The Year In Hip Hop: 1998

Today, we continue our weekly Year In Hip Hop series, and the year we chose today is 1998. It doesn't feel like a full 18 years ago, but man does time fly. 1998 was a great year in many ways, and hip hop benefited very much. Let's get right into it.

1998, a year that I'm not very fond of music wise at least. I like songs off of albums from this year and I don't know if I can really pick what would be my favorite album from this year, but if I did it would probably be either DMX's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot or Ice Cube's War & Peace Vol. 1. Busta Rhymes, Mystikal, DMX, Ice Cube, RZA, Method Man, Outkast, Cypress Hill, Jay Z, Nate Dogg, Gang Starr, plenty of big names released albums that year. Any album Cube releases I like, I love listening to that dude, his beats are always fire, lyrics always raw, and best of all, he just is fun and entertaining to listen to. DMX's album reminds me so much of when I was little, with my parents always bumping DMX's Ruff Ryders Anthem. His delivery was something I really loved about the dude.

I contend that the 90s were one of the best eras for music. Toward the end of that decade, though, things began to take a turn for the worst, in my humble opinion. It seemed like veteran artists were finding ways to remain relevant and it hurt a bit. We saw albums come from MC Lyte, DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, Big Daddy Kane, etc. For some artists, it was a bit harsh, but for others, it was a time of flourishing.

My absolute favorite album of 1998 is "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." This project has made such an impact on the culture and it has seniority in my library. Not many albums pass the tests of time. Lauryn Hill, formerly of the Fugees, made an album that was relatable on every level and addressed social issues at the same time.

On the other end of the spectrum, DMX gave us "It's Dark and Hell is Hot." Swizz Beatz and Dame Grease were among the producers on this project. From "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" to "How's It Goin Down" with Faith Evans, DMX's ruggedness was appreciated. He came out barking at the industry and praying out his albums. Earl Simmons is good in my book.

Juvenile provided the twerking national anthem on his album "400 Degreez." His song "Back That Azz Up" still serves as the track that brings every woman to the dance floor and draws every man to the ass that's shaking the fastest. It's one of those songs that just will not get old. The album itself gave the world another peek into the 'Nolia life that Master P previously provided.

For the most part, there weren't too many albums that kept my attention and that's a bit of a disappointment. Every year can't be perfect and I understand that. But good music is timeless. I believe the albums I mentioned can be categorized as classics.

Rap at the time was sort of getting interesting because the Golden Age has ended and a new Era had started. Plus, we had some classics drop that year. Welcome to 1998 folks. The year DMX was birthed. The year Hov dropped Vol. 2. etc. And of course, our Latino brother Big Pun released Capital Punishment the same year, and became the first Latino rapper to go platinum. He's the only good latino rapper IMO and everyone else stinks. Stick to reggaeton.

Anyways, here are the important albums of 1998:
Capital Punishment
Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life
Life Or Death
Moment Of Truth
It's Dark & Hell Is Hot
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
400 Degreez

1998 was a good year for music. We've already talked about a lot of the greatness from the year, so you should already know that. We had DMX drop two LPs in the year, both of which set up his legacy. Every coast was dropping classic after classic. I mean, regardless your tastes, there was something for you. Like conscious or creative rap, check out Outkast and Black Star. You want thuggish ruggish, you've got some BTNH. You want that bounce, Juvie and No Limit have classics. You want evolution of music, Jay and 'em have you covered.

Whenever I describe hip hop to people, I always use words like perfection, gems, and brilliance. I feel that hip hop embodied that each year throughout every decade, so 1998's releases came as no surprise. Although this isn't the very best year in Hip hop, it definitely is memorable and noteworthy. One would think 1998 would be the year hip hop slowed down some right? Wrong. Hip hop never lets us down and artists are always blessing us with something amazing. Believe me there are SO many albums to give recognition to, so this was no easy task, but I'll give you a couple of my favorites and some that I think don't get enough praise. Let's do this:

Two words. Capital Punishment. Pun's debut album and an instant favorite. This is the album that Pun showed us exactly what he was capable of: lyricism, wordplay, tales of the streets, mindless bangers... basically everything a rap fan could ask for. This album gave us so much to enjoy. My favorite tracks "Twinz", "Caribbean  Connection", "Tres Leches", "I'm Not A Player", "Still Not A Player"... man who am I kidding, every single track is dope! He's got Wyclef, Prodigy, Inspectah Deck, Noreaga, Busta Rhymes, Joe, and Fat Joe all on this album, I mean come on! The features are perfect and production was flawless. If anyone ever doubts this man's ability to perfect the concept of "wordplay" I'd ask them to explain how someone comes up with "Dead in the middle of Little Italy/ little did we know that we riddled some middleman who didn't do diddily/" and this is probably the most impressive lyric ever to me! I thank the Hip hop Gods for Big Pun and I truly believe his void in the industry will never be filled. "Capital Punishment" would be the only album he would drop before his untimely death, but he left us with a classic.

DMX would give us two albums this particular year, "It's Dark And Hell Is Hot" and "Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood", which are both albums in true DMX fashion with his emotions and energy coming through on every track rather than anything too impressive with the lyrics. DMX is someone who definitely puts his heart in each of his projects and personally I think '98 was him in his prime. In fact, "It's Dark..." is my favorite album of his catalog. The tracklist is phenomenal and received well commercially. "Damien", "Stop Being Greedy", and "Prayer for My Dogs" are amongst my favorites. I realize I'm a little bit biased here because I saw D in concert this particular year, so I saw him perform these songs up close and live. Both these albums will forever hold a special place in my heart for that reason.

This was also the year DJ Clue dropped "The Professional". I don't hear nearly enough about Clue or about this mixtape/album. It's probably one of the most underrated albums ever and normally I don't like more than 15 songs on albums, but with this one I liked all 22 tracks. Clue throws just about everyone on here so this is like a hodgepodge of everything great with features that include Foxy, Mase, Flipmode Squad, Jay Z, Fabolous, DMX, Jermaine Dupri, Nas the list goes on and on. Although Clue gets critiqued on this for leaving some tracks relatively untouched by his mixing abilities, personally I enjoyed it. I think he adds enough of his own flavor that it works here. From the first track all the way to the end, it doesn't stop. As a debut, this was phenomenal and definitely created a name for himself in the industry. It's no wonder this is a certified platinum album.

Hov....the man who released a full album every year!! This is the year we saw "Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life" and I'm not saying this is even close to his best work, but much like DMX's album, this one holds a special place for the same reason. The entire album was way more commercial than the previous ones perhaps, but that got Jay a whole lot of relevancy that year. I personally loved "Money Ain't A Thang", "Can I Get A" and of course, "Hard Knock Life" with bouncy beats, great rap-a-long lyrics and a ton of radio play that made this album a highlight. Everyone was listening to it and this was the same year Jay went on tour, so people were damn near going crazy over this! Regardless, it followed the "Vol." trilogy that he started in '97, so once again it was a much needed album.

I really need to thank Interscope/Death Row/ Amaru entertainment or whoever was responsible for releasing Tupac's Greatest Hits! Although we had heard 95% of the songs on various other albums, I loved that they released the very best, most successful and well received tracks all on one double album and added 4 songs we hadn't previous heard like "Changes" "Unconditional Love" "God Bless The Dead" and "Troublesome '96", which were new to the catalog of songs and brilliant!  Honestly, after Tupac's passing, anything to do with his music was a blessing and an instant favorite. There's not much to say about this because it's obvious it would be received well, but it was a highlight and definitely worth mentioning.

I take every opportunity to praise and highlight 90's hiphop so this isn't any different. '98 was packed with utter brilliance and flawless albums. I can't end this without mentioning Outkast who released "Aquemini", Lauryn Hill releasing "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill", Tribe giving us "The Love Movement" and that's still only a small part of another long list of releases. Even though this wasn't even the best year it definitely produced some of the best and my all time favorite albums.

1998 holds a special place in my heart. It was a huge year for music overall, but for hip hop? Two albums come to mind that I instantly fell in love with:

Aquemini and 400 Degreez.

Those two albums meant more to me in 1998 than anything else. From the booming bass and the bounce of 400 Degreez to the creativity and immaculate sound of Aquemini, these two albums are what you consider greatness personified in music. I mean beyond "Back That Azz Up" and "Rosa Parks", these albums had depth and a true southern flavor that we had not heard before in my opinion. Juvenile is honestly the most underrated rapper for the south, and Outkast is the greatest hip hop duo of all time to me, and for them to have my two favorite albums of the year is a testament to their legendary status.

As far as other albums that I enjoyed a lot this year, there was the classic Blackstar album from Mos Def and Talib Kweli that showcased the highest form of lyricism and being a MC. Everything about that album was perfect from production to song structure to guest appearances. DMX and his albums this year were amazing without a doubt, but It's Dark and Hell Is Hot is the epitome of what you want from a rapper like DMX. Big Pun put out a classic in Capital Punishment as well, staking his claim as one of the dopest lyricists in the game. Cam'Ron had his first album "Confessions of Fire" drop, Master P put out MP The Last Don, Jay-Z put out Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life, but there was one last album that went beyond the feel of hip hop and infused soul and R&B.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Lauryn was in her prime lyrically, the production and emotional complexity displayed on the album was second to none. Lauryn was amazing in her rawness and her fearless demeanor to touch on issues that affected women of color and women in general, while discussing her personal life as well. It was the perfect blend and the greatest balance on an album that I had heard from a female MC and artist. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a classic and the legacy is still so strong today. I can listen to it in full even now, which is the mark of a real classic album. 1998 was a great year in retrospect, one that is truly vital in hip hop and in some ways is very slept on.

What are your memories of the year 1998 in hip hop? Post your thoughts in the comments below.



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