Ten Reasons Why 1998 is a Little Underrated, Part 2

…more nostalgic musings…

1. Great Posse Tracks like Noreaga Feat. Nature, Big Pun, Cam’ron, and The Lox, “Banned From TV”

This is sort of a repeat of the first selection in Part 1. Again, 1998 had some of the greatest posse tracks. Noreaga’s debut album, “NORE,” was rather anticipated after Capone-n-Noreaga’s classic The War Report dropped a year earlier. “Banned From TV” was the first track on NORE, which boasted great verses from newcomers like Nature and Big Pun. Tracks like “Banned From TV” and “Fantastic 4” off of DJ Clue’s first major album had me thinking that The Source was right when they proclaimed many of these artists “Rap’s New Generation.”

2. Big L – “Ebonics”

The late great Big L was like the rising basketball player who’s career got cut short due to a freak injury. By the end of the 1990s, Lamont Coleman was positioning himself to be the genre’s next big artist. And what was great about Big L was his ability to crossover while remaining street, much like a former king of New York. Big L’s singles like “Ebonics” made record labels like Roc-A-Fella and Rawkus take notice. I really do not have to explain this classic track. It’s all in the title. I prefer the DJ Premier remixed track.

3. Goodie Mob – Still Standing album

Long before Cee-lo Green broke into the mainstream with Danger Mouse on their first hit single, “Crazy” and long before The Voice, Cee-lo made classic albums with Goodie Mob. Still Standing is the group’s last great album. While Still Standing boasted funky and boom bap tracks like the Outkast-assisted “Black Ice,” the album built upon the soulful sound and introspective lyricism of its predecessor.

4. Pete Rock’s stellar debut album, Soul Survivor & “Tru Master” video

To call Pete Rock one hip hop’s greatest producers is obvious. What is more underappreciated about him is that he set two trends between 1998 and 2001 that many producers would replicate during the 2000s. The first trend was the producer-based hip hop album that relied upon a plethora of featured artists. True, Pete Rock used Soul Survivor to showcase his skills on the mic, but he also demonstrated his versatility as a producer by featuring R&B songs and posse tracks. We now see fruits of Pete Rock’s labor in similar albums created by producers like Statik Selektah and Marco Polo. The second trend is the producer-made instrumental album. True, Pete Rock released Petestrumentals after 1998, but it is worth noting here.

And the “Tru Master” video–awesome because of the song and the racing concept was ill at the time. Inspectah Deck was at the height of his powers as well.

5. AZ – Pieces of a Man album.

Pieces of a Man was an underrated album. Pieces of a Man may have suffered because it did not have the stellar moments that his debut album, Doe or Die, had like “Rather Unique” and “Mo Money…” Pieces of a man was very consistent lyrically and sonically. AZ continued the mafiosos aesthetic (“I’m Known” and “The Payback”). Pieces of a Man also contained the underrated Nas collaboration, “How Ya Livin.” Like Goodie Mob, AZ also laid down introspective and slightly socially conscious tracks such as the title track. I do wonder if the previous year’s underwhelming Firm album also dampened the hype around AZ.

6. (Kind of) Underrated Wu Tang Albums

Killah Priest – Heavymental (Feb. 24), Cappadonna – The Pillage (March 24), Sunz of Man – The Last Shall Be First (July 21), Wu Tang Killa Beez – The Swarm, Vol 1. (July 21), La the Darkman – Heist of the Century (Oct. 20),  RZA – Bobby Digital in Stereo (Nov. 11), Method Man – Tical 2000 (Nov. 17).

The W may have been the Wu’s last hurrah as a group, but 1998 was the last year of the decade where the Wu released multiple great albums. Just look at the list above–Heavymental, The Pillage, The Last Shall Be First, The Swarm, Heist of the Century, Bobby Digital…, Tical 2000. One problem existed with the Wu by this time; their two group albums and the first round of solo releases set almost unreachable expectations for the post-1997 Wu. RZA often waxed poetic about releasing what he considered his magnum opus, The Cure, to save hip hop from itself. Instead, fans received RZA’s alter ego, Bobby Digital, which felt diametrically opposed to what RZA envisioned with The Cure. Method Man swam closer to the mainstream with his second effort, Tical 2000. In retrospect, even if Tical 2000 is a lesser product than his debut, it is still a really, really good album. The problem was that it was too long and it also did not contain any classic singles.  The rest of the albums, with the exception of La’s, fulfilled my expectations. La’s album totally exceeded my own. It is one of my favorite wu-affiliated albums.

7. Big Pun’s rise–Capital Punishment, “Twinz (Deep Cover ’98)” Video, “Still Not a Player,” “You Ain’t a Killer,” “You Came Up”

I remember first hearing Big Pun on Flesh-n-Bone’s 1996 debut album of all places (“No Mercy”). I did not know who Big Pun was and I did not think he would become hip hop’s greatest Puerto Rican artist. I took noticed when he ripped the first verse on The Beatnuts’s 1997 “Off the Books” single and video. I bought that single because of his verse and that beat. Pun dropped the megaton bomb on the hip hop world the year later with his debut album, Capital Punishment. It is classic in every sense of the word. He replicated Biggie’s model better than Jay Z–dropping a balance of radio-friendly and street singles. Capital Punishment featured classic performances such as “Super Lyrical” and “You Ain’t a Killer.” Big Pun’s and Fat Joe’s remake of Dr. Dre’s and Snoop Dogg’s “Deep Cover” did the original justice. It is hard to say where Big Pun would have ended up among the all-time MCs if he would not have passed away in 2000, but it is safe to say that the sky was the limit for Big Pun after Capital Punishment.

8. End of “old” Busta Rhymes on E.L.E.

Although I’m not a big fan of Busta’s signing with Young Money/Cash Money, his handling of the Flipmode Squad (especially with Lord Have Mercy), or his turn to coke rap, I have to give him credit, he’s lasted and adapted. Busta Rhymes’s third solo album, Extinction Level Event, was the beginning of the end of the “old,” playful, overly charismatic and colorful Busta. Sure, Busta would still give us some more (no pun) catchy playful tracks like “Break Ya Neck” and straight up hip hop ish like “New York Shit,” but Busta got all serious on the hip hop world during the 2000s. I can understand not wanting to play hip hop’s court jester, but Busta shifted so much toward the typical that he was rapping about cooking coke on The Big Bang, which just seemed so unbelievable  considering his dungeon dragon days.

9. Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star & Respiration Song/video & Remix

I do not recall the exact day, but I do remember the first time I watched Black Star’s “Respiration” video. It was one of those school nights where I accidentally stayed up late enough to catch MTV’s late night hip hop video show. I do not ever really remember watching anything impressive on the show until “Respiration.” The song and video instantly caught my attention and imagination. I did not totally catch the fact that they were rapping about the city as a living and breathing organism. But I knew that it was one of the most creative tracks I had heard in a long time. Then my mouth dropped when Common appeared. Again, I really did not know who Black Star was or what they were about, so this was one of the few moments of hip hop-related shock that I will not ever forget. What is crazy is that I think all of my close friends seemed to have introduced themselves to Black Star individually. I do not recall introducing the album to anyone or anyone telling me to go get it before seeing “Respiration.” My pretentious phase had begun.

Don’t forget the Pete Rock remix with Black Thought, either.

10. DMX – It’s Dark and Hell is Hot (May 12) , Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (Dec. 15)

It was clear that hip hop had reached a turning point by the start of 1998. Two of its biggest stars (Pac and Big) were dead. Snoop was on his way out of Death Row. Jay-Z released a decent follow up album (In My Lifetime, Vol. 1), but he still had not broke into the mainstream. Nas was on sabbatical after the underwhelming Firm album. Puff Daddy finally released the album he seemed to have prepped himself for, but few could take him serious as a rapper. Who would be the next to take hip hop’s throne? Big Pun? Canibus? Enter Earl Simmons a/k/a Dark Man X a/k/a DMX. X seemed to fill the void left by 2Pac well. He possessed that type of aggression and intensity. DMX was the perfect commercial antidote to Puff Daddy, Mase, and the rest of the shiny suit flossers. X was everything Puff Daddy and his ilk were not:  downtrodden, troubled, and hungry. He combined all of those intangibles with his rough and off-beat flow and caught lightening in a bottle.  He roasted all of his guest appearances in 1997 and 1998, dropped his first two albums, and ascended to the top of the game. Jay-Z would have something to say about that when he dropped Vol. 2 later that year. The competition was back on.

Honorable Mention

MOP – First Family 4 Life & Jay Z’s verse on “4 Alarm Blaze” — Great album. MOP came into their own. Jay-Z blazed that track.

Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty — Some of my friends were disappointed by this album. I still bump a lot of tracks from it. “Putting Shame in Your Game” and “The Negotiation Limerick File” are two of my all-time favorite Beastie’s tracks. Very solid and underrated album.

Trick Daddy’s album title and cover.

Trick Daddy - www.Thug.com

Talking about capitalizing on the dot.com boom. It cracks me up every time.

Redman’s hilarious “I”ll Bee Dat” video.

The Lox, Lil’ Kim, & DMX – “Money, Power, and Respect” – One of the few good tracks on The Lox’s debut album. It is still difficult to think that they recorded “If You Think I’m Jiggy.” Wow.

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