I first got into Sage Francis when one of my best friends insisted I listen to his song "Makeshift Patriot", which was written on Sept. 12, 2001 and perfectly captured the aftermath of 9/11 in America. Then we went to see him perform & by the end of the night I was blown away. The fact that he mixes serious topics with a sense of humor so flawlessly impresses me, and the fact that we're the same age probably accounts for my strong connection to his lyrics.
I've got the majority of his released works and I can't think of a single song I dislike. And that's what puts him in the #1 spot for me.
Aside from his role in the movie K-Pax, the first time I saw Saul Williams perform was when he opened for The Mars Volta in 2002. That night he did spoken word, reciting his poetry & talking to the audience between each poem. I was hypnotized by his words, and soon found out he releases his poetry in book form as well as set to music on albums. While his poetry has been consistently mind-blowing, his music has progressed over time & he received a wider audience by working on his 3rd album with Trent Reznor & touring with Nine Inch Nails.
While his music definitely has elements of hip-hop in it, there are also jazz and rock influences evident which makes for a very rewarding listen every time.
(The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust)
I shouldn't have to explain the appeal of Outkast. Instead I'll say that I love them for the ways Big Boi & Andre 3000 complement each other. Separately they're just not the same, which was proved to me on Speakerboxx/The Love Below when they each made their own album instead of collaborating (aside from a couple songs on each). That said, The Love Below is one of my all-time favorite albums (whereas I rarely ever listen to Speakerboxx). I also love them because they're not afraid to mix in other music genres to deliver the sound in their heads, which has helped them appeal to a broader audience.
One of the best hip-hop groups ever. Chuck D's vocals are undeniable and his politically-charged lyrics elevate PE above their contemporaries. It saddens me that Flavor Flav has let himself become a pathetic caricature, and that their newer albums lack the greatness of their earlier work. But their live performances are still strong after all these years, as proved when I saw them in 2009 where they performed their debut album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in its entirety.
I HAD to put this song on here, as it was my introduction to PE. I'd been an Anthrax fan for a few years when they recorded this song together, & I couldn't stop listening to it. So eventually I started buying PE albums & that was it...I was a fan. Favorite album:
The 2nd time I saw Rage Against the Machine they had been on tour with Wu-Tang Clan and Atari Teenage Riot. Wu-Tang made a habit of not showing up for soundchecks and being generally disorganized, which got them kicked off the tour. RATM replaced them with The Roots & thus introduced me to the greatest live hip-hop act in the world (so say the experts, and who am I to disagree?).
What sets them apart? Well, for the most part it's the fact that they've always used instruments to create their sound on (and off) stage, rather than relying solely on a DJ. So when you see them live it's not just one or two guys walking around in front of a stationary turntablist, but an entire group moving around & playing their respective instruments. Add to that their intelligent lyrics & refusal to compromise their sonic vision for anyone else, and you can see why they've earned my respect. Favorite album:
Somehow I never heard of Tribe before 1994. That year Q-Tip recorded a song with the Beastie Boys for Ill Communication called "Get It Together," which was my favorite song on the album from the first listen. So I did some digging, found out he was in Tribe, and started buying their albums.
Intelligent lyrics, diverse song structures, and the interplay between Q-Tip & Phife Dawg are all reasons I love their music. Favorite album:
Immortal Technique reminds me of a modern-day Chuck D crossed with Rage Against the Machine's Zach de la Rocha. He's politically aware, well-informed & pissed off, all of which keeps me listening closely. Sometimes I feel like I should be taking notes on his lyrics haha. He's got a dark sense of humor too, so even when he's deadly serious it never gets too heavy-handed.
Run DMC were all over the radio when I was a boy, and songs like "You Talk Too Much", "Mary Mary" and "It's Tricky" all entertained me to no end. But it was their collaboration with Aerosmith on their version of "Walk This Way" that would encourage me to buy their albums, and I've been a fan ever since. Unfortunately I never got to see them live, and I never will.
Q-Tip's solo work has been as interesting as his work with Tribe. The fact that he went from a more mainstream-oriented rap album to creating 2 albums his former record label Arista refused to release for their lack of "marketability" to a hip-hop album with live instrumentation impresses me, and his vocal delivery and lyrics are as good as ever.
I got into Cypress Hill thanks to the irresistible fun of "Insane in the Brain," which led me to pick up their album Black Sunday. One trip through that album revealed that every song was at least as good as that single, so I picked up their debut and then their 3rd album when it came out. I saw them perform live a couple times and they were really intense and fun, which made for a great time.
I'm not as crazy about their later output, but those first 3 albums are still as great today as they were when I first bought them. Favorite album:
I thought Busta was mildly interesting whenever I'd catch one of his videos on MTV (back when they spent most of their days actually PLAYING videos), but I never paid serious attention to him. Then I caught him at the hip-hop-oriented touring festival Smokin' Grooves in 1998, where his energy and vocal delivery captivated me and blew away my previous indifference to him. His first 3 albums are flawless, and I loved that they had a common theme of the world ending in 2000. The fact that 2000 came & went without a hitch rendered that theme comical, but that doesn't take anything away from those songs.
I quit paying attention to him after his 4th album (Anarchy), but I still listen to the 1st 3 from time to time. Favorite album:
The Beasties and Run DMC were my introduction to hip-hop when I was a boy. If you lived through 1986 without hearing "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" then you were probably living under a rock (or else simply too young to realize you heard it). All my friends growing up had Licensed to Ill, so it wasn't until much later on that I felt the need to buy a copy, but by then I already knew all the songs. I missed Paul's Boutique somehow, but they found me again with Check Your Head and Ill Communication which both featured live instruments & a more alternative sound (something I was really into starting in 1991...wonder why that might be?).
Like Busta Rhymes and Cypress Hill, it's been a long time since I've been excited by any of the Beasties' output, but their early works will forever hold a special place in my heart. Favorite album:
Wonderfully politically incorrect, Bloodhound Gang has been making me laugh since One Fierce Beer Coaster (1996). I love them for their humor, pop-culture references, and the fact that they're mostly FUN to listen to. Their last album, Hefty Fine, was mostly terrible, but everything that preceded it was excellent.
Choosing a favorite album on this one is too easy, as Lovage has only recorded one so far. A follow-up is supposedly in the works, but details have yet to surface. I'm a big fan of Mike Patton, so when I heard about this collaboration I had to check it out and wasn't disappointed at all. Dan the Automator's music is perfect for these songs, and Jennifer Charles's vocals are too hot to ignore. If they get the new album recorded & released, you can bet I'll have it in my possession as quickly as I can.
I like MSI for similar reasons to why I like Bloodhound Gang, except that MSI has served for most of their years as a satire of Hip-Hop in general. Those of us who caught on to the joke have been mostly rewarded for our appreciation, as all but their latest album (which only hosts a couple of songs worth listening to) have been full of humor, wit, and brilliance disguised as lowbrow entertainment.
Yep, Mike Patton again. He's claimed that Peeping Tom is his pop group, but most of their songs fit in with Hip-Hop so I feel they deserve a spot on this list. Like Lovage, Peeping Tom has also only released one (helluva) album so far. Oh yeah, and Rahzel performs with them both on album & live.
I dig Rage due to their willingness to speak their mind on political subjects, as well as the fact that they're all politically active. Zach's vocals and poetry both blow me away, as does the ways Tom Morello makes his guitar sound like turntables. Add to that a super tight rhythm section, and you apparently get pure brilliance.
Just a little list I've put together of the Hip-Hop artists past & present I feel are worth listening to. Once upon a time you could hear good/great Hip-Hop on the radio, but since the 00s started all the best Hip-Hop artists exist mainly in the underground. Even Public Enemy, who used to sell out stadiums, now headlines shows primarily in bigger clubs/theatres.
So for those of you interested in hearing some Hip-Hop that actually has something to say (or that's just too much fun to dislike) combined with some music that's worth listening to, this list is for you.