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Crank This: Hip-Hop To Drive To

Scott Gries
Getty Images

The songs on this list were made before iTunes was a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye, so it stands to reason that they sound better bumping out of car speakers. No matter how many times you hit that little function key at the top of the keyboard, your computer will never make a vibration big enough to resonate in your chest, much less shake the windshield of the car in the lane next to yours. It will never make a noise so loud that you feel like you're inside it.

Give these a spin and then track down the CDs, because they deserve to be heard the old-fashioned way. Turn your woofers up and roll down your windows — all of them.

For more entries in this summer's weekly Road Trip: Songs to Drive By series, click here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Masta Ace Incorporated

Masta Ace pretty much says it all: "Rolling down my windows / Yeah, I have an air conditioner / But I got the sound I want the whole world to listen to." It's steamy out and you used up all of your vacation days; all that's left is to roll around town looking for the ice-cream man. The Brooklyn-born Ace takes the act of aimless motoring while listening to music that bothers a large segment of the population, and he spins it into a statement about racial profiling, youth profiling and having bigger speakers than whoever's complaining. "Born to Roll" makes you feel like a teenager dreading Labor Day all over again.


Before OutKast became a pair of multimedia avant-pop auteurs -- before Andre 3000's costumes and "Hey Ya" and international superstardom -- it was just two precocious teenagers who slung off-kilter rhymes and carried Atlanta on their backs. Here, the early-'90s OutKast celebrates the finer points of the Southern player's life: soul food, fine intoxicants and, most importantly (quoth Big Boi), "Bendin' corners in my 'llac, boy, 'cause that's how we be rollin' here." Add the languid, bass-heavy funk track, courtesy of the Dirty South production mavens in Organized Noize, and you've got a classic, ripe for your own Caddy.


Krazy Drayz and Skoob (books backwards, get it?) both hail from Brooklyn, but they met in college in Richmond, Va. "They Want EFX," from their first album, took their penchant for adding "iggity" to the end of every other word global. These are the guys you blame every time some smelly hipster calls something "wiggidy wiggidy wack." Das EFX makes it sound good, though. The duo hopscotches through a beat crafted from a James Brown sample and rips a line from every nursery rhyme imaginable. The bottom of the bass keeps the menace alive, but rhymes that namecheck Snuffleupagus keep it breezy. It's a good puzzler for grumpy gramps stuck next to you in traffic: He'll be laughing and harrumphing at the same time.

Dr. Dre

Of all the songs on this list, none defines an era as cleanly as "Let Me Ride." Gangsta rap has come and mostly gone, but the controversy the style generated -- and the oversized characters that dominated the scene -- loom large in pop music. Dr. Dre started out in N.W.A, but his solo debut (1992's The Chronic) launched him into history. On the album, his beats are so loose, they slouch around his rhymes like baggy jeans. Though his lyrics are sometimes cruel, and he seriously over-indulges in rude thoughts about women, the bounce of the low end and the insouciance of the chorus offset the dark stuff. Other big names in California's '90s rap scene were scary, but despite Dr. Dre's perpetual scowl, his music always betrayed him. "Let Me Ride" isn't a serious song; it's a song for doing loops in the cul-de-sac while you wait for the sun to go down.

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo

Despite its name, this track doesn't have much to do about driving, per se; neither does it fully share that booming, malignantly distorted bass common to its neighbors in this list. But when it emerged as a single in the late '80s, it helped introduce the world to an MC legend in the making: the Queens-bred Kool G. Rap, whose alliterative, seemingly endless flows and streetwise attitude inspired generations in his wake. Among that legion was Jay-Z, who recently referenced this song during his guest appearance on Rick Ross' "Maybach Music" -- calling upon one great driving song for another.

Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.