I know as well as anyone that rap music isn’t for everyone, but if you happen to be into rap music (and you don’t mind a little swearing every now and then — okay, who am I kidding, sometimes a LOT of swearing) then check out the upcoming 7 masterpieces. Just so you know, there are tons more rap artists that are amazing, like Da Brat, Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, MC Lyte, Jay-Z, and many more, but these 7 move me most often. They are listed in no particular order.
There’s something to be said for revisiting previous album material, and Nas does it better than just about anyone else this side of David Bowie. Stillmatic finds him plumbing the depths of his psyche, battling his inner demons, and recalling tiffs with others from Queensbridge (where he’s from). It is not so much an homage as it is a snapshot taken from a slightly different angle than his also-superb Illmatic. Song with the most memorable chorus: Destroy & Rebuild.
If the art of storytelling was passed down from Grandmaster Flash and Kool Moe Dee, then The Game would be the next generation, keeping the tradition alive. Unlike other rap artists of this age, he remains true to his roots while also exploring the pitfalls of fame at such a young age, in a genre like rap. LAX finds him in present-day mode, telling the story of his city (Compton), and what he feels is the biggest issue facing people with stardom today (money). Song you’ll be bopping your head to: Bulletproof Diaries.
I really tried hard not to like Kanye West. His delivery is often so dry and stilted, almost as if he is trying too hard to sound… hardcore. What grabs me and drags me in, though, is the rhythm and the lyrical content. His flow is second to none, at least in this modern rap game. His rhymes are consistently good, even when he’s guesting on other people’s records, which also sets him apart from most of his other rap “peers.” My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy explores everything, from the pressures of the industry, to his critique of politics, to his love of power. And throughout it all, he sounds like a regular street hustler, not easy to pull off for someone so rich. Song that approaches anthem status: Monster.
So, this one is a really personal selection because, well, it’s a Philly thing, and it’s a high school thing. This album came out when I was in high school, when I felt left out with no friends or hope of friends. I needed something to hang on to, and this was it. I bought the CD when it first came out and wore it out. So, it’s about memories, but even more than that, it’s mostly old school rap, but it’s fun. No one would accuse Big Will and Jazzy J. of being gangster, and that’s good. They revel in it, and Code Red is a feel good record through and through. Song that brings back the glory of the stutter: Boom! Shake the Room!
5. 2Pac – Me Against the World
What 2Pac had that cannot be copied is a certain swagger that knew no bounds, and no more is it evident than here on his 1994 album. You can skip right over the treacly sweet (yeah, I said it) “Dear Mama,” and the rest of the record is a challenge to every other rapper out there. Whatever the whole East Coast/West Coast rivalry was (and still is, to an extent) it was embodied in 2Pac, and especially on this record. Song with the most swagger: If I Die 2Nite.
6. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
My sister had this record, and I stole it from her room one day, wanting to hear what all the fuss was about. I found out pretty quickly right from the start. It’s just a different kind of rap style than any I had ever heard before because of the trading off of raps between the three major rappers that made up Tribe. Q-Tip is the unquestioned leader, but Phife Dog often steals the show with his deep vibe. This album is one of the best rap albums of all time, hands down, in terms of lyrical quality and delivery. Song that makes me want to dance: Electric Relaxation.
7. LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out
Don’t call it a comeback, because he was never really gone. I have always maintained that LL Cool J is one of the most misunderstood rappers around. People think he’s either too soft or too hard, and I think he’s just right. From the start, through this period of time, to the music he’s producing right now. LL gives you just what he’s always given, smooth flava that keeps giving back. His flow is impressive, even when he is talking about ludicrous subjects (see: “Mr. Good Bar”). Mama Said Knock You Out is one of those albums that, while not perfect, makes you believe it is, just because of that flow. From the first beat to the final line, LL brought it correct for this one. Song that makes me want to hit repeat: Milky Cereal.