11 16, 2019

Freegal Christmas

By |2019-11-16T06:00:55-05:00November 16, 2019|

Download Christmas music (from Dolly Parton to Run DMC) for free with Freegal and your Mentor Public Library card.

Download Christmas music (from Dolly Parton to Run DMC) for free with Freegal and your Mentor Public Library card.

Halloween is over. Break out the Christmas music (unless you’re one of those purists who prefers to wait until after Thanksgiving. In that case, bookmark this page and we’ll see you again in four weeks.)

If you haven’t heard of Freegal, it’s one of our digital services. It lets you stream or even download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours.

If you have a Mentor Public Library card, you can download five songs for free every week, and there’s no limit to how many songs you can stream.

Here are 30 of our favorite Christmas and holiday albums that you can start streaming now:

1. John Legend, A Legendary Christmas

Enjoy a Christmas house party with Legend as your amiable host. Stevie Wonder and Esperanza Spalding make for excellent guests.

2. Pentatonix, Christmas Is Here!

By now, you know the routine. If you loved A Pentatonix Christmas and That’s Christmas to Methen you’ll love the newest holiday offering from everyone’s favorite a capella quintet.

3. William Shatner, Shatner Claus

Merry Kirk-mas! Our third favorite Star Trek captain* guides your through standards like “Winter Wonderland” and “Run Rudolph Run.”

4. Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas

Mandatory holiday listening, if only for “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

5. Jessie James Decker, On This Holiday

The country chanteuse gives a little twang to “Santa Baby,” “Christmas in Cabo,” and “The Christmas Song.”

6. The Piano Guys, A Family Christmas

The Piano Guys have a knack for creating music that’s catchy and innovative while still recognizable as classical.

7. Wham!, Last Christmas

Andrew Ridgely. You were just trying to remember the other guy’s name. It’s Andrew Ridgely.

8. Sarah McLachlan, The Classic Christmas Album

McLachlan already has the voice of an angel, so it feels natural to hear her sing “Silent Night,” “What Child Is This?” and other seasonal standards.

9. Superstar Christmas

The rare compilation that’s not exaggerating when it claims to contain superstars. Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra, Cyndi Lauper, Placido Domingo, Michael Bolton, Gloria Estefan and Barbra Streisand are all on this eclectic guest list.

10. Polka Christmas

What’s a Cleveland Christmas party without a little polka?

11. Christmas Rap

With all due respect to Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” is the most important hip-hop holiday song ever.

12. She & Him, Christmas Party

Because it’s not Christmas until Zooey Deschanel sings “A Marshmallow World.”

13. Earth, Wind & Fire, The Classic Christmas Album

Yes, they remake “September” into “December.”

14. John Denver, The Classic Christmas Album

Yes, it’s John Denver, so there’s some schmaltz, but he also sings, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas.”)

15. Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped in Red

With all due respect to Shatner, Clarkson has the voice to make a new cover of Run, Run Rudolph worthwhile.

16Harry Belafonte, Christmas

Belafonte could sing about muddy slush and it would still sound great with his voice.

17. Dolly Parton, Home for Christmas

As a general rule, we love Dolly. This is doubly true during the holidays.

18. Pete Kennedy, Top Christmas Favorites

This album’s for all the people who loved Israel Kamakawiwo`ole’s version of Over the Rainbow. And, no, these standards aren’t performed by IZ, but they have that same combination of earnestness and sweetness.

19. Kirk Franklin, Christmas

If you need some gospel music this time of year, Kirk Franklin and the Family have you covered. Standards like Go Tell It on the Mountainand O Come All Ye Faithful sound sweeter than ever.

20. Harry Connick Jr., When my Heart Finds Christmas

Connick has a lot of Christmas albums in his discography. This one’s our favorite but they are all available on Freegal. Personal favorite: I Pray on Christmas.

21. NSYNC, Home for Christmas

If you bought the CD or even *gasp* the cassette when you were in middle school, here’s a chance to update your medium for free.

22. New Kids on the Block, Merry Merry Christmas

In case your taste in boy bands is a little older…

23. Glee Cast, Blue Christmas

If you don’t like Glee…

24. Elvis, The Classic Christmas Album

Freegal has the Elvis version of Blue Christmastoo.

25. Loretta Lynn, White Christmas Blue

Only Lynn could pull off a tune called “To Heck with Ole Santa Claus.”

26. The Manhattan Transfer, The Christmas Album

Any of the kids who enjoyed the Pentatonix album atop this list owe it to themselves to check out The Manhattan Transfer, who were (in many ways) the progenitor of Pentatonix’s style.

27. Johnny Cash, Classic Christmas

We love Johnny Cash, because he still scowls on the cover of his Christmas album.

28. Miranda Cosgrove, Christmas Wrapping

Not to be confused with Christmas Rap.

29. I’ll Be Home for Christmas

A short fun compilation with Meghan Trainor, Sara Bareilles, Fiona Apple, Fifth Harmony and A Great Big World giving their spin to holiday classics.

30. Wilson Phillips, Christmas in Harmony

We were going to put Wilson Phillips on this list no matter what. They just happened to also have a Christmas album.

Other Freegal playlists:

*after Picard and Sisko.

02 19, 2018

25 Masterpiece Classical Albums on Freegal

By |2018-02-19T06:00:13-05:00February 19, 2018|

violin-3131551_1920Want to listen to some of the best country music ever recorded without having to spend money on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal?

Some of the greatest classical music ever recorded is available on Freegal, which is free to use if you have a Mentor Public Library card.

Freegal is one of the library’s digital services, which lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

Here are 25 of our favorite classical albums you can start downloading right now from Freegal:

1. Glenn Gould — The Goldberg Variations

It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Gould’s 1955 recording. Goldberg is one of the single most important pieces of music composed for keyboard. (It’s primary competition: Ludvig van Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, which, simply put, would not exist without Bach’s precedent.)

And Gould’s enthusiastic and masterful recording modernized The Goldberg Variations without blaspheming his source material.

For the completist, Freegal also has Gould’s 1981 recording of The Goldberg Variations, which provides a fitting bookend to the pianist’s career and life.

2. Jascha Heifetz — Sibelius, Prokofiev & Glazunov

The violin wunderkind tackles a trio of concertos: Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47; Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63 and Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82.

The man and the material bring out the best in one another.

3. Philip Glass — Songs from The Trilogy

Compiled from the highlights of Glass’s three portrait operas, Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten. This album converts Glass into digestible bites for the as-yet unconverted.

If you’re not prepared for the 18 minutes of minimalism that is “Trial-Prison” from Einstein, it’s pared to three minutes here.

For those who wish to dig deep into the Glass experience, Freegal can accommodate you, as well.

4. Enrico Caruso — The Complete Victor Recordings

The most venerated opera singer ever and one of the first international recording stars. Enjoy the voice that moved millions.

5. Cameron Carpenter — All You Need Is Bach

Organist provocateur Carpenter’s newest album is both a love note to Bach and his instrument of choice. He does right by both of them.

6. Lavinia Meijer — Voyage

Harpist Meijer performs standards like “Clair de Lune” alongside selections from the Amélie soundtrack. She has the chops and taste to satisfy classicists and the merely curious.

7. Natalie Dessay & Michel Legrand — Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Woman)

It takes moxie to tackle an idea once marked for Streisand. Between Yesterday And Tomorrow tells the story of a woman’s life from birth to death, passing by all of its highlights: childhood, adolescence, first love, and motherhood.

While Streisand ultimately passed on Legrand’s oratorio, Dessay is completely up to the task.

8. Olga Peretyatko — Arabesque

Soprano Peretyatko has skill to spare. She juggles Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Bizet, and more with a powerful voice and easy charisma.

9. Tan Dun & Yo-Yo Ma — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack

Tan Dun accomplishes something special with his score, mixing Eastern and Western instrumentation, as well as classic and modern composition.

Yo-Yo Ma is the most famous performer on the bill, but all of the musicians earn their keep and our admiration.

10. Ennio Morricone — Spaghetti Western: The Bulletproof Collection

Speaking of indelible soundtracks…

Morricone created the sound for a genre. His best-known songs from Once Upon a Time in the WestFor a Few Dollars MoreMy Name Is Nobody, The Hellbenders, The Big Gundown, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are here.

11. Isaac Stern — Humoresque: Favorite Violin Encores

Stern is a brilliant violinist, one of the best instrumentalists of the previous century. However, his biggest contribution to music may have been saving Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball.

Regardless, Stern plays his favorites here, and his talent and enthusiasm are evident.

12. Pablo Casals — Song of the Birds

The cello was not a solo instrument before Casals. To restate the point, Casals’ skill was so transcendent it elevated his instrument.

Song of the Birds recordings range from 1925 to 1953, giving you a taste of Casals’ evolving technique and the concurrent improvement in recording technology.

13. Joshua Bell & Philharmonia Orchestra — The Red Violin soundtrack

John Corigliano’s score makes the most of Bell’s abilities as a soloist. Lyrical, haunting and memorable — even if you’ve never seen the film.

14. Khatia Buniatishivili — Chopin

You probably think there’s nothing new to say (or play) about Chopin’s “Funeral March.” Buniatishivili is happy to prove you wrong. The Georgian pianist is a compliment to whatever classical composer she performs, be it Chopin, Liszt or Rachmaninoff.

15. Lang Lang & Sir Simon Rattle — Prokofiev 3; Bartók 2

Lang is a puncher’s pianist with a muscular, flamboyant style. With Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Lang finds a worthy sparring partner. The concertos are imbued with strength and bravura.

16. Daniele Gatti — Le Sacre du printemps; Pétrouchka

Gatti and the French National Orchestra celebrates the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by recording the masterpiece, along with Stravinsky’s 1911 ballet Pétrouchka.

Gatti grounds the frenzy, conducting with a clarity that emphasizes details.

17. Sol Gabetta — Prayer

Gabetta thematically links Ernest Bloch, Dmitry Shostakovich and Pablo Casals in this powerful set. Bloch’s “Prayer” has long been one of Gabetta’s favorite encores. She has built a lovely album around this centerpiece.

18. Pierre Boulez — Varese

Edgard Varèse is a musical revolutionary and one of the founders of electronic music. However, for awhile, his compositions were not quite as celebrated as their composer. Top-tier conductors rarely performed them, until Boulez recorded his masterful versions.

19. Plácido Domingo — Encanto del Mar: Mediterranean Songs

No, this isn’t Domingo tackling Verdi, Wagner or Mozart, but it’s also not Rod Stewart sleep-walking through a set of standards. Domingo sings 15 songs culled from around the Mediterranean. (Truly, Domingo takes on a tour all around the sea, performing in a half-dozen languages.) He elevates the traditional and contemporary with his impeccable clarity.

20. Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt — Night

Classical pianist Dinnerstein and folk singer and songwriter Merritt collaborate for a cycle of songs dedicated to the nocturnal. It’s a miracle that it’s not a dreary, pretentious mess. But Night is more than “not bad.” It’s remarkable, hopeful, and its atypical roster and modus operandi create a singular experience.

21. Eugene Ormandy — Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Ballet Suites

Ormandy has always had a talent and affinity for Tchaikosky’s compositions. Here, he conducts three of his most famous ballet suites: Sleeping BeautySwan Lake and, of course, The Nutcracker.

22. Arturo Toscanini — Puccini: La Bohème

Toscanini was so prolific and La Bohème so often performed that it’s impossible to single out a definitive recording for either. However, the two are well-matched. Toscanini conducts Puccini’s opera with all of the sensitivity that it deserves.

23. John Williams & Steven Spielberg — The Ultimate Collection

We deliberately avoided Greatest Hits albums in this list, but you deserve to know there’s an album with the themes to Jurassic Park, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark on it.

24. Pretty Yende — Dreams

Yende has a remarkable story. She sang her way from a small town in South Africa near the Swazi border to Europe’s main stages. But you don’t need to know her journey to appreciate her voice — charismatic with remarkable control.

25. The Piano Guys — Uncharted

More than just YouTube stars or indiscriminate musical syncretists. It takes a certain genius to pair Adele’s “Hello” and “Lacrimosa” or “Fight Song” and “Amazing Grace.”

Other Freegal playlists:

08 23, 2017

25 Classic Country Albums on Freegal

By |2017-08-23T06:00:49-04:00August 23, 2017|


Want to listen to some of the best country music ever recorded without having to spend money on iTunes, Spotify or Tidal?

Some of the greatest country songwriters and singers have their music available on Freegal, which is free to use if you have a Mentor Public Library card.

Freegal is one of the library’s digital services, which lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

Here are 25 of our favorite country albums you can start downloading right now from Freegal:

  1. Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child

Willie Nelson has been doing this for 55 years. It’s ridiculous and reductive to pick an album to single out. Feel free to start with his greatest hits, but don’t ignore his newer material. Unlike a lot of “legacy” acts, Nelson still has plenty of speed on his fastball. His most recent album, God’s Problem Child,  tackles twilight and mortality, including the deaths of Leon Russell and Merle Haggard, with charm, humor, and thoughtfulness. He even addresses all those Internet hoaxes about his own demise with “Still Not Dead.”

  1. Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces made the Dixie Chicks superstars, but Fly and Home are every bit as essential. Fortunately, all three are available for free on Freegal. Taking the Long Way is worth having too, especially “Not Ready to Make Nice.

  1. Merle Haggard – Snapshot

We’ll be honest. While Freegal’s collection is enormous (and includes most of the Sony collection), it misses some of Haggard’s best albums. And while Snapshot seems insultingly brief—10 songs to summarize half a century of music?—it gives you a solid place to start. No album that includes “Mama Tried,” “Sing Me Back Home,” and “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here & Drink” can be wrong.

  1. Kenny Chesney – Cosmic Hallelujah

You may have missed it, but Kenny Chesney just released his best album since When the Sun Goes Down. “Trip Around the Sun,” “Some Town Somewhere,” and “Setting the World on Fire” will slot nicely into future Greatest Hits albums.

  1. Gretchen Wilson – One of the Boys

It will be a shame if we only remember Gretchen Wilson for “Redneck Woman.” Her debut may have sold quintuple platinum, but she came into her own as a performer and songwriter on One of the Boys. “Come to Bed,” “Pain Killer,” and “To Tell You the Truth” are the best of a beautiful, broken batch.

  1. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Jason Isbell is astonishingly consistent. Any of his albums could reasonably be someone’s favorite. We’ll opt for Southeastern with “Cover Me Up” being the difference maker. But his newest, The Nashville Sound, is worth a download or a stream, as well.

  1. Dolly Parton – Jolene

Dolly Parton is somehow both a legend and underrated. Because of her quick wit, self-deprecation, and memorable figure, we often forget that she is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of America. We love Jolene, but you should probably get her greatest hits too.

  1. Brooks & Dunn – The Greatest Hits Collection

If you think picking The Greatest Hits is lazy—and it admittedly is—start with Brand New Man and work forward.

  1. Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Miranda Lambert has sharp eyes for songwriting, a sharper wit, and a kerosene soul. Good voice too. “Guilty in Here,” “Gunpowder & Lead,” and the title track are her at her best.

  1. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

We’ll spare you another Johnny Cash paean. At Folsom Prison has one of the best at his best. You should listen to it. Repeatedly.

  1. John Denver – Back Home Again

We get it. John Denver is a Super Troopers punchline, a human Muppet (especially compared to the aforementioned Cash.) But there’s room for cheerfulness in music too, and you ain’t too cool for “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

  1. Tammy Wynette – Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad

Yes, Stand By Your Man is a classic, but her debut is just as good and has a bit of a bite. “Apartment #9” and the title track were the hits, but it’s all worth a listen.

  1. Brad Paisley – Time Well Wasted

Time Well Wasted is the best showcase for Paisley’s songwriting, humor, and guitar chops. It’s the rare album that wowed traditionalists and casual country fans.

  1. Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes

This is the moment when Waylon Jennings (and songwriter Billy Joe Shaver) invented Outlaw Country. “You Asked Me To,” “Black Rose,” and the title track created a genre.

  1. Alabama – My Home’s In Alabama

Alabama always leaned a little heavier on the “rock” side of country-rock. And later albums like Mountain Music almost delved into soft rock, but their debut still had plenty of twang. (By the way, their Christmas album is sneaky great.)

  1. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle

Loretta Lynn’s first new album in 12 years finds her revisiting songs from her childhood and a few of her biggest hits on the way to some new and worthy additions to her catalogue. Full Circle is of a piece with Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child. Both find legends mulling their careers and mortality without sinking into the maudlin.

  1. Conway Twitty – Number Ones

Poor, Conway. He racked up more than 50 #1 hits, and then was reduced to a Family Guy cutaway gag. Not all of his 50+ hits are represented here, but you get enough of his best to whet your palate.

  1. Tanya Tucker – 16 Biggest Hits

Tanya Tucker nearly has more Greatest Hits albums than she does hits. Admittedly, none of her compilations are perfect, but this is one of the better ones by virtue of it being more inclusive.

  1. Alan Jackson – A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ‘Bout Love)

Alan Jackson has a million hits albums too; but, if you’re looking for a deeper dive, try his third album. The opening trio of “Chattahoochee,” “She’s Got the Rhythm (And I’ve Got the Blues,)” and “Tonight I Climbed the Wall” are peak Jackson.

  1. Crystal Gayle/Tom Waits – One From The Heart Soundtrack

Crystal Gayle is too often dismissed as merely “Loretta Lynn’s sister.” But there is at least one time she unquestionably emerged from her sister’s shadow—on the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart. Gayle’s “Picking up after You,” “Old Boyfriends,” and her sublime duets with Tom Waits are lovely and affecting. Not even her sister could perform them better.

  1. Buck Owens & His Buckaroos – I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail

Buck Owens had hits before and after Tiger, but this is the album where the Bakersfield sound burst into the mainstream. The title track and “Wham Bam” are masterpieces, and “Cryin’ Time” is so good that Ray Charles needed to borrow it.

  1. LeAnn Rimes – Remnants

LeAnn Rimes’ most recent album is more Carrie Underwood than Brandi Carlile, even if she covers Carlile’s “The Story” here. You may prefer Rimes when she sticks to the roots, but she’s pretty impressive as a diva too.

  1. Tennessee Ernie Ford – Collection 1949-1961

Nowadays, Ernie Ford is probably better known for his guest turn on I Love Lucy than for his singing. That’s a shame since he recorded plenty of worthwhile music over the years. The best is collected here. Start with “Sixteen Tons.”

  1. Vince Gill – The Essential

It’s an exaggeration to refer to this compilation as essential, since it mostly culls his early career and misses plenty of big hits. But it’s a decent collection of Gill’s most worthwhile tunes from his early days.

  1. Carrie Underwood – Some Hearts

If you’re one of the five people who doesn’t already own this album.

Other Freegal playlists:

03 4, 2017

Own the music you love for free with Freegal

By |2017-03-04T06:00:45-05:00March 4, 2017|

Do you love music but don’t want to spend money on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal or—you know—CDs?

Try Freegal. It lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

And it’s free with your library card.

You’re waiting for the catch, there isn’t one. You can get the music you want—right now, for free.

And Freegal’s library is enormous. It includes everything from Carole King to Miles DavisWillie Nelson to Nas.

In fact, Freegal’s collection is so large that it can be overwhelming. So we’ve created some playlists to help you navigate.

Get listening, and let us know your favorite albums so we can share them.

01 24, 2017

25 Best Hip-Hop Albums on Freegal

By |2017-01-24T06:00:01-05:00January 24, 2017|


Want to listen to some of the best hip-hop music ever recorded without spending money on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal or—you know—CDs?

Try Freegal. It lets you download DRM-free mp3s of your favorite songs. Moreover, once you download a song, you can keep the mp3 forever. Put it on your phone, your computer, your iPod–wherever you want. It’s yours. You can download up to five songs a week.

You also get unlimited streaming, if you prefer that.

And it’s free with your library card.

Here are 25 of our favorite hip-hop albums you can start downloading right now from Freegal:

  1. Nas, Illmatic:

Nas has crafted a lot of brilliant music, but he’s forever chasing his debut. Illmatic has a Mount Rushmore of hip-hop producers—Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip, and L.E.S.—serving their best beats to an apex MC. In return, Nas wrote a debut album that plays like a greatest hits.

For more Queensbridge classics, check out AZ’s The Format.

  1. Outkast, Aquemini

Listen, you can argue that pretty much any Outkast album is their best (except for Idlewild, and even that one has its moments.) Maybe you prefer the stoned grooves of ATLiens, the laid-back funk of SouthernPlayalistic, the bombast and exploration of Stankonia, or the big hits of Speakerboxxx/Love Below. But Aquemini has that perfect seasoning: just enough soul, just enough funk, just enough mind-blowing bars, and slinky grooves. It earned every one of its 5 mics.

For more Dungeon Family, listen to Goodie Mobb’s classic debut or the entire family’s Even In DarknessIf you really feel like digging in the crates, Freegal also has Society of Soul’s Brainchild.

  1. A Tribe Called Quest, Low End Theory

There’s no such thing as an inconsequential Tribe album. (Even The Love Movement had “Find a Way.”) Start with Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders, but don’t forget their newest joint. We Got It From Here is probably Tribe’s third or fourth best album; and, when your discography is this good, that’s high praise.

For more Native Tongues, check out Jungle Brothers’ Straight out the Jungle.

  1. Fugees, The Score

The Fugees knew no boundaries. They mixed Roberta Flack, Bob Marley, and Delfonics with the type of Jersey bars that would make Redman proud. Freegal also has most of Wyclef JeanLauryn Hill, and Pras’ solo work for streaming and download. (Don’t laugh at poor Pras. “Ghetto Supastar”—the song, at least—is a classic.)

  1. E-40, The Hall of Game

E-40’s discography can intimidate because of his prolificness. Where do you start when the guy drops a double album every six months? Start with The Hall of Game. Not only does it have the big hit—”Player’s Ball” with Too $hort—it has one of 2Pac’s best guest verses ever on “Million Dollar Spot.”

For more Yay Area, listen to The Best of Celly Cel or E-40’s work with The Click.

  1. Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded

KRS-One is a Top 5 MC, dead or alive, and he has been since Criminal Minded. He single-handedly whooped The Juice Crew (or, at least Marley Marl and MC Shan) with the still lethal battle raps/history lessons “Bridge Is Over” and “South Bronx.”

The rest of BDP’s discography is vital too and don’t sleep on KRS’s solo material. Personal favorite: the DJ Premier-laced “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know” from his self-titled album.

  1. UGK, UGK (Underground Kingz)

While the self-titled album isn’t UGK’s best record—that’s Ridin’ Dirty, hands down—it is their crowning achievement. After more than a decade of toiling as regional champions, Pimp C and Bun B were finally feted with a double album that celebrated their supremacy.

  1. Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang

It’s difficult to stress just how much Wu-Tang Clan changed hip-hop, not just the music but the culture. Those sped-up soul samples you love? RZA did it first on “Tearz.” Everyone having their own clique/record label/clothing company? Wu-Tang did it first.

For more Shaolin goodness, check out RZA’s The Man with Iron Fists soundtrack or Inspectah Deck’s newest group, Czarface.

  1. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury

Clipse would still be the most terrifying tandem in hip-hop since EPMD if they didn’t have their pick of Neptunes beats. And “Wamp Wamp” and “Mr. Me Too” are as fresh and funny as they are fierce.

For more Re-Up Gang, check out Pusha T’s Fear of God II.

  1. Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

The lyrical wunderkind of Odd Future Gang returned from exile in Samoa and kept rapping like he never disappeared. Vince Stapes, Mac Miller, RZA, Frank Ocean, and other Odd Future cohorts contribute, but this is Earl’s coronation. Also listen to his I Don’t Go Outside.

  1. Common, Resurrection

Before he was a Soulquarian or down with Kanye (but after that weird debut where he aped Das EFX), Common Sense was resurrected. “I Used to Love H.E.R.” is a revelation that launched a career but the entire album shares Common’s brilliance and insight.

For more Capital-L Lyrics, listen to Dead Prez’s Let’s Get Free.

  1. XZIBIT, 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz

XZIBIT’s album budgets got bigger on Restless and Man V. Machine, but he never sounded better than on 40 Dayz‘ “What U C Is What U Get.” And what you get is hard-body bars over spine-cracking production.

For more Likwit Crew, check out The Alhaholiks.

  1. Big Punisher, Capital Punishment

Like so many other “big” rappers—Big L and Notorious B.I.G.—Big Pun only got two records to craft his legacy before dying. But Pun’s place in hip-hop was cemented after his debut album. Wyclef, Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, and more lined up to rap alongside the hottest thing out of the Bronx since KRS-One. (Don’t sleep on Yeah Baby either, if only for “100%.”)

For more BX PR hip-hop, enjoy Fat Joe’s Jealous One’s Envy.

  1. Big L, Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous

You need proof that life is capricious? Big L’s bandmates in The Children of the Corn, Mase and Cam’ron, are both multiplatinum superstars. But L, the most dexterous rapper in the clique, is murdered while working on his second album. At least he left us with this gem. (You can also hear a pre-fame Jay-Z on the posse cut “Da Graveyard.”)

For more Harlem, check out Harlem’s Greatest, a concise collection of Cam’ron’s best work before signing with Roc-a-Fella Records.

  1. MF DOOM, Operation Doomsday

Witness perhaps the greatest resurrection in hip-hop history. MF Doom went from that one guy in KMD (if you even heard of KMD) to a genre-expanding super villain. Doom produces like the love-less child of Prince Paul and Tom Waits, and he raps like he’s stringing together inside jokes. You either love it or you don’t get it. Either way, Doom doesn’t apologize.

For more production wizardry, listen to J Dilla’s The Diary and Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor.

  1. Scarface, The Diary

If Scarface never dubbed himself the king of the south, it’s because some people are too big for a throne. Scarface rapped about depression, mental illness, and the pains of poverty with the insight of a poet laureate. Start with The Diary, but his entire discography is hypnotic.

For more of H-Town’s finest, enjoy Devin the Dude.

  1. A$AP Rocky, Live.A$AP

A$AP Rocky is what happens a Harlem rapper grows to revere Rakim and Pimp C equally. He’s got bars for the purists—whatever that still means—but he also cultivates an aura of cool. He also put together the posse cut of a generation with “1 Train,” which features Kendrick Lamar, Big KRIT, Danny Brown, Yelawolf, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson.

For more new New York, listen to Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Ferg.

  1. Lecrae, All Things Work Together

Lecrae is the best gospel rapper working. He’s the genre’s Al Green. He has all the skill and technique of his secular peers but uses his faith to craft his message. His autobiography, Unashamed, is also excellent.

  1. DJ Quik, Rhythm-Al-Ism

DJ Quik is more melodic than Dr. Dre, funkier than Madlib, and a better rapper than either of them. He goes through phases like a hip-hop David Bowie, and each phase is worth enjoying.

  1. Busta Rhymes, Genesis

Busta Rhymes sounds equally marvelous over The Neptunes and Dr. Dre, both of whom provide music for Genesis. (As a bonus, Freegal also has “Case of the PTA,” one of the best songs from Busta’s original group, Leaders of the New School.)

For more tongue-twisters, listen to Tech N9NE’s Anghellic.

  1. DJ Khaled, Major Key

You’re laughing, right? How does Khaled make the list when his only skill seems to be knowing famous people? Well, it turns out that having a fabulous rolodex is an enviable skill. Khaled collects contributions from Jay-Z, Drake, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Future, Busta Rhymes and… huh… Meghan Trainor. Didn’t see that coming.

For more too-big-too-fail music, enjoy Jermaine Dupri’s Life in 1472, which features Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick, Usher, Jay-Z, Nas, and Ma$e before he retired the first time.

  1. Mobb Deep, The Infamous

“Shook Ones Pt. II” is the anthem, but Havoc and Prodigy have a discography as deep as their Mobb.

For more New York rider music, check out M.O.P.’s discography or a Kay Slay mixtape.

  1. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Cole went double platinum without any features—no guest verses, no borrowed hooks. Not even his label boss, Jay-Z, accomplished that. And you can get it for free.

  1. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele

We mentioned Wu-Tang Clan 16 entries earlier, but Ghostface’s masterpiece of abstraction deserves its own spot. We still have no idea what he’s talking about on “Apollo Kids.” (This rap is like ziti?) It doesn’t matter. Perfection requires no explanation.

If you like that, check out Ghostface’s collaboration with Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons to Die.

  1. Too $hort, Life Is… Too $hort

Much like life and the legendary Oakland MC, this list is too short.

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