The Year In Hip Hop: 1990

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-1990. One of the more underrated years in hip hop that spawned good music, but represented a slight change of the guard. As the 80's ended, rap was in a different place. The culture was in a state of transition and there were artists who represented the old and some who represented the new. 1990 would see the rise of some stars, as Ice Cube released his first solo album after leaving NWA, and A Tribe Called Quest would debut this year with their first album. The year features classics from Public Enemy, Cube, Tribe, Kool G Rap and others, while late 80's powerhouses Big Daddy Kane and Eric B & Rakim released albums that fell short of their prior greatness. MC Hammer was the biggest rapper of the year honestly, and while he was never a lyrical wordsmith, his music was catchy and fun, regardless of those Hammer Pants. Today, we look back at 1990, and the music from it. Let's get into it.

I think of 1990 as a quiet year, as not too much went on through this year in retrospect. We did see Ice Cube leave N.W.A and debut his first solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. It was unexpected for it to have a large commercial release considering he left the group, yet it did. I personally believe it’s one of many cornerstone albums that made 90's rap iconic. Cohesively a gangsta rap/socio-political album, it fit in with the rest of the decade. “Fear of a Black Planet” is also a notable album by Public Enemy. A very interesting album that is a must listen. “100 Miles and Runnin” marked N.W.A’s first album after Ice Cube’s departure. Some of the songs on this EP did make it on their Greatest Hits album, making it a success by my calculations. The Ice Cube jabs in the album are not a surprise and are entertaining. LL Cool J did drop “Mama Said Knock You Out” and I only preferred the self-titled name track in the album over anything else.

The year that would kickstart the highly acclaimed and often referenced best decade in hip hop, 1990. December ’89 to February ’90 was like a hip hop hiatus. Nothing was released, no real headlining events took place, but of course that didn’t last long. The rest of the year was packed with album after album. Now, 1990 had less than 40 releases, but what we would get would become classic after classic. Let me tell you about my favorites this year.

One of the reasons why 1990 is so incredible is because of this particular debut, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” from A Tribe Called Quest, the album that had everyone’s attention and made Tribe an instant legendary group. The entire album is amazing, but how can anyone mention this without specifically highlighting “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?”, the first 2 (of 6 singles) off this masterpiece. Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed were a breath of fresh air to hip hop groups and had us reciting catchy lines from both these songs throughout the year. There is no way you can mention 1990 and not pay homage to this.

Another amazing album and yet another debut is Ice Cube's "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" and all I can say is that it is a brilliant work. This is one of my favorites in Cube's catalog because it's raw, aggressive, and he holds nothing back. This album brought to light many issues that were plaguing the neighbourhoods, not only in California, but pretty much everywhere so it's relatable. He is unquestionably a lyrical powerhouse and with Bomb Squad on production, it made this a classic and assured NWA fans that Cube would give us solo projects that matched what the group had started, but beyond. Once again a magnificent addition to the year. Cube didn't stop there either, he released an EP titled "Kill At Will", which was exactly what was needed after the buzz and success from his studio album release. Cube is a true gem in hip hop and these are the first two reasons why.

Arguably the greatest duo in the genre at the time released their third studio album. Eric B and Rakim give us "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em" and once again, these two give us exactly what we want. Their chemistry, dynamic and cohesiveness are top notch. Rakim gives us lyrics and his signature rapping technique which he is so well known for. These guys can do no wrong and they proved to be fan favorites yet again with this release. Notable tracks are "In The Ghetto", "No Omega", and "Step Back". As much as I personally love these two and the albums they put out, I know this album got some negative critique. I don't understand it however, as Rakim flexes his lyricism, aggression, depth and Eric is right there complimenting it. It really deserved nothing but great reviews and the era wouldn't be quite the same without this.

Now I don't talk much about LL Cool J, but I do know he deserves a whole bunch of credit, especially for "Mama Said Knock You Out" with 6 singles that came from this album. Some are STILL referenced, sampled and widely considered classics. I think this was a great showcase of LL's ability to not only be the good looking, smooth and charming guy, but also the tough and humorous guy as well.  With Marley Marl on production, LL gave us nothing but a solid album that came with some catchy lines and fun tracks which put it on top lists everywhere.

It didn't stop there, as EPMD released "Business As Usual", Big Daddy Kane released "Taste Of Chocolate", and of course Boogie Down Productions released "Edutainment". Each and every one of these are true gems and helped shape the much appreciated golden era of hip hop and laid the framework for the following ten years. What 1990 lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. This was truly another integral year for fans.

1990 was a pretty decent year in hip hop. It was definitely memorable, as gangsta rap was finally transitioning into the #1 sub-genre and none of that dance funky shit Afrika Bombaataa made. We only got one classic album this year IMO, and that was Amerikka's Most Wanted. This album was perfection from top to bottom as it was the debut solo album for Ice Cube after leaving NWA. My personal favorite songs from this album are "A Gangsta's Fairytale", "You Can't Fade Me/ JD's Gafflin", and "The Nigga Ya Love To Hate". The other good albums released this year were Mama Said Knock You Out, Kill At Will EP, Let The Rhythm Hit Em, Fear Of A Black Planet, Wanted: Dead Or Alive, and Sex Packets. Pretty good year, to say the least.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-While we may overlook this year at times, in essence, 1990 was the beginning of new chapters. Cube, Tribe, and many others came with the flavor to set the decade off right. When reflected on, this year might go down as one of the more slept on years in hip hop, as well as a seminal year in the growth and direction of hip hop.



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