The Year In Hip Hop: 1997

There are some years that are truly underrated in hip hop. 1997 is one of those years. Despite the shiny suit era we were in, 1997 spawned many classics and timeless albums that truly stood the test of time. Today, we gathered the team up to talk this monumental year and the albums that dropped as well. Let's get into it.

I've already made my disdain known for the Shiny Suit era in hip-hop. However, 1997 wasn't all that bad. Sure, it was shitty in the sense that Biggie was murdered. But, musically? There were gems in the mix. One of those, of course, is Biggie's Life After Death project.

I won't give a full review on that, since it's been done ad nauseum. However, I will say this: Biggie's project is still being emulated today.

I will focus, a bit, on one of my favorite songs from that year: Scarface's "Smile." In 1997, I was nine and, while I'd seen/heard/been around death and the like, I wanted to believe that both Biggie and Pac were still around somewhere, hashing out their beef, and just chilling. "Smile" was, on first listen, a classic track.

Uncle Face and Pac gave us a bit of that ghetto gospel (as an aside, I really wish Eminem didn't do that to "Ghetto Gospel," even as an Elton John fan). They also, for me, provided that sort of "you've gotta keep your head up" mantra I needed at that time in my life. Plus, the instrumental. I used to say that if I'd died young, they should have that track playing at my funeral. And while I don't think I'm just going to randomly die or be killed as much anymore, it's still a track I'd include in, like, a slideshow or something.

But, anyway, outside of Biggie and 'Face and Pac, 1997 saw the mainstream rise of New Orleans rap with Master P's Ghetto D album. I used to know the entire "Make Em Say Uhhh" song. That's how much that album blew up. Without that blow-up, we potentially wouldn't have seen Cash Money take off like they did in the months and years to follow.

Come to think of it, 1997 was a damn good year for rap and hip-hop.

Wu-Tang Clan, KRS-One, Capone-N-Noreage, Coolio…  hip hop in 1997 was literally a time of greatness. Granted I was young at the time of their releases, I’m old enough to remember them and recognize their authenticity. Hip hop seemingly took a turn that year. There was literally a bit of all aspects of Hip Hop happening that year.

The first part of the year started off a bit slow for my liking. The Notorious B.I.G. dropped his final studio album Life After Death. Undoubtedly, my favorite song from that project is “Mo Money Mo Problems”. Between the production of the song, as well as features from Ma$e, Puff Daddy, and Kelly Price, it was destined to be engraved in our brains.

The ladies of music also made bold statements that year. Missy Elliott stepped on the scene with her debut album Supa Dupa Fly. She came in the gate with a different sound and style that garnered our attention. The first lady of No Limit Records, Mia X, released her second album. We even got projects from MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa and The Lady of Rage.

1997 brought a perfect of combination of freshness from veterans as well as a new sound. Rakim, Will Smith, and LL Cool J all brought something different to the table.  We even saw the debut of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz. They went on to bring about the crunk era of Hip Hop.

If I had to choose a favorite album of 1997, it would have to be No Way Out by Puff Daddy. Sean Combs is a mogul and this was his debut album. It was released after the death of Biggie Smalls. He collaborated with Carl Thomas, Lil Kim, Jay Z and much more.

What I loved most about that time was everybody had a different style. There were no two albums that sounded the same. You wouldn’t get a Busta Rhymes flow on a Common album. I fed off the variety and the originality. Let’s bring that back.

1997 was the year the Golden Age of hip hop came to an end. Well, 1996. 1997 was the beginning of a new era. This year is well known for the year biggie died in and the year his final album would release, Life After Death. That album to me is the best one released in 1997. So many more excellent albums were released that year, filled with quality and pure art. Examples:
Wu-Tang Forever 
In my Lifetime, Vol. 1
Harlem World
The Firm The Album
I Got Next
The War Report
Based On A True Story. 
All of these albums are good choices to represent the year 1997. Not alot of hardcore boom bap music like the people at the time would expect. Instead the music was deep, filled with skill. It is a very important year because it was the beginning of a new era. That era however, would end very quickly. By 2000 the boom all of the soft deep emotional thoughts stuff was over, thanks to DMX with his dark stories, and Jay-Z with his music throughout that period.

I'll get into '97 in a minute, but let me just rewind your memory for a bit.....

September of 1996, The Hip hop world would take a deadly hit to the heart when we learned that Tupac had been shot and later passed away in a Las Vegas hospital. This was a  profound loss. While Hip hop fans worldwide were commemorating and mourning the death of a legend, 1997 started off somewhat hopeful. FunkMaster Flex had dropped "The Mixtape Vol. 2", the Luniz had dropped "Bootlegs & B-Side" and other rappers were getting ready to drop albums and again.....Boom. March of 1997, Biggie gets shot and killed in LA. Again, hearts broke all over the world. In just a span of 6 months, Hiphop lost its two most influential and most legendary artists. These two events would result in the release of BIG's "Life After Death" in March following his passing, which would become a certified Diamond album and 'Pac's "R U Still Down?" which would become a 4 time certified platinum album released in November.

Considering these two albums alone, it's clear that 1997 was an absolutely critical year for Hip hop more so than any other year and guess what? It did not disappoint at all. As a matter of fact, the whole year can be summed up in two words: Certified. Platinum. Hip hop fans got gem after gem from almost everybody. Let's look at a few...(in no chronological order)
Jay-Z releases "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1" and this album will forever hold a special place in my heart. Not only because it's a fantastic, well put together, lyrically sound and balanced album, but because right from the jump, Jay does a tribute track to BIG with "The City Is Mine". He also partners up with Babyface on "Sunshine" and Lil Kim on "I Know What Girls Like". Jay definitely goes a little more commercial compared to his debut, but gives the fans what they know they can expect from him. A solid platinum album.
KRS-One. "I Got Next", which he dropped in May is the reason why KRS is cemented in his ranking on my top MCs of all time list. With his 3rd release, KRS maintains the same level of lyrical brilliance and thought provoking concepts, beats, and consistency that his fans love. This album had everything from the classic "Step Into A World/Rapture's Delight" which is the high energy, intense and fun song to "The MC", which is the reiteration of his greatness as a rapper and everything in between. KRS nailed it with this one, but that comes as no surprise. This man is an utter genius.

Summer of '97 was fantastic. Capone-N-Noreaga would release "The War Report" and gain HUGE recognition as the debut album for the duo. June would also see the release of the Wu's double album "Wu-Tang Forever"...this would be a 4 time platinum selling album and probably the most anticipated album of the year. After a 4 year hiatus Wu-Nation was thirsty and the Clan delivered. Conceptually I loved this album, they sort of played off of the 36 Chambers album with a "sequel song" in "Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours", which was an instant favorite. They gave us a lot to quench our thirst, "As High As Wu-Tang Get", "Triumph", "It's Yourz", "Bells of War", and "Visionz" to name a few. Lyrically it was good, not as great as "36 Chambers", but it was jam packed with fresh new beats and lyrical gems throughout the track list. Anything the Wu does will be well received and this was no exception.

I knew Missy Elliot as a producer and appreciated her work as such, but then July of '97 she graced us with "Supa Dupa Fly", her debut album. This would gain Missy massive amounts of recognition and respect as an MC. This album is phenomenal in my opinion. Of course she has Timbaland on production and throws absolutely EVERYONE on this joint, as she features Lil Kim, Da Brat, Ginuwine, Keith Sweat, 702, Aaliyah, K-Ci and JoJo, Magoo and Queen Latifah. So when this album goes certified platinum, no one is surprised. Missy had 4 singles off this with "Sock It To Me" "Beep Me 911" "Hit Em Wit Da Hee" and "The Rain(Supa Dupa Fly)". The beats are flawless, her flow is amazing and the features are brilliant. She drops this album in the middle of summer, so of course everyone got their hands on a copy. This is one album that I think can never get enough recognition.

September, JUST before some birthday of mine, Busta Rhymes comes out with "When Disaster Strikes". This is the album that had everything. Busta's chaotic tracklists and crazy rap style antics! This was was a fantastic piece of work and would become certified platinum and rank number 3 on the billboard charts.
Like I said, 1997 was an intense year for Hip hop and it was packed with releases. In addition to those mentioned above: Common, Gravediggaz, Warren G, Puff Daddy and the Family, Boot Camp Clik, Twista, Master P and EPMD (and that's STILL naming just a few) all had a hand in making this year memorable. Again, certified platinum album after album, which makes me think this year was unmatched and will never be matched again.

1997 was a special year for young True. I would end up as a huge fan of Bad Boy and all their music in 1997 truly captivated me. Harlem World from Ma$e, No Way Out from Puffy and Family, with Life After Death from the late great Big. On top of that, Jay with Vol. 1, Capone-N-Noreaga with The War Report, The Firm dropped an album, Bone Thugs dropped a double album, Pac had a double album, and the whole landscape was different. The year featured top tier MCs trying to maintain relevance and everyone trying to make a new for themselves as well.

I found that Common's album One Day It'll Make Sense was absolutely amazing and it remains my personal favorite release of the year. Common expressed nothing but sheer greatness and introspection over a beautiful bevy of production from No I.D. mostly along with others. That album is my biggest memory from 1997 hip hop hands down, without a doubt. Another memory I have of 1997 was the classic Wu Tang Forever, which to me, was the best double album released that year. Despite Big, Pac, and Bone Thugs all releasing double discs, I always felt that Wu-Tang had the best of the double albums and likely the best double album of all time.

Camp Lo released the classic Uptown Saturday Night, Wyclef released The Carnival, Slum Village released an amazing album, Juvenile released Solja Rags, Three 6 Mafia put out the classic Chapter 2: World Domination with the epic "Late Night Tip" featured, Scarface released a classic, Mystikal put out a great album as well, showcasing the level of diversity in this music year. Rakim and Twista put out solid projects, with Twista album Adrenaline Rush being looked as a certified classic honestly. The 18th Letter wasn't as well received as Rakim would want it to be, but it was still as solid as expected. A year full of greatness and tremendous loss, but new perspective. That matters so much in hip hop.

Have an opinion on 1997, discuss it as much as you would like in comments below.



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