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From the positivity of Nas to the bawdy sex of Lil' Kim, our essential rap list covers both ends of the spectrum.





Eminem: "Without Me" and The Slim Shady LP
His royal slimness has proven not only that white boys can rap, but that they can also rank among the best MCs of all time. His brilliance as cutting lyricist shine brightest on the comeback smash "Without Me." The Grammy-winning Slim Shady CD was his mainstream debut that grabbed pop music by the throat, proclaiming to the world that a Tasmanian devil from Detroit was loose--with unsurpassed skills and more than a few mental problems.

  "Without Me"
  Bands A-Z: Eminem
Ja Rule: "Holla Holla" and "Always on Time"
Ja "The Hitmaker" Rule became Def Jam's most commercially successful artist thanks to his unique gravelly voice and infectious call and response hooks. "Holla Holla" set the tone, giving props to "Niggas that's ready to get dollas dollas." "Always on Time" established Ja as the forerunner of the male/female R&B collaboration via a songstress named Ashanti.

  "Holla Holla"
  "Always on Time"
  Bands A-Z: Ja Rule
Snoop Dogg: "Gin & Juice" and "Beautiful"
Snoop cornered the market on the smooth, laid-back Southern Cali rap drawl. With the help of a Dr. named Dre, "Gin and Juice" became the gangsta drink du jour, while the Neptune's-produced "Beautiful" reveals a softer, more soulful side of the Doggfather. And anyone who invents their own shizzle-icious language, gets props in our book.

  "Gin & Juice"
  "Beautiful"
  Bands A-Z: Snoop Dogg
Missy Elliot: "Work It" and "The Rain"
She's the Supa Dupa Fly Missy Elliott--the biggest-selling female MC in the world, defying expectations of what hip-hop should look and sound like. "Work It" spins male/female roles on their asses. It's lude, rude, crude and impossible to resist. "The Rain" typifies Missy's futuristic, genre-busting sound, confirming rap can be experimental and super-funky.

  "Work It"
  "The Rain"
  Bands A-Z: Missy Elliott
Nelly: Country Grammar and "Hot In Herre"
St. Louis' most profitable export since beer comes correct with snappy rhymes and irresistible hooks that stuck a flag in the ground for mid-western hip-hop. His debut, Country Grammar has clocked in 7.9 million and, if you're looking for the quintessential summer jam, look no further than "Hot in Herre."

  "Hot In Herre"
  Bands A-Z: Nelly
The Roots: "The Seed 2.0 and Things Fall Apart
These leaders of Philly's hip-hop soul scene led alternative rap's second wave. Street-corner rhythms mixed with live instruments, "The Seed 2.0," is a joint effort with Cody Chestnutt--a soulful ditty about getting bizzy that helped redefine what "urban" music can be. The Roots' preeminent fifteen-song Things Fall Apart CD proved that hip-hop can have soul, brains and rock the block party.

  "The Seed 2.0"
  Bands A-Z: The Roots
Nas: "I Can" and "One Mic"
One of New York's premiere MCs, Nas speaks the words of a street-corner prophet. "I Can" is smart and positive, warning the youth against the evils of the world. Like most of Nas' work, "One Mic" utilizes deep social messages to transport the rap fan far beyond the bling bling lifestyle and into a world of deeper consciousness.

  "I Can"
  "One Mic"
  Bands A-Z: Nas
Jay-Z: "Big Pimpin'" and "Excuse Me Miss"
The undisputed King of Bling, Jay-Z is recognized far and wide as the ultimate street-savvy MC. His top-shelf lyrics come through most potently on "Big Pimpin" and "Excuse Me Miss." The former coined a lifestyle. The latter, a Neptune's-produced joint with an old-school soul vibe, is a classic sexed-up party jam.

  "Big Pimpin"
  "Excuse Me Miss"
  Bands A-Z: Jay-Z
Outkast: Stankonia "Ms. Jackson"
Big Boi and Dre trekked through uncharted creative terrain in hip-hop with their bass-heavy rhythms and irreverent, danceable songs. Stankonia was the album that sent them over the edge and into a surreal, otherworldly-yet-decidedly funky stratosphere. "Mrs. Jackson" won a Grammy in 2001 for Best Rap Performance.

  "Ms. Jackson"
  Bands A-Z: Outkast
Lil' Kim: "The Jump-off" and "How Many Licks"
All hail the Queen Bee of raunchy, hardcore rap who kicked open doors male MCs had long kept closed with Gucci high-heeled stilettos. The song "The Jump-Off" fires on all cylinders, reminiscent of old school sing-alongs. "How Many Licks" is a hysterically bawdy tune that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that, at least for Lil' Kim, female sexuality equals power.

  "The Jump-off"
  "How Many Licks"
  Bands A-Z: Lil' Kim






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