What’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about hip-hop? Obnoxious gangsta rap such as 50 Cent’s mind-numbing In da Club, accompanied by too much bling and too few clothes? Or perhaps “brag rap” or the controversial east-coast VS west-coast, usually ending in a murder or two? When someone asks me what kind of music I like, I sometimes have difficulties breaking that controversy. If you’re into gangsta rap, see my rough hip-hop intro.
My brother in law is really into (death) metal and tried introducing me to the genre (using, among others, this track, which blew my socks off, wow!). Admittedly, a hard hitting double bass and crazy guitar riffs are difficult to digest if you’re not used to it. But his admiring effort made me think, why can’t I convince others to get into hip-hop? Then I drew a few taxonomies of rap styles and subgenres, which paled compared to Wikipedia’s extensive list of hip-hop genres.
No categories then. Instead, I want to focus on personal highlights in what I call “gentle” hip-hop. Hip-hop without the typical explicit themes (sex, murder, drugs, street life, …) that perhaps keep people from enjoying a good beat. Hip-hop without the penetrating noise of boom rap or hardcore rap, starting with stuff that is easy to to get into, and ending perhaps a bit weirder—but in a happy weird way.
This is my gentle hip-hop top 11—in no particular order—I recommend people listen to when they know nothing about hip-hop. Note that I prefer to use hip-hop (the “life style”) instead of rap (the “rapping”), I found it helps people keep their prejudices at check. Give these a try and then re-evaluate what you think of hip-hop music.
- Madlib - Slim’s Return (from Shades of Blue, 2003). A classic track that that seamlessly fuses jazz with turntablism and rap.
- Similar: Yesterday’s New Quintet - Sun Godess (from Angles Without Edges, 2001).
- Looptroop Rockers - The Struggle Continues (from The Struggle Continues, 2002). Swedish underground rap with a moody flow that hits a sore note.
- Deltron 3030 - 3030 (from Deltron 3030, 2000). I can’t say enough about this. Three of my favorite artists (Del The Funky Homosapien, Dan The Automator, Kid Koala) launched an imaginative space journey.
- Similar: Dr. Octagon - Blue Flowers (from The Instrumentalyst (Octagon Beats), 1996). The theme of the album is extremely violent but the instrumental version gets rid of that.
- Hieroglyphics - Classic (from Full Circle, 2003). Classical music (and rap) made fun of, but still respected.
- Similar: Madvillain - All Caps (from Madvillainy, 2004)
- Handsome Boy Modeling School - The Truth (from So… How’s Your Girl?, 1999). Dan The Automator and Prince Paul? The whole album is amazing.
- Similar: Hilltop Hoods - I Love It (from Drinking From The Sun, 2012).
- Swollen Members - Bad Dreams (from Bad Dreams, 2001). Hard to decide on a track for this seminal album. A lot less cheerful but still anything but hardcore.
- Quantic - The 5th Exotic (from The 5th Exotic, 2001). Quantic manages to fuse jazz, electronic, and rap in this excellent album.
- Ancient Astronauts - Anti Pop Song (from Into Bass and Time, 2016). A German duo that successfully manages to revive quintessential west-coast beats.
- Jurassic 5 - A Day At The Races (from Power In Numbers, 2002). Arguably the most energetic one on the album, but I love them all.
- Similar: The Roots - 1000% Dundee (from Things Fall Apart, 1999).
- Soul Position - Hand-Me-Downs (from Things Go Better With Rj And Al, 2006). I love RJD2’s left-field series, but his collaborations are sometimes even better.
- Similar: RJD2 - 1976 (from Since We Last Spoke, 2004).
- Professor Elemental - Cup of Brown Joy (Tea Bag Remix) (from The Indifference Engine, 2012). This is crazy British rap called chap-hop, a sub-genre of nerd-core. I dig it. Earl Grey? Yes please! Assam? Lovely!
- Similar: Mega Ran - Sweet Sorrow (from Castlevania: The Nocturnal Cantata, 2013). Nerd-core at its finest, plus, it’s Castlevania!
I kind of cheated, it’s still 11, but hey, who’s counting! Most tracks are from the early to mid noughties. My hip-hop knowledge is firmly rooted in the nineties (see the rough hip-hop guide) and early 2000s—I hope the experienced reader will help fill the gaps, let me know!