Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: 1988, The Year Considered By Many As Hip-Hop's Greatest

Posted by Billyjam, March 10, 2015 03:00pm | Post a Comment

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.


Boogie Down Productions "My Philosophy" (1988)

Proof of 1988 being an influential year lies in the list of important hip-hop albums that dropped back in that a full 27 years ago. They included such classics of the genre as Boogie Down Productions' By All Means Necessary, Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us BackEric B & Rakim's Follow The Leader, Ultramagnetic MC's' Critical Beatdown, EPMD's Strictly Business, Biz Markie's Goin Off, Slick Rick's The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, J.V.C. Force's Doin' Damage, Audio Two's What More Can I Say?, Big Daddy Kane's Long Live The Kane, MC Lyte's Lyte As A Rock, The Jungle Brothers' Straight Out The Jungle, Stetsasonic's In Full Gear, and Cash Money and Marvalous' Where's The Party At? to name checklist but but a few full-lengths. As you'll notice nearly all of those artists listed hailed from New York or the East Coast (esp. Philly) since the East Coast was still leading the way at that time. But there were healthy hip-hop scenes all over producing exciting new hip-hop with regional hot spots including (to name but a select few) LA, Seattle (Sir Mix-A-Lot was already an established act by 88 when he released the album Swass), Miami (the Miami bass scene was at all time high in '88 with mostly 12" singles repping the prolific hip-hop sub-genre that continued the electro funk of pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa), and Houston (The Ghetto Boys before they altered spelling and became The Geto Boys were prime example of an act in 1988 out of that Texas city).


Big Daddy Kane "Ain't No Half Steppin'" (1988)

In turntablism/skratch music 1988 was good year with the legendary/influential Philly DJ Cash Money (who released records with Marvelous) won the 1988 DMC battle. It should also be noted that 1988 was simultaneously an incredibly exciting year for house music with (mainly) UK labels licensing and releasing house records from Chicago and Detroit and other US artists. It was also the year that house and hip-hop melded to become the sub-genre of hip-house. While some hip-house hybrids were so awful they don't even qualify as guilty pleasures, there were equally as many good ones too that dropped in 1988, including the Jungle Brothers' "I'll House You" and EPMD's "I'm Housin'."  1988 was a time of experimentation with hip-hop: a year when Sinead O'Connor invited MC Lyte to collaborate with her on the single "I Want Your (Hands On Me)." 

But it was the East Coast that reigned supreme in hip-hop at that stage still. However that domination of the hip-hop market would later give way to the West and South where already strong hip-hop scenes had taken root. On the West Coast in 1988 N.W.A. unleashed an album (Straight Outta Compton) so influential that it would go on to be instrumental in shifting the balance of popular hip-hop from East to the West Coast. That same year N.W.A.'s Eazy-E also released his solo Eazy Duz It while Ice-T released Power. Meanwhile up the coast in the Bay Area Oakland's Too $hort released 1988 was also the year Too $hort unleashed two albums of nasty rhymes on an unsuspecting rap world -- both on Jive/Zomba: Life is...Too $hort and Born To Mack which technically was a year old, having been originally released the previous year on the indie Oakland label Dangerous Music. While Too $hort was one of the earlier artists to break out of the Bay Area there was an entire scene bubbling under throughout the 80's (typically raw sounding, demo level acts) but by 1988 many of these Bay Area rap acts were releasing exciting records typically on their own small indie labels - with small numbered pressings and limited distribution that mostly regionally limited. However the quality was pretty darn good. Remember that 1988 was before CDs took over from vinyl and with hip-hop being slower than rock and pop to enter the CD market. Hence these independently released rap records from the Bay were not on CD. In fact few of them were albums but mostly 12" singles and cassette tape releases.


MC Lyte "Paper Thin" (1988)

Bay Area hip-hop artists in 1988 who dropped records included San Francisco's All Ready Fresh "2" who released the single "Sucker Butts" that year. Also from the City were Super Macks who unleashed the super hero themed single "Super Mack's In Effect" that year. Hailing from the South Bay were the  Milpitas duo Chris & Ray - they happened to be neighbors of a young Peanut Butter Wolf - who released the single "U Don't Walk U Run" which, while good, was still rooted in the tradition of the Run-D.M.C. sounding second wave of hip-hop.  There was also San Francisco's Thermo feat. The Waimea Bass, who released the rap/rock hybrid "Chillin' At Ocean Beach," Digital Underground, who dropped their first single "Your Life's A Cartoon"/"Underwater Rimes" on TNT/Macola, and the Vallejo group MVP (later to morph into The Click) who released an EP on Rushforce Records.

What helped bring the Bay Area and all the other regional hip-hop scenes around the country together, as well as introducing and exposing a whole new wave of music fans to new hip-hop music, was the advent of YO! MTV Raps that was launched in 1988 and went on to become one of the most watched shows on the cable network. Then just as the year ended - on January 2, 1989 - the Arsenio Hall Show was unveiled and became another national broadcast outlet for hip-hop fans (starved for their favorite music on mainstream media) who were guaranteed another go-to place to hear/see new rap music - typically performed live. It's hard to fathom now, a time when hip-hop is everywhere, that there was once a time when rap was widely considered some fad that would not last. That mentality still existed to a large degree in 1988 but it was that shunning of the music and culture that emboldened it too. The fact that hip-hop music and culture was still mostly misunderstood and largely discarded and yet to fully crossover and be accepted by the mainstream, was a unifying force with those into the music feeling like an underdog.  As a result we can now look back retrospect to hip-hop in '88 which was truly in an incredible state of development and arguably the best year ever in the genre.


The Jungle Brothers "Straight Out The Jungle" (1988)

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