Rap music--from the zany pop-culture escapades of New York’s De La Soul to the gangsta scenarios of Compton’s N.W.A--dominates the combined January-March edition of the $25 Guide, a blueprint to keeping up with what’s exciting in pop music on a monthly budget of $25.
Roy Orbison’s “Mystery Girl” (Virgin)--There hasn’t been an album by a ‘50s-era rocker this thrilling since “From Elvis in Memphis” 20 years ago, and even there Presley didn’t offer as consistent a vision as Orbison does.
Lou Reed’s “New York” (Sire)--In another remarkable return to form, the former prince of rock decadence reflects on tarnished American ideals with equal parts compassion and rage.
Emmylou Harris’ “Bluebird” (Reprise)--The live “Last Date” in 1982 was the last album that underscored as convincingly as this one her stature as the most rewarding female singer in country music.
Guns N’ Roses’ “GN’R Lies” (Geffen)--Like N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton,” this isn’t for the squeamish. The white-heat intensity makes much of the album seem like a car spinning out of control through a nightmare.
N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” (Ruthless/Priority)--Where Guns N’ Roses’ urban soundscapes are centered in Hollywood, this all-star rap contingent focuses on street survival a few miles southeast. The language is frequently crude, but the images hit home with the urgency of an award-winning documentary crew.
Tone Loc’s “Loc-ed After Dark” (Delicious Vinyl)--It’s hard to tell whether L.A.'s Tone Loc is rap’s Bo Diddley or Chubby Checker, but the distinctive combination of spunky rhythms, disarming rhymes and slow-drawl rapping adds up to consistently enjoyable, pop-conscious fun.
De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising” (Tommy Boy)--A largely irresistible smorgasbord of pop culture (from game-show skits to musical sampling that salutes everyone from Johnny Cash to Steely Dan), this 22-track extravaganza may be the “Sgt. Pepper” of rap. It’s a work of major imagination and wit.
Fine Young Cannibals’ “The Raw & the Cooked” (I.R.S.)--A sensational mix of rock instincts and soul textures that is shaping up as one of the year’s blockbuster club and radio hits.
Thelonious Monster’s “Stormy Weather” (Relativity)--Bob Forrest, one of Los Angeles’ most valuable and original songwriters, looks at such mature themes as relationships and responsibility without losing his longstanding maverick, questioning spirit.