OK, here are my criteria for good rap:
1) Good beat - it has to be a solid enough backbone to let me listen to the beat/instrumental by itself. Bass drum + snare is essential.
2) Clever lyrics - not stupid clever, but at least some effort must be made above just making stuff rhyme (this is why I can't listen to The Game)
3) Flow/articulation/musicality of the spit
4) Some form of a catchy hook. This doesn't have to be a melodic hook, a la Diddy, but a hook is songwriting 101. It's an anchor for the song's structure. refer to Biggie and 2pac....
5) Blackness. I'm sorry, but I just haven't heard any non-black hip hop that makes it to the top half of my list. Maybe some Latino stuff, but rap just sounds weird coming out of any other mouth (and I'm an Asian guy, FYI). Eminem is good at what he does, but it's not true rap if you ask me.
OK, all of that said, here are TRACKS I keep myself coming back to:
2pac - Ambitionz Az a Ridah
BIG - Dead Wrong
Jay-Z - Brooklyn's Finest
Kanye West - Through the wire
Talib Kweli - Move Something
DMX - Ruff Ryders Anthem
Wu Tang - Shame on a Ni__a
Some new tracks that are verging on classic:
T.I. - What you know
Lupe Fiasco - Kick Push
The Roots - Game Theory (the drums on this track are amazing!)
I'd love to add to this list, but rap has been pretty weak these days...
Im ready to die
Without a reasonable doubt
Smoke chronic and hit it
Doggy style before i go out
Until they sign my death certificate
All eyez on me
Im still at it, illmatic
And thats THE DOCUMENTARY
Game- The Documentary
I never said thank you, and I took it for granted,
You let me in your house and made me a part of your family,
Now I'm eating with you, Eve and Busta Rhymes,
I wasn't star-struck, I was just glad to be signed,
And even though sometimes I run loose,
You still my homeboy, Doc, I'd take a bullet for you,
I'm not asking you to take my side in the beef,
But you told me it was okay to say '**** the police!',
Now it's my turn to carry the torch,
And I still got the chain that you wore on the cover o' The Source,
Remember when we got drunk to do Start From Scratch?
I told you you was like a father to me, I meant that!
Sitting here looking at my platinum plaques,
Thinking 'What the **** am I without a Dr. Dre track?'
When Doc say it's a wrap, it's a rap,
It's still Aftermath, and ain't nuttin' after that!
Game- Doctors Advocate
You cant tell me boy dont got skills. Got the West on his back.