What rap should I listen to?
June 6, 2005 5:26 PM   Subscribe

What rap should I listen to?

From the discussion in this MeFi thread. I'd like to be more educated about rap, because right now. . . I just don't get it. Give me some short, broad lists of what I must listen to, to get me beyond the bling bling and past the posturing, so I can hear what you hear.
posted by papercake to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's tough to say since you don't specify what you're looking for (word play, street politics, story telling, etc), but...

For a quick and simple answer, check out the Definitive Jux media page. You can sample songs and videos by many of my current personal favs. Currently (and for quite some time now) I just can't get enough of Aesop Rock. RJD2 and Mr. Lif are high on my list right as well. If you can tailor your query a bit, I may be able to offer more apt selections.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:40 PM on June 6, 2005

Pharcyde? Pharcyde aren't thugs (I think one of them is a high school music teacher in Oakland). De La Soul, I also dig. Otherwise I'm very much of the same mind as you.
posted by ori at 5:41 PM on June 6, 2005

For stuff that I think is just great to chill and listen to...

A Tribe Called Quest
The Roots
Jurassic 5

I could go on all day, those just happened to be the last few artists my iTunes played.

Just so you know, my older sister despises rap. Doesn't get it at all. And yet she loves Jurassic 5. There's just someting infectious about those guys.

On preview: I agree with Ufez Jones re: Aesop Rock.
posted by sellout at 5:42 PM on June 6, 2005

Presuming by rap you mean hip-hop primarily focused on the vocal recitation (the vocalists are called MCs), as opposed to more turntable-oriented, even instrumental stuff (those artists are called DJs). I tend to be more interested in turntablism, but as far as "alternative" MCs I would recommend Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, El-P, Aesop Rock, and Dalek. If you want more well-known stuff (I hate to say "mainstream"), Public Enemy.

On preview, Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious.
posted by matildaben at 5:44 PM on June 6, 2005

Oh, my friends have also been raving about K-os, tho I can't vouch personally.
posted by ori at 5:44 PM on June 6, 2005

Hey, what about MC Chris, MC Frontalot and MC Hawking (these are "nerdcore" MCs papercake), do they count?

You have to realize though, part of the appeal of rap in general is the braggadocio aspect and you'll find that in almost any form of the genre. While it won't necessarily take the "Mac-10 at the side of my hip" path, it's still there.

And don't forget De La Soul (the D.A.I.S.Y. age!).
posted by raygun21 at 5:53 PM on June 6, 2005

The above plus MF Doom and Madlib.
posted by greasy_skillet at 5:55 PM on June 6, 2005

Eric B and Rakim's Paid in Full is the arguably the best rap album of the 80s and one of my very favorites. I still listen to this today.
posted by mathowie at 5:58 PM on June 6, 2005

I just want to echo the De La Soul, Jurassic 5, and Tribe Called Quest recommendations, in specific. Along those lines of fun, intelligent rap is the critically-acclaimed yet oddly not-big-selling Blue Black and Asheru's Soon Come, my all-time favorite hip-hop album.
posted by waldo at 6:08 PM on June 6, 2005

De La Soul, J5 and Tribe Called Quest are great, but they are all of the same upbeat sound. Theres not a lot of struggle, not a lot of pain. Listen to 2pac, I mean listen to his lyrics. His story telling ability cannot be ignored. Unlike alot of rappers his sound comes straight from his stomach and not from his mouth, hard to explain, but its a testament to how much he believes in his music. The Notorious BIG, although not as consistantly deep in his lyrics as 2pac, arguably has the best flow there has ever been. Listen to his words, maybe even ignore the meaning sometimes, just concentrate on his flow. Nas is personally my favorite, pick up his first cd illmatic, if your disapointed then maybe rap isnt for you; its a classic. In my opinion he combines flow, intelligent transcending lyrics, and he keeps it real. Grew up in the projects, and never sold out commercially to the same degree that most rappers do. Listen to Jay-Z. Reasonable Doubt, his first cd, is a classic. He and Nas had beef for a while and the outcome was 2 of the greatest cds of all time. From Jaz-Z 'the blueprint' and from nas 'stillmatic'. Go buy those now if you dont have them. So to echo the other posters, pharcydes great, eric b and Rakim just can't be ignored, they helped pioneer hip hop. But before you go to listen jurassic five, tribe, and de la soul, listen to the big 4: 2pac, biggie, nas, and jay. Look at rap as a postmodern approach to music, and do not base your opinion on rap by listening to alot of the new crap thats flooding the air way. Nelly is a joke. Also listen to common, mos def, and wu-tang. Im forgetting way too many guys. Also this post is from someone who appreciates most music, rock, blues, jazz, sometimes country but dont tell anyone, even classical music. Rap is just misunderstood.
posted by pwally at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2005

Kottonmouth Kings (they rock and smoke pot [screw the Supreme Court Judges ruling])
Wylde Bunch (funky rap)
Nelly & the St. Lunatics (just fun and melodic)
My 2 cents. Enjoy
posted by alteredcarbon at 6:34 PM on June 6, 2005

Black Star - Mos Def & Talik Kweli are Black Star: Great beats, and smart rapping

This may be a bit too close to "bling bling" and "posturing" as you put it, but Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is classic: funny, raw (both the lyrics and sound), and has genius production values.

For a more relaxed intro to that sounds, try the soundtrack to "Ghostdog: the Way of the Samurai which is by the RZA (of the Wu-Tang) mostly instrumental and has a great feel to it.

Tho it isn't strictly hip hop, try Entroducing by DJ Shadow for an electronic flavor rooted in hip hop.

My favorite Tribe album is People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm tho they are mostly all good.

I'm sure I will wish I've included something else in a minute...

Oh! You totallyabsolutleymust listen to Paul's Boutique by (the now lame) Beastie Boy's. I think it is one of the first modern hip hop albums due to the extreme amount of sampling that was done. It is really fun, tho again, there are some (pre)bling bling/posturing/drug lyrics.
posted by ArcAm at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2005

crap! Beastie Boys (and more errors, i'm sure)
posted by ArcAm at 6:49 PM on June 6, 2005

The new Edan is pretty amazing. Also, I'll second MF Doom/Madvillain/Viktor Vaughn, particularly Madvillainy and Vaudeville Villain.

A little more mainstream: Outkast's Stankonia and ATLiens are great (Outkast are my all-time favs) as is The Blueprint by Jay-Z (The Black Album is also very good), though Mr. Z does like bling bling and posturing, as you put it.

More: "Dr. Octagonecologyst" by Dr. Octagon, "Blowout Comb" by Digable Planets, "Fear of a Black Planet" by Public Enemy, "Black Star" by Mos Def and Talib Kweli, "Like Water for Chocolate" by Common.

Like Jay-Z says:
If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be
lyrically, Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did five mill' - I ain't been rhymin' like Common since

posted by kables at 6:56 PM on June 6, 2005

The Blueprint Boogie Down productions

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back Public Enemy

Straight Outta Compton NWA

and the Pharcyde, Blackalicious, Eminem, De La Soul, The Sugar Hill Gang & Grandmaster Flash are all reccommended as well.
posted by jonmc at 7:03 PM on June 6, 2005

How often does this exact same question get posted?

The Coup are one of the greatest hip-hop groups in the history of anything.

Fine Arts Militia, which involves Chuck D, is boss.

Asheru & the Blue Black are also boss.

I'm also quite fond of Atmosphere.
posted by cmonkey at 7:06 PM on June 6, 2005

The first N.W.A. holds up really well. De La Soul, Digable Planets, Ice Cube, Young MC, Gucci Crew II, Eminem and Salt 'N' Pepa. here.
posted by geekyguy at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2005

I'd recommend most of what has already been mentioned. I got started listening to hip hop through anticon, a label of artists generally regarded as being fringe experimentalists. Strangely, their untraditional hip hop led me to appreciate the more traditional type: I would never have enjoyed Black Moon's Enta Da Stage if it weren't for Themselves' It's Them.

Also, Buck 65's Vertex is one of my favorite albums ever.
posted by joedan at 7:09 PM on June 6, 2005

Well hell, listen to Atmosphere - God Loves Ugly for some smart hip hop.
posted by Dean Keaton at 7:10 PM on June 6, 2005

How often does this exact same question get posted?

a lot

posted by geekyguy at 7:12 PM on June 6, 2005

I'm surprised nobody's yet mentioned J-Live for original, educated, mature hip hop with a great deal of musicality.

Unrelatedly, I'd argue that the "nerdcore" rappers, although they can be entertaining, aren't really hip hop. They're just bad... more like novelty acts.

If you want something with a lot of off-beat humor and a genuine hip hop creativeness, check out the work of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard.

The Beastie Boys are one of the few acts still keeping the old-school sound alive.

If you can stand the constant political posturing, Mr. Lif can be catchy. Ditto with KRS-One (Boogie Down Productions). The new "Black Dialogue" album from Lif, Akrobatik and Fakts One is worth a listen.

Outkast is a fun group to get into, because it's interesting to contrast their early work (two young, talented guys treading really tired gangsta ground with some fresh rhythmic ideas) with their newer, poppier, more out-there stuff.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:16 PM on June 6, 2005

Try Mos Def's Black on Both Sides. Don't neglect the UK. Try Original Pirate Material by The Streets.
posted by nyterrant at 7:18 PM on June 6, 2005

Not much to add here... I did post in the original thread about what to look for in hip-hop. Short summary is deeply poetic lyrics coded in street slang, where a brilliant piece of social commentary will pass you by in a second if you don't listen carefully. Also jazz harmonies, syncopated rhythms and the voice as a rhythm instrument.

I'd like to echo pwally's advice that you check out the "big four" (Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie and Tupac) as they really are some of the most influential and lasting names in hip-hop. I'd add Wu-Tang to that suggestion. Tribe Called Quest, the Roots, Mos Def, Jurassic Five and De La Soul have a positive sound that is more immediately accessible. (On preview: I was about to leave J-Live out myself until I saw rxrfrx's post. Definately falls into accessible, positive, intelligent and mature.)

For social and political commentary The Coup and Mr. Lif are the best IMHO, but politics and society shows up everywhere.

For history KRS-One, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang.

My top 5 MCs: Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Mos Def, Black Thought (The Roots)
posted by ScottMorris at 7:20 PM on June 6, 2005

Man you guys all beat me to the punch(es).

The Coup - I've had more 'wow' moments with them than anyone else I've ever listened to.
Blackstar - Essential and very anti-bling
Tribe Called Quest - Chill, upbeat, awesome.
Aesop Rock - Genius
posted by nomad at 7:32 PM on June 6, 2005



safe as fuck!

now for serious recommendations:
i second blackalicious (check out 'A to G' and 'Paragraph President') and jurassic 5 ('swing set','verbal gunfight') as well as dj format, old school dr dre ('let me ride'), NWA ('straight outta compton'), beastie boys (all of Pauls Boutique and Check Your Head), Deltron 3030, Outcast (the last album was particularly good), Ice Cube ('Today Was A Good Day'). Lots of fun stuff to sing (i guess) along to. this coming from a white kid in newark.
posted by Mach5 at 7:37 PM on June 6, 2005

I'm suprised how little Wu-Tang has been mentioned in this thread. The 36 Chambers is an album that can open up a whole world of music for you (if you like it). Many of the members of the Clan put out absolutely Genius (GZA- Liquid Swords) albums immediately after it's release. If you're uptight it's not really for you, but then again, why are you trying to get into hip hop then?
posted by mike_bling at 7:38 PM on June 6, 2005

Early 90s hip hop grabbed me. Here are a couple that started what could be considered my fixation upon a specific musical genre.
  • A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
  • A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders
These are my favorite ATCQ albums. These guys are arguably considered the epitome of the early/mid 90's hip hop sound.
  • Digable Planets - Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
DP got some serious play on MTV, but don't discount that. They had two great albums before dissolving. Here's the slightly more accessible one.
  • Nas - Illmatic
Illmatic is heralded as one of the very best hip hop albums of all time. The production is gritty and rhyming doesn't get much more solid.

Here are some more recent albums:
  • Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek - Reflection Eternal/Train of Thought
  • Black Star (Talib Kweli & Mos Def)
These are 2 of my favorite albums from the 00s. These are still in the vein of classic East Coast hip hop.

And even more recent, I haven't been able to stop giving Definitive Jux my money, so I better put down at least one of their albums.
  • Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein
The Cold Vein is a modern classic. Period. There hasn't been a more coherent hip hop album in a long time. The entire album was produced by El-P (of Company Flow fame; their album Funcrusher Plus is also a must-hear.) and it is certainly one of his best efforts.

That's all I've got time for right now. Sorry for the duplicates, but I think duplicate recommendations make for a good bet for papercake.
posted by aceyim at 7:40 PM on June 6, 2005

Yeah, I was going to recommend Digable Planets too. I really liked that first record, and I still don't like much rap to this day. Dream Warriors are somewhat in the same vein if you like the overtly jazzy sound.
posted by kindall at 7:51 PM on June 6, 2005

I'd like to add my recommendations for Jurassic 5, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Tribe Called Quest, Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt, Nas' Illmatic, early Beastie Boys, and Eric B and Rakim.

Another album nobody mentioned here is Kanye West's The College Dropout. Not a whole lot of posturing and preening, but a decent flow and nobody is a better producer right now.
posted by LouMac at 8:09 PM on June 6, 2005

I realize that a lot of these are echoes, but here is my official list.

CDs to pick up that give great introductions to rap

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Herbalizer

Music For The Mature B-Boy - DJ Format

Taste The Secret - Ugly Duckling

Later That Day - Lyrics Born

Ozomatli - Ozomatli

Hands On - DJ Numark

Bizarre Ride II - Pharcyde

The Score - The Fugees

A quick note: You will soon find that rap is exactly like every other genre of music, it has it's good artists and it has its piles of festering crap (*cough*fiftycent*cough*). The trick is avoiding getting your shoes clean. I mostly do it through word of mouth and reading a few online journals. Rarely are you going to find something of high quality on MTV.
posted by cyphill at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2005

Wow, there are a lot of hip-hop heads here.

Ok, while I see some good taste in hip-hop in this thread (and some not so good), I think that some of the suggestions made are not very helpful. Do you think papercake would really "get" cannibal ox or mf doom at first? While they are superb artists, I think they take a more discerning ear for hip-hop to appreciate.

With that said, I will suggest some tracks that you can download (legally! support these guys!) and get started off on the right foot:

Blackstar (Mos Def and Talib Kweli) - "Thieves in the Night"
The highlight of their decent but inconsistent album. Great production, and Mos Def really shines on this track.

Blackalicious - Alphabet Aerobics
Listen to this to appreciate how amazingly talented some of the better MCs in hip-hop are.

Atmosphere - God's Bathroom Floor
Witness another great MC in Sluggo. A very poetic and yet accessible masterpiece.

Grouch - Simple Man
Listen to this to catch a glimpse of what hip-hop is about to most aspiring indepedent artists. A very honest song.

Souls of Mischief - 93 til infinity
A classic hip-hop song.

Del the funkee homosapien - Catch a Bad One
another classic.

Common Sense - Resurrection (the whole album)
My favorite album of all time, featuring great production, and one of the greatest lyricists of all time in his prime. "I bathe in basslines, rinse in riffs, dry in drums".

Finally, I gotta say that I know quite a few people who got into hip-hop after watching Eminem's movie "8 mile".
posted by AceRock at 9:03 PM on June 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

Wow. Sorry for the double, triple, whatever-le post this is.

I'm going to go through this thread and take some recommendations and start listening. Thanks for taking the time y'all.
posted by papercake at 9:15 PM on June 6, 2005

Forgot to mention:
If you want to better understand what hip hop truly is and where it came from, check out Style Wars (directed by Henry Chalfant). It is an unforgettable documentary set in the early 80s during the formative years of hip hop culture. As a matter of fact, many of the albums mentioned above have sampled bits of the audio from it, for example, "Respiration" from the BlackStar album (classic, classic joint featuring BlackStar and Common. One of my all time favorite tracks).
posted by aceyim at 9:21 PM on June 6, 2005

AceRock: Do you think papercake would really "get" cannibal ox

I wouldn't make that assumption, but I intentionally mentioned that one last, after listing examples of earlier, more accessible stuff. I just didn't think it would be right not to include an obviously unorthodox example. That said, I don't think CannOx is as difficult to "get" than Aesop Rock. They've got relatively traditional flows and The Cold Veins beats could make any Wu fan's headnod. Don't get me wrong, I eat up some AceRizzle, but accessible isn't in his extremely vast vocabulary.

posted by aceyim at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2005

I've always been partial to Schooly D and Bushwick Bill.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:43 PM on June 6, 2005

Lots of good suggestions up top.
I think it might be useful for you to check out the book, Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists.
Lots of good stuff with which to start.
posted by Dante5Inferno at 10:00 PM on June 6, 2005

If you're looking for really accessible music at the edges of hip hop that's still legitmate rap, you can start with Lauryn Hill, Outkast, De La, even P.M. Dawn and see how even popular rap doesn't have to sound like what you're hearing on the radio today. Eric B. and Rakim and Public Enemy are must-haves for any music collection, IMO.
posted by anildash at 10:12 PM on June 6, 2005

Blowout Comb, by the Digable Planets, is probably my favorite hip hop album and one of my top 20 favorite albums, period. While it's unquestionably hip hop, there's been nothing like it before and nothing like it since. The album is about life in Brooklyn, being drug dealers, and changing the world. Filled with references to mao and marvin gaye, ice cube and bell hooks - it has a strong progressive/revolutionary bent. The production is very downtempo, very jazzy, easy to listen to - as kindall mentioned, it appeals to people who don't generally enjoy hip hop. Don't expect to get all the lyrics on your first, or second, or fiftieth time through the album.

An aside: Ishmael Butler, formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets, is now Cherrywine. Haven't heard it yet...
posted by louigi at 11:06 PM on June 6, 2005

Lots of good recs in this thread already. I'll reiterate Mos Def (Black on Both Sides), Common (Resurrection), Jurassic 5 (J5 EP), Talib Kweli (Quality). pwally does a pretty good job summing up the most famous rappers - they're all good despite how mainstream they are.

Del has been mentioned, but do check out the whole Hieroglyphics crew. 3rd Eye Vision and Full Circle are good starts.

I don't think anyone mentioned Jedi Mind Tricks. Start with Violent By Design and keep going from there.

Good list by AceRock... 93 'Til Infinity is one of my favorite songs ever.
posted by swank6 at 11:31 PM on June 6, 2005

You might want to check out www.boombasticradio.com - They're always playing something good, 24/7...Always. They sometimes lean towards the obscure but that's not a problem at all considering the quality of music they play.
posted by Slimemonster at 12:48 AM on June 7, 2005

Alright. By this point, you've gone out and bought the upthread recommendations of Black on Both Sides, Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia, The Cold Vein and Aesop Rock's Labor Days, right? I'll wait.
There? Ok.
Now let's look at some of the "broader" aspects of hip hop, some of the gems that might get overlooked but are still worth checking out.
First off, let's go to the UK. They talk funny, but three of the most exciting MCs in the world are Dizzee Rascall, Roots Manuva and The Streets. From Roots Manuva, a good start is Run Come Save Me (or Brandnew Secondhand). For The Streets, check out A Grand Don't Come For Free (which is better than his first album). For Dizzee Rascal, you want Boy In The Corner.
Rascal gets called grime, he sounds like Tracy and the Plastics meets DMX. (DMX, while being part of the posturing posse, is good fun). Roots Manuva has a pretty good Caribbean vibe going, and works with the Ninja Tunes folks.
[Time for an aside: Remember when indie rock was still all about what label (Matador, SST, Subpop) you were on? Indie rap is still like that. In the states, there's Def Jux. In the UK, there's Ninja Tunes, and their rap subsidiary Big Dada. Ninja Tunes tends to have more turntablism, but still has a lot of good artists on it.]
Right. Back to The Streets. His first album is kinda blah, but his second, the narrative album A Grand Don't Come For Free is much better. His flow and his production aren't that great, but his storytelling is.
OK. So, now for the US (unless you want to amaze people with your Die Fantastischen Vier albums).
We're gonna start at the beginning. The first two artists to look into are Gil Scot-Heron and The Last Poets. The Last Poets are pretty widely recognized as the progenitors of rap, and both they and Scot-Heron come from the '70s Black Power movement, that armed Langston Hughes and James Baldwin and took 'em to the streets.
We're gonna skip over the Sugarhill Gang because Rapper's Delight is about the only decent song they ever did, and you'll hear it enough anyway. Take a look at Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, along with Grandmaster Flash. This is where you find songs like "White Lines" and "The Message," along with Afrika Bambaata and other folks from the early '80s in America. "Don't push me/'cuz I'm close to the edge/I'm tryin'/ not to lose my head" about sums up '80s ghetto life.
But wait, what about commercial rap? Ah, Run DMC, you have the answer. Try to pick up a greatest hits from these guys, as they're kinda hit and miss. Make sure that the album has King of Rock, My Adidas and It's Like That. You'll get to hear as they wage their noble battle against Sucker MCs, a battle that continues to this day (I just saw Vast Aire, formerly of Cannibal Ox, decry the Sucker MC at a show two nights ago).
The interesting part of artists like Run DMC and LL Cool J? They're not "old school." Run DMC called themselves New School, as a reaction against the "old school." The difference? They used new beats, as opposed to rapping over disco hits (the aformentioned "Rapper's Delight" is over Chic's "Good Times"). LL Cool J is the first "hardcore" rapper, despite having a sappy fucking ballad in the middle of every album. Still, Radio and Mama Said Knock You Out are pretty great. He is, however, into the posturin'. But it's fun and harmless. Other ones to pick up from the same era: Paid In Full, by Eric B. and Rakim. Anything by Boogie Down Productions, which was KRS-One's first outfit (as "The Teacher," he's most decidely non-bling). You also might want to look for Slick Rick greatest hits albums with La-di-da-di, which gave us the immortal line "La di da di, we like to party/ We don’t cause trouble, we don’t bother nobody." Every rap album since has had this somewhere inside.
A little bit after that, while people like NWA and Public Enemy were getting big (go get It Takes a Nation of Millions... by PE. It's SO worth it), alternative rap was starting too. You'll find people like The Swollen Members, Aceyalone and the Freestyle Fellowship worth listening too. There's also the vaguely goofy Digital Underground ("The Humpty Dance") who featured a young Tupac Shakur (with a hightop fade) and the Electromagnetic MCs who featured someone who would become the craziest MC ever: Kool Keith.
Fast forward a couple of years. You should try picking up The Score by the Fugees. They're not really all that well regarded now, due to the extreme bullshit of all three of their solo careers, but The Score is a fucking awesome album even now.
This is also the time of the "Daisy Revolution" of hip hop, and the first dose of conscious hip hop that most people got. While I echo the recommendations to check out Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, I'll point out that respectively, their best albums are Low End Theory and Buhloon Mind State. Everyone else is wrong.
But what about modern rap? Well, aside from The Coup, Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox, Madlib, and MF Doom (aka Victor Vaughn), there's Slum Village (and their producer Jay-D), Kanye West, Majestic Legend, One Be Lo, Binary Star, DJ Vadim, Them, anticon, Slug and Atmosphere.
Feel free to email me for more suggestions (I'll probably just email you some mp3s).
posted by klangklangston at 9:59 AM on June 7, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'm coming to this thread very late, so here are a few people I like, trying not to say things that have already
been mentioned: Bahamadia, Jean Grae, Mike Ladd, All Natural, Lyrics Born, Last Emperor, Five Deez...

Trying in vain to provide some kind of history-of-hip-hop-in-ten-albums list:

an imaginary Melvin Van Peebles/Muhammad Ali/Last Poets/Watts Prophets/Gil Scott-Herron/Langston Hughes/reggae/blues/vocal jazz/blaxploitation/breakbeat/sample sources DJ mix (a much better representation of the foundations of the culture than some Sugar Hill greatest-hits album)

Run-DMC - Raising Hell (the peak of their career, both commercially and artistically)

LL Cool J - Bigger and Deffer (LL's reputation as an MC has suffered as his Hollywood star has risen--fifteen or twenty years ago, though, Uncle L was nice. And this album covers all the early lyrical cliches--battle rap, a love song and even a song that ends with the main character waking up from a dream.)

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (one of the tripartite peaks of the sampling era--if you can't stand the Beastie Boys, get It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or 3 Feet High and Rising instead.)

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (a high-water mark not only for gangsta rap, but also Bomb Squad production. It's aged a lot better than Straight Outta Compton, too--the only downside is that AMW doesn't have Eazy.)

Dr. Dre - The Chronic (the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, or perhaps the Eagles' Greatest Hits, of rap albums. Influential. Inescapable. Inexplicable.)

Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die (wins out over Illmatic because of Puffy's ambitious production, because RTD is a concept album, and because Biggie got shot.)

De La Soul - Stakes is High (Nostalgic, frustrated, music about art and craft--a good bridge between the Dre/B.I.G. stuff and what follows)

Lyricist Lounge compilation (Rather than picking an individual underground album, I'll just go for this set. Truly, Rawkus was the Def Jux of its day. If you don't like compilations, find J-Live's The Best Part.)

Return of the DJ compilation (Picking an individual turntablist album is even harder than picking an underground-MC one. I've got a lot more DJ suggestions, though, if you're into that kind of thing. Endtroducing, 70 Minutes of Madness, Wave Twisters, Uneasy Listening... name your pleasure.)

Of course, that list leaves out Rakim, the Juice Crew, Nas, Tupac, Jay-Z, The Roots, the Good Life types, the Yay area... I could go on like this. And, if anyone's still reading, revisions, comments and suggestions are more than welcome.
posted by box at 10:32 AM on June 7, 2005

I just can't believe that people would mention LL Cool J as the first "hardcore rapper", talk about the "big four", mention "top five mc lists," And NOWHERE mention KOOL MOE DEE. Not only was he the best battle rapper of all time, but he was the first who started rapping fast and he just destroyed LL Cool J.

Moe Dee spans the gap between the roots of hip hop, rapping out the back of pickups and at parties, and todays "look at me" MCs.

Please go find the following tracks:

Go see the Doctor
Freaks Come out at Night
I go to Work ("What's my occupation? I get paid to rock the nation.")

From his battle with LL:

How Ya Like Me Now
Let's Go ("I took those Ls, hung 'em on your head and rocked your bells")
posted by Metametadata at 10:57 AM on June 7, 2005

Meta: Good catch. I suppose I should have said that LL Cool J was the first to refer to himself as a "hardcore" rapper. Got any albums to suggest (all I've heard have been single songs).
posted by klangklangston at 11:37 AM on June 7, 2005

LL stands for Lower Level, Lackluster, Last Least, Limp Lover, Lousy Lame, Latent Lethargic, Lazy Lemon, Little Logic, Lucky Leech, Liver Lipped, Laborious Louse on a Loser's Lips, Live in Limbo, Lyrical Lapse, Lowlife with the loud raps, boy

'The Freaks Come Out at Night' was Whodini, though, wasn't it? And KMD wasn't the first fast rapper any more than L was the first hardcore one. I always thought that Schoolly D usually got the credit, though Lightnin' Rod's Hustler's Convention is probably also worth considering.
posted by box at 12:56 PM on June 7, 2005

Uh, Schoolly gets the credit for pioneering hardcore/gangsta/whatever, not the credit for being the first fast rapper. (I'm not sure anybody deserves credit for inventing fast-rapping. Lots of old-school cats rhymed crazy fast, as a listen to some of those Edan compilations will make clear. Fast-rapping seems to wax and wane, popularity-wise. That mini-resurgence in the early '90s, where people like Tongue Twista appeared on daytime talk shows and Jay-Z recorded that crummy 'Originators' song? Ugh.
posted by box at 1:22 PM on June 7, 2005

Mathowie recommended Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full," but it's worth saying again. Recorded when the artists were 16 and 17 years old, respectively, it influenced every rapper that came after.

I like their "Follow the Leader" a bit better - it's also definitely worth checking out. Rakim is sort of the essential rapper - he's a man in love with words and what he can do with them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:16 PM on June 8, 2005

The first "fast rapper"? That was the schtick of Busy Bee, before he lost the battle to Kool Mo Dee...

"What's your Zodiac sign?"
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 PM on June 8, 2005

In every rap/hip hop thread in which Immortal Technique is not mentioned, I feel it is my duty to mention him. Revolutionary Vol. 2 is awesome.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 1:31 AM on May 9, 2006

« Older AMP + WordPress on Windows XP?   |   Help me choose a career! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.