The 90’s: Greatest Era in Hip-hop
I don’t know about you but I feel as if there is a major void in hip-hop. Yeah, we have veterans like J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, and Drake who have been holding down the rap game over the last decade. And yeah, we have elder statesmen Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Nas who from time to time give us a small glimpse of yesteryear reminiscent of why we became lifetime fans of them in the first place. There is even the future of the rap game that shows some promise with up and comers like Aaron May and Tobi Lou among a short grocery list of others trying to solidify their spot in the industry.
However, I still feel like something is missing.
When I sit back and think about all of this, I realize hip-hop is lacking two things that have kept it going and evolving over there past 30 years; a mix of originality and innovation. Anyone else feel like the game is stuck on repeat, a loop of the same trap beats and melodies? I don’t know how much more I can endure. Somethings gotta give.
At this current stage in hip-hop, I find myself searching the internet endlessly for new artists to excite me and bring some new life to the genre I love. I’m looking for the aforementioned artists to give me something else besides the same rhetoric they have been spitting for the last decade or two. My ears crave more experimentation with each release yet I am left unsatisfied by their recent offerings. With very few of our elites challenging themselves by demonstrating new flows over new sounds, hip-hop continues to limp along sluggishly.
While newer artists continue to hop on the scene daily a good portion of them sound like Future had a baby with Lil Baby and out came “Yung Such’n’Such.” They seem to mimic everything from lyrics to cadence to production to wardrobe and even down to the tattoos.
Hip-hop is in desperate need of an intervention, but this isn’t anything new.
Ever so often hip-hop seems to get stuck in the same ol’ rut. In this case, it’s the same 808 beat patterns and lyrical content or lack thereof. But who’s to blame? Are streaming platforms like Apple, Tidal, and Spotify responsible for pushing to the masses what hip-hop is, or is this just the style of music that rap fans gravitate towards?
Why aren’t rappers like Wale, Big K.R.I.T, and Noname pushed to the front of the pack by music blogs and hip-hop heads? Is it due to the more conscious subject matter or the jazzy production that leaves today’s rap fans scratching their heads? I’m not quite sure what it is, but what I do know is we have to do our own research if we are looking for some more variety outside of the “culture.”
Forgive me for sounding like a grumpy old head who doesn’t appreciate this new generation of rap artists, constantly bringing up the “good ol’ days” of rap music. Maybe I am starting to show my age, but I do a pretty good job of keeping my ears to the street and it’s just something about that 90s era that makes me realize how special it was to have grown up in arguably the greatest period in hip-hop history.
In the 90s, variety and real talent weren’t hard to find.
Are you in the mood for hardcore gangsta rap? Check out Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Mack 10.
You got a test for East Coast lyricism? Check out Biggie, LL Cool J, and MC Lyte.
Feeling like a down south bounce? Take Outkast, UGK, and Mystikal for a spin.
Like a musical buffet, whatever our taste buds crave the 90s had us covered. From super rap groups like Wu-Tang Clan, Ruff Ryders, and Hot Boyz establishing movements proving that there is strength in numbers to Bad Boy, Death Row, and No-Limit building legendary rap dynasties the 90s set the bar to show this newer generation of rappers what is possible. Not only did this era provide us 80s babies and 90s kids with the soundtrack to our childhood they influenced everything from our slang to the way we dress and how we approach our day to day lives.
Matter of fact many of the goals we have set for ourselves can be tied back to the accomplishments of our rap superheroes. The 90s embodied starting out in the mud, getting it done by any means, and staying fly doing it. It also encouraged the mentality of putting your own people on and building a community, a code that many rappers in the industry still practice today.
The 90s were a time of experimentation, uniqueness, and authenticity. No two acts sounded the same. For example, Da Brat’s laidback persona was nothing like Lil Kim’s sultry aesthetic and the same thing can be said about hip-hop dynamic duos/trios. There were absolutely no similarities between the Fugees eclectic sound and Tha Dogg Pound’s west coast vibe. It was a gigantic melting pot of superb lyrics, banging beats, and originality that will never be duplicated.
In many ways, this era was the renaissance of hip-hop music where we could sit around and debate for hours on street corners with a question posed by the iconic Jay-Z, “Who’s the best MCs, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas?” from his classic track Where I’m From. It was a time when world premiere videos by Hype Williams and F.Gary Gray for artists like Missy Elliot, Ma$e, and TLC were more on the lines of a Hollywood short feature film than today’s average rap artists straight-to-YouTube video. A time when getting a feature in legendary hip-hop magazines The Source and XXL was the biggest cosign upcoming artists could imagine and albums were given the classic 5 mics / XXL rating based on quality and not industry popularity. Back then you couldn’t wait to pull up to Rasputin Music or The Warehouse, stand in line, purchase the latest cd from 2Pac or Juvenile, crack open the plastic in the parking lot, and read the album insert from cover to cover, taking in everything from the lyrics to the writers and producers while digesting the artist’s entire body of work and respecting the amount of effort put into their recent release.
But I digress. These days are a thing of the past. All I have to hold on to now is a trunk full of “old” CDs and my memories. I yearn for this period of hip-hop to return even though I know this era is long gone. Maybe this new generation will eventually figure out that their art, their craft, is more important than trendy dance challenges on TikTok and Instagram and that quality is greater than quantity. Hopefully, they’ll start to understand that hip-hop is a culture that should be cherished as well as preserved, not diluted and abused for financial gain only.
I hope for a day when hip-hop is placed in the hands of leaders within the new school who will push the culture forward after the current torch holders are long gone and not left to those who would rather pimp the game for 15 mins of fame and a gold chain.
When it’s all said and done, when the mic drops and the last emcee walks off stage, just know that hip-hop is priceless and the 90s era is timeless.
Music is therapeutic. And honestly, based on the brutal and everlasting events of this year we all could use some therapy right about now.
If you are looking for your typical “You can do it! I believe in you!” warm and fuzzy read then this isn’t the book for you. From the opening pages, Grant Cardone hits you right in the gut with some tough love.
It can be terrifying for us to destroy and rebuild ideologies that have been embedded into us. If we don’t challenge ourselves to figure out what we want out of life then we’ll never have more than we have now.