The 90s era was dedicated to the most iconic musicians and moments in history, but it was a golden age for a genre such as Hip-Hop. The golden age of hip-hop was a new wave of talents, including rappers who featured diversity, innovation, quality, and influence. Some of the most famous artists of this era include L.L. Cool J, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Juice Crew, etc. Therefore, let us dig a bit into history and discover why the 90s was the golden age of hip-hop.
The reason the 90s was known as the golden age of hip-hop was that every new one that came out would one way or another impact the music industry as a whole. As albums came out, things became more refined, and it was a time when talent and skill were toe to toe to take the lead. Over time, the music was getting better, and so were the lyrics. At the time, there were so many groundbreaking albums coming out that you couldn’t ignore them. It was Notorious B.I.G. with his earth-shattering album, then Snoop Dogg with his in collaboration with Dr.Dre and so on. It was a time when every new single reinvented the game.
Furthermore, the golden age was a time when samples were heavily used. The ability to sample different beats using patterns and riffs gave birth to several producers and D.J.s, who would produce some of the best music. These producers and D.J.s did not need any formal training and just learned the trade by mixing and sampling different beats. Additionally, with mentors like Master P and many others, you would not have any problem becoming a master in your craft. The samples that were derived usually belonged to genres such as funk, jazz, soul, and rock and roll.
Perhaps the most significant thing about hip-hop during the 90s was its influence. Everywhere you looked, there was either a hit single or an album waiting. Back then, these albums typically had a message. You would hardly come across an album or a single that was not pointed towards a cause or a person. Many singles were politically motivated, while others would focus on captivity, drugs, racism, and many other prevailing issues. In many cases, you would hear rappers calling out and using derogatory words for the police because they believed that the law enforcement agencies were nothing but puppets who were there to suppress black people.
Brands approaching rappers
When we talk about the influence of hip-hop and particularly the rappers, it would be hard for us to imagine the intensity. However, if you came to know that giants like Adidas approached hip-hop artists and groups back in the day for a new line of shoes, you might realize how big of a movement it was. Initially, brands were a bit skeptical about rappers.
They did not believe that rappers were that big to pull in the money. But as time would prove, the brands witnessed an ever-growing demand for hip-hop music and to the point where people were copying the fashion and attire. For instance, 2Pac with his signature bandana look on his forehead. This look gave him a gangster vibe, but it made his fans obsessed with his look. Run D.M.C. was a group that loved Adidas. It did not take time for Adidas to notice the support. When Run D.M.C. wore Adidas sneakers without laces, it became a huge trend, and the brand’s popularity and sales increased twofold.
Then in 1986, Run D.M.C. released its hit “My Adidas,” and with the success of the single, it was crystal clear that the collaboration with the brand was a genius move. Following the trend, other prominent rappers such as Jay-Z and Kanye West would follow the lead and illustrate the increasing market power of rappers who became a money symbol for the brands.
Groups that defined the Golden Age
Juice Crew was one of the most fundamental additions to the golden age of hip-hop. It was formed by Marley Marl, who was a notable innovator and a hip-hop producer at the time. He also founded Cold Chillin Records and brought several different hip-hop acts such as Big Daddy Kane, Masta Ace, and MC Shan, under one umbrella.
Juice crew was an important force that introduced itself to the world through its advances in lyrical technique and distinctive personalities. With time, the crew saw itself involved in diss tracks, and from there again, a new wave was born that involved releasing them almost every other day, which was another way to highlight lyrical ability and get heard and popular in no time.
Boogie Down Productions
Boogie Down Productions came into the spotlight when a popular rapper name Shante released a diss track titled ‘Have a Nice Day’ in which she pointed towards two principal members of Boogie Down Productions who were a new group rising from the Bronx. It was because Boogie Down Productions had developed a disagreement with MC Shan of Juice Crew.
The first album released by Boogie Down Productions ‘Criminal Minded’ had a strong message. Furthermore, KRS-One followed the lead and started with imitating the Beatles “Hey Jude.” The rap scene at the time would display violence through guns, the hustle of drug dealers, and the notoriousness of the streets, which other rappers failed to touch.
Eric B. and Rakim
Eric B. and Rakim were other important duos that helped shape the 90s rap scene. The duo appeared on the scene when Marley Marl produced “Eric. B is president” and “My Melody.” The idea behind the album was to reflect changes in street life, and it was quite evident from the album cover with the two wearing large gold chains, surrounded by money. Rakim was generally regarded as the most-cutting edge M.C.s of the new school era. His lyrical ability and ideas were way ahead of the prevalent rap scene at the time.
He would not discuss and talk about him being better than anyone else; instead, he would focus on a better cause and made sure that people heard him. His beats combined with lyrics were sure to get him noticed in a very short amount of time.
Lastly, Public Enemy stepped into the spotlight after being reluctantly convinced to sign to a record label. It debuted the official Public Enemy logo with a hatted boy in a sniper’s cross-hairs. The album became a huge success in Europe, which was quite unusual for hip-hop albums at that time. Even though Public Enemy’s presence as compared to the other groups was a bit less but it made its mark with the first album ‘Bumrush’. Public Enemy had a voice and a message, and they knew how to communicate it. Therefore, Public Enemy was bound to make a name for itself.
One thing about the 90s is for sure, and that is, there was no scarcity of talent, but was that enough to term it a golden age of hip-hop? No. In fact, it was about a message, and that was not only limited to hip-hop, but it also spawned across every genre. Be it Bob Dylan, Lauryn Hill, or Freddy Mercury; everything had a message. So while everyone fought for the top place, it eventually refined music to the point where it made the 90s golden age of hip-hop