of the 1990s
speaking, the rule for hip-hop music of the 1990s was
that behind every successful rap act there is a producer.
Rap music was born as a "do it yourself" art
in which the "message" was more important than
the music. During the 1990s, interest in the lyrics declined
rapidly, while interest in the soundscape that those lyrics
roamed increased exponentially. The rapping itself became
less clownish, less stereotyped, less macho, and much
more psychological and subtle. In fact, rappers often
crossed over into singing. Hip-hop music became sophisticated,
and wed jazz, soul and pop. Instrumental hip-hop became
a genre of its own, and one of the most experimental outside
of classical music.
most significant event of the early 1990s was probably
the advent of Wu-Tang Clan (1), a loose affiliation of
rappers, including Gary "Genius/GZA" Grice,
Russell "Ol' Dirty Bastard" Jones, Clifford
"Method Man" Smith and Dennis "Ghostface
Killah" Coles, "conducted" (if the rap
equivalent of a classical conductor exists) by Robert
"RZA" Diggs, the musical genius behind Enter
the Wu-Tang (1993), a diligent tribute to old-school rap.
This "clan" (not "gang") spun off
a number of successful solo careers, but its sound was
hardly innovative. Both Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to
the 36 Chambers (1995), Method Man's Tical (1994), Raekwon's
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995) and GZA/Genius' Liquid
Swords (1995), the most dramatic and cinematic of the
bunch, were produced by RZA.
they were one of the few East Coast acts that stood up
to the past standards of the city's hip-hop. A number
of New Jersey acts, in particular, cast a doubt on the
future of hip-hop: the duo P.M. Dawn, with Of the Heart
of the Soul of the Cross (1991), Naughty By Nature, with
Naughty By Nature (1991), Kris Kross (the pre-puberal
duo of Chris "Daddy Mack" Smith and Chris "Mack
Daddy" Kelly), produced by teenager Jermaine Dupri,
with the disco energy of Totally Krossed Out (1992), and
the trio of the Lords of the Underground, with Here Come
the Lords (1993), produced by Marley Marl. Washington
multi-instrumentalist Basehead (Michael Ivey), with Plays
With Toys (1992), was also crossing over into pop and
soul territory. Trevor "Busta Rhymes" Smith's
The Coming (1996) was as bizarre as accessible (basically
an extension of the absurdist style of Public Enemy's
William "Flavor Flav" Drayton). The nonsensical
dialectics of Das Efx (Andre "Dre" Weston and
Willie "Skoob" Hines) on Dead Serious (1992)
was only functional to creating novelty acts.
Source's Breaking Atoms (1991), Poor Righteous Teachers'
second album Pure Poverty (1991), permeated by Islamic
philosophy, Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992) by producer
Pete Rock (Phillips) & rapper C.L. Smooth (Corey Penn),
Reggie "Redman" Noble's Whut? Thee Album (1992),
Enta Da Stage (1993) by short-lived trio Black Moon, and
New Kingdom's tribal-psychedelic Heavy Load (1993) were
among the few albums that dared to experiment. East Coast
hip-hop was losing to the West Coast. If nothing else,
Nasir "Nas" Jones' Illmatic (1994) and Kendrick
"Jeru the Damaja" Davis's The Sun Rises in the
East (1994) briefly brought back party-rap's original
York's duo Organized Konfusion (Larry "Prince Poetry"
Bakersfield and Troy "Pharoahe Monch" Jammerson)
refined the dramatic/poetic skills of rap music, from
the ghetto vignettes of Organized Konfusion (1991) to
the psychologial hip-hopera The Equinox (1997)
The Goats (1), led by Oatie Kato (Maxx Stoyanoff-Williams),
orchestrated the "hip-hopera" Tricks of the
Shade (1992), a concept album built around the evils of
the American way of life, with both samples and a live
band, deep grooves and a canvas of jazz, funk and rock.
Paul" Huston (1), the producer of De La Soul's 3
Feet High and Rising and the equally psychedelic My Field
Trip To Planet 9 (1993) by Justin Warfield, penned Gravediggaz's
gothic 6 Feet Deep (1994) with Wu-Tang Chan's Robert "RZA"
Diggs, and the solo albums Psychoanalysis: What Is It?
(1997) and especially the concept album A Prince Among
to the street culture of much hip-hop, New York's J-Live
(Justice Allah) was one of the MCs who turned rhymed storytelling
into a veritable art, both on The Best Part (1996), released
five years after being recorded, and All Of The Above
the West Coast, "gangsta-rap" was the dominant
theme. Schoolly D had invented it in 1984, but, starting
with Ice-T in 1986, it was in Los Angeles that the form
found its natural milieu. In 1992, when racial riots erupted
(following the police beating of a black gangster), Los
Angeles was said to have 66 gangs of teenagers, mostly
black, with daily shootings among them. They reached a
temporary truce in april. It is not a coincidence that
"gangsta rap" became a national phenomenon in
the following twelve months. Gangsta-rap was not so much
about gangster lives as about a metaphorical, solemn,
doom-laden recreation of the noir/thriller atmosphere
of the urban drug culture. It was more than a mere depiction
of their lives, just like psychedelic music had been more
than a mere reproduction of the hallucinogenic experience.
Gangsta rap was about the mythology and the metaphysics
of the gang life, with sexual and criminal overtones.
As Greg Kot wrote, "The gangster rappers depict a
world in which gangbangers and crack-heads fester in a
cesspool of misogyny, homophobia and racism". Invariably
dismissing women as teasers or sluts, these rappers indirectly
revealed the sordid and desperate conditions of the women
of the ghettos. Their justification was that they were
not promoting that kind of violence, but merely documenting
it: gangsta-rap was a documentary of daily life in the
ghetto. Furthermore, the arrogance of these self-appointed
super-heroes was often accompanied by a fatalistic mood:
gangsta-rap was not about immortality, albeit about survival.
N.W.A. (1), or "Niggaz With Attitude", formalized
"gangsta-rap" on Straight Outta Compton (1988),
and two of its former members, O'Shea "Ice Cube"
Jackson with AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990), a total immersion
in a nightmarish atmosphere, and Andre "Dr Dre"
Young (1) with The Chronic (1992), featuring rapper Calvin
"Snoop Doggy Dogg" Broadus, gave it its masterpieces.
The latter, heavily influenced by George Clinton's psychedelic
funk, also coined a subgenre called "G Funk".
Geto Boys, featuring young rapper Brad "Scarface"
Jordan, were one of the first crews from the South to
become known nation-wide, thanks to the the terrifying
gangsta-rap of their second album Geto Boys (1990).
became mainstream via albums such as Doggystyle (1993)
by Los Angeles native Calvin Broadus, better known as
Snoop Doggy Dogg (1), produced by Dr Dre, and Me Against
The World (1995), the third album from Oakland's 2Pac
(aka Tupac Shakur, born Lesane Parish Crooks), produced
by Sam Bostic, which was followed by All Eyez on Me (1996),
the first double album of hip-hop music.
gangsta-rap generated sales, rappers found it almost obligatory
to spin the usual litany of hard-boiled tales of drugs,
sex and murder.
of the main sources of creativity for the Los Angeles
scene was the the Freestyle Fellowship crew, responsible
for the elaborate collages of To Whom It May Concern (1991)
and especially Inner City Griots (1993). The second album,
A Book Of Human Language (1998) by Aceyalone, a founding
member of the "Freestyle Fellowship" crew, was
lavishly arranged by Matthew "Mumbles" Fowler.
Angeles was also the birthplace of Latino hip-hop, which
debuted with Escape From Havana (1990) by Cuban-born Mellow
Man Ace (Sergio Reyes) and Hispanic Causing Panic (1991)
by Kid Frost (Arturo Molina). Kid Frost's La Raza (1990)
and Mellow Man Ace's Mentirosa (1990) became the reference
standards for all subsequent Latin rappers. The artistic
peak of West-Coast rap was probably reached by a semi-Latino
group, Cypress Hill (1), the project of producer Lawrence
"Muggs" Muggerud and rapper Louis "B Real"
Freeze, with their hyper-depressed trilogy of Cypress
Hill (1992), Black Sunday (1993) and Temples of Boom (1995).
The large Latino collective Ozomatli offered ebullient
salsa-funk-rap on Ozomatli (1998), featuring turntablist
Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden).
was the headquarter of most black rappers from the San
Francisco Bay Area. The main acts were the crew Digital
Underground (1), the brainchild of Greg "Shock G"
Jacobs and the main hip-hop purveyors of George Clinton's
eccentric "funkadelia", notably on Sex Packets
(1990); and rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien (Teren Delvon
Jones), also inspired by the P-funk aesthetics on I Wish
My Brother George Was Here (1991). The Mystic Journeymen,
formed by rappers Pushin' Suckas' Consciousness (PSC)
and Vision The Brotha From Anotha Planet (BFAP), were
important not so much for their 4001: The Stolen Legacy
(1995), but as founders of the Oakland collective "Living
Francisco produced some of the most virulent agit-prop
rap of all times: the Beatnigs (1), with Beatnigs (1988),
Consolidated (1), with The Myth Of Rock (1990), and the
Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy (1), with Hypocrisy Is
The Greatest Luxury (1992).
reached the East Coast with Onix's Bacdafucup (1992) and
The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher "Biggie Smalls"
Wallace)'s Ready to Die (1994), produced by Sean "Puffy"
Combs and others. Fat Joe (Joseph Cartagena), the first
major Latino rapper from the Bronx, also embraced the
gansta-rap aesthetic, notably on his second album Jealous
One's Envy (1995). Fat Joe was the most notorious member
of New York's rap collective D.I.T.C. (Diggin' In The
Crates), formed by Joe "DJ Diamond D" Kirkland
and first tested on Diamond D's Stunts, Blunts & Hip
Hop (1992). The other notable member, Lamont "Big
L" Coleman (shot to death in 1999), released perhaps
the best of their albums, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor &
Dangerous (1995), produced by Anthony "Buckwild"
rap of the kind pioneered by Public Enemy thrived with
works such as Arrested Development (1)'s 3 Years 5 Months
and 2 Days In The Life (1998), the product of Atlanta-based
rapper Todd "Speech" Thomas and disc-jockey
Timothy "Headliner" Barnwell; Movement Ex's
Movement Ex (1990), a concentrate of stereotyped conspiracy
theories from Los Angeles; Oscar "Paris" Jackson's
second album Sleeping With the Enemy (1992), from the
Bay Area; Public Enemy associate Sister Souljah (Lisa
Williamson)'s 360 Degrees of Power (1992); Brand Nubian's
One For All (1990); X-Clan's To the East Blackwards (1990)
from New York, KMD's Mr Hood (1991), featuring rapper
Daniel "Zen Love" Dumile (also known as MF Doom),
and Return Of The Boom Bap (1993) by former Boogie Down
Productions mastermind KRS-One (Lawrence Krisna Parker).
These groups harked back to the radical, militant, Afro-nationalist
ideology of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam.
They basically represented the "positive" alternative
to gangsta-rap: instead of advocating rape and murder,
they confronted issues of both local and global politics.
Even feminism found its hip-hop voice: Yolanda "Yo-Yo"
Whitaker, who debuted with Make Way for the Motherlode
(1991) and founded the "Intelligent Black Woman's
Coalition" to promote self-esteem among women.
subgenre reached a fanatical peak with Steal This Album
(1998) by Oakland's duo The Coup, that reads like Mao's
"Red Book" or a Noam Chomsky pamphlet.
was also the decade of "jazz-hop" fusion. Jazz-hop
fusion had distinguished precedessors. Some consider Miles
Davis' On The Corner (1972) the precursor of hip-hop.
For sure, in the 1990s the Last Poet, a Harlem-based trio
of former jail convicts converted to Islam (led by Jalal
Mansur Nuriddin), were using "spiel" (as rap
was called in those days) over a jazz background: their
political sermons inspired by Malcom X relied on the arrangements
of jazz producer Alan Douglas on The Last Poets (1970),
which became a hit, and developed into "jazzoetry"
on Chastisement (1972).
the rap nation, jazz-hop was pioneered by: Grandmaster
Flash's remixes of jazz master Roy Ayers; scratcher Derek
"D.ST" Howells's collaboration with jazz pianist
Herbie Hancock, Rockit (1983); the Jungle Brothers' Straight
Out the Jungle (1988), possibly the first example of full-fledged
jazz-hop fusion; And Now The Legacy Begins (1991), the
eclectic multi-stylistic manifesto of Toronto-based duo
Dream Warriors (with the prophetic My Definition of a
Boombastic Jazz Style); A Tribe Called Quest's The Low
End Theory (1991), which featured guest musician Ron Carter;
Chuck D Ridenbour's big-band tribute to Charlie Mingus
(1992). Jazz returned the favor with post-bop saxophonist
Greg Osby's 3D Lifestyles (1993), with Miles Davis' very
last recording, Doo-Bop (1992), and with the "acid-jazz"
scene of San Francisco (Broun Fellinis, Alphabet Soup).
being one of the first groups to follow in the footsteps
of Public Enemy's militant hip-hop, Gang Starr (1), rapper
Keith "Guru" Elam and producer Christopher "DJ
Premier" Martin, pioneered the mature exploitation
of jazz on Step In The Arena (1990) and Daily Operation
(1992), and then ventured beyond jazz-hop on Moment of
Truth (1998). Martin's extensive use of jazz sampling
and percussion loops revolutionized the way "raps"
ought to be orchestrated.
became the sensation of 1993 with Guru (1)'s own Jazzmatazz
Volume 1 (1993), US3's Hand on the Torch (1993), for which
British producer Geoff Wilkinson mined the Blue Note catalog,
the Digable Planets' Reachin' (1993), from Washington,
Pharcyde's dadaistic, carnivalesque Bizarre Ride II the
Pharcyde (1993), from Los Angeles, and Plantation Lullabies
(1993) by Washington's Me'Shell Ndege' Ocello (Mary Johnson).
The trend was amplified in the following years by albums
such as One Step Ahead of the Spider (1994), the third
album by Dallas' white rapper Mark Griffin, better known
as MC900 Ft Jesus (1), the Fun Lovin' Criminals' Come
Find Yourself (1996).
Roots (1) approached jazz not via samples but through
live instrumentation, led by the rhythm section of drummer
Ahmir-Khalib "?uestlove" Thompson and bassist
Leon "Hub" Hubbard and by keyboardist Scott
Storch, on Do You Want More (1995). A quantum jump in
production made Phrenology (2002) a case in point for
the marriage of technology, composition and performance,
transforming hip-hop music into avantgarde architecture.
horizon further expanded with Chicago's Common Sense (Lonnie
Rashied Lynn), who evolved from the mellow jazz-hop of
Resurrection (1994) to Electric Circus (2003), an experiment
reminiscent of psychedelic and progressive-rock, and with
New York's Dante "Mos Def" Smith, who reacted
to gangsta-rap by bring back the serious-minded philosophy
of the "Native Tongues" posse while at the same
time accomodating rock, soul and funk on Black on Both
hip-hop music had fragmented along three seismic faults
of rebellion: one could vent negro anger as a gangsta,
as an Afronationalist militant or... by playing jazz music.
By the mid 1990s, hip-hop had dramatically evolved from
an art of "messages" that were spoken in a conversational
tone over an elementary rhythmic base to an art of cadenced
speech in an emphatic and melodramatic tone over an intricate
rhythmic collage. Regardless of the "message"
that was now being broadcasted, the sense of black self-affirmation
had moved to the forefront. The main continuity with the
original form of Grandmaster Flash was in the "urban"
setting of the music: except for free-jazz, no other form
of black music had been so viscerally tied to the urban
the 1990s, hip-hop spread outside of its traditional bases
(New York and Los Angeles), reaching the far corners of
a morbid style related to Gravediggaz's horrocore, was
coined by Detroit's rapper and producer Esham (Rashaam
Smith), both on his solo album Boomin' Words From Hell
(1990), recorded when he was 15, and on the harsh and
disturbing Life After Death (1992), credited to his group
NATAS ("Satan" spelled backwards).
(1994) by Atlanta's Outkast (2), the duo of Andre "Dre"
Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, was representative
of the rise of southern hip-hop, with its emphasis on
soul melodies and pop arrangements. Outkast turned hip-hop
into a new form of space funkadelia on their sumptuous
kaleidoscopes of aural ecstasy, Aquemini (1998) and Stankonia
(2000) Another product of the Atlanta school was Goodie
Mob's Soul Food (1995), while Master P assembled the No
Limit posse in New Orleans.
Crisis (1995) by Nashville's rapper, multi-instrumentalist
and producer Count Bass D (Dwight Farrell) was the first
rap album to feature all live instruments.
Orleans's Master P (Percy Miller) was the leading enterpreneur
of unadulterated gangsta-rap. He turned it into the hip-hop
equivalent of a serial show, with releases being manufactured
according to Master P's script at his studios by a crew
of producers. His own albums Ice Cream Man (1996) and
Ghetto D (1997) were the ultimate stereotypes of the genre.
In 1998, his musical empire had six albums in the Top-100
producer Jonathan "Lil Jon" Smith and his East
Side Boyz coined a fusion of hip-hop and synth-pop called
"crunk", from the title of his debut, Get Crunk
Who U Wit (1996).
first star of East Coast's Latino rap was Christopher
"Big Punisher" Rios, a second-generation Puertorican
of New York who died of a heart attack shortly after climbing
the charts with Capital Punishment (1998).
Britain, Fundamental, the brainchild of Aki "Propa-ghandi"
Nawaz, attempted an original and brutal fusion of hip-hop,
industrial music and world-music on Seize The Time (1994),
propelling his agit-prop raps with a style reminiscent
of Tackhead, Consolidated and Public Enemy. And Asian
Dub Foundation, a London-based sound system of ethnic
Indian musicians halfway between Tackhead and Clash, concocted
the militant ethnic-punk-folk-dance music of Rafi's Revenge
even Roots Manuva (Rodney Smith) was a true rapper, as
the oneiric production of Brand New Second Hand (1999)
owed to drum'n'bass and trip-hop, and his Jamaican roots
creeped out on Run Come Save Me (2001).
communist rappers Marxman sounded like the British version
of Public Enemy on 33 Revolutions Per Minute (1992), but
without the musical talent.
Solaar (Senegal-born Claude M'Barali) catapulted French
hip-hop to the forefront of the international scene with
the brilliant Qui Seme le Vent Recolte le Tempo (1991)
and Prose Combat (1994).
Frontali, the leading hip-hop posse of Italy, unleashed
the confrontational manifestos Terra di Nessuno (1992)
and the hardcore-tinged Conflitto (1996).
1996 two rap singles reached the #1 spot in the pop charts.
But also in the same year the Bay Area's Tupac Shakur/
2Pac and (a few months later) The Notorious B.I.G. were
murdered, two events that highlighted the violence inherent
in the genre and in the industry.
brief commercial fad was the opulent, or "jiggy",
style served by producer Sean "Puffy" Combs
on his own No Way Out (1997), credited to Puff Daddy,
and on Money Power & Respect (1998) by rap trio LOX.
it was a female response to gangsta-rap or a reaction
to the new teenage idols, female rappers stepped up to
the crude vocabulary of the men: New York's Kimberly "Lil'
Kim" Jones, with Hard Core (1996), Philadelphia's
Eve Jihan Jeffers, with Let There Be Eve (1999), Chicago's
Shawntae "Da Brat" Harris, the first female
rapper ever to score platinum with Funkdafied (1994),
produced by Jermaine Dupri, and Miami's "Trina"
(Katrina Laverne Taylor), with Da Baddest Bitch (2000),
were representative of this raunch, aggressive, obscene,
materialist, vulgar and profane tone.
the second half of the decade, hip-hop artists became
more conscious of the essence of hip-hop: it's the process,
not the structure that makes a song a hip-hop song. Its
process is a process of deconstruction, and can be applied
to just about anything that has ever been recorded. The
new awareness in the process resulted in a new awareness
of the importance of sampling. The role of the sampling
device in transforming both the sampled and the recipient
material became more and more obvious to a generation
of post-Malcom X African-Americans who, politically speaking,
had been raised to challenge and transform stereotypes.
Hip-hop artists became semiotic artists, artists who employed
sonic icons to create a fantastic universe grounded in
the real universe. The same process led to a rediscovery
of melody (even pop crooning) and then to a rediscovery
of live instruments, whose warm and humane sound linked
back to the rural roots of hip-hop's urban African-Americans.
The metamorphosis of hip-hop was also due to its own commercial
success, which, de facto, removed it from the streets
and moved it to the much more sophisticated lifestyle
of Beverly Hills villas and Manhattan high-rise condos.
obvious weakness of the entire hip-hop movement was in
the lyrics, which were mostly naive, stereotyped, clumsy;
and, in fact, did not age well.
The "sophisticated" age of hip-hop can be made
to start with the Fugees (1), a trio from New Jersey (Lauryn
Hill, Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, Wyclef "Clef"
Jean) whose The Score (1996) fused hip-hop with jazz,
rhythm'n'blues and reggae. Even more sophisticated was
Wyclef Jean (1)'s first solo project, The Carnival (1997),
a virtual tour of the black world, from Cuba to New Orleans
to Jamaica to Africa, boasting eccentric arrangements.
(Shawn Carter), the most commercially successful hip-hop
artist of the era, epitomized the state of the art, from
the gangsta-rap album Reasonable Doubt (1996) to the eclectic
double album The Blueprint: The Gift & the Curse (2002),
produced by Kanye West.
York rap was also resurrected by the success of Earl "DMX"
Simmons' It's Dark and Hell Is Hot (1997).
Angeles' trio Abstract Tribe Unique offered a lyrical
blend of soul and jazz on Mood Pieces (1998).
for Philadelphia-born Bahamadia (Antonia Reed), whose
Kollage (1996) was a smooth, laid-back exercise in recasting
the soul-jazz ballad into the context of rap music.
hip-hop duo All Natural (rapper David "Capital D"
Kelly and dj Tony "Tone B Nimble" Fields), members
of the "Family Tree" posse, offered passionate
raps on No Additives No Preservatives (1998).
the turn of the century New York unleashed the creative
geniuses of the AntiPop Consortium (1), whose Tragic Epilogue
(2000) created a new genre ("digital hip-hop"?)
by wedding rap with the new aesthetics of "glitch"
music, and of Ian Bavitz, alias Aesop Rock (1), whose
third album Float (2000) overflew with eccentric arrangements
and haunting textures. Sensational delivered nightmarish,
stoned, warped, non-linear rapping over lo-fi beats on
Loaded With Power (1997).
York-based spoken-word artist and hip-hop producer Mike
Ladd (1) was more interested in sculpting a musical background
to his poetry than in beats and rhymes on Easy Listening
4 Armageddon (1997) and especially Welcome to the Afterfuture
most significat stylistic revolution of New York rap came
with Dalek (3), the project of rapper Will Brooks and
producer Alap "Oktopus" Momin. The five lengthy
songs of Negro Necro Nekros (1998) and the electronic
ethnic ambient noise hodgepodges of From Filthy Tongue
of Gods and Griots (2002) delivered a baroque psychedelic
version of Public Enemy's creative chaos. Dalek thrived
halfway between the neurotic and the transcendental, the
same way that industrial music did in the late 1970s.
Absence (2005) was explosive like a shrapnel, dense like
a lava stream and, still, elegant like a peacock's tail.
But this was barely hip hop at all. It was just layers
of sounds and noises.
for the development of an atmospheric pseudo-dance genre
was instrumental hip-hop.
hip-hop was largely legitimized by a Los Angeles native
resident in London, DJ Shadow (1), born Josh Davis. A
legendary turntablist, Davis used prominent bass lines
and scratches to detonate his extended singles Entropy
(1993) and In/Flux (1993), and basically bridged classical
music and hip-hop on elaborate, multi-part compositions
such as What Does Your Soul Look Like (1995). Endtroducing
(1996) was possibly the first respectable album of all-instrumental
hip-hop, entirely composed on the sampler but nonetheless
dub-tinged soundscapes of New York's Skiz "Spectre"
Fernando (1) were best deployed on the imposing gothic,
post-apocalyptic trilogy of The Illness (1995), The Second
Coming (1997) and The End (1999), each of them the hip-hop
equivalent of a William Blake poem.
DJ Shadow and Spectre, instrumental, sample-based hip-hop
became a genre of its own. Other instigators were Japanese
dj DJ Krush, whose jazzy style shone on Strictly Turntablised
(1994) and Ki-Oku (1998), featuring trumpeter Toshinori
Kondo; and Herbalizer, London-based disc-jockeys Jake
Wherry and Ollie "Teeba" Trattles, whose most
daring experiment was Very Mercenary (1999).
Francisco-based disc-jockey and virtuoso of the mixing
board Dan "the Automator" Nakamura (1) sculpted
Dr Octagon (1995), a collaboration with rapper Kool Keith
and turntablist Richard "Q-Bert" Quitevis, Handsome
Boy Modeling School's So How's Your Girl (1999), with
Prince Paul, and the science-fiction concept album Deltron
3030 (2000), with rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and
turntablist Kid Koala.
Shadow also helped create a new artistic figure: the turntablist.
As more and more genres adopted the turntable as an instrument,
it was inevitable that "virtuosi" began to appear.
Atlanta's DJ Faust (1) was first to record an all-scratching
album, Man Or Myth (1998). While he never realized a significant
record, drum'n'bass specialist DJ Craze (Nicaraguan-born
Arith Delgado) stunned the crowds of Miami with his acrobatic
routines at the end of the decade.
York's quartet of turntablists X-Ecutioners (1), featuring
turntablists Robert "Swift" Aguilar and Anthony
"Roc Raida" Williams, marked a nostalgic return
to the era of virtuoso scratching with the elaborate performances
of X-Pressions (1997), while Rob Swift (1)'s solo albums
Soulful Fruit (1997) and the jazz tour de force of The
Ablist (1999) were creating a new place in music for the
most influential dj collective of all times, Invisibl
Skratch Piklz, consisted of turntablists from the San
Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento area of Latino and
Philipino descent: Richard "Q-Bert" Quitevis,
who also released the sci-fi concept album Wave Twisters
(1998), "Mixmaster" Mike Schwartz, who also
released Anti-Theft Device (1998) with producer Naut Humon
(of Rhythm And Noise), Philippines-native Dave "D-Styles"
Cuasito of the "Beat Junkies" crew, who debuted
solo with Phantazmagorea (2002), a collection of songs
composed entirely from scratching, Ritche "Yogafrog"
Desuasido, "Mixmaster Mike" Schwartz, Jon "Shortkut
Cruz, Lou "DJ Disk" Quintanilla, etc. Starting
with Invasion of the Octopus People (1996), this collective
of scratch virtuosi developed a separate art of DJ-ing.
Human (1), a San Francisco-based trio led by turntablist
Carlos "DJ Quest" Aguiler, played sophisticated
jams and adopted a technique of live sampling to continuously
reinvents their compositions during live performances.
The improvised music of Live Human Featuring DJ Quest
(1997), bridged the gap between hip-hop and jazz better
than any fusion or crossover project.
turntablist Kid Koala (Eric San), a spiritual disciple
of Coldcut's sound collages, downplayed his virtuoso show
on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (2000) with an irriverent anarchic
"DJ Logic" Kibler (1) contributed to redefine
the turntablist as a jazz improviser on Project Logic
(1999) and especially Anomaly (2001). DJ Logic seamlessly
integrated the noise of his turntable with the instruments
of his jazz combo (flute, saxophone, organ, violin, organ,
notable albums of abstract instrumental hip-hop included:
Peanut Butter Breaks (1994), by San Jose-based dj Chris
"Peanut Butter Wolf" Manak, Soulmates (2000),
by Los Angeles' Elvin "Nobody" Estela, One Three
(2001), by Michigan's Tadd "Dabrye" Mullinix,
Neutrino (2004), by Japanese duo Neutrino (Atsuhiro Murakami
and Hideki Kuroda), etc.
Los Angeles, Busdriver's white producer Daedelus (Alfred
Weisberg-Roberts) painted the disjointed murals of Invention
(2002), mixing hip-hop beats, sci-fi electronica and orchestral
kitsch; an art that he refined until culminating in the
elegant retro parade of Exquisite Corpse (2005), where
the samples of orchestral music of the 1930s came to constitute
the musical equivalent of a collective stream of consciousness.
by New York's "illbient" scene, a number of
djs aimed for a hip-hop that could transcend hip-hop,
that is for a new (ambient, psychological, free-form)
form fo art founded on the marriage of poetry and sound.
Ohio-born dj Boom Bip (Bryan Hollon), a self-described
"anti-dj", well impersonated the sound sculptor
and collage assembler of the new wave of hip-hop with
the mind-boggling exercise in hip-hop counterpoint of
Seed to Sun (2002).
the 1990s, white rap acts caught up with blacks. Initially,
white musicians such as Beck didn't quite get the whole
point of rapping. Thus, for example, Everlast's Whitey
Ford Sings The Blues (1998) merely used hip-hop as a rhythmic
background for their folk-style meditations. On their
debut album G. Love & Special Sauce (1994), Philadelphia's
G. Love & Special Sauce, led by guitarist and vocalist
Garrett Dutton, bridged vintage talking blues and contemporary
of rap began in earnest with the most celebrated white
rapper of the era, Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem (2), whose
The Slim Shady (1999) and The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
unleashed angry rants at American society and resonated
with the masses of disaffected white kids from the suburbia.
whole model of the "singer songwriter" was revolutionized
by the advent of white rappers such as Eminem: they introduced
not only the syncopated rhyming but also the brutal subjects
of rap music to an audience of middle-class white kids.
of the most influential figures at the turn of the millennium
was white producer El-P, aka El Producto, born Jaime Meline
in New York. He founded Company Flow (1), whose Funcrusher
Plus (1997) and especially the instrumental Little Johnny
From The Hospital (1999) were the most were the most bombastic,
ebullient and explosive works of the time, and crafted
the soundscape of Cannibal Ox (1)'s The Cold Vein (2001),
a project risen from the ashes of Company Flow (Vast Aire
and Vordul Megilah), before releasing his first solo album,
the neurotic sci-fi concept Fantastic Damage (2002). Throughout
his work, EL-P harked back to the anthemic, ebullient
and explosive mix of Public Enemy.
influence was visible on Rjyan "Cex" Kidwell's
fusion of hip-hop, pop and avantgarde electronics on Being
(2), a trio of white hip-hop artists from the Oakland-based
"Anticon" collective (producer David "Odd
Nosdam" Madson and rappers Adam "Doseone"
Drucker and Yoni "why?" Wolf), transcended the
canon of hip-hop music on the six-movement cLOUDDEAD (2001)
and Ten (2004). They offered hip-hop distorted through
the lenses of a dystopian vision or through the nervous
breakdown of an urban werewolf. The sound effects constituted
the core, not just the periphery, of the music, at times
even reminiscent of ambient music and industrial music.
"Sole" Holland, the main brain behind the "Anticon"
collective, unfolded his erudite stream of consciousness
with punk fervor over a fluctuating layer of samples and
live instruments on Bottle Of Humans (2000) and Selling
Live Water (2003).
white member of Oakland's "Anticon" posse, Brendon
"Alias" Whitney wed introspective lyrics and
atmospheric downtempo electronics on The Other Side of
the Looking Glass (2002), and moved towards noir jazz
with the instrumental album Muted (2003).
also nursed the talent of frenzied rapper Sage Francis
(1), Paul Franklin, the best lyricist of his generation,
whose Personal Journals (2002) and A Healthy Distrust
(2005) became the classics of "emo hip-hop",
his interference of political and personal discourses
enhanced by a new generation of beatmakers and producers.
hip-hop producer and rapper Richard "Buck 65"
Terfry was, at heart, an existential hobo whose laments
relied on piano and guitar as much as on the traditional
hip-hop arsenal. The 45-minute long piece Language Arts
(1997) and the concept album Vertex (1999) displayed a
unique art of stark storytelling and philosophizing, mixing
folk into hip-hop.
border between vocal and instrumental tracks was blurred
in the wasteland sculpted by Canadian dj Robert Sixtoo
Squire (2), a member of the "Anticon" collective,
on the lengthy jams The Canada Project, off Songs I Hate
and Other People Moments (2001), Duration Project, off
Duration (2002), The Mile-End Artbike, off Antogonist
Survival Kit (2003), Storm Clouds & Silver Linings
and Boxcutter Emporium, off Chewing On Glass & Other
Miracle Cures (2004). The guesting MCs are merely part
of the murky, downtempo, post-industrial production, just
like the samples, the electronics, the fractured beats
and the live instrumentation.
white producer Prefuse 73 (1), Scott Herren, also active
as post-rocker Savath & Savalas, heralded laptop-based
hip-hop with Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (2001),
a tour de force of fractured, warped, incoherent stream
of consciousness that mixed glitch music, deconstructed
vocals and jazz patterns. Two albums later, Herren gave
his project a more organic and humane face by employing
a vast assortment of voices on Surrounded By Silence (2005).
white producer Dabrye (Tadd Mullinix) created a new instrumental
format out of hip-hop, funk, jazz and electronica on One/Three
State is a trio of college-educated white female rappers
from New York (Julie "Hesta Prynn" Potash, Correne
"Guinea Love" Spero and Robyn "DJ Sprout"
Goodmark) that rediscovered the Beastie Boys sound on
Dying In Stereo (2003).
Fun Action Committee, featuring Aesop Rock's producer
Tony "Blockhead" Simon, penned the goofy hip-hopera
Let's Get Serious (2003).
rapper Streets (Mike Skinner), became the English equivalent
of Eminem with Original Pirate Material (2002), although
his music was grounded on "garage" and his lyrics
were frequently sung.
Francisco's Gold Chains, aka Topher LaFata, mixed rock,
reggae and techno on Gold Chains (2001).
the project of Minneapolis-based rapper Sean "Slug"
Daley and producer Anthony "Ant" Davis, coined
an introspective "emo-rap" on God Loves Ugly
in all, white hip-hop music was more influential on white
popular music than on hip-hop proper: it grafted the production,
rhythmic and rhyming techniques of black hip-hop music
onto the old singer-songwriter genre (whether political,
introspective or sociological). The political "discourse"
of white hip-hop remained fundamentally different from
the discourse of black hip-hop. The former was conditioned
by the tradition of Euro-American political idealism,
which, instead, was never truly part of the Afro-American
discourse, which has been traditionally centered on civil
rights. Ditto for analytic/existential introspection,
which was never truly part of the black repertoire (the
blues was a kind of atmospheric introspection, and, in
any case, a community-wide introspection, an "inter-spection").
Even the most extreme cases (such as Eminem) displayed
a psychoanalytic quality that was generally missing in
black hip-hop. Ditto for the sociological analysis, which
was more rational than antagonistic: white rappers displayed
an analytic approach to refounding society as opposed
to the cynicism and fatalism of black rappers. To summarize,
white hip-hop and black hip-hop had different purposes
and functions. Ultimately, it was a matter of human geography:
the suburbs as opposed to the ghettos. White people had
an "American Dream" that is still very much
part of their subconscious (whether one succeeded or failed):
black people's "dream" was still Martin Luther's
dream, a wildly different kind of dream.
was the nickname grafted to the smooth and sophisticated
rhythm'n'blues ballad of the late 1980s, best personified
by Janet Jackson (Michael's sister) and Whitney Houston.
Jackson debuted with Control (1986), crafted by producers
Jimmy Jam (James Harris) and Terry Lewis that offered
urban soul music tinged with hip-hop beats to propel her
sensual whisper. Houston exploded with Saving All My Love
(1985), How Will I Know (1985), Greatest Love Of All (1985),
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (1987), Didn't We Almost Have
It All (1987), One Moment In Time (1988).
soul came to dominate pop music as well, thanks to the
stars of Shalamar's singer Jody Watley (from Los Angeles),
Brandy Norwood (also from the Los Angeles area) and Macy
Gray (born Natalie McIntyre in Ohio and based in Los Angeles),
revealed by the moribund growl of I Try (1999), an rousing
ballad composed with keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, bassist
David Wilder and guitarist Jinsoo Lim. The fact that black
female artists such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson
came to dominate the charts and set new sale records was,
if nothing else, proof that black artists and female artists
had made tremendous progress in being accepted by a world
that used to worship only male white idols such as the
Beatles and Elvis Presley.
soul became a much more rhythmic affair in 1988, after
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced Janet Jackson's Control
(1986), Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface"
Edmonds produced the Pebbles' Pebbles and after Teddy
Riley produced Keith Sweat's Make It Last Forever. Finally,
Teddy Riley's own group Guy and Bobby Brown's second album,
Don't Be Cruel (1988), also produced by L.A. Reid and
Babyface, fused urban soul with hip-hop to create "new
jack swing". Bobby Brown had beeen a member of teenage-group
New Edition, whose biggest hit, Cool It Now (1984), was
probably the first to use rapping in a pop-soul context.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis topped everybody else with Janet
Jackson's second album, Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989). Later,
the style was perfected by producer Sean "Puffy"
Combs on Mary J. Blige's What's the 411? (1992), and by
producers/writers Tim "Timbaland" Mosley and
Melissa "Missy" Elliott on the second album
by teen-idol Aaliyah (Haughton), One In A Million (1996).
Timbaland pioneered the technique of custom-creating the
beat via digital keyboards instead of adding a break-beat
to a sample.
most successful of the new jack swing artists were Philadelphia's
Boyz II Men, who established their "hip-wop"
style (new jack swing plus four-part harmonies a` la doo-wop)
with Cooleyhighharmony (1991), produced by Michael Bivins
of the New Edition, and churned out colossal hits such
as the Babyface-penned End of the Road (1992), that broke
a record held by Elvis Presley since 1956, I'll Make Love
to You (1994), another Babyface creation (which even beat
the previous record), On Bended Knee (1994), produced
by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (a hit which beat their
own record), and One Sweet Day (1995), a duet with Mariah
Carey (which, again, broke their own previous record).
The era of new jack swing ended with Usher (Raymond)'s
My Way (1997), produced by Jermaine Dupri, Babyface and
Sean "Puffy" Combs, and by multi-instrumentalist
Robert "R" Kelly, whose double album R (1998)
marked a revival of classic soul music.
spiritual message and the Caribbean-pop-rap fusion of
London-born Des'ree Weekes came to focus on I Ain't Movin'
in 1988 by Los Angeles writers/producers Denzil Foster
and Thomas McElroy (both former Club Nouveau), the female
quartet En Vogue rejuvinated the concept of the "girl
group" for the video age with their second album
Funky Divas (1992). However, the new vanguard of female
rhythm'n'blues groups was represented by TLC, the brainchild
of producer Dallas Austin, that debuted with Ooooooohhh...
(1992). They, in turn, inspired Houston's Destiny's Child
(featuring the rising star of Beyonce Knowles), who came
to dominate the charts at the turn of the century.
Minneapolis sextet Mint Condition was the most competent
combo of mainstream rhythm'n'blues throughout the 1990s,
from Breakin' My Heart (1991) to What Kind of Man Would
I Be (1996).
revival of soul music, updated to the technology of the
hip-hop era, was heralded by D'Angelo's Brown Sugar (1995),
Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (1996), a sumptuous Marvin
Gaye-style romantic concept album, and Erykah Badu's Baduizm
(1997). In fact, it had been predated by, yet again, the
influential production duo of L.A. Reid and Babyface,
for example on Toni Braxton's two massive bestsellers,
Toni Braxton (1993) and Secrets (1996), the latter containing
one of the most famous ballads of all times (Un-break
My Heart, composed by Diane Warren).
Andre 3000 (Benjamin) rediscovered Prince's erotic funk-soul
music on The Love Below (2003).
Fugees' vocalist Lauryn Hill (1) delivered in a versatile,
booming voice the elegant and sincere allegories of The
Miseducation Of (1998), across a broad stylistic range.
singer-rapper-songwriter Melissa "Missy" Elliott
(1) and Virginia's producer Tim "Timbaland"
Mosley (members of the hip-hop production crew "Da
Bassment") proved to be a lethal combination: Elliott's
sultry vocals, gymnastic raps and female-centric lyrics
coupled with Timbaland's stuttering, digital grooves created
a mood that was simultaneously sensitive, confrontational,
hedonistic, stark and futuristic on Supa Dupa Fly (1997).
The duo veered towards a format that mixed freely intimate
ballads, dancefloor tracks and angry raps on So Addictive
the turn of the century, Kelis Rogers inherited the crown
of Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott with her feminist-tinged
fusion of hip-hop and rhythm'n'blues on Kaleidoscope (1999),
aggressively produced by The Neptunes (Chad Hugo and Pharrell
laid-back pop-rapper Nelly (Cornell Haynes) became the
genre's biggest seller with Country Grammar (2000), Nellyville
(2002) and the double album Sweatsuit (2004).
and pianist Alicia "Keys" Cook dramatically
increased the level of musicianship with her Songs in
A Minor (2001).
was the age of superproducers The Neptunes (Chad Hugo
and Pharrell Williams) and Tim "Timbaland" Mosley,
both based in Virginia Beach, both masters of the new
digital technology based on the "Pro Tools"
software introduced in 1991. The former were emblematic
of the cold and thin sound of the digital age (as opposed
to the warm and thick sound of classic pop, soul and rock
music), while the latter introduced the sound of drum'n'bass
into pop and soul music. Both owed a lot to Teddy Riley,
the Harlem producer who had made Virginia Beach the Mecca
of the new sound in the first place, when he opened his
"Future Recording Studios" there in 1991.
white hip-hop became more competitive, black hip-hop reached
a creative crisis that forced the new generations to focus
on sound manipulation rather than on messages.
production team The Neptunes (Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams),
already among the most successful hip-hop producers, formed
N.E.R.D. with rapper Sheldon "Shay" Haley. In
Search Of (2001), remixed the following year with live
instrumentation, and especially Fly or Die (2004) indulged
in a neurotic melange of sonic stereotypes and production
techniques of metal, funk, soul and pop.
Californian duo Blackalicious (rapper Tim "Gift of
Gab" Parker and producer Xavier "Chief Xcel"
Mosley) crafted a lyrical and nostalgic sound with Nia
Dylan Mills, better known as Dizzee Rascal (1), a member
of the "Roll Deep Crew", promoted a new genre
("grime"), an abrasive version of "garage"
(itself a variant of drum'n'bass), with Boy in Da Corner
(2003). The other British "next big thing" of
the era was Sri Lankan-born agit-prop chanteuse Maya Arulpragasam,
or M.I.A. for short, whose Arular (2005) simply mixed
hip-hop, reggae and pop, while fostering a hard-line ideology
that embraced both the political and the sexual, part
Jello Biafra and part Madonna.
decadence of West-Coast rap was well represented by the
groups that were supposed to rejuvinate it, and that,
in fact, failed to: Dilated Peoples and Jurassic 5, whose
enthusiastic and amusing Quality Control (2000) and especially
Power in Numbers (2002) amounted de facto to a revival
of old-fashioned rap. Even Madvillain (1)'s Madvillainy
(Stones Throw, 2004), the much publicized collaboration
between New York-based rapper Daniel "MF Doom"
Dumile (the former Zen Love of KMD) and Los Angeles-based
producer Otis "Madlib" Jackson, was mostly an
impressive tour de force of production techniques; the
same skills that Jackson had already displayed on several
solo recordings, notably Quasimoto's The Unseen (2000)
and Yesterdays New Quintet's Angles Without Edges (2001).
significant albums released at the turn of the century
included: Seven Eyes Seven Horns (1999), by producer Phillip
"Scaramanga" Collington, who worked on Kool
Keith's Dr Octagon project; Walter "Killah Priest"
Reed's spiritual tour de force Heavy Mental (1998), from
New York; Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's Power of
the Dollar (1999), from New York; Supreme Clientele (2000)
and The Pretty Toney Album (2004), by Wu-Tang Clan's member
Dennis "Ghostface Killah" Coles; the Metabolics'
M-Virus (1999), a New York duo produced by Bimos; Christopher
"Ludacris" Bridges' Back For The First Time
(2000), from Atlanta; Coming Forth By Day - The Book Of
The Dead (2000), by New Jersey's jazz-hop crew Scienz
of Life; Let's Get Ready (2000), the fifth album by New
Orleans rapper Mystikal, a pupil of Master P who adopted
a James Brown-ish persona; People Under the Stairs' second
album Question in the Form of an Answer (2000), a collection
of jams almost entirely created from funk and jazz samples,
the project of Los Angeles Mike "Double K" Turner
and Chris "Thes One" Portugal, bent on reappropriating
the D.I.Y. aesthetics of early party-rap; Black Mamba
Serums (2004), by former Company Flow rapper Justin "Bigg
Jus" Ingleton; Ty Upwards' Awkward (2001), an original
Afro-funk-jazz-rap fusion from Britain; The End of the
Beginning (2003), by veteran Los Angeles rapper Murs,
a former member of 3 Melancholy Gypsies (or 3MG) and Mystik
Journeymen's "Living Legends" collective, produced
by 9th Wonder; Little Brother's The Listening (2003),
the North Carolina-based brainchild of 9th Wonder; Dudley
Perkins' A Lil Light (2003), another oneiric production
by Madlib; etc.
new auteurs included: Kansas City's Aaron "Tech N9ne"
Yates, with the horrorcore rap-rock fusion of The Calm
Before The Storm (1999), Anghellic (2001) and Absolute
Power (2002); New York's Terrence "Tes" Tessora,
with the apocalyptic post-industrial soundscapes of the
Take Home (2000) and x2 (2003); New York's Talib Kweli,
with Quality (2002); Canada's K-OS (Kheaven Brereton),
with Exit (2003); etc.
the project of Ohio-based producer Ramble Jon Krohn, turned
Deadringer (Def Jux, 2002) into a tour de force of cinematic
collages of samples and wicked stuttering beats, dilating
and deforming Sixties soundtracks, smooth jazz, soul themes,
gloomy atmospheres. On the lighter side, Los Angeles'
rapper Regan "Busdriver" Farquar, mixed goofy
energetic scat-tinged rapping and eclectic beats on Temporary
Forever (2002). Chicago's Kanye West produced Jay-Z, Talib
Kweli and Alicia Keys and then fashioned one of the most
personal concepts of the era, The College Dropout (2004).