It was as if, in the blink of an eye, hip-hop had shed nearly all of its underground innocence to become one of the biggest threats to mainstream media since rock n’ roll first appeared in the fifties. Yes, the nineties was the decade in which hip-hop made its first true mainstream breakthrough and soon it became too big of a cultural movement for one city to call it’s own. Although many godfathers of the Golden Age hailed from New York, the rise of gangsta rap would nearly eclipse the foundations they laid as the West Coast scene continued to dominate throughout the earlier part of an era made infamous by the bloody coastal feud that ensued.
But despite the violent image that would permanently stain the game, there were many artists that found success without a hardcore brand attached to their name and thrived in a time where artists and fans alike were forced to choose sides. There’s no denying the path that these legends have carved in the pages of hip-hop history and it’s thanks to them that this urban art form was able to change the face of pop music forever and remain an influential force to be reckoned with. So get familiar with your influence’s influence in this look back at hip-hop of the 90s.
East Coast vs. West Coast
The surge that gangsta rap made in the late eighties continued on as the West Coast began to separate itself from the rest of the pack. The hard hitting beats were slowly being replaced by a sound that was far more laid back, one that could keep people on the dance floor without losing any of the vicious edge that L.A. artists had become known for. I’m talking of course about the one and only G-Funk, pioneered by producer extraordinaire, Dr Dre, and made famous by artists such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G and the legendary Tupac Shakur.
The deep bass and high-pitched synthesisers would prove to be far more commercially viable and it’s popularity easily overshadowed the rest of the empire. Rappers on the other side of the country remained true to their origins by keeping the focus on skilful lyricism and hardcore beats and effortlessly popped back up on the nation’s radar when Wu-Tang Clan stepped into the ring with their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
They weren’t alone as a twenty-year-old Nas would burst onto the scene a year later with Illmatic and helped to usher in the East Coast Renaissance, which saw rap music get elevated to its creative peak. The spotlight almost shifted permanently with the arrival of The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) and his profound success that brought the much-needed gangsta element the East Coast had been craving.
The first to strike in this epic clash was Tim Dog with his diss track F–k Compton in 1991. It seemed to him as if record companies were flat out rejecting East Coast artists in favour of the more popular West Coast sound, prompting Tim to add this track to his debut album, even going far as beating on Eazy-E and Dr Dre lookalikes in the music video. Many responses would follow, including one from Dr Dre himself in the form of F–k With Dre Day, which featured various artists ready to fire back at Tim Dog and the East Coast.
Fans and artists soon began to take sides but at the centrepiece of this rivalry stood Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls and their respective record labels, Death Row and Bad Boy. First, Tupac accused Biggie (and other members of Bad Boy) of orchestrating the assault and robbery which left him in the hospital and was quick to bring it up in his next interview. It didn’t help that Biggie Smalls released a song soon after entitled Who Shot Ya?
Although he claimed that it was recorded long before and that the timing was purely coincidental, Tupac (and fans of hip-hop) saw it differently and interpreted it as a direct taunt. This prompted the rapper to release an onslaught of tracks aimed at B.I.G. and anyone else associated with Bad Boy, which fueled media interest and polarised the music industry as battle lines were drawn. Following the death of both rappers, peace summits were held in a bid to end the dispute and restore hip-hop to a greater level of respect.
Throughout the decade, hip-hop began to diversify in even more ways as different styles emerged from parts of the United States and the rest of the world. OutKast made their debut in the late nineties and helped to pioneer southern rap along with many other artists from Atlanta, Houston and New Orleans like Master P and the No Limit posse.
Hip-hop’s influence also began to spread into other genres around this time, giving birth to Neo Soul and cementing its relationship with rock ‘n roll and heavy metal in the form of bands like Rage Against The Machine and Limp Bizkit. Both fusions gained mainstream popularity throughout the nineties and crossed over easily by attracting a very diverse audience.
The Rest Is History…
Many look back to this as the era of real hip-hop and it’s hard not to miss the days when pure lyricism was more important than the beat. Even though G-funk was defined by the instrumentals, there was no denying the skills that Snoop Dogg exhibits with his easygoing flow that has captivated generations of fans, and no matter which coastal faction you represented, everybody loved Bone Thugs N Harmony (I mean, who doesn’t love those guys?). So make sure you get a dose of hip-hop in its heydey.
Got any questions on the music of this era? Wanna tell us about your favourite artists? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com
Check Out These Artists on iTunes