The 1990s are often referred to as the ‘Golden’ era of Hip Hop. It was a moment of unprecedented musical creativity focused on America’s East and West Coasts. The major record labels had yet to realise the dollar (dollar) bills (ya’ll) that could be squeezed from the emerging scene. Hip Hop was honest, raw, powerful and exciting. But the violent deaths of two of the era’s biggest stars, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G, changed everything.
The deaths had occurred at the apex of Gangsta Rap, and in the aftermath Hip Hop understandably shifted its emphasis from gritty realism to partying and materialistic posturing. This change combined with the new corporate presence in Hip Hop led to the rise of the throwaway, bling obsessed style of the 2000s. Alienated aficionados of 90’s East/West Coast Hip Hop were unanimous in their response, Hip Hop was dead. But they were wrong, very wrong.
The rise of independent labels, advances in home recording technology and the proliferation of the internet, means that today there are a multitude of voices out there waiting to be heard, raw and exciting like their predecessors. Hip Hop is experiencing a renaissance in 2011 parallel to the surge of the 90s. So with that in mind it is time to take a look at some of the icons of 90s Hip Hop and to see which of today’s up and comers are continuing their legacies.
Like Nas, Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco is a lyricist in the truest sense. The list of rappers that can match Lupe and Nas when it comes to wordplay is a short one. They are Hip Hop purists for whom integrity and intelligence is far more important than sales.
Just as the ever outspoken Nas created his share of controversy, so too has Lupe. He recently made headlines due to a very public spat with his label, Atlantic Records. Lupe claimed that Atlantic had forced him to release the album Lasers, even though they knew he was unhappy with the finished product. The frustrated artist publicly expressed his anger at being trapped in a contract that forced him to release subpar, watered down music.
B.O.B.’s worldwide hit Airplanes was originally a Lupe Fiasco song. Atlantic demanded that he recorded it for release as Lasers’ first single. Ever defiant Lupe purposely recorded awful versions of the song so that eventually the Label submitted and passed the song onto B.O.B. Nas would certainly admire Lupe’s refusal to compromise.
They are deviants with a ‘don’t give a fuck attitude’ that resonates through their music
Wu Tang Clan/Odd Future
A lot of comparison has been made between Wu Tang Clan and Odd Future. Some may consider it blasphemy to compare a bunch of LA skater teens to the iconic Wu Tang Clan. But as time has gone on Odd Future have earned respect from even the most devout Hip Hop purist. As their name would suggest, they are odd, just as Wu Tang Clan were considered odd when they first appeared on the scene.
It’s hard to listen to their dark, menacing, brooding style without thinking back to the first time you heard 36 Chambers. There is something mysterious and dangerous about Odd Future. They are deviants with a ‘don’t give a fuck attitude’ that resonates through their music and their anarchic live shows are reminiscent of the early 90s Wu Tang shows that saw venues all over the world shut down.
Just as Wu Tang was a group made up of several unique personalities with individual identities and styles, Odd Future’s members all stand out for different reasons. From the charismatic leader Tyler the Creator, to the supremely talented Frank Ocean, to the energetic Hodgy Beats there can be no denying that this is the most unique crew out there right now.
Snoop/ Wiz Khalifa
The tattooed Wiz may not have burst onto the scene as dramatically as Snoop did in the early 90s, but there can be no argument that he has taken the torch from the D.O double G. Wiz has more in common with Snoop’s fun loving party persona than his original gangbanging incarnation, and it is this laid back stoner presence that has helped him gain mainstream notoriety.
Despite the edgy nature of his earliest work, Wiz found his niche, like Snoop in his later work by embracing the more pleasurable elements of life. As Wiz has progressed Bongs and parties have replaced guns and shootouts as his main subject matter. His laid back, sing song sound seems to be more in tune with the Californian style than that of his native Pittsburgh. Just like Snoop, his music is characterised by catchy choruses and bucket loads of charisma.
Wiz is one of the few rappers you actually see smiling in photos and music videos. Like Snoop he is all about having a good time, smoking weed, partying and being surrounded by beautiful women. But don’t be fooled by his playful persona, when it comes to spitting lyrics to a hard beat, there are few that can match him.
Outkast/ Kid Cudi
“Genres? Fuck genres!” This has always been Outkast’s mantra when it comes to making music, and Kid Cudi clearly comes from the same school of thought. It was the Crookers remix of his incredible song Day ‘n’ Night that brought him worldwide attention. The original single and video show just what a unique and intriguing character he is, certainly not another identikit thug rapper. He is a post-Kanye example of a rapper believing that while he may technically rap, he does not have to make rap music.
Much like Outkast have experimented with various forms and philosophies when creating themed albums, Kid Cudi has proved to the world that he is fearless when it comes to creating a unique sound. His first album consisted of a blend of electro, prog rock and psychedelic funk that just shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. He is a risk taker, constantly changing to the point where his genuine unpredictability makes him one of the most exciting artists in any genre today.
From the Mafioso themes, to the lush, rolling, classical samples, it really feels like the album Biggie would have made in 2009
Notorious BIG/ Rick Ross
Aside from the obvious weight parallels, Miami’s Rick Ross shares more similarities with Biggie than you may think. Since bursting onto the scene with one of 2006’s biggest hits, Hustlin’, Rick Ross has brought Gangsta Rap back to the top of the charts. He also has more credibility than most mainstream Hip Hop artists and is one of the few rappers widely accepted to have gotten better with time.
Like Biggie, Rick Ross had a well publicised beef with one of the biggest stars of his era, 50 Cent, and did what no other rapper had done since 2003…. beat him. Whilst 50 Cent will be rich for the rest of his life, the demise of his rap career is in no small part thanks to Rick Ross.
2009’s Deeper than Rap solidified him as a Hip Hop superstar. The album conjures up memories of Biggie at his best: the bombastic voice, the effortless, raw flow and the witty wordplay. From the Mafioso themes, to the lush, rolling, classical samples, it really feels like the album Biggie would have made in 2009.
Surely the biggest Hip Hop story of 2010 was the emergence of Drake. The first Canadian rapper to gain mainstream recognition in the US, Drake would seem to have it all. He can sing as well any of the big names in R’n’B and can rap circles around the best Hip Hop has to offer without breaking a sweat. Few of the major names in Hip Hop can match him when it comes to raw talent, not even Jay Z himself.
But what these two men have in common is their approach to the ‘game’. The way they move in the industry, the decisions they have made and the music they have put out.
They both came into Hip Hop with money. Jay Z claims to have made his money from selling drugs and Drake made his money as a teen actor on the show Degrassi: The Next Generation. This financial independence afforded them a certain detachment from trends and an in-built confidence to do exactly what they want, how they want, when they want.
After his first album Reasonable Doubt was rejected by several labels that just ‘did not get it’ Jay Z simply paid for it to be released himself. Similarly when Drake was struggling to be taken seriously as a rapper by record execs, he used his own money to launch his career. He would go on to become the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have his music video featured on the influential American music station BET.
This may be a point of some contention, but just who can compare to Tupac?
This may be a point of some contention, but just who can compare to Tupac? This is not based on a fan boy love of the artist himself. There are those who claim he is overrated, elevated by martyrdom to a level of praise that is perhaps undeserved. Regardless of your opinion you have to recognise Tupac as one of the most important figures of that era. So who of the new batch can compare to that?
A rapper such as Lil’ Wayne would seem to have the right level of personality and impact, Kanye West shares the outspoken arrogant swagger, but ultimately neither of them could be said to be carrying on Tupac’s legacy. Perhaps it is because Tupac is arguably too born of his era and too unique a character to find an equivalent in today’s Hip Hop landscape. As with any kind of list or comparative piece there are bound to be arguments, everyone has their own opinion. So readers of the Sabotage Times, I pass this over to you.
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