Label: Rawkus Records
"The next time you ask yourself where hip-hop is going, ask yourself, 'Where am I going?'" Mos Def says in the spoken-word intro to his debut album, Black on Both Sides. The answer, in his case, is pretty much everywhere weird he can take it while still ticking off the boxes that constitute rap—especially Rawkus Records-style conscious rap.
There's a song about how unique Brooklyn is and what's probably the best song ever recorded about access to clean drinking water. There's the classic come-on story of "Ms. Fat Booty," whose muse notably has an "ass so fat that you can see it from the front." There are also songs with no rapping whatsoever, just meandering singing. The overall result is an album that's explosive, revelatory, and, yes, conscious in the best way. —Kyle Kramer