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Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: Overview of 1990's Hip-Hop

Posted by Billyjam, September 24, 2013 05:40pm | Post a Comment
The 1990's was an amazing decade for hip-hop music: one which enjoyed the second half of the so-called Golden Era of hip-hop, the birth & proliferation of the indie hip-hop movement, the end of the Afro-centric movement and, propelled by the success of the early decade success of the G-Funk Era, the commercialization of the gangsta rap style that continues to this day.  So for this Hip-Hop History Tuesdays Amoeblog I present a broad overview of the  decade that was the 90's. A by no means inclusive of that very prolific decade this look at the decade merely scratches the surface, selectively highlighting a handful of releases and events (with each year getting a mention) that helped shape the 1990's in hip-hop.

In 1990 revolutionary, militant and Afro-centric hip-hop was in full effect and looked like it would be around forever. Examples included such popular socially & politically charged albums released in that first year of the decade as Public Enemy's third full-length album Fear Of a Black Planet, Ice Cube's first post N.W.A./solo album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Boogie Down Productions' Edutainment,X-Clan's To The East, Blackwards, Brand Nubian's One For All, Poor Righteous Teachers' Holy Intellect, Paris' The Devil Made Me Do It, Tragedy The Intelligent Hoodlum's self-titled Marley Marl debut, and Lakim Shabazz's Lost Tribe of Shabazz.

At the time it didn't seem like such a big deal but when in 1991 Biz Markie got sued by Gilbert O'Sullivan over the hip-hop artist's unauthorized use of the Irish singer's 1970's pop hit "Alone Again (Naturally)" in the Biz's single, "Alone Again" it essentially changed the direction of hip-hop music and how it was produced from then on. It also sharply divided the major label and big indie label releases from the totally underground ones since this sampling lawsuit led to a complete change in sampling practices - something that hip-hop was built on - and forced producers (especially high profile ones) to radically alter their approach to making music out of theirs (and their labels) justified fears litigation. It forced many producers to get more creative with their samples - digging deeper and deeper for the more rare unknown sounds and also switching up their samples to the point of being totally unidentifiable. It also led to more and more producers employing musicians to replay songs or variations on songs that they would have before simply sampled right out.

In 1992 Eric B. & Rakim shocked hip-hop fans by announcing their breakup not long after the release of their acclaimed fourth album, Don't Sweat the Technique. The two continued to make music independently although they would never match their output as a duo - even the influential emcee Rakim - widely considered to be the greatest  emcee in the history of hip-hop - who has only released a handful of solo albums in the years since.

Released at the very end 1992 so essentially a 1993 album Dr Dre's The Chronic would change hip-hop forever. The album was the phenomenally popular, game-changing, post NWA debut solo album by the producer with the Midas touch. The Chronic not only ushered in the West Coast leading G-Funk Era (gangsta rap smoothed with seductive funk grooves into radio friendly hit material) but it helped further define what was not G-Funk or gangsta - the whole "hip-hop" versus "rap" debate - something examined by KRS-One who that same year released his post Boogie Down Productions solo debut Return of the Boom Bap on Jive. The album continued in the BDP tradition lyrically and production-wise KRS enlisted such outsiders as DJ Premier, Showbiz, and Kid Capri. The second single from the album was the Showbiz produced "Sound of Da Police" a song that has become a protest anthem in the years since). The single's b-side was "Hip-Hop vs Rap" on which KRS so famously rapped "Rap is something you do. Hip-hop is something you live."

In 1994 Brooklyn drug dealer turned emcee The Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, followed up on a series of acclaimed cameo appearances on popular singles, by finally releasing his debut album Ready to Die featuring the popular singles "Big Poppa" and "Juicy" and "One More Chance." The album and the artist was both critically and commercially well received. This popularity would soon be overshadowed by the friction between West and East Coast hip-hop - something that fully manifested itself by the following year when incidents that helped fuel this beef - that transcended the traditional hip-hop battle raps - included the widely publicized shooting of 2Pac outside an NYC recording studio days after the rapper was found guilty of sexual assault. Before he would begin serving a five month prison stretch for that assault he accused Biggie and Puffy/Puff Daddy of orchestrating the attack. Soon after Suge Knight, who would bail out Pac and sign him to Death Row, joined the fray and the the fully fledged East (Bad Boy) versus West (Death Row) rap war was underway - eventually resulting in the murders of each label's biggest stars - 2Pac's murder in late '96 and Biggie's murder in early '97.

An incident that made people look beyond the ridiculous East vs West Coast rivalries was the tragic and sudden 1995 death of LA rap star Eazy Efrom complications from full-blown AIDS (he died of pneumonia). The silver lining to this cloud was that it helped build more awareness within the hip-hop community of AIDS. A year later the Red Hot Organization released a hip-hop version in its long-running AIDS awareness/benefit compilation series: the various artists collection America is Dying Slowly featuring such acts as Diamond D, Biz Markie, Wu-Tang Clan (one of the most important hip-hop groups of the decade) and Fat Joe and others who were all willing to lend their talents to help fight AIDS.

In 1997 Rakim - widely considered hip-hop's greatest lyricist of all time - emerged from a five year hiatus and returned to the spotlight with the release of his first post Eric B & Rakim release, his highly anticipated solo debut The 18th Letter which was worth the wait even if it didn't quite match the classic material from his Eric B era. In 1998 two of the indie hip-hop movement's most gifted and successful, lyrically socially conscious artists Mos Def and Talib Kweli joined forces to become Black Star via the release of the Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star on Rawkus. The album may not have been a huge hit but it was highly influential and remains one of those classics that people always refer to and go back to.

In 1999 Run DMC, who had been touring consistently but not releasing any new material for a while, released Crown Royal which was their first album after a six year recording hiatus. The record's dismal reception by both critics and fans confirmed that the once leading act in hip-hop were now too dated for both fans of contemporary mainstream and underground hip-hop fans. They were then essentially relegated to hip-hop oldies status. That same year a hip-hop band (as in full band rather than a MCs and a DJ/producer) The Roots, who had formed a dozen years earlier and gone through some personnel changes in the interim, released their fourth album. Titled Things Fall Apart it was the Questlove led Philly crew's breakthrough landmark album. As much a critical as a commercial success the album's recording overlapped with several others by the group for members of the Soulquarians collective including Erykah Badu and Common - both of whom made memorable contributions to "Things" as did Mos Def, Ursula Rucker, and J-Dilla (aka Jay Dee) among others.

Relevant Tags

Biz Markie (9), Wu Tang Clan (8), 1990's Hip-hop (3), Biggie Smalls (3), Hip-hop History (63), Hip-hop History Tuesdays Amoeblog (3), Rakim (14), Krs-one (20)