Surely it can’t have been a coincidence that the most popular artists in the golden age of hip hop were also the most vibrant? Despite different approaches and without even knowing it, they had all worked together in a common cause to raise awareness of the black experience and create a heady brew that made hip hop so important to so many. Needless to say, the arrival of gangsta rap dramatically changed that mentality.


Strangely, no one seemed at all bothered by gangsta’s misguided belief that violence and intimidation were the only way to achieve self-determination in the white man’s world. Rappers began to encapsulate every brain’s in their balls, drug, thug, racist, homophobic, materialistic stereotype known to man; decorating themselves in gaudy platinum baubles, glorying in a view of black women as whores to be pimped before inviting the whole planet out for a gunfight at the Compton corral. Following the mega success of NWA, hip hop's new direction was written in blood. Often literally.


While early nineties hip hop turned into a grim old business, if you ignored the mainstream there was still plenty going on. One upside of gangsta’s mass popularity was that it had become large enough to support a viable underground where artists like Arrested Development, KRS One, Black Moon and Jeru gave it a place and a meaning. And they did so with an understanding that rhyme culture was all about intelligence and rising above the shit rather than boasting about the size of your gun or your cock.


It was a template for musicality that dismissed the reliance on hooks stolen from top ten tunes and discussed sex without being demeaning or patronising to anyone. In the mid-nineties that was revolutionary in itself, but it also let a young, impressionable audience know that if you dared to be different, Cypress Hill, Dre and Snoop Deputy Dawg weren’t your only option. Gradually, the creative emphasis began to shift away from LA back to New York where it all began.


One landmark record was the legendary debut by a youthful Nasir Jones from Queens. In the wake of the Wu Tang Clan’s menacing soundscapes, Illmatic was rightly hailed as the second coming, its articulate, politically aware reportage over dense, scratch reviving beats everything hip hop always intended to be. The tide had started to turn yet ultimately it would be the rise of the south that would spark a major resurgence in hop hops credibility and sound the death knell for the east coast-west coast conflict that had already claimed the lives of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.


Timbaland, Missy and Outkast roared in with a very different kind of black charisma, one that outshone and out funked hip hop itself and made it’s obsession with darkness, tension, paranoia and a fetish for ‘keepin it real’ suddenly appear out of step with the good time zeitgeist. In one move they dragged hip hop away from its reliance on sampling back to the electronics and experimentation that inspired a late nineties resurgence combining neat hooks, jagged rhythmic innovation, glitzy entertainment and edge. And let’s not forget a trailer trash white kid from Detroit who was already causing a ruckus that within a year would be raising a whole different set of questions and contradictions.


01 ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ‘Tennessee’ (3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days LP May 1992)

02 PETE ROCK & C.L. SMOOTH ‘They Reminisce Over You’ (Mecca And The Soul Brother LP June 1992)

03 DAS EFX ‘They Want EFX’ (A Side August 1992)

04 DR DRE FEAT. SNOOP DOGG ‘Nuthin’ But A G’Thang’ (The Chronic LP December 1992)

05 2PAC ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ (A Side February 1993)

06 KRS ONE ‘Sound Of Da Police’ (Return Of The Boom Bap LP April 1993)

07 BLACK MOON ‘How Many MC’s’ (Enta Da Stage LP November 1993)

08 WU TANG CLAN ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ (Enter The Wu Tang Clan – 36 Chambers LP November 1993)

09 NAS ‘NY State Of Mind’ (Illmatic LP April 1994)

10 JERU THE DAMAJA ‘Come Clean’ (The Sun Rises In The East LP May 1994)

11 METHOD MAN ‘Bring The Pain’ (Tical LP November 1994)

12 THE ALKAHOLIKS ‘Daaam!’ (Coast II Coast LP February 1995)

13 GOODIE MOB ‘Cell Therapy’ (Soul Food LP November 1995)

14 JAY Z ‘Dead Presidents II’ (Reasonable Doubt LP July 1996)

15 THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. ‘Hypnotize’ (Life After Death LP March 1997)

16 BUSTA RHYMES ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’ (A Side August 1997)

17 MISSY ELLIOTT ‘The Rain’ (A Side August 1997)

18 TIMBALAND & MAGOO ‘Up Jumps Da Boogie’ (Welcome To Our World LP October 1997)  

19 OUTKAST ‘Rosa Parks’ (Aquemini LP September 1998)

20 EMINEM ‘Any Man’ (A Side May 1999)

21 Q TIP ‘All In’ (Amplified LP November 1999)

22 OL’ DIRTY BASTARD & KELIS ‘Got Your Money’ (A Side November 1999)