The Year In Hip Hop: 1996

As you've seen on the year in hip hop series, we try to cover pivotal years in the genre and document the albums and moments that meant so much to the culture. Today, we talk one of the most vital years in hip hop: 1996. Let's get into it.

Hip Hop in 1996 could be summarized in one word - phenomenal. Artists were defining themselves. They were setting trends and attracting different sets of ears. The Fugees released their album, The Score. Master P released his solo album, Mr. Ice Cream Man. Jay Z released Reasonable Doubt. 1996 was a year of classics.

For a while, New York rappers were in the Hip Hop spotlight. Around this time, southern artists decided the world needed to hear their voices too. Outkast released their second album, ATLiens. After proclaiming "the South got something to say" at the Source Awards, the world was watching. The duo did not disappoint. While Master P's album was anticipated, I can't say the same for Silkk The Shocker. His style of rap was a bit off to me. But that's not why we're here.

A small woman from New York released her debut album called Hard Core. Since then, Lil Kim has reigned as the Queen Bee. She came out wreaking havoc and making waves in the industry. On the hills of something different, Shaq tried his hand at music as well. "You Can't Stop the Reign" was his third studio album. Although it had some heavyweight production and features, it didn't see the top of the Billboard charts. 1996 got its first glimpse of Eminem on his album, Infinite. He received much more attention on the album that followed. But as an underground artist, that was to be expected.

I'm not going to even attempt to choose a favorite album of that year because I'll miss one. 1996 was like a hip hop gumbo. A little bit of everything was mixed in this one pot and the outcome was absolutely delicious.

1996 is one of the most historical and important years of hip hop to this day. It would be the end of an era for west coast music with the G-Funk Era being over, Tupac died this year, Jay-Z released his debut album, The Fugees got big with "The Score", Nas released his sophomore album, etc. It was a great year for hip hop, and also sad, because it was the same year we lost one of the best to ever do it. Here are the important albums of 1996:
It Was Written
Hell On Earth
Reasonable Doubt
The Score
All Eyez On Me
Ridin' Dirty 
Beats, Rhymes & Life
Tha Doggfather
Bow Down
The 7 Day Theory

1996, a big year in hip hop. A young Eminem dropped his first album, 2Pac dropped 2 albums, Snoop Dogg, Eazy E, MC Ren, MC Eiht, Nas, Westside Connection, A Tribe Called Quest, Redman, even Shaquille O'Neal dropped an album. The list is big for albums dropped that year. The most popular albums that dropped that year were both of 2Pac's albums, Makaveli and All Eyez On Me, Snoop's Tha Doggfather, Nas' It Was Written, Outkast's ATLiens, Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt and Ghostface's album Ironman. My favorite album out of this year is Eminem's Infinite album. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of these albums, but Eminem is my favorite rapper and it's crazy listening to this Eminem. It's cool seeing how much he changed and developed but this Eminem was just as lyrical and his rhyme schemes are just too fire. Great album from a rookie MC at the time.

So, backstory time. My mom, God bless her soul, used to work at the Baltimore School of the Arts when Tupac Amaru Shakur was a student there. She saw potential in him. She saw that his verbal veracity could change the world. She also told him, that, according to her, if he didn't change up some of his ways, he would die young. He was, apparently, as much hotheaded as he was a genius in some ways.

I wish he would've listened.

When Pac died, I was eight years old and was kind of in some ish of my own. Crazy that it's been twenty years already. But, his 1996 albums were indicative of two things: he accepted his mortality and he was aware that his music and messages would bring him a sense of immortality. Those CDs helped me get through a lot of life's fuckery, just because I could identify with his struggle and his desire to better the world...and his angry "fuck the world" mindset.

Of course, Pac wasn't the only great to drop something in 96. We had Nas drop It Was Written, his second classic in a row. So, truth be told, I was on some elitist, real, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired" shit when I was younger, even though I was a couple years off from actually not being all that sick and tired haha.

No amount of praise or acknowledgement would do this year justice. 96 was the year that would shape, define and cement the 90’s as the standard. It was also the year the female MC's would emerge and create more of a presence. We would experience a heartbreak unlike any other, but it was a vital year nevertheless. If there is one year you should know about in hip hop, it's 1996.

I won't go into details with these albums because the impact and tracklists in each really speak for themselves. '96 was the year that the Fugees would release "The Score", Busta had "The Coming", MC Lyte dropped "Bad As I Wanna B", Mobb Deep gave us "Hell on Earth", Foxy Brown graced us with "Ill Na Na", Lil Kim shocked us with "Hardcore", and Redman blessed us with "Muddy Waters". I'm not sure what it was about this particular year but this really is the definition of Hip hop culture, as these artists gave us near perfection and an immense amount of hits and classics.

This was also the year Jay released his debut album Reasonable Doubt. Of Hov's entire catalog, this is my absolute favorite album. He partners with Mary J., BIG, Foxy, Memph Bleek and samples from Erik B & Rakim, the movie Scarface, Carlitos Way...and some revamping of Tribe's "Can I Kick it". This album was destined to be great. Although it didn't have the commercial success it should have, this to me was easily one of the best that year. I won't list the entire songlist but really there are no skippable tracks whatsoever, and it is truly a perfect reflection of Jay's hunger, drive, innovation and range. I think this was an absolute gem and it definitely made the year fantastic.

My 3rd favorite MC of all time dropped one of my favorite albums of all time. Nas blessed us with "It Was Written", and everything about this album is great. Clearly, I love Nas for his lyrics and storytelling abilities and this album reflects that. "Affirmative Action", "The Message", "If I Ruled The World" would go on to be my personal favorites but truthfully speaking I think everyone would agree that there isn't one bad song. It was just great all around and the commercial successes also reflected that.

Tribe can do no wrong and when they drop an album it is automatically notable. "Beats, Rhymes and Life", is the fourth album they would release and it came with an entirely new take and feel. What remained intact was Tip and Phife's chemistry. They feed off each other and their flow is complimentary to one another. "The Pressure" is the obvious favorite song on this album, but really all of them are great in true Tribe form and delivery. With the Jazz infused beats and fantastic production, "Beats, Rhymes and Life" was dope.

Thank God for the Roots!! Illadelph Halflife was released and what an impactful and great album addressing things like social injustices, racism and terrorism. I think with this album, The Roots just showed a whole different side to them. One that was able to bring to light matters that extended so far beyond the streets. Definitely a tremendous addition to the year and this album would continue to be recognized as one of the greats.

Outkast ....can these guys do anything wrong? Easily one of the best duos in Hiphop, '96 was the year ATLiens was released. The commercial success was crazy upon release and this album took the nation by storm. I think Big Boi and Andre have always pushed the envelope with creativity and innovation and I believe that is the album that had the comic strip type booklet with Big Boi and Andre in it. I mean, who else would have even thought of that? And who else could pull that off? Outkast has always done their own thing and they definitely did that here! Incorporating their "off the wall" rap styles and true to the title, there was definitely an "outer space alien cosmic" type feel to the whole album. They nailed this one!

As I mentioned the year would see a (somewhat) unexpected and heartbreaking headline. September 1996, the month 'Pac was shot and killed. I've mentioned this in previous articles, this incident was truly a devastation. It was just bizarre to me, I remember seeing 'Pac on interviews and shows prior to that day and then suddenly he was gone. It still breaks my heart but someone as true to the art and craft of rapping as Tupac was, he didn't leave us without releasing what would become arguably the best double album in the history of rap. "All Eyez On Me" is one of my favorite albums of all time, and the tracklist is almost perfect. Method Man, Redman, Kurupt, K-Ci, JoJo, Snoop and Nate amongst others would make appearances and he gave us hit after hit. Not surprisingly, several songs on this album got a lot of radio play. It comes as no surprise that this is certified diamond. Brilliant work. We lost such a key component of Hip hop, but thankfully, the releases wouldn't stop. A couple months after his passing we got "The Don Killuminati". Another certifiably great album. Tupac never lets us down!

There are SO many more albums that are noteworthy this year, Ghostface dropped "Ironman" one of my all time favorites, Westside Connection released "Bow Down", which was impactful for the sole reason of having so many diss tracks and Ras Kass dropped "Soul on Ice". Pure and utter excellence. I can't say this enough, if there is one year in Hip hop that should be marked as THE VERY BEST, it's 1996. Period. Each of the releases are priceless in essence. I think we forget the magnitude and in all honesty, no one can do it justice with words. If you lived it, you just know. This year confirmed my love for Hip hop. It's no wonder I stay stuck in this era.

My memories of 1996 are truly special. There are many albums that I love from this year, but there are two that always stuck with me and will continue:

It Was Written and ATLiens.

To me, those two albums are the two greatest hip hop albums of all time. Why? Well, Illmatic is a classic and I love that album, but in all honesty, It Was Written represents the creativity and evolution of Nas as an artist. From the opening of the album all the way to the final song, we're looking at a flawless album. There's a moment when I hear the opening skit on "Black Girl Lost" and instantly get drawn into the song. Every single time. It never seems to fail. Nas provides us with an amazing listening experience on "I Gave You Power", "Watch Dem Niggas", and "Take It In Blood", which might be the best 3 song run on any album in history. It is a classic without a doubt and features some of the best lyrics and moments in Nas' career.

Now, for me, ATLiens is just music and hip hop at its finest and most creative. Evolution and growth as an artist is always great to see displayed and Outkast did it in ATLiens to the highest power. Each song is indicative of the ability that Andre and Big Boi have to create beyond the average hip hop artist and this is an upper echelon album. I'll say this however, the year was full of great albums that don't get the recognition they deserve like De La Soul and their Stakes Is High album, Busta with his debut, Poor Righteous Teachers had a release, Lost Boyz dropped that Legal Drug Money, Westside Connection made them all Bow Down, Master P with his Ice Cream Man album, and the list goes on and on and on. 1996 was a great year in hip hop.

What are your memories of 1996? Post them below in the comments section.



Popular Posts