There were numerous hip hop albums released in the year 1996, countless rap concerts & related events, plus many news worthy incidents in the genre that occurred. Here are just ten hip hop dates/events that helped shape the genre in that twelve month period fourteen years ago, and from a Bay Area perspective.
Jan 1st: Mr. Cee of popular San Francisco rap group RBL Posse was brutally shot and killed on Harbor Road in the Bayview / Hunters Point district. He was only 22 years of age. The tragic incident marked the unfortunate beginning of a year where Rap = Violence became the all-too-convenient equation for the mainstream media's sensationalist portrayal of an entire genre. Unfortunately the one event that overshadowed everything else in 1996, the death of Tupac Shakur, merely reinforced this stereotype.
Feb. 27th: Death Row Records released the first of two 2Pac albums for the year, the rush-recorded double CD set All Eyez On Me, which debuted at number one on the Billboard pop charts, sold five million copies in its first three months alone, and cemented the ever controversial Shakur as the poster boy of 'gangsta rap.' Even before his tragic death, the rapper/actor's ever newsworthy life and times blurred that fine line in reality rap between life and art.
March 20th: Dr. Dre, the veteran LA producer with the Midas touch who both shaped NWA's sound and mainstreamed 'gangsta rap' with his 1992 multi-platinum album The Chronic, made headlines by exiting Death Row Records. Reportedly he was sick and tired of the Suge Knight dominated record company's all-gangsta format. "Then Tupac coming to the label was the straw that broke the camel's back," partner RBX told Vibe in the October issue that year. As if to prove the point, soon after his departure Dr. Dre declared "gangsta rap dead" and went about setting up his own label, Aftermath Records, releasing "East Coast West Coast Killas" as its first single, which called for an end to the then still very prominent East versus West coast rivalry.
May 21st: Bay Area radio station KMEL lifted its ban on local rap star Too $hort just a day after his tenth and (supposedly) final album, Gettin' It (Album Number Ten), was released with the critical and prophetic line, "All of this blackball shit it won't last. KMEL y'all can kiss my ass." The station had banned the Oakland rapper's music after a back-stage ruckus at the previous year's KMEL Summer Jam which they held the rapper responsible for.
May 24th: Now living in LA, the then Oakland based underground hip hop duo Mystik Journeymen, while on their first of two tours of Japan, scaled Mt. Fuji in a symbolic gesture that demonstrated the motivated pair's die-hard, unique DIY philosophy & dedication to the art form of hip-hop. Although still without a record deal or a penny to spend on marketing their three releases for 1996, the self-proclaimed "unsigned and hella broke" journeymen shunned the rap industry and managed to have a busier and more productive year than most rappers. For them, 1996 included three overseas tours, putting out the fanzine UHB, doing a weekly radio show with Pal 58 on KALX, updating their website, making the documentary Life Beyond Fear UHB -The Movie, producing an acapalla / spoken word series at La Pena in Berkeley, and, on August 22nd, producing their ambitious and very successful Broke Ass Summer Jam II, which was a tongue in cheek underground alternative to the KMEL Summer Jam.
June 1st: "The First Annual Hip-Hop Swimsuit Issue" of the Source magazine hit newsstands and caused quite a controversy at the time among die-hard hip-hop fans who once looked to the magazine as being "the bible of hip hop." Then in December of that same year they further disappointed hip-hoppers when they ran a glowing cover story piece on the sub-standard rap group The Almighty RSO that the magazine's owner had a direct interest in. It was this very same group that had led to a very controversial editorial walk-out of the magazine two years previously.
September 4th: At the MTV Music Awards in New York, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony performed their 1996 mega-selling single "Tha Crossroads." The song, an urban eulogy to those who've been killed, personified what was then been dubbed "Requiem Rap." Like the eerily prophetic single and accompanying video for 2Pac's "I Ain't Mad at Cha," where he's shot and killed and goes to the afterlife, "Crossroads" marked a departure from straight-up 'gangsta' rap, which typically glorifies violence without examining its consequences. "Requiem Rap," which in contrast examined the results of the gangsta lifestyle, was seen in 1996 as the first step in a return toward a more consciousness-raising era of hip-hop music.
September 7th: Tupac Shakur was shot in Las Vegas. Six days later the announcement of his death sent shock waves through the rap world. Less than eight weeks later, on November 5th, Death Row released Shakur's Makaveli - the don killuminati - the 7 day theory. The album, which was an instant number one, selling close to 700,000 units in its first week alone (many more later), sparked further controversy about Shakur, including one prevalent rumor that he was still alive. "2Pac was like the James Dean of our generation...What it really is, is that some people just don't want to accept his death," said The Wake Up Show's Sway on this rumor at the time.
Nov 13th: The Night Of The Turntablist, at Club Townsend in San Francisco featured turntablist Dj groups the X-Men (later known the X-ecutioners), the Beat Junkies, and hometown DMC champs the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, then featuring the lineup of DJs Q-Bert, Mix Master Mike & Shortkut. The energy level among the adoring crowd at this packed venue proved that the day of the DJ as an artist, or rather 'turntablist," the term DJ Babu of the Beat Junkies had coined, had finally arrived, it seemed. In 1996 in addition to the countless underground DJ mix-tapes that surfaced, legitimate record label releases also dropped, including ones from DJ Smash, DJ Krush, DJ Spooky, DJ Honda,& Funkmaster Flex. On Nov 19th, 1996 the stellar release by DJ Shadow, Endtroducing...arrived in stores and became the most notable DJ release of that year, even going on to be recognized by Guinness World Records for being one of the first instrumental albums created entirely from samples of other records.
December 31st: As 1996 came to a close, people were still asking what the future of hip-hop would be. The answer to 1996's most often asked question (a question that persists to this day) seemed to be the unique rhyme stylings of Dr. Octagon, the alter ego of Ultramagnetic MC's Kool Keith, who with his ground-breaking 1996 release Dr. Octagonecologyst took hip-hop, as he rapped, "to the year 3000."
The futuristic hip hop album by Kool Keith (a fan of hip-hop, thrash, and techno at the time), which was produced by Dan "The Automator" Nakamura with further input from fellow Bay Area talents DJ Qbert and KutMasta Kurt, broke all barriers of the then pretty limited genre and offered an insight into the new areas hip-hop could (and would) go to.