By Real Simple
Updated May 11, 2007
Credit: Mark Lund

The Classics

  • Run D.M.C., Raising Hell: With this raucous 1986 album, kids said good-bye to rock and roll.
  • Eric B. and Rakim, Paid in Full: The blueprint of modern rap.
  • De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising: Humor and sophistication mark this masterpiece.
  • LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out: LL’s best. A mix of fun and adrenaline-fueled tracks.
  • Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: One of the smartest and most dynamic albums in the history of hip-hop.

The Contemporaries

  • M.I.A., Arular: A Sri Lankan female rapper skats, sings, and tackles global politics.
  • Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury: Raps of the drug trade, accompanied by snare drums and droning organs.
  • Lupe Fiasco, Food and Liquor: A smart kid in an increasingly dumbed-down genre.
  • The Roots, Game Theory: If Coldplay ever made a hip-hop album, it might sound like this.
  • Aloe Blacc, Shine Through: Equal parts hip-hop, blues, and salsa, sung by a delicate voice.

    Picks by: Andrew McIntosh, a writer, a DJ, and an adjunct professor of sociology at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He teaches a class called Pass the Peas: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop Culture.