If I have already lost your view of my credibility by the title, stick with me and remember, poet Tupac Shakur was born in East Harlem. Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Eric B. & Rakim, De La Soul, KRS-One, Nas and A Tribe Called Quest are just a few of the originators of brand new rhyme schemes and attitudes. They insured true hip-hop listeners that not only would they be listening to new innovative beats, but the grammar to back it up. Hip-hop, in my opinion, is based upon these characteristics in this order: lyricism, knowledge of syntax, flow, rhyme scheme, story-telling ability, validity, and lastly…the beat.
With the explosion of Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakims debut album in 1987, golden age hip-hop was born. The same year, N.W.A puts out a gold album which progressively rolls into the creation of three more legendary albums for the west coast until N.W.As breakup in 1991.
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album in 1990, was inspirational to many of the successes in the 1990’s hip-hop world. ATCQ has had steady accomplishments through 1998 and are expected to release a sixth album sometime in 2010. They have also been the headlining act in 2008 at the Rock the Bells concert series.
Follow the Leader; Eric B. & Rakim’s second, statistically best album would inspire their success through 1992 when they broke up because their contract with MCA records was due to expire. They both considered solo careers so Eric B. refused to sign the labels release contract in fear Rakim would abandon him.
In 1992 hip-hop music was changed forever. After breaking away from N.W.A Dr. Dre went on to make a solo career and release an unforgettable masterpiece, The Chronic. This album would forever intimidate east coast rappers and set the bar very high due to its masterful head-banging beats and gangster attitude.
The success spawned by The Chronic would soon be yesterday’s news when the calendar rolled over to 1993. Straight from Staten Island New York, Wu-Tang Clan drops one of the most influential hardcore hip-hop albums of all time, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The same year, the relentless west coast produces Doggystyle, another bomb in the hip-hop community by Snoop Doggy Dogg.
1994. I could not find enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe the significance of the year 1994 from a hip-hop standpoint. Illmatic was rapper Nas’ debut album when he was twenty-one years old. The only reason I mention his age is because Illmatic is the best rap album ever put out, and the fact that it was recorded when Nasir Jones was 20 years of age is mind boggling. With his use of two minutes of pure, Mafioso lyrics and flow in his very first verse as a rapper doesn’t convince you, the second verse where he does the exact same thing should. I’m talking, of course, about the “New York State of Mind”. And after this representation of unmerciful, unforgiving rap, Nas goes out and brings us eight more songs of it. He would then later release eight other hard-hitting, Mafioso rap albums.
1994 is nowhere near finished though; somebody has to be Ready to Die. That man was Christopher George Latore Wallace, also known as The Notorious B.I.G. The album Ready to Die is self-explanatory and is summed up in its title. This man is ready to die, so why not put out the most hardcore, lyrically gifted album the world has ever heard? I can honestly say that I’ve never been more jealous of another man. Biggie was the coolest cat to ever walk this earth, and would’ve been undoubtedly the best rapper ever if his demise didn’t occur three years later.
A year later in 1995 two more New York natives put out another two of the best hip-hop albums of all time. In April, Havoc and Prodigy of Mobb Deep released The Infamous, a bone-chilling classic of East-coast hip-hop. In August of that same year Raekwon and Ghostface Killah drop the album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, another instant classic of Mafioso hip-hop that uses a heavy horn and string influence in the beats.
If you’re asking to sum up the best hip-hop albums collectively in one year, my answer would be the year 1996. Reasonable Doubt, All Eyez On Me, Don Killuminati, and the entire production of Life After Death. Let’s start with Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Zs first studio album. This album, in my opinion, is the definition of the best lyrical album ever made. In the first song, “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, he comes out with the “I’m above you” attitude any rapper should have, but the only difference is that he was absolutely correct. With samples from Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and special guests Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G., and Memphis Bleek it is one of the most impressive hip-hop albums of all-time.
While Notorious B.I.G. is busy in the recording studio all of 1996, it is Tupac Shakurs golden year. He releases both of his best-selling albums in the same year, one of which is All Eyez On Me. This album went platinum 9x, if that wasn’t enough, his second album that year, The 7-Day Theory, went platinum 4x. The west coast was regaining their power. Whoever felt that the west coast gained too much power through Tupac was obliged the night of September 7th, 1996 when Tupac Shakur was stricken by four bullets outside Club 662 in Las Vegas. He died six days later in the critical care unit of University Medical Center.
Awaiting and promoting his second studio album, Notorious B.I.G. decided to travel to California to attend a party hosted by Vibe Magazine. While leaving, Biggie and his entourage stopped at a red light while a black Chevy Impala pulls into the lane next to them. A man in a blue suit and bowtie unloaded on Wallace’s truck, four shots hit Christopher and 45 minutes later he was pronounced dead.
New York rappers would go on to make the most jaw-dropping, sophisticated rhyme schemes for the next decade and beyond. The game will never be the same after the death of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, but prominent rappers such as Jay-Z, Nas, KRS-One, Eminem and The Game will always be around to uphold their legacy. But just remember, next time when comparing east to west coast, go back and look at the originators of hip-hop. Rest in peace B.I.G., you were unbelievable.