It’s hard to believe it’s been almost fifty years since Kool Herc threw his first party in the Bronx (on August 11, 1973), setting off a movement that has gone on to capture the imagination of the planet. The lifestyle/culture known as Hip-Hop and one of its primary expressions, rap music, have long since ceased to be simply a ‘ghetto thang,’ vaulting to the forefront of pop culture itself. There’s no time like the present, then, to take pause and hit rewind on this musical phenomenon to acknowledge and appreciate the artists, albums, songs, and trends which have contributed to making hip-hop the success story that it is today. Such is the focus of my inaugural newsletter, Rebel Without a Pause.
“Back in the day” connotes a popular phrase within hip-hop when evoking nostalgia for a past when rap was largely underground, and fresh, new releases flowed like water from a jacked fire hydrant. No other time in rap can really compare to what is commonly referred to as “The Golden Era,” a crucible of creativity and innovation that helped define the artform and culture.
Depending on who you ask, however, there were actually two golden eras--the first between 1986-1988, and the other lasting from around 1992-1998—representing twin creative peaks, when rap’s innovation and popularity exploded, making an indelible impression on the mainstream. During the interim years of 1989-1991, major labels largely controlled the music’s direction ushering in a more commercial age populated by the likes of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. But, on the whole, as the sixties and early seventies were to classic rock, the late eighties and nineties were to hip-hop, producing legendary artists and albums that are regarded as classics.
During this time, I was lucky to count myself among a new breed of journalists, documenting the music and culture for a variety of publications including The Source, Vibe, and Rolling Stone (as well as plenty of underground publications like Ego Trip) while living in Brooklyn, the home of many seminal hip-hop artists. In this pre-gentrification era, New York was still rough around the edges, and the loud, in-your-face, rebel music known as rap proudly claimed its place among the counterculture along with punk rock and reggae. The term “underground,” representing the soul of the art form, also still meant something. Back then, I spent my days buying records, interviewing artists, or simply hanging out in recording studios, where I got to experience the making of albums by EPMD, MOBB Deep, Redman, Wu Tang Clan, and more. Shows, parties, and industry events took place almost every night, and a real sense of community pervaded the scene. Even so, taking into account the fickle nature of the music industry, we had no idea that rap would last and grow into the behemoth it has become.
In this newsletter, I hope to provide some insight into those times. I will include a survey of the seminal artists, albums, songs, and trends that made golden era hip-hop so influential to the culture, as well as the ones that fell through the cracks—all from the unique perspective of someone who was there. When it comes to music, so much of the focus is on what’s new and hot, whereas a painting that might have been done centuries ago can still command millions at an auction while being considered a priceless piece of art. It’s my aim to show and prove that there really is no expiration date for good music, and for this reason, it’s about time we revisited Hip-Hop’s Golden Era. I invite you to join me on this dope journey.