Some essentials from the genre that won over the 90s
Digable Planets- Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Three distinct voices—one distinct funky sound. This 90s alternative American hip-hop group was composed of Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving. Their 1993 debut album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space), is the album that, to many, best captures the band’s infamous smooth and cool sound. The band’s debut album contains catchier beats than later albums, simple rhymes and unique lyrics that perfectly convey the trio’s love of funk. The album’s biggest hit, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” is a simple and lyrically groovy ode to their sound. “Just sendin’ chunky rhythms right down ya block. We be to rap what key be to lock,” they rap in the song. Yes they are hip-hop like that and yes you need to listen to this jam. The group’s albums, although different, were all about simplicity, without compromising originality and lyrical depth.
Trial track: “Time & Space (A Refutation Of)”
N.W.A– Straight Outta Compton
These guys are sure to ring a bell. They are one of the most popular, important and influential old-school hip-hop groups, and the main force behind the “gangsta rap” sub-genre. The original crew formed in 1986, and was comprised of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube. DJ Yella and MC Ren joined on shortly thereafter. Arabian Prince left the group before the release of their first and most renowned album, Straight Outta Compton. N.W.A brought “reality rap” to hip-hop. Their lyrics weren’t about expensive cars and money—they wanted to sharing their reality through their music. Compton’s reality in the 80s and 90s was poverty, police brutality, drug trafficking and racial divide. The group’s music fused anger, a call for social justice and hip-hop in a way that revolutionized the genre and is remembered decades later. The group’s sound is aggressive, up-beat and bass-driven. One of the best parts of this album comes from listening to the different and distinct voices of each member come together.
Trial track: “Fuck Tha Police”
A Tribe Called Quest– Midnight Marauders
This classic hip-hop band, formed in 1985, was composed of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammed. Midnight Marauders, the group’s third album, released in 1993, is one of the most beloved, acclaimed and commercially successful albums the crew produced. The album unfolds like a melodious and jazzy story, complete with smooth instrumentals, heavy bass lines and politically-charged lyrics complemented by some groove.
Trial track: “Award Tour”
Nas – Illmatic
Listen to “NY State of Mind” attentively. Feel the lyrics as he rhymes along this obscure beat that takes you into the projects of Queensbridge, N.Y. This song is so powerful—it will leave you feeling scared. That’s what real hip-hop is supposed to make you feel: deep emotions. This song leaves you motivated, because in his voice, he is yearning for a way out—rapping his way out of hell. This album gives you the ambition to get through whatever problems you think you may have. New to hip-hop? This is the go-to album to get familiar with strong lyrical prose and the aggressiveness that lies behind it. Illmatic is a landmark album for east coast hip-hop. Make sure to listen to all of Nas’ albums while you’re at it—he is a lyrical genius.
Trial Track: “NY State of Mind”
2Pac – All Eyez on Me
All Eyez on Me, one of the last albums 2Pac recorded before his death, is one of the best selling albums in America. 2Pac was a gangster rapper, with a great lyrical style with raw energy. He rapped about the struggles of black men and women in poor neighbourhoods and their struggles, violence in the streets and many other social issues. His songs opened a door to the world of drugs and gang violence. He spoke the truth about what happens on the streets: “Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares, one less hungry mouth on the welfare. First ship ‘em dope and let ‘em deal the brothers, give ‘em guns, step back, watch ‘em kill each other.” Those are lyrics from his song “Changes.”
Trial track: “All Eyez on Me”
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
“Dolla dolla bill y’all!” This rap group is composed of many big-name artists in the hip-hop scene such as: Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Cappadonna. Representing Staten Island, New York City, they are definitely one of the most influential groups in hard-core hip-hop. Wu-Tang Clan stood out as soon as the album was released—no one sounded like them then, nor does anyone sound like them today. Their distinctive beats and lyrical style are hard to mimic. That’s what happens when so many talented rappers come together in the same group. To get the right feel of what underground rap is all about, listen to their song “C.R.E.A.M”.
Trial track: “C.R.E.A.M”