell is a classic as well. Their song Rock Box off their first album is the first rap song I ever heard and it's still pretty awesome. While it came just after their zenith, I still think one of their fiercest is Beats to the Rhyme. As nasty as it gets is "I'm known to be prone and make ya mama MOAN!"

The Beastie Boys are gold as well. Their first album, License to Ill, goes without saying. A fun later one with a 70s vibe is Egg Man. Speaking of the 70s, their video for Sabotage is one of the best ever. Intergalactic is a lot of fun. Mr. Spock really doesn't get enough name drops these days.

Maybe the funnest party rap song ever is Let Me Clear My Throat by DJ Kool. Dare you not to get down in your living room.

I'm not sure how you've gotten this far in life without hearing It Takes Two by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, but it'll stick in your head forever infectiously now. Note that you are automatically awesome when listening/dancing to it. So that's good. But at this point so is your aunt, dancing to it at the wedding. Whatever, don't think about that.

For may of us outside the rap core, our first exposure to Busta Rhymes was his cameo in Scenario by A Tribe Called Quest. It's so fun to try to learn all the words to this one and sing it all the way through. Another fun one by them to sing is Buggin' Out. They name drop Arsenio to give you a clue to the date.

Tupac was a genius with a deep pool of meaningful and/or sick stuff to choose from. A more lighthearted happy one I always liked was I Get Around.

A tragic-yet-fun one is What's Up Fatlip? by Fatlip. The guy runs himself down so bad. "Go out like a sucka almost every day - In the back of your mind you're prob'ly thinkin I was gay." Video directed by Spike Jonze.

Speaking of life regret, one with such an interesting and emotional tone is My Mind Playing Tricks On Me by Geto Boys. Wonderful sample backing this one.

LL Cool J - Going Back To Cali. We knew even back in the 80s that this had awful lyrics that didn't really make sense. But for some reason it was fun. It was a key thump-car song. I think my favorite by him is Jingling Baby. Lyrical gymnastics. If you like angry rap, he's got a notable one of those, Mama Said Knock You Out, yet another one that kind of doesn't make sense, but is fun.

Speaking of anger, another classic angry one is NWA's 100 Miles and Runnin'. My favorite line is "So while you treat my group like dirt, your whole fucking family is wearing my t-shirt."

Also nice and angry are Public Enemy's She Watch Channel Zero and Fight The Power. Oh crap! Don't listen to this near an unstable government or you might revolt. A fun/badass one by them is Bring The Noise. If you like your rap and rock mixed, try the version with Anthrax. "Soul on a roll but you treat it like soap on a rope cuz our beats and our lines are so dope." Another good line is "Radio stations, I question their blackness. They call themselves black but we'll see if they'll play this."

Speaking of rock and rap mixed, try Outkast - Bombs Over Baghdad. This is the Zack de la Rocha rock remix (the guy from Rage Against the Machine), which I like better than the original. Strap yourself down or you might flip out and break something. I wish they had played this behind the Yoda-Dooku lightsaber fight because it's nuts.

Random and recent is the Mayer Hawthorne remix of Snoop Dogg's Gangsta Love. Surprisingly lovely and dreamy. Wow, that's pretty and so smooth.

A recent favorite of mine, more of a rap/dj/dance hybrid is Jerk It by Thunderheist. Fierce.

Go forth and be dope (or crunk? not sure anymore)
posted by Askr at 8:22 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't even know if rap and hip hop are different (my guess is that hip hop is an evolutionary step beyond rap)

Actually you kind of have it backwards, hip hop was originally a subculture that became popular/influential in New York, and rap grew out of that. As LooseFilter mentioned above, the "five pillars" of hip hop are usually listed as DJing, MCing, breaking, beat boxing, and graffitti. A lot of that was based on how parties worked, some guy would bring records and a turntable (DJ), another guy would grab a mic and get people on the dancefloor (MC) and people would dance (breaking). Breaking specifically as a dance started with DJs playing James Brown records and looping instrumental sections (breaks) which the b-boys (and b-girls) would dance to. Hip hop overall has generally been known to mean that culture, and although it has evolved over the years there is definitely the idea of staying true to those roots as a cultural identity. As KRS One says, "Rap is something you do, Hip Hop is something you live."

I'm not looking for "significant" & innovate hip hop artists so much as artists who can ease a total square into an awareness of the scope of the genre, if that makes any sense

So basically you want hip hop artists that white people like. Seriously though, a lot of rap music is easy for anyone to listen to and enjoy, and people have made some good suggestions above based on the elements you said you wanted to avoid. thehandsomecamel's list above is a good place to start for the 70s and 80s. The 70s artists especially will not sound as polished as today's rappers, but most of those songs back then were very accessible (they helped make hip hop into a huge successful genre of music after all). Also as fryman mentioned, most of what was popular in the 90s was either violent, misogynistic, or both. What would generally be called "gansta rap" tends to be at least violent, and the less serious party music rap songs that were popular tended to be misogynistic. In the early 90s some groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and Brand Nubian produced some socially conscious or just plain fun albums, but that whole scene kind of died out when those other styles became dominant. In the 2000s you start to see less violent and misogynistic popular rap groups and artists, such as Outkast that several people mentioned. Also, you might want to look into so-called "underground rap" which is more or less the rap equivalent of indie music. Some good artists in that genre that have been mentioned are Aesop Rock and MF Doom, plus I would throw in Busdriver and Mr Lif.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:23 AM on August 20, 2010

2nd Black Star. Adding People Under the Stairs. That song linked there, Acid Raindrops, blows my mind.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:30 AM on August 20, 2010

This mix collection, from an earlier question, is an incredible introduction to hip-hop.
posted by General Malaise at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2010

2nding Blue Scholars, I'll add Common Market and encourage you to investigate more hip/hop and rap from the Pacific Northwest, tons of great artists up here.
posted by Craig at 9:15 AM on August 20, 2010

There are some great suggestions here. I recommend watching Scratch (2001) an excellent documentary on DJs featuring many of the biggest names in hip-hop. The whole film is up on Google Video.
posted by joedan at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2010

Sorry if this is a repeat (I didn't see it but there's so much good stuff in this thread!) but I'd like to heartily recommend this record to all new rap fans:
Paid In Full by Eric B. and Rakim
I'm not a rabid rap fan, more of a dabbler, but this album has not left my .mp3 player for something like four years.
posted by chaff at 10:32 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jumping in to add that I don't quite agree with the sentiment that in the 90's only misogynistic, violent forms of rap ruled. While "Gangsta Rap" got the most media attention, many, many artists were not that style and had solid album sales and followings. That's like saying Justin Bieber is the only kind of R&B music these days.

Practically every link I gave above is from the 90's. During that time period I was a nerdy wee thing and I spent a lot of time going, or trying to go to, sold out shows of Tribe, The Roots, Beastie Boys, Goodie Mob, Outkast, etc. The 90's really were the golden era, and you can listen to a TON of music from that time period that's creative and isn't particularly violent. I think that is actually a really great time period start with.

However, it would be criminal to pass up the Wu Tang Clan, and it's members the GZA, Old Dirty Bastard, and Raekwon who all had phenomenal solo albums during that time. Another is Mobb Deep, just 19 at the time they recorded the Shook Ones pt. II, and it is probably one of the heaviest, most amazing songs ever.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 12:02 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, if you're ever looking for lyrics The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive is a great resource.
posted by joedan at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a great thread. Most of my suggestions have been mentioned, but that's cause they're awesome.

Jay-Z's earlier stuff, as mentioned, is pretty misogynistic and violent, but the later stuff is less so and no one hits the mic like he does. The Black awesome is amazing. You might also want to try to get your hands on the Grey Album, a mashup of the Black Album and the Beatles' White Album.

Seconding Atmosphere. Also, The Streets is a British rapper who tells good stories in his songs (the storytelling is one of my favorite aspects of hip hop).

Check out the Fugees (The Score).
posted by lunasol at 2:13 PM on August 20, 2010

Ditto for Black Star, The Coup, & Jeru the Damaja (although I would avoid the Jeru that isn't produced by DJ Premier).


Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus
Jean Grae
posted by juv3nal at 2:30 PM on August 20, 2010

Oh man just relistening to that Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus after linking it.
That is some great stuff.
posted by juv3nal at 2:33 PM on August 20, 2010

Old school Beastie boys - Pauls Boutique or license to ill

and some good female artists worth checking out:

Missy Elliot
Lauryn Hill
Queen Latifa
MC Lyte
posted by ljesse at 5:18 PM on August 20, 2010

I'm going to contradict joedan and say don't go to OHHLA for lyrics. If you have a question about lyrics from the songs people have recommended, ask here. OHHLA is full of errors and it pisses me off because all the 'AZLYRICS' sites get their rap lyrics from there.

So many rap lyrics are so obvious in context or if you are familiar, but get butchered by kids who are clueless, or by heads who are not up on a region's lingo.

Or you can memail. You can see there are a few people in here in love with hip hop - I'd suggest using them as a resource - you'll be blown away by some seemingly cryptic lyric that they explain to you.

Rap Genius actually has the potential (now that it has a different structure) to be something incredible. It's a lyric site where people provide context. I haven't looked at it in depth lately, but use that over OHHLA any day of the week (no offense joedan) .
posted by cashman at 10:48 PM on August 20, 2010

If Eminem's performance on the mic in 8 mile is what impressed you and is the kind of thing that you're looking for... you will be thoroughly unimpressed by Missy Elliot, Jurassic 5, the Roots, Kanye... because they are mediocre if not straight up bad rappers.

I'm going to take minor issue with this on behalf of both Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) and Black Thought (the Roots). Thought can absolutely hang with Eminem. Check out both "Web" and "Boom" from The Tipping Point for cold-blooded, rapid-fire delivery over minimal accompaniment. (I agree that his early stuff from Do You Want More??? is pretty droning and repetitive, though.)

Not trying to start a "my guy is better!" thread; just offering a different take on the idea of mic skills. I heard someone say once that rapping is best thought of as a kind of vocal percussion, combined with lyrical meaning. And I think different artists use their percussive instruments in different ways. 2na carries a distinct set of metric and rhythmic tools that are very different from the ones Em uses, but I wouldn't call him "mediocre" by a long shot. To me that would be like calling Monk a mediocre pianist because he doesn't play like Jerry Lee Lewis. (If you see what I mean.)

But as everybody above has said, dive in and see what you like best!
posted by thehandsomecamel at 11:56 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Short Answer...Outkast - Aquemeni

Don't let a fear of Misogynistic/violent lyrics put you off of some excellent 90's hip hop. There's gratuitous bullshit, and there's material that rises above it's base subject matter. Albums like Mobb Deep's "The Infamous", Jay-Z's "Reasonable Doubt", NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" when viewed in the proper context, are indispensable albums. Same goes for The Notorious B.I.G.'s entire output, Early Ice-T and Dr. Dre's "The Chronic, and Snoop's "Doggystyle" Which, taken at face value is completely amoral and devoid of social merit, but is one of the best hip hop albums of it's time. I think a real appreciation of Hip Hop requires the understanding that both the artists and the listeners are a bit more sophisticated than they've been portrayed as being over the years. There is a lot of irony, satire, metaphor, and creative license at play. I don't say this to excuse antisocial messages, and I understand it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I would look at at a Jay-Z album through the same lens I would look at a Scorcese gangster flick.

looking over some of the suggestions here, It's actually funny how many of them I disagree with, and in some cases downright hate. But that's the beauty of hip-hop. It's never been a monolithic one size fits all thing. It's as varied and unique as any other genre, and chances are, as you discover more of it, you'll start to find your own specific tastes, dislikes etc.

I guess my advice would be go into it with an open mind, there really is something out there for everyone, it's just a matter of finding it. Understand that it's not all literal, you don't have to "understand" what's being said to get it. There's a definite history that provides a lot of context for how it's done, but you don't have to know that history to appreciate it. sometimes a good song is a good song.

But there is one absolute truth in hip hop. Rakim is the greatest MC of all time. It might be hard to understand in retrospect, but at the time, nobody rapped like that in any way shape or form. Rakim was like one of those leaps in evolution that can't be explained.

Follow The leader
Microphone Fiend
I aint no Joke
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:06 AM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding fryman's Sir Luscious Leftfoot suggestion, it's gotten huge critical acclaim and for good reason (90% on Metacritic). Some of my favorites on it are For Your Sorrows, Turns Me On, and Shutterbug.

I'm not as much of a fan of early hip-hop, it sounds a little too sing-songy for me. You should definitely give Dr. Dre a listen, specifically the song Nuthin' But a "G" Thang (The Chronic), and pretty much everything on 2001 (the beat behind What's the Difference is one of my absolute favorites, and Forgot About Dre is as good of a song as I've ever heard, and apparently Eminem wrote most of the lyrics).

UGK is also great (try Int'l Players (I Choose You) by UGK on Underground Kingz; it doesn't start for about 2 minutes in this video though), and while Janelle Monae is less rap per se (if you read any reviews of her stuff they always include "genre-defying" or "genre-busting" or the like), she's very good as well. Recommended singles include Tightrope (featuring Big Boi from above), and Many Moons)
posted by cybertaur1 at 10:39 AM on August 21, 2010

You picked a good time to post this AskMe. Take advantage of this MeFi post to download MP3 mixes of important hip hop tracks for each year between 1979 and 2009. School is in!
posted by Sutekh at 4:10 PM on August 21, 2010

Unbelievable more people haven't mentioned Lauryn Hill's work, particularly on Miseducation but even with the Fugees. If she'd have passed on in 2000, people would recognize her as one of the all-time greats today. I personally would put her ahead of Pac.
posted by anildash at 12:02 AM on August 25, 2010

Another highly recommended listen for your hip-hop education: A record that is (still) criminally underrated and often unmentioned was released the same year (and from another NY emcee no less) as Nas' iconic ILLMATIC: 'Word...Life' by O.C. In my mind, its one of the finest hip-hop albums of all time (superior to ILLMATIC? It's its equal I have to say), with flawless production by D.I.T.C. and Buckwild...and O.C.'s lyricism is absolutely unforgettable.
posted by chicofly at 5:54 PM on August 27, 2010

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