29239Blacks’ Magic
1990, Island Def Jam

This album is, from start to finish, one of the most edifying and empowering rap albums ever made. People mostly remember the single “Let’s Talk About Sex,” which dropped at the cusp of AIDS awareness in the early ’90s and told the story of a kept woman who used her body to get jewels and fancy clothes, but felt emotionally bankrupt. The rest of the album explores other complex feelings about intimacy and self-esteem and how confusing everything can be. “Do You Want Me” is about waiting to do it until you’re really ready (and not just if you’re a virgin), and features one of the greatest lines ever: “You put up with my butt when I wouldn’t give it up.” “Expression” is about feeling strong and confident in who you are, and features one of the other greatest lines ever, “I’m not a man, but I’m in command / Hot damn, I got an all-girl band.” The title track and “Negro Wit’ an Ego” subtly rail against racism while taking pride in being African Americans on the cutting edge of music. I can still rap almost every lyric on this album, and it’s one of the first things in pop culture that helped me see that everyone’s feeling a little insecure, but we’re all great as we are. —Julianne

best-of-patience-and-prudenceThe Best of Patience and Prudence
Patience and Prudence
2004, Collectors’ Choice

When Prudence and Patience McIntyre recorded these songs in the 1950s, the sisters were 11 and 14 years old, respectively, and they sounded even younger. This compilation is infused with pristine, sexless adolescent longing for the love of one’s life, and their super-youthful but earnest tone gives songs like “Tonight You Belong With Me” an off-putting, Pleasantville-style ominousness—listening to it, you get this very idealized sense of what kids think REAL ADULT LOVE is, and also how horrified they might be if they actually got a whiff of its true and actual weirdness. You might recognize “A Smile and a Ribbon” from Ghost World; Enid plays it on her plastic turntable in an especially difficult moment. In the scene, she’s trying to recapture the sense of innocence she had while listening to the track as a kid, although that guilelessness isn’t really what she wants for herself at present. And those are exactly the feelings you’ll have: this album makes you yearn for a candied naïveté that doesn’t really exist anymore, because you’re old enough to know better. All of this is to say that Patience and Prudence are creepy and sugary and lovable and deeply weird, and if that sounds like a wonderful combination to you, you will adore this comp. Promise. —Amy Rose

tumblr_mclzi4TOYv1qflhugo1_500American Thighs
Veruca Salt
1994, Minty Fresh/DGC

Innocence—the desire to hold on to it and the inevitability of its loss—oozes from American Thighs, starting with the image of the heart-covered dress on the front of the CD and the picture of a little girl next to a dollhouse on the back. The music itself has that classic ’90s alt-rock recipe: soft verses, loud choruses, and a girl singer—in this case, singers who possess sugar-sweet voices that can scream when the moment calls for it. I love the way Louise Post and Nina Gordon go back and forth on the chorus of “Seether” and then come together to croon the words “All hail me!” on the song of the same name. I discovered this album when I felt like I was outgrowing my own childhood, so I related to it from the very first lyric of the opening track, “Get Back”: “I’m spinning out / I can’t control my car.” The line “I lost my innocence today / When I learned how to write this” from “Celebrate You,” the album’s most haunting song, quickly became my personal motto. American Thighs paints a picture of babies as bad omens (“Forsythia”) and girls being tied in webs (“Spiderman ’79”). It’s like a fairytale gone wrong, but one that you still want to live in—as long as you can get to the safe place in the last song, “Sleeping Where I Want,” which seems to say that no matter what hell you go through, you’ll find strength and independence in the end. —Stephanie

bellesinister21If You’re Feeling Sinister
Belle and Sebastian
1996, Matador

This record is fucking beautiful. It has a kind gentleness that seeps through your pores and calms you down and makes you smile, even when the songs are not so happy-go-lucky. In fact, it’s the lyrics that truly make it special. Stuart Murdoch sings stories about the people that surround him: young and old, famous and otherwise, gay and straight—just people going out and having sex and doing their thing, like you and me. And maybe you feel like you know them, or you could know them if you looked hard enough. Every song is a tiny treasure, a melancholy that you feel deep in your heart, because maybe you are where Stuart’s protagonists are now, or you were there yesterday, or you know you’ll end up there tomorrow or the day after. I could pull a favorite line out of each of them, because there is always a genius lyric that captures a feeling, no matter how fleeting it might be, in exactly the way it was meant to be captured. My favoritest song by far is the title track, which begins with the sound of children running about to the tune of a little piano riff that is purity itself, but then it goes: “She was into S&M and Bible studies / Not everyone’s cup of tea she would admit to me / Her cup of tea, she would admit to no one.” And he continues: “But if you are feeling sinister / Go off and see a minister / He’ll try in vain to take away / The pain of being a hopeless unbeliever / La la la la la la la,” and it is those las that feel the sweetest coming off your tongue as you sing along. I think I was 15 when I was first getting into this record and one of my friends was all, “Belle and Sebastian? What’s that, like, a girl band?” And the answer was no—first of all, there are several men in Belle and Sebastian—but a part of me knew that if I said yes, I wouldn’t have been totally wrong, because the feelings captured here felt so true to the things I was feeling too. Although it’s totally dark, If You’re Feeling Sinister never fails to make me happy, and like there is a place in the world where I belong. —Laia

Britney Spears
2001, Jive

Released just before her 20th birthday, Britney was Spears’s transitional album, tackling the weird space between being—yes, yes—“not a girl, not yet a woman.” With sexier beats, more risque lyrics, and an attitude that basically screamed, “I’m not at Disney anymore, haaaay,” Brit demanded that her listeners let her dance, express herself sexually, and generally grow the hell up (whether or not she achieved these goals is, I guess, debatable). Just in case anyone missed the message, she pretty much obliterated her bubblegum image by showing up to the VMA Awards in 2001 and giving one of the most memorable performances of all time, wearing a snake/giant metaphor around her shoulders and cementing her status as a sex symbol. “I know I may be young, but I have feelings, too,” she reminded millions of fans. “And I need to do what I feel like doing / So let me go and just listen.” In retrospect, it seems like she may have been talking to herself. —Pixie

MI0002013262Sew True
Tattle Tale
1995, St. Francis

I discovered Tattle Tale on a compilation CD from Villa Villakula during my search for all music riot grrrl. Consisting of just two women with an acoustic guitar, drums, and a cello, Tattle Tale is completely different from the angry thrash of Bikini Kill or Babes in Toyland. I latched on to them because it was the balance I needed—the kind of folk lullaby that could put me to sleep at night, soothing my anger like my mom’s old Joni Mitchell or Judy Collins records. On “Little Silver Hands,” singers Jen Wood and Madigan Shive reminded me, “You’ll survive and your struggles won’t go unnoticed,” and on “A Girl’s Toolbox,” they sung about escaping into tree houses and tearing up the streets. My favorite song, “Fiberglass,” (which you can hear on this Rookie playlist) is totally raw, with the discordant cello standing in for the outrage I’d found in other feminist music. The lyrics are about pushing, pulling, kicking, and screaming, but it still ends with “I’m OK.” Though Sew True addresses the fact that I live in “a world that constantly lies to me,” it still leaves me with the very important sense that I will be able to maintain the part of my innocence that allows me to see beauty in trees, the moon, and stringed instruments. —Stephanie

Joanna_Newsom_-_Have_One_On_MeHave One on Me
Joanna Newsom
2010, Drag City

“I believe in innocence, little darling,” sings Joanna Newsom in the song “’81,” which makes me feel like I’m in a Henri Rousseau painting. “We broke our hearts in the war between Saint George and the dragon” is something I can imagine that nude saying as she reclines in Eden. This album is an exotic, eclectic,124-minute masterpiece—long but never boring, with sumptuous lyrics and frisky melodies. Ms. Newsom is at times nostalgic (“In California,” “Jackrabbits”), serene (“Soft as Chalk”), and cheerful (“Good Intentions Paving Company,” which makes me wanna prance around), and it’s all wonderful, but “Go Long” is my recent favorite. I find it very poignant, like sadness wrapped in a spell: “I was brought in on a palanquin / Made of the many bodies of beautiful women.” If you have any doubts about her awesomeness, watch her perform. She isn’t just a wanderer in a paradise garden—she’s a goddess herself. —Marjainez

images (7)Big Willie Style
Will Smith
1997, Columbia

Big Willie Style is considered something of a joke among hip-hop heads, and not least of all because by the time it dropped, the man formerly known as the Fresh Prince was more famous for his blockbuster film career than his clever rhymes. This was his first album as Will Smith, and aside from putting the somewhat corny theme song to the first Men in Black movie on here, it is notorious for “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” which is considered the nadir of the shiny-suit era of hip-hop. Smith was trying super hard to seem really cool and rich like Diddy (aka Puff Daddy), but failing miserably. But since the slang term “jiggy” is making a comeback (see A$AP Rocky’s new album and tons of kids in Manhattan), it’s worth reconsidering Big Willie Style, because when you get right down to it, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” was a pretty fun song. When Smith was Fresh Prince, he and DJ Jazzy Jeff made a lot of feel-good songs about teenagehood (“Parents Just Don’t Understand,” “Summertime”), and what’s great about this album is that he retains a lot of that free spiritedness, paying homage to his musical heroes by sampling their songs: Chic’s “Good Times,” Cameo’s “Candy,” and Bill Withers’s “Just the Two of Us”—Smith’s song of the same name is about his son Jaden, and was written before Willow was born! There’s something really endearing and dad-like about a man trying this hard to be cool and failing but not really caring all that much about it. Also, if you’re into hip-hop and still mad at this album? Nas cowrote part of the thing. Yeah! —Julianne

marnie_stern-this_is_it-album_artThis Is It…
Marnie Stern
2008, Kill Rock Stars

If you start from the beginning of this album, the first thing you hear when you push play is the sound of hands clapping to a steady beat in what sounds like an empty room and the voice of a girl saying whatever pops into her head at that moment, ending with “defenders, get onto your knees!” —at which point she starts singing the same thing all over again, this time with a jarring guitar marking the clapping beat and a drum firmly backing her. After THAT, she starts again going faster and then again even faster until suddenly you are exhausted and certain that everyone else probably is on their knees. And it is this same energy that flows through all of Marnie Stern’s songs. Her totally SICK guitar shredding makes her a heavy-metal goddess who can sing of dolphins and love without sounding like a total bummer. It’s hard to pick a favorite song because they’re all so awesome, but “Ruler” with its perfect “ooooohs” and hazy, Breeders-ish chorus is a contender, or maybe “The Package is Wrapped” with its defiant opening lyrics—”I’m standing, standing, standing my ground”—and a guitar that wails in the background like a flag waving in the wind and held by the people who are standing their ground along with her. And we all are, really. Marnie Stern forever. —Laia

virginLike a Virgin
1984, Sire

This album is an obvious gem. I mean, aside from the title track, there’s “Material Girl,” “Dress You Up,” and, on the 1985 reissue, “Into the Groove,” which in my humble opinion is one of the best dance songs ever. (Seriously, listen to it. It will possess you with an almost scary need to aerobicize.) It’s the perfect, ’80s-Madonna mix of tough, brash youthfulness and playful sexuality. Her sultry near-smirk on the cover is as daring and powerful as Manet’s Olympia, and you’ll feel just as triumphantly full of yourself if you pump Like A Virgin in your room and sing into a hairbrush. Madge subverts the very idea of innocence by both fetishizing it and resisting it, but the whole album is a classic whether you find it to be a defining moment in feminist history or just pure fun. Girls on the cusp of ~womanhood~ will be singing along for many years to come. —Minna

Angel Haze
2012, self-released

While being raw and real and honest is something every MC brags about, Angel Haze is the real deal. On this mix tape, she sets her truth free, starting with the devastatingly sharp opener “Bitch Bad,” in which she raps over Lupe Fiasco’s song of the same name about what becomes of boys who grow up and watch their mother be abused and how family violence is perpetuated. “Song Cry” is about the extremities of self-loathing. And the closing track, “Cleaning Out My Closet,” is a candid, harrowing narrative about growing up within arms reach of people who were molesting her on a regular basis—and how she dreamt of revenge. It’s difficult to listen to, but it makes me marvel at Haze’s bravery in her refusal to be made sick by secrets. While the other tracks on here are not as heavy as the ones I mentioned, Classick is fundamentally about being robbed of a childhood. It’s both a testament to Haze’s talent and a crucial survivor’s tale. —Jessica

images (8)The Cross of Changes
1994, Charisma

The obvious reason for this recommendation is because the song “Return to Innocence” is on here, a high point of the ’90s and the soundtrack for a definitive scene in My So-Called Life. (DID YOU NOT CRY WHEN YOU SAW THIS SCENE? UGH!) But there’s also something to say about how seriously this album takes itself: it’s a really dramatic collection of songs that could only have been written in a gesture of extreme sincerity. Case in point, the song “Age of Loneliness” is a really intense sample of a Mongolian chant and the video presents Times Square as a sepia-toned, unknowable landscape, a desert to be crossed. It’s hard to imagine anyone now feeling so intensely about Times Square, with all its flashing lights and chain stores and guys walking around dressed as Disney characters. The album borrows from so many songs, which might make it a throwback to the arguably innocent days of sampling when chopping up other peoples’ work was supposed to be good-hearted music-loving rather than sneaky attempts to profit off of other good ideas, but it’s worth noting that the signature harmony on “Return” is sung by indigenous Taiwenese men who later sued because the sample was used without permission. But otherwise, Enigma were just really going for it, un-self-consciously, and that’s kind of awesome. —Julianne

apple-oApple O’
2003, Kill Rock Stars

Apple O’ is for jumping around and being happy and experiencing the world. Satomi Matsuzaki’s singing is childlike both in tone and lyrical simplicity. In “Panda Panda Panda,” she just sings the title word over and over and over again, and the same with “Flower.” The music is minimal and bombastic, with angular guitars that reverberate like the sounds of someone yelling in a cave. Don’t let the happy descriptions throw you off, this is a weird record—or wait, is THAT happiness what makes it weird? I really have no idea what she’s actually saying sometimes, but somehow it doesn’t matter. It’s just a pure expression of awesomeness, and you will want to listen to this again and again, especially in the spring while jumping around in a field with your friends, too hyped up on sugar to care about anything else. —Laia ♦