Memphis: Three 6 Mafia – Mystic Stylez

It’s difficult to realize what makes this album special without a bit of context. Since its release in 1995, Mystic Stylez has been relentlessly imitated and copied to the point where all modern hip-hop bears its imprint. Melding occult and violent themes with grimy 808 drums and soul samples, Three 6 tapped into the sweaty, dark pulse of Memphis. In contrast to the dense wordplay of New York rappers and the braggadocio of West Coast rappers, Memphis rappers spilled their words as if each syllable was being slapped by a kick drum. Three 6 Mafia was one of the first groups to prove to a mainstream audience that the South should be on equal footing with the coasts in the rap world.

Seventeen years later, the group has won an Academy Award and founding member Juicy J is still making solo records (although these days he raps less about the Devil and Voodoo and more about strippers and ecstasy). If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend you watch Hustle and Flow. Not only will you hear some fantastic Memphis rap, but you’ll get a taste of the DIY hip-hop community that Three 6 Mafia helped create.

Omaha, Nebraska: Desaparecidos – Read Music/Speak Spanish

In the early 2000s, Saddle Creek Records of Omaha was inexplicably at the center of a hardcore/indie rock/neo-folk resurgence in American music. Alongside labelmates The Faint, Rilo Kiley, and Cursive, the king of this scene was Conor Oberst (recording with his band Bright Eyes). Conor’s hauntingly introspective concept albums sounded like a sadder, weirder 21st-century Nick Drake.

In late 2001, Oberst found himself going in a new direction as he needed an outlet for expressing commentary on geopolitical and local events. He saw the September 11 attacks as the ultimate response to globalization and a system engineered to promote consumerism at the expense of the disenfranchised. He was witnessing the changing world first-hand; Omaha’s population had exploded by 25% since his birth and the city was quickly transforming from a stagnant industrial and agricultural hub into a modern metropolis. Realizing that acoustic singer-songwriter wouldn’t be the proper vehicle for discussing these issues, Conor formed Desaparecidos as a post hardcore punk band by recruiting other musicians on the label.

Read Music/Speak Spanish is the response to everything that Conor thought was wrong with Omaha and America at the beginning of the 21st century. Bleeding his milieu into a backing of thrumming distorted guitars and frenetic drumming, he satirizes the role of money in shaping societal attitudes and the curious overlap between utopia and dystopia. Even if you don’t care for the political message, this is excellent post hardcore rock created before later bands like Taking Back Sunday and Funeral for a Friend ruined the genre.

San Francisco: The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Take It from the Man!

It is downright eerie how the members of the band were born exactly 20 years too late. Take It from the Man! was the first album where TBJM showcased what would be their mature style, a fusion of neo-psychedelic and garage revival. Songwriter Anton Newcombe wrote songs that captured rock’s innocence before Altamont but somehow combined that with post-Altamont apathy. This album sounds like The Brian Jonestown Massacre got lost in an acid trip at a Be-In at Golden Gate Park in 1967 and then suddenly gained lucidity in 1995. And then recorded a musical version of their trip.