Don’t they say "demography is destiny," or something like that? Basically I like the rap CDs that all the other overeducated middle-aged white guys like. That means rap which is musically complex, often ironic, and innovates with rhythmic patter and postmodern pop culture references. Here are a few favorites:
1. Outkast, their entire ouevre. They have mastered soul and funk as well. Their new album is due August 22, but this time around the advance reviews are quite critical.
2. Eric B and Rakim, Paid in Full.
3. De La Soul, especially their clever early material. They ran out of steam quickly, however, as have most rap groups. But their "Jenifa Taught Me" cut might be the most fun rap song ever.
4. NWA, the Compton album. A mini-opera, visceral like Verdi.
5. Control Machete, Mexican rap is generally worthwhile.
6. Nas, Illmatic. A classic.
7. Dr. Dre, The Chronic. The best parts are when SDD cuts in singing.
8. P.M. Dawn, most of all Jesus Wept, if you consider that rap. Hits the sweet spot between gospel and Prince.
9. Kanye West, his last CD. He has the talent to rival Outkast as the most important rapper(s).
10. My dark horse pick would be Schooly D, The Adventures of Schooly D, especially the stripped-down cassette version with only the album’s highlights. The next step after Varese.
If we can count Robert Ashley, Perfect Lives is the best rap of them all. He is in any case a pioneer for integrating voice into music.
The most overrated bad rap group is the snotty and execrable Beastie Boys. The most overrated good rap group is Wu Tang Clan, who had gobs of talent but doesn’t stick in my memory. Run D-M-Z and Public Enemy are both overrated, but I am not yet sure which category they belong in, good or bad underrated.
For more on the history of rap music, see my In Praise of Commercial Culture, chapter four. Here is an article on rap music in the Middle East.