For this week's Hip-Hop History installment we rewind back to wonderfully vibrant year of 1988. It was a time when hip-hop still constantly growing, with exciting sounding new artists constantly unfurling new lyrical and musical sounds. To me '88 was part of the third wave of hip-hop - with the first wave being the (original) old school artists of the 70's/early 80's, who were eclipsed earlier in the 80's by Run-D.M.C. who ushered in the "new school" - but who themselves in turn were eclipsed by this newer third wave of hip-hop. It often seemed (and more so in retrospect) that every record released in '88 was a good record. Of course, as with any music in any time period, there were hip-hop duds released in '88 too. However overall it is fair to say that 1988 had a larger percentage of quality, diverse-sounding, influential, and timeless hip-hop releases than many other years in the genre's four-decade history. And no wonder; it was part of the time frame known as the "golden era" of hip-hop that is widely considered to be the artistic pinnacle of the art form. I think part of the reason for this, along with the lyrical aspect of the artform still being relatively young and still being explored by new emcees like Rakim, was the fact that sampling was at its creative peak. Remember this was in the period before the infamous 1991 landmark Gilbert O Sullivan vs Biz Markie copyright case that essentially brought an end to free range sampling, and would end up in hip-hop being a little less adventurous sounding due to all the restrictions placed on it regarding sampling.
Horrorcore rap duo Insane Clown Posse have had a long, storied career, including public feuds with Eminem, a lawsuit against the FBI, and an album recalled by Disney the day after it was released. Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, ICP have built an empire around hip hop music and clown face paint. With a loyal fan base (referred to as Juggalos) in the hundreds of thoudands, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope have managed to earn platinum and gold albums with little to no help from major labels. Heavily criticized for their obscene content and their emphasis on shock value, writers from just about every major music outlet have taken shots at ICP.
Love them or hate them, one thing is for sure, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope mean business. They have founded a professional wrestling federation (Juggalo Championship Wrestling), an annual music festival (The Gathering of the Juggalos), a record label (Psychopathic Records) which reportedly rakes in upwards of $10 million in annual revenue, and The Lotus Pod recording studio. They have also executive produced several feature films. Not bad for a couple of clowns. They have two forthcoming albums, The Missing Link: Lost and The Missing Link: Found, the first of which will be released via Psychopathic Records this Spring.
You definitely don't have to be a fan of Common to appreciate what he has been able to achieve over the past two decades. He went from humble beginnings as an underground emcee on the Southside of Chicago to a GRAMMY winning rapper and high profile actor in Hollywood. With the recent release of Nobody's Smiling, Common has achieved another milestone few artists can claim (aside from being one of the few rappers interviewed by Oprah) - growing his discogrophy to album number 10.
Teaming up with producer and former Kanye West mentor No I.D. (aka "the Godfather of Chicago Hip Hop"), Common delivers a stellar album depicting the struggles and tragic conditions that plague Chicago today. The album's context is in line with what fans came to love about Common. In the early '90s, when gangsta rap was taking over radio and selling millions of records, Common stuck to his jazz influenced raps, bringing the "Golden Era" of hip hop to the new millenium. Jay-Z and Drake may rule the Billboard charts, but it's Common who gains the respect of fans from the underground and the mainstream.
When fellow Amoeblogger Billy Gil, who has done a number of Best Of lists in various genres, invited me to do some hip-hop best-of lists I had mixed feelings about the task. While I love drawing up lists of my favorite hip-hop releases from different eras and regions, I know that no matter what I include or how I position/rate it, later I will feel some kind of regret thinking that maybe I should have included or excluded a release or not ranked it as high on the list. And I am sure there will be commenters who will have the same critical thoughts (a la "I can't believe you didn't include ______ or that you ranked____ as number one," etc.). Simply put, it is difficult to narrow down Best Of lists because firstly it's personal and subjective, and secondly because a list I (or you) may draw up today will be different from one we might compile in a year's time. Musical tastes and opinions, especially in retrospect, are constantly in flux for me anyway.
Furthermore, sometimes an album or a single will rate high on one list (depending on the category) but not so on another. An example from this list would be Too $hort who would rank up the top of a Bay Area list but lower on an overall hip-hop album list of the 80's. Then there are all of those amazing hip-hop singles that were only singles, non-album cuts, or were culled from albums that otherwise were not as strong overall. Or in the case of Malcolm McLaren's 1983 album Duck Rock, which technically is a diverse genre album with hip-hop content and packaged in a hip-hop fashion from its cover art to how it is meshed together by the Worlds Famous Supreme Team radio show, it doesn't technically qualify as a hip-hop album. Add to my not included on the list 80's albums: such compilations as Mr Magic's Rap Attack series since I tried to focus purely on artist (vs. compilation) releases with the exception of one soundtrack on the list. Anyway, to combat all of this, I plan on doing many more best-of hip-hop lists with the goal being to include as many titles of great records as possible overall.