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1988: The Year Hip-Hop Made Noise
I met this girl, when I was 10 years old
And what I loved most, she had so much soul
Lyrics from "I Used to Love H.E.R." by Common
Former Actor and California Governor, Ronald Wilson Reagan was the President, while in New York City Edward Irving Koch was nearing the end of his Mayoral run. The Cold War was nearing its end and for many kids growing up in the South Bronx in the early '80s, there were more important things to worry about, than what Communists were doing on the other side of the globe. Crack Cocaine and HIV/AIDS had their grip on nearly every inner city community across the country and ruined households. Gun related crimes and vandalism were becoming the norm as people were suffering without jobs, homes, or education. The South Bronx suffered dearly during the '80s and by 1988, it wasn’t burning any longer, it had already been burned. Through all of this heartache and struggle, these hard times helped create, cultivate and deliver Hip-Hop as a culture and Rap as a music for the masses.
By 1988, Hip-Hop was already deeply entrenched in the minds of many. A new breed of rap artists emerged to take hold of the imaginations of its listeners. Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS-1, and Slick Rick were at the forefront of this new wave and these are a few albums from the year that helped define a decade for many.
Rakim’s voice, tone, knowledge, words and delivery helped forge the path for many future MCs (most notably Nas and Raekwon the Chef, etc.). "Follow The Leader" possessed a smooth, yet in your face sound that beautifully blended with Rakim’s cadence. The album is full of many Hip-Hop quotables and is, to many, considered one of the most sacred lyrical rap albums ever released. "Follow The Leader" like many of the albums mentioned here, heavily sampled funk staples from James Brown to Funkadelic.
Standout Tracks: Microphone Fiend, Lyrics of Fury, Follow The Leader, The R
KRS-One, DJ Scott La Rock, and D-Nice made up the Bronx trio known as Boogie Down Productions. With the passing of DJ Scott La Rock, KRS-One moved away from the tough street talk of their debut album Criminal Minded and moved toward socially conscious music. Produced entirely by KRS-One, the album manages to maintain the musical edge of Criminal Minded, yet with lyrics are empowered with positive social commentary.
Standout Tracks: My Philosophy, I'm Still #1, Jimmy, Stop The Violence
Hailing from London, England, Slick Rick managed to capture the hearts of Rap fans before his first album was ever released. As a member of the Get Fresh Crew, where alongside Harlem’s Doug E. Fresh, Rick now living in The Bronx recorded two classic Rap songs, “The Show” and “La Di Da Di.” "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick," displayed Rick's amazing storytelling ability. He managed to be playful and touch on many different subjects from sex, crime, poverty, and teenage love. His British accent forever present on every Bomb Squad produced track, along with the image of Slick Rick and his numerous gold chains made up his persona.
Standout Tracks: Children’s Story, Mona Lisa, Hey Young World, Teenage Love
If there was a duo that optimized a new era in Rap, it was EPMD (Eric and Parish Makin Dollars). Before Eric Sermon and Parish Smith burst on the scene with "Strictly Business," Rap was dominated by another more famous duo, Run DMC. Sermon and Smith sampled extensively from classic funk and rock breaks that were bass laden. This style along with DJ Marley Marl’s style, led LL Cool J to rap “cars ride by with the boomin’ system”. Their style helped shape New York Hip-Hop during its next golden era in 1993.
Standout Tracks: Strictly Business, You Gots to Chill, It's My Thing
Big Daddy Kane is not only one of the greatest from this era, but along with LL Cool J, Kane was one of the few sex symbols in Hip-Hop at the time (posing alongside Madonna and Vanilla Ice in Madonna’s Sex book). His voice coupled with his ability to maneuver back and forth between party songs, hard braggadocio songs, and Afrocentric themed songs made him extremely versatile. With all production handled by the Juice Crew leader/producer, DJ Marley Marl, Kane put together a classic Hip-Hop debut album.
Standout Tracks: Raw (Remix), Set It Off, Ain't No Half-Steppin, I'll Take You There, Just Rhymin' with Biz
Socially conscious, in your face, and much more approachable than their debut album “Yo! Bum Rush the Show.” "Nation of Millions" marked the beginning of a social revolution within rap. Their message hearkened back to the messages of Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement. The climate in New York City during the years surrounding this album were very volatile. Along with the US economy being in shambles, the racial climate in New York was at a boiling point. The Howard Beach Incident, the Twana Brawley rape case, and the Larry Davis standoff were all major headline news during the late '80s. Chuck D managed to verbalize many of the frustrations the youth in the city felt during those years, culminating in Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do The Right Thing.” The “Bomb Squads” production worked double time to match Chuck D’s intense rhyme style. Possessing the soul and funk of James Brown with the power and energy of The Ramones. This album is a story best listened to in its entirety as all the songs are a must hear.
Standout Tracks: Bring the Noise, Don't Believe the Hype, Show 'Em Whatcha Got, Rebel Without a Pause
Rappers such as Just-Ice, Spoonie Gee, Schoolly D, Ice T and Too Short were already bringing a harder form of Rap that would later be referred to as Gangster or Hardcore Rap. However, this group from Compton, California started a movement that would lead to the rise of Snoop Doggy Dog, Eminem, Ice Cube, D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Eazy E and The Game. Straight Outta Compton with it’s in your face approach and harsh reality and language was jam packed with the energy and anger of many inner city youth across America. That energy coupled with the sheer lyrical star power of Eazy E and Ice Cube and Dr. Dre on the production end, made their music appeal to more than just the inner city youth.
Standout Tracks: Straight Outta Compton, Gangsta Gangsta, Express Yourself, Dopeman (remix)
Though there were other female rappers before MC Lyte (Roxanne Shante, Salt -n- Pepa, and Sha Rock of the Funky Four Plus One). MC Lyte’s deep voice and approach lyrically matched her up against many of Rap music’s male MCs. Her debut album produced predominately by Prince Paul of Stetsasonic fame and Audio Two, best known for their rap classic “Top Billin”, is filled with braggadocio which Brooklyn teenager, MC Lyte, reaffirms with her certainty that she is better than any MC, male or female.
Standout Tracks: Lyte as a Rock, 10% Dis, Paper Thin, I Cram to Understand U
Though many of the albums mentioned here possessed eliminates of future Rap production staples, this album is recognized, sonically, as the album that changed it all. Sampling 101 is what Critical Beatdown became to many. From the strange yet wonderful rhyme style of Kool Keith, to the sonic revolution in the Ced Gee and Ultramagnetic MC’s production. Many of the albums songs still have the freshness that they had in 1988, proving its place among the great albums produced in the 20th century.
Standout Tracks: Ego Trippin' (M.C.'s Ultra), Watch Me Now, Ease Back
The album that introduced the world of Hip-Hop to The Native Tongues collective (Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul). This eclectic group infused Jazz and House music coupled with Afrocentric and positive themes to create a sound like no other. The group’s Afrocentric appearance coupled with it’s music helped show with their debut album that Hip-Hop had many different sub-cultures that had been unexplored in Rap music at the time.
Standout Tracks: Black is Black, Jimbrowski, I’ll House You
Many of today’s Hip-Hop stars were inspired by many of these works. In many instances, listening to today’s Rap music is like stepping into a time machine back to 1988. Times are also hard for many today, as they were in 1988, the music produced reflects hope and societal change. Artists such as Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Lupe Fiasco are redefining what was once previously thought defined.
In the essence and remembrance of these great albums, new generations are formulating new sounds and techniques in both production and lyrical flow and content, while still incorporating the flare and techniques of the influental rap artists of 1988. In its nearly 40 year existence, rap music has shown that much like the economy, it too sees moments of prosperity and change. From its humble beginnings on August 11, 1973 in a rec room party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, to the international phenomenon it is today. Rap music never once allowed itself to be boxed in by anyone. Rap music and the Hip-Hop culture are here to stay. Thanks to the albums in this post, that is more than just a words, it is a fact. Yes, yes, y'all!!!
Here are some books to help quench your thirst for Hip-Hop:
- Beats, Rhymes & Life: What We Love And Hate About Hip-Hop edited by Kenji Jasper and Ytasha Womack
- The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—And Why It Matters Tricia Rose
- That's The Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader edited by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal
- Check The Technique: Liner Notes For Hip-Hop Junkies Brian Coleman
- Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, And The Struggle For The Soul Of A Movement S. Craig Watkins
- Born In The Bronx: A Visual Record Of The Early Days Of Hip Hop edited by Johan Kugelberg
- Know What I Mean? Reflections On Hip-Hop by Michael Eric Dyson
- Hip Hop America by Nelson George
- True Hip Hop by Mike Schreiber
- Can't Stop, Won't Stop : A History Of The Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang