The 25 Realest Rap Songs About Prison

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo "Riker's Island" (1987)

Producer: Marley Marl
Album: Wanted: Dead or Alive
Label: Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros. Records

"Just to hear the name will make your spine tingle." It's one of hip-hop's most famous refrains, a warning about a prison that hit, for rap, very close to home. Literally. In 1992, the song's namesake prison locked up (and continues to lock up) not just so many of the men who rap speaks to, but more than a few of those who make it. And there it sits, barely a stone's throw from the South Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Kool G Rap's native Queens.

Over a perfect bells-and-whistles Marley Marl breakbeat, G Rap explains all the rules of Rikers: Who lives in C-74, to fight back when fought, and that only one thing there rhymes with "hardrock" that you need to know of: "Sock Lock." It's one of the few prison rap tracks that's truly equal parts cautionary tale and visitor's guide. And while Rikers has been revisited plenty in rap (both as a place, a subject, and this actual song; Noreaga basically covered it by both sampling the Marley Marl beat and bringing Kool in to drop another verse on 1996's "40 Island"), the original remains the seminal song about one of rap's most unfortunately seminal fixtures. —Foster Kamer

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