Continuing with the theme of the site. These are not rankings. More nostalgia…
1. Fat Joe’s “John Blaze” song/video.
1998 seemed to be the year of great posse tracks and Fat Joe’s “John Blaze” was one of them. It was the ultimate posse cut–it featured Big Pun on his way to stardom, Jadakiss on the rise, Raekwon in his first prime, and Nas over a serious DJ Premier beat. DJ Premier was the go-to producer for a single during the 1990s.
2. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Lauryn Hill’s “Final Hour” illustrated why she was a serious top-10 contender, that’s if she would have continued to record. Unfortunately, Hill is in the same category of black entertainers (D’Angelo, Andre 3000, and Dave Chappelle, to a degree) who struggled after reaching unprecedented heights.
3. Canibus, “2nd Round K.O.”
Canibus brought battle rap back after the 2Pac-Notorious BIG deadly feud. Canibus was roasting everyone on posse tracks, so we all anticipated his verse on LL Cool J’s “4,3,2,1. The first runs of the video left out Canibus’s (and Master P’s) verse. Then word got out that Uncle L did not take kindly to Canibus flipping a line about the microphone tatted on LL’s arm. LL took the topic of Canibus’s rumored line and turned it into a Source hip hop quotable. Canibus took offense and then threw the first blow in his battle with LL Cool J. It appeared to be a knockout–from getting Mike Tyson on the track to telling LL that he’d make LL’s wife “get on the horn” and “call Minister Farrakhan” to squash the beef. Unfortunately, “2nd Round K.O” represented Canibus’s high point in mainstream rap…
4. An unknown, and chubby, 50 Cent rapping in the penalty box in Onyx’s “React” video.
I’m not a hockey fan, but this video was alright. I bet none of us knew that the chubby fast-rapping 50 Cent would be where he is today. It’s so funny because I really cannot understand what 50 is saying in his verse. Haha. Onyx’s Shut ‘Em Down was a solid album.
5. Gangstarr’s Moment of Truth and the Inpsectah Deck-assisted “Above the Clouds”
Gangstarr released their fifth album, moment of truth on March 31, 1998. Guru and DJ Premier are among the few in hip hop whom could brag about their consistent production throughout the 1990s. Moment of Truth represented Gangstarr’s zenith. It is arguably their best album and most commercially successful. They had hits (the K-Ci and JoJo-featured “Royalty”), sales (went Gold), and classic tracks. “Above the Clouds” is aptly-named because even Jesus has it on his Ipod; it’s so heavenly.
6. September 29, 1998 – Release of Outkast’s Aquemini, Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life, and (to a lesser degree) A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement
This is a no brainer and almost needs no explanation. Outkast continued to move left musically with Aquemni. They mixed the southern sound with more funk (See “Synthezizer”). They remained soulful. They were hard as ever. Andre 3000 really broke out on this album–look to his verses on “Return of the G,” “Da Art of Storytellin’, Part 1,” “Chonkyfire,” and “Y’all Scared.” “Rosa Parks” was the ironic precursor to “B.O.B.” and “Hey Ya”; it was catchy, if not poppy. But Rosa Parks took legal action against the group over the use of her name. Aquemini was probably the best album to come out that year.
7. Outkast lends some assistance to Slick Rick’s comeback.
British rapper Slick Rick released one of hip hop’s greatest hip hop albums, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick,” at the height of the genre’s first golden age in 1988. For those who may not know, Slick Rick is known for his legendary storytelling skills. He got into legal trouble after he shot two people outside of a nightclub in 1990. He released two lukewarm albums after thereafter. Legal troubles with the INS kept Slick Rick on the margins of rap until he popped up on Cru’s smooth single/video “Just Another Case” in 1997. I still remember the shock of hearing him sound as good as ever on that track. Then, a year later, we all learn that the video version of Outkast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’, Part 1” is really a remix…with Slick Rick on the last verse!!!! It was a great hip hop moment. Rick eventually completed his comeback with his 1999 album, The Art of Storytelling. Writing this makes me want to revisit it.
8. A Tribe Called Quest “Finds A Way”
I cannot remember the exact day, but I do remember being blindsided by TV’s Kurt Loder when he announced the breakup of A Tribe Called Quest, one of my all-time favorite groups. I bought the October 1998 issue of The Source with them on the cover (I still have it) and looked forward to their last offering. They released the single and video that August, probably around the time school had started. The name of their last album–The Love Movement–and their first single–“Find a Way” were kind of ironic because they seemed to reflect the positivity and playfulness that they downplayed in their previous effort, Beats, Rhymes, and Life. J. Dilla (then Jay Dee) appeared to have come into his own as a rising producer on this pulsating track. Q-Tip and Phife traded flirtatious verses as if it were 1993. Unfortunately, “Find a Way” would be their last music video. Yep, it’s been over fifteen years.
Belly was the convergence of several forces within hip hop–Nas, the upstart DMX, Wu Tang’s brightest star Method Man, TLC’s T-Boz, and hip hop video director extraordinaire, Hype Williams. It was the typical hip hop-themed gangsta flick starring Nas playing the gangsta who becomes enlightened (Sincere), DMX playing the troubled partner (Tommy), and T-Boz who plays Nas’s character’s wife (Tionne). The movie really worked because the starring actors/actresses played roles that seemed to be tailored around their rap/R&B personalities. The Belly soundtrack was equally impressive. It’s first single, “The Grand Finale,” featuring Nas, DMX, Method Man, and Ja Rule, is a frantic track that reinterpolates NWA’s introduction to EFIL4ZAGGIN. D’Angelo also added some hot sauce with the DJ Premier-produced “Devil’s Pie.”
10. 2Pac – Greatest Hits and “Changes”
“Changes” was probably 2Pac’s greatest single, if not one of hip hop’s biggest singles. Like most musicians and radicals who are taken from us way too early, 2Pac’s legend also grew after death. Gone was the angry and vitriolic 2Pac who desired to ride on his enemies and in was this sanitized version of the great artist. Of course, 2Pac actually wrote “Changes,” but the use of the Bruce Hornsby sample made ‘Pac and socially-conscious hip hop more palatable to mainstream (really white) audiences. I think I actually got tired of the song and video because it was so catchy and it continued the trend of just jacking past hit songs. This is one of the few times where I think the familiar beat and chorus overshadowed ‘Pac’s complex analysis of post-Black Power black life. But ‘Pac’s Greatest Hits did expand hip hop’s boundaries.