Friday, June 11, 2010

The Golden Era of Rap -- 1991-1994

Ah, early-'90s rap.

LJT and I have spent an embarrassing amount of time between the hours of 2 and 5 in the morning singing the praises of "De La Soul Is Dead" and "Doggystyle," among many other classic albums of our late-middle-school/early-high-school years. It's high time we open up those moments of brilliance and illuminate the world.

While 1990 ("Mama Said Knock You Out") and 1995 ("Dah Shinin'") had their share of great LPs, the four-year span from '91 to '94 simply overflows with excellence. These are albums we knew were great then and have more than held up over time. I've often wondered if, in our later years when we're watching all the grandkids running (hoverboarding?) around the grill and playing lightsaber wiffleball, are we gonna be playing old hip-hop tunes? I've always found the idea of 70-year-old men sitting on the porch fondly singing along while "Ain't No Fun" plays softly in the background, I dunno, incongruous or something. (Picture an old white dude with thick glasses crooning, "So back up, bitch, because I'm struuuuuggling / Just get on your knees and then start juuuuuuggling...") It's an odd image, anyway, and I have no idea what its ultimate likelihood is.

We've covered musical eras a little before, but it's kinda surprising we never got around to this one. I'm not sure what it was about those years, but holy crap was there a shit-ton of great music. It wasn't just the peak era for rap in our lifetimes; '91-'94 was the also the Grunge era in rock, an era bookmarked on one side by crappy hair-metal nonsense like Winger and White Lion, and on the other by crappy boy-band nonsense like 98 Degrees and O-Town. (The Grunge era, by the way, also definitely deserves a full write-up, covering the time of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden.)

And while the hip-hop surrounding this Golden Era of Rap wasn't as full of complete shit as rock was, its peak was probably even greater, and certainly more prolific.

Anyway, after viewing this fucking inspired Kia commercial:

An artist's rendering of LJT's subconscious?

I decided it's high time we put together a list of exactly what those classic tracks and albums were. Following is a simple year-by-year list and a little commentary here and there, but I think a decent project for us would be to occasionally pick an album or a song from this list and devote a proper post to it.

At the bottom, I'll try to pick out my top 5, and I encourage y'all to add yours below or in the comments. And I'm surely missing some gems, as I only did a cursory amount of additional research past what I could think of off the top of my head, so please feel free to chime in there too.

Without further ado...

De La Soul, “De La Soul Is Dead”
Black Sheep, “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”
A Tribe Called Quest, “The Low End Theory”
Cypress Hill, “Cypress Hill”
Naughty by Nature, “Naughty by Nature”

Dr. Dre, “The Chronic”
Redman, “Whut? Thee Album”
Nice and Smooth, “Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed”
Pharcyde, “Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde” (Along with "De La Soul Is Dead," probably the funniest of the great albums. It's a damn shame every fucking group decided to put a bunch of skits on their albums; 99% utterly sucked.)
Pete Rock and CL Smooth, “Mecca and the Soul Brother”
Das EFX, “Dead Serious”
Arrested Development, “3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days…”
Ice Cube, “The Predator”

Wu Tang, “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers”
Snoop Dogg, “Doggystyle”
A Tribe Called Quest, “Midnight Marauders”
Brand Nubian, “In God We Trust” (Incidentally, the song “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down” has some pretty fucking awful homophobic lyrics sprinkled throughout, which is why it’s pretty funny that Lord Jamar opens the third verse by saying “My dick in ya ass, quick fast, like my name was Flash…” then later brags that he “gives strong blows to the heads of my foes.” Ha! It’s funny ’cause Lord Jamar’s a homo!)
Guru, “Jazzmatazz”
Digable Planets, “Reachin…”
Cypress Hill, “Black Sunday”
Onyx, “Bacdafucup”
Naughty by Nature, “Nineteen-Naughty Three”
Black Moon, “Enta da Stage”

Nas, “Illmatic”
Biggie, “Ready to Die”
Outkast, “southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”
Gang Starr, “Hard to Earn”
Method Man, “Tical”

And some outstanding singles:
Dr. Dre and Snoop, “Deep Cover” (1992) (This one gets my vote for the best beat of all time. The only other one I can think of that compares is Public Enemy's "Fight the Power.")
Craig Mack, feat. Biggie, Rampage, LL Cool J and Bustarhymes, “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)” (1994)
Geto Boys, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (1991)
House of Pain, “Jump Around” (1992)
2Pac, “I Get Around” (1993)
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Summertime” (1991)
Warren G and Nate Dogg, "Regulate" (1994)
Us3, "Cantaloop" (1994)

Here's how I'd rank my top 5 (subject to change every minute or so):

5. Snoop Dogg, "Doggystyle"
4. Notorious B.I.G., "Ready to Die"
3. Nas, "Illmatic"
2. Wu Tang Clan, "Enter the Wu Tang"
1. De La Soul, "De La Soul Is Dead"


Joe Grossberg said...

Great picks (except "Cantaloop" and "Summertime" -- WTF?) ... brings back great memories of the music I listened to as a teenager.

Open Bar said...

Yeah, they're probably not as good as the rest, but oh fuck off, I liked them.

Anonymous said...

I am commenting to defend "Summertime" and to agree with your picks. Great post. I don't know Cantaloop.

Interesting that this "golden age" of rap coincided with the rise of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc... and the death of late 80s cheesy music... hadn't thought of that until just now.

The Notorious LJT said...

i will put together my top five but i just want to criticize you for leaving blacksheep off of yours for now.

ChuckJerry said...

I love Summertime. I still rock that all year round on my ipod.

Cantaloop is good too, but I don't know how it fares against these others. Groovy groovy jazzy funky pounce bounce dance as we...

I think that Reachin' is one of the most groundbreaking albums of the last quarter century.

And Jazzmatazz is awesome as well, if only for Le Bien, Le Mal, the rap in French.

Open Bar said...

Thanks for the "Summertime" support, Chuck. I know thinking of Will Smith as a rapper seems kinda silly now, but the "Homebase" album had some pretty good stuff. "You Saw My Blinker, Bitch," for example. A highly observant, very progressive message, that.

Yankel said...

I'll throw Mobb Deep's The Infamous into the mix, extending it to 95.

Open Bar said...

Agreed, Yankel. '95 also had the solo debuts of Raekwon, ODB and the Genius, and Mobb Deep had (probably) the best single from that year too, "Shook Ones Pt 2". That song to this day just kills.

Evan said...

Respectfully, I have to disagree with your top five. I think I would have to put in the Woodchucks from Teaneck, NJ. Any pictures Rick? HYHYHYHYHYHY!

ChuckJerry said...

Just re-reading this and realizing that you didn't include "Midnight Marauders", Tribe's 1993 follow up to "The Low End Theory".

I know it's a minority opinion, but I actually prefer Midnight Marauders. It's consistently great from top to bottom.

ChuckJerry said...

Oh wait, you did include "Midnight Marauders". Yeah, that one's good.