- 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.
- 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.