Hip-Hop History: 1991 Rap Radio, When Ice Cube, Main Source, LL Cool J, Gang Starr & Digital Underground Ruled Hip-Hop's Airwaves

Posted by Billyjam, March 23, 2010 10:59pm | Post a Comment

Back in early 1991, as witnessed by the various top ten hip-hop radio charts below from that period, the popular hip-hop of the day was a pretty darn diverse selection of the genre, especially in comparison to what counts for popular hip-hop today. Although the period technically fell under hip-hop's so-called "golden age," as typified by such chart entries below as Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest and Main Source, there were many other specific rap flavors also represented. These many different styles sharing the spotlight back then included feminist rap (Yo-Yo's "Dope Femininity" -- the B-Side of "Stompin To The 90s" -- is on the charts as well as tracks by female rappers Nasty and Monie Love), uplifting, feel good party rap (Digital Underground's "Same Song" featuring 2Pac), traditional battle rap (LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out"), weed themed rap (Cypress Hill, who had a head start on the "blunt era" of hip-hop by a good 18 months with this pre-album release version), new jack swing (Father MC), socially conscious rap that pushed for change and equality (Kool G Rap's "Erase Racism" and the Human Education Against Lies -- aka H.E.A.L. project), as well as the more intense Afro-centric or hardcore political rap (Paris, X-Clan, Intelligent Hoodlum, King Sun, Consolidated), and of course gangsta rap (NWA) and player rap (Too $hort). Meanwhile, Ice Cube's incredible December 1990 released EP Kill At Will, featuring such tracks as "Dead Homiez" and "Jackin for Beats," transcended one individual style, and instead melded political with hardcore and gangsta.

The time was the beginning of 1991 and it was a time when, with the exception of the original KDAY in LA (which tragically went off the air around this same time), there were no full time radio stations with formats geared towards "rap," as it was then more commonly referred to than "hip-hop." It would still be a good few years before heavily formatted Top 40 RnB stations that played some rap but started marketing themselves as "hip-hop generation" stations would start popping up in every "market" round the country.

Back in 1990 and early 1991, when these charts were originally compiled, there was simply a smattering of dedicated (mostly unpaid) hip-hop DJs around the country that combined amounted to maybe 140 (and steadily growing) different weekly shows that were on college & community stations and also on commercial radio stations too, where the shows were labeled "mix shows," a format created the previous decade by commercial radio mix DJs. But these early nineties rap radio shows all had something in common: all were mostly scheduled to air either late at night or in the weekend hours, generally lumped in with public affairs and other FCC required community programming.

But fans hungry for this music would follow these DJs and hosts, who were all extremely passionate about the music they played and the culture it represented. Even the promotion departments at the record labels during this relatively primitive time in the rap industry, that supplied these shows with much of their music, hadn't become corrupt tools hawking crappy product they really didn't believe in (sadly, that would soon follow, however). A simpler time? Yeah, definitely, and compared to hip-hop on the radio today (not even including the endless online outlets these days) the combined weekly number of hours of rap on the radio dial two decades ago compared to now was truly minimal.

But interestingly there seemed to be more variety and depth to the music itself, and more of a wider acceptance by hip-hop audiences of the various styles. Also worth noting was that the radio played a much more integral role in hearing (breaking) new hip-hop music. Many rap fans would plan their weekends around certain radio shows (or at least had someone record their fave weekly rap show on cassette for them) so as not to miss out on hearing brand new music and of course the guaranteed studio guests. Back in the late 80's and early 90's (with a few exceptions) if you hosted a rap radio show you were likely the only outlet in town that would interview touring rap artists so the local rap radio show (as well as select record stores) was where KRS or Queen Latifah or Ice Cube would be welcomed and heard.

One thing that should be noted, however, is that the radio charts below, seemingly representative as they were, actually exclude a great deal of the then rapidly expanding gangsta rap sub-genre. The reason for this was two-fold. First, many hip-hop DJs at the time plain out rejected gangsta or street rap as not being true to hip-hop and hence they refused to play it. And secondly, and more importantly, even if they wanted to play it,  they couldn't (or they risked getting kicked off the air) because of the rampant explicit lyrics in the music. Remember that this was still before "radio versions" had become commonplace, especially for the smaller indie labels releasing regional gangsta rap. And the clean "radio versions" were limited to just the singles, not the other album cuts.

But regardless, the charts below still offer a pretty good representation. Note that the following charts include the song "Follow 4 Now" by (then recording artists only) MC Sway & DJ King Tech who had not yet created their popular radio program The Wake Up Show.

The following seven random radio airplay top ten charts are all from circa January/February 1991 and with the exception of UK DJ Tim Westwood (then at Capital FM), they are all US based radio shows. Note that Westwood's chart and the KXLU chart include both album and singles titles. All others are hip-hop singles or album tracks only. The DJs include Westwood; Jeff Chang, aka DJ Zen, at KDVS, Davis; Mike Nardone at KXLU in LA area, whose chart included an early (pre official release) copy of Cypress HIll's "Light Another" (hence the track being listed under different title); legendary hip-hop DJ Hank Love at WNWK in New York; Nasty Nes at KCMU in Seattle; and this Amoeblogger at KUSF, San Francisco. There is also a combined chart from several other hip-hop radio DJs from round the country at the time.

KXLU, Los Angeles: DJ Mike Nardone

1) Gang Starr Step In The Arena
2) Ice Cube "Jackin For Beats"
3) Brand Nubian "All For One"
4) Schoolly D "King of NY"
5) Cypress Hill "Feel the effects of the high"

6) Tony D Droppin' Funky Verses
7) Professor X "The Years Of The Nine"
8) Romeo Black "Same Old...."
9) Funkee Natives "Urban Contemporary Jeep Music"
10) Yo-Yo "Dope Femininity"

Capital FM, London, UK: DJ Tim Westwood

1) Main Source Breaking Atoms
2) Stetsasonic "Blood Sweat & No Tears"
3) EPMD Business As Usual
4) Marley Marl / Intelligent Hoodlum "America Eats The Young"
5) LL Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out (remix)"

6) H.E.A.L. "Heal Yourself"
7) XX Posse "Addicted To The Game"
8) Gang Starr "Step In The Arena"
9) Ice Cube Kill At Will
10) Digital Underground "Same Song"

WNWK, NY: DJ Hank Love

LL Cool J
1) LL Cool J "Around The Way Girl"
2) A Tribe Called Quest "Can I Kick It"
3) Big Daddy Kane "Cause I Can Do It Right"
4) Special Ed "Come On, Let's Move It"
5) Run DMC "The Ave"

6) Father MC "I'll Do 4 U"
7) Monie Love "Monie In The Middle"
8) Digital Underground "Same Song"
9) Main Source "Looking At The Front Door"
10) Nasty "Pick Up The Pieces"

KCMU, Seattle WA: DJ Nasty Nes

1) LL Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out"
2) Paris "The Devil Made Me Do It'
3) Gang Starr "Just To Get A Rep"
4) Big Daddy Kane "Cause I Can Do It Right"
5) MC Sway & DJ King Tech "Follow For Now"

6) King Sun "Be Black"
7) Ice Cube "Dead Homiez"
8) Digital Underground "Same Song"
9) Main Source "Looking At The Front Door"
10) Son Of Bazerk "J-Dub's Theme"

KDVS, Davis CA: DJ Zen

1) Ice Cube "Dead Homiez"
2) Gang Starr "Just To Get A Rep"
3) Run DMC "Back From Hell"
4) Brand Nubian "All For One"
5) King Sun "Be Black"

6) A Lighter Shade Of Brown "Brown & Proud"
7) MC Sway & DJ King Tech "Follow 4 Now"
8) Son Of Bazerk "Change The Style'
9) Audi & Mike Dee "Gots To Be Faithful"
10) 16-16 "It Is Done"

KUSF, SF CA: DJ Billy Jam

1) Digital Underground "Same Song"
2) Ice Cube “Dead Homiez”
3) Gang Starr “Step In The Arena”
4) Paris “The Hate That Hate Made”
5) Young Black Teenagers “To My Donna”

6) Audi & Mike Dee “Gots To Be Faithful”
7) Intelligent Hoodlum “Arrest the President”
8) Consolidated "This Is A Collective”
9) Homicide “The Melody”
10) MC Tom Slick “Crime Story”

Various:  combined sampling of several radio stations from same period:

2Pac Digital Underground
1) Ice Cube "Jackin For Beats"
2) LL Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out"
3) Grand Daddy I.U. "This Is A Recording"
4) Candyman "Melt In Your Mouth"
5) Ice Cube "Dead Homiez"

6) X-Clan "Grand Verbalizer"
7) Kool G RapDJ Polo "Erase Racism"
8) Digital Underground "Same Song"
9) Too $hort "Short But Funky"
10) NWA "Just Don't Bite It"

Relevant Tags

Mc Tom Slick (1), Hip-hop History (63), Kool G Rap (5), Jeff Chang (7), Kusf (15), Nasty Nes (1), Ice Cube (27), Digital Underground (7), Audi & Mike Dee (1)