JSC Throwback: Why 1996 Was The Last GREAT Year for Hip-Hop

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Greetings People. Figured I would send you into the weekend with the first Jay Scott Confidential Throwback. I mean, I know you didn’t think that I just started blogging a couple of weeks ago, did you? Hell, a lot of you probably did actually…but that’s cool. Time to get you up to speed. This comes to us from July 7, 2008. Mr. Rufio Jones, you may know him from The CYDIBlog, and I were having a convo on Facebook about how craptacular rap had become just since 2002, and it got me to thinking about how in 2002, hip-hop had crashed and burned (or so I thought) from its height of greatness in the mid-1990s when I was in high school. This was the blog that laid out what I felt was hip-hop’s last legendary year, 1996, and how it completely kicks the collective asses of this garbage that’s out now and takes its lunch money. Enjoy.

It Wasn’t Always This Bad…

Great (adj.) – Remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness; Chief or pre-eminent over others; Markedly superior in character or quality; Remarkably skilled.

Recently, I have written about a lot of heavy issues. But it’s about time I let you guys into my head a little and give you an idea of some of the random shit that runs through it on the daily (Scary, I know). I am approaching my 29th birthday in a mere 2 months, and I realize that I’ve been a fan of the Hip-Hop music for over 20 years. I first heard it in 1986, when some of the older kids would be listening to Run DMC, Slick Rick, and LL Cool J. By 1988, I was a full-fledged fan of Hip-Hop. The album that did it was NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton“. That’s right, I was a 9-year-old kid who knew every word to THAT song, from start (Straight Outta Compton/Crazy Muthaf*cka Named Ice Cube…) to finish (…A Stupid Dope Brother/Who Will Smother/Word To The Muthaf*cka/Straight Outta Compton!). I actually refer to the time period spanning from 1987 to 1996 as the “Golden Age of Hip-Hop“. That was the point in time when Hip-Hop was at it’s damn sure best! It had a meaning, it had a message, and it was the most creative and most diverse form of Black musical expression since Jazz. I didn’t just like Rap music, I LOVED Hip-Hop from that Time period! And I Still Do!

By contrast, I HATE what Rap Music has turned into. I haven’t exactly made a secret of that, either. The creativity, originality, and diversity are largely non-existent. Everyone sounds the damn same! A majority of rap in this decade, especially since 2004, has sucked! That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of unadulterated dopeness. There have been some pretty good moments, even in certain cases, a few dope albums. However, I can only count the number of truly dope albums to drop in this Decade on less than two hands (with only three of them coming since 2004): Stillmatic, Blueprint, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, The Marshall Mathers LP, Finding Forever, The Shining, and Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool (Editor’s Note: add Nas’ 2008 Self-Titled Album that was originally called “Nigger” to this list). That’s It! And NO, Tha Carter III is not in that category! That album isn’t even worth dignifying by name the rest of the way. I’m talking about REAL Hip-Hop, not Hype and Promotion. I remember when that garbage came out last month, some people (Teenagers/Females) were trying to act like they were torn between Lil Wayne’s and Mushmouth’s, errr, Plies’ new albums, as if that was a difficult decision. Choosing between Wayne-O and Plies is like trying to pick between two different kinds of Dog Shit. I mean, sure, they came from two different breeds of dog, but in the end they still stink!

I recently had a conversation with a Mr. Rufio Jones about the current state of this little thing we call Hip-Hop. He made a comment that made a lot of sense with me. He pointed out that rap has gotten so bad that even the wackest songs from the previous 7-10 years would be Platinum sellers compared to what’s out now. And there’s a lot of truth to that. It got me to thinking (and we’re all in trouble when I start doing that), when was the last Good year for Hip-Hop? I don’t mean a year when a couple of quality albums dropped, I mean a year that when you look back at it, you just say “Damn! There were some Bangers That Dropped This Year!”? Was It 1998? 1999? Was It 2001, when Eminem blew up and the Nas v. Jay-Z Beef was in full force? Was it 2003, when 50 Cent’s first album (a.k.a. his only good one) came out before all that Crunk/Gold Tooth Southern jibberish took over? The last Good year for Hip-Hop is clearly up for Debate. The Last GREAT One is Not! Let’s Take a Sec To Think Back…to 1996.

1996 was similar in some ways to 2008. It was an Olympic year (Atlanta). It was an Election year (When a Clinton actually Won). I was a Junior at Renaissance HS in Detroit (A Senior by the Fall). Thursday nights belonged to the FOX trifecta of Martin, Living Single, and New York Undercover. The Lions still had Barry Sanders. The Pistons debuted those hideously awesome Teal uniforms. Dennis Archer was Mayor of Detroit, and the City Council didn’t have the feds crawling up their asses! And Hip-Hop, it was simply…The Shit! Rap was in the midst of a 5-year period where it grew into one of the most popular forms of music on Earth. People get all giggly these days if a couple of decent albums drop in a three month span. Here’s a list of what came out during the calendar year of 1996. An asterix (*) denotes a debut album, debut solo project, or debut group project:

  • 2Pac – All Eyez on Me
  • Nas – It Was Written
  • Outkast – ATLiens
  • The Fugees – The Score
  • Lil Kim – Hard Core*
  • Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt*
  • Ghostface Killah – Iron Man*
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather
  • Redman – Muddy Waters
  • The Roots – Illadelph Halflife
  • A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes, & Life
  • De La Soul – Stakes Is High
  • Busta Rhymes – The Coming*
  • E-40 – The Hall of Game
  • Jeru Tha Damaja – Wrath of the Math
  • Master P – Ice Cream Man
  • Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na*
  • Mobb Deep – Hell on Earth
  • Too Short – Gettin’ It (Album Number Ten)
  • Westside Connection (Ice Cube, Mack 10, & WC) – Bow Down*
  • Makaveli (2Pac) – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.

That’s 21 Albums off the top of my head (A Third of Which Were Debut Albums!!!).

That’s not even factoring in stuff I forgot: Random Hot Ass Singles, Diss Tracks (Hit Em Up, The Bitch in Yoo, etc.), Compilations (Erick Sermon, Death Row, etc.), Soundtracks — Remember Those!? (Set It Off, Nutty Professor, Thin Line, Sunset Park, Waiting To Exhale, etc.), and the One-Hitter Quitters (Akinyele, Crucial Conflict, Do or Die, Heather B., etc.). The Rap Landscape in 1996 was like the Wild, Wild West! Mad Competitive, very diverse, and very dope! Come get some of that 2008!

I will also take this time to address an issue that I have had with you Revisionist Hip-Hop Historians. As you can very clearly see, I listed Jay-Z’s classic 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I would have my Hip-Hop license revoked if I didn’t. I have a bit of an issue with this album. Before you get all emotional, I am NOT disputing the Dopeness of this Album. Reasonable Doubt is one of the 10 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Ever Made. That is not up for discussion! What needs to be cleared up is all the nonsense about this album’s initial impact when it dropped in June of 1996. To let Jay-Z and his fans (most of which don’t even know that RD came out in 1996) tell it, this album was a #1 chart topper that set numerous records and dominated from day 1. In all actuality, the album dropped to limited fanfare on June 25, 1996. If it weren’t for the success of his first single “Ain’t No Nigga” on the Nutty Professor Soundtrack earlier that year, no one would’ve even known who he was! Real Talk. I know that sounds like blasphemy to most of you out there, but since when have you known me to give a damn about what you people think.

The common practice has been for Jay-Z and his fans to exaggerate RD’s impact like it dropped on Hip-Hop like an Atomic Bomb, destroying everything in it’s wake. This line of thinking just became accepted over the last 5 years (kinda like how you people just began to believe that Lil’ Wayne is this great lyricist simply because he says he is). When RD dropped, the dominant Hip-Hop album at that time was 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me, with The Fugees’ The Score coming in a VERY close Second! Nas’ It Was Written and Outkast’s ATLiens (both of which were their second albums) were lyrical masterpieces. Lil Kim’s debut Hard Core was the highest selling album ever by a female artist! Lest we forget the impact of the Makaveli album which came after Tupac’s death in September 1996! So already, Reasonable Doubt is (at best) the 7th biggest Album to drop in 1996. Need I also mention that at the time there was a huge buzz about Biggie’s second album coming in early 1997, and the second Wu-Tang album that was due out in the Summer of 97.

The thing about Reasonable Doubt is that it was the Underground Classic of 1996, much like Illmatic was in 1994, and The Purple Tape (Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx) was in 1995. Despite Jay-Z being at probably his absolute best, it was his worst selling album, by a LARGE margin! Most people in the mainstream didn’t discover RD until 1998. He even re-released the album a few years ago to give a lot of his new and younger fans a taste of it! So remember, I’m not shittin’ on the album. Hell, Can’t Knock The Hustle, Dead Presidents, and Bring It On get much play on the iPod NOW. But stop acting like this album was an all-time classic from Day 1. Jay-Z wasn’t the World Heavyweight Champ of Hip-Hop in 1996, he was more like a challenger for the Intercontinental Title! lol

In Closing, when one looks at today’s rap game, as opposed to the Mid-1990s, the difference is so stark that it’s damn-near embarrassing. 1996 wasn’t even the best year of that decade, because honestly 1992-1995 were even BETTER! 1996 was the last Great year before the ship started to slowly sink. The rap game then, as I said, was like the Wild Wild West. It was a damn Battlefield. There was an energy! There was creativity! There was originality! In short, There was A Choice! Today, outside of a few notable exceptions (Em, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Little Brother, Ludacris, The Game, The Roots, Bun B), Hip-Hop sucks! I can’t tell one of these clowns from another! And apparently, all you gotta do to sell a million copies of your broadcast jibberish is spend 6 months hyping up your album, pay off a few radio stations, and keep telling people you’re something that you’re not, namely a Lyricist. If you’re lucky, you’ll somehow get a million lemmings to follow your dumb ass off the cliff. Who knows, maybe Hip-Hop will experience a re-birth and a renaissance in the next decade. I’m not holding my breath for that one. I’ll just keep my iPod on the “Golden Age of Hip-Hop” playlist, put it on shuffle and roll out.

Thanks For Your Time. Take Care, God Bless, Always Dare To Be Different and Don’t Just Strive To Be Good, Aspire To Be Great

Until Next Time…Picture Me Rollin’!

Have a Great Weekend People. G.O.M.A.B. Σ

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Jay Scott Smith

What’s Happening! The name’s Jason…but for the sake of this blog, you can call me Jay or Jay Scott. I am a 37-year-old Journalist, Detroit Native, Man of Sigma, and Charismatic Enigma…That About Covers it for me! lol You wanna get in contact w/me, well, here you go! G.O.M.A.B. to my Blu Family! (ΦΒΣ/ΖΦΒ)