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(Copyright 2009 Piero Scaruffi)

The Golden Age of Hip-hop Music

(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")
Generally speaking, the rule for hip-hop music of the 1990s was that behind every successful rap act there was a producer. Rap music was born as a "do it yourself" art in which the "message" was more important than the music. During the 1990s, interest in the lyrics declined rapidly, while interest in the soundscape that those lyrics roamed increased exponentially. The rapping itself became less clownish, less stereotyped, less macho, and much more psychological and subtle. In fact, rappers often crossed over into singing. Hip-hop music became sophisticated, and wed jazz, soul and pop. Instrumental hip-hop became a genre of its own, and one of the most experimental outside of classical music.

East-Coast rap

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The most significant event of the early 1990s was probably the advent of Wu-Tang Clan (1), a loose affiliation of rappers, including Gary "Genius/GZA" Grice, Russell "Ol' Dirty Bastard" Jones, Clifford "Method Man" Smith and Dennis "Ghostface Killah" Coles, "conducted" (if the rap equivalent of a classical conductor exists) by Robert "RZA" Diggs, the musical genius behind Enter The Wu-Tang (? 1992/? 1993 - nov 1993), a diligent tribute to old-school rap. It was RZA's three-dimensional sound experience and his cerebral gutter beats (and occasional philosophical/mystical tone-poems) that gave meaning to the voices of those rappers, although the sumptuous arrangements of Wu-Tang Forever (? 1996/? 1997 - jun 1997) threatened to take away precisely that meaning. This "clan" (not "gang") spun off a number of successful solo careers. Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return To The 36 Chambers (? 1994 - mar 1995), Method Man's Tical (? 1993/? 1994 - nov 1994), and GZA/Genius' Liquid Swords (? 1995 - nov 1995), the most dramatic and cinematic of the bunch, were produced by RZA. So was Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (late 1994/? 1995 - aug 1995), a vast fresco of violent street life that sometimes felt like a documentary. Its follow-up, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II (2009), would be a more eclectic work involving multiple producers.

However, when the Wu-Tang Clan began a rapid artistic decline, it was Ghostface Killah who emerged as the voice of his generation with the brutal, death-obsessed cinematic storytelling of Supreme Clientele (? 1998/? 1999 - feb 2000) and Fishscale (? 2005 - mar 2006), the former almost dadaistic wordplay and the latter little more than a stream of consciousness.

The Wu-Tang clan were one of the few East Coast acts that stood up to the past standards of the city's hip-hop. A number of New Jersey acts, in particular, cast a doubt on the future of hip-hop: the duo P.M. Dawn, with Of The Heart Of The Soul Of The Cross (? 1990 - aug 1991), Naughty By Nature, with Naughty By Nature (? ? - sep 1991), Kris Kross (the pre-pubescent duo of Chris "Daddy Mack" Smith and Chris "Mack Daddy" Kelly), produced by teenager Jermaine Dupri, with the disco energy of Totally Krossed Out (sep 1991/jan 1992 - mar 1992), and the trio of the Lords of the Underground, with Here Come The Lords (? 1992/? 1993 - mar 1993), produced by Marley Marl. Washington multi-instrumentalist Basehead (Michael Ivey), with Play With Toys (? 1991 - ? 1992), was also crossing over into pop and soul territory. Trevor "Busta Rhymes" Smith's The Coming (? 1995 - mar 1996) was as bizarre as it was accessible (basically an extension of the absurdist style of Public Enemy's William "Flavor Flav" Drayton). The nonsensical dialectic of Das Efx (Andre "Dre" Weston and Willie "Skoob" Hines) on Dead Serious (feb 1991/jan 1992 - apr 1992) was only functional in creating novelty acts.

Main Source's Breaking Atoms (? 1990/? 1991 - jul 1991), Poor Righteous Teachers' second album Pure Poverty (? 1990/? 1991 - jul 1991), permeated by Islamic philosophy, Mecca And The Soul Brother (? 1991/? 1992 - jun 1992) by producer Pete Rock (Phillips) & rapper C.L. Smooth (Corey Penn), Reggie "Redman" Noble's Whut? Thee Album (? 1991/? 1992 - sep 1992), Enta Da Stage (? 1992/? 1993 - oct 1993) by short-lived trio Black Moon, and New Kingdom's tribal-psychedelic Heavy Load (? ? - ? 1993) were among the few albums that dared to experiment. East Coast hip-hop was losing to the West Coast. If nothing else, Kendrick "Jeru the Damaja" Davis's The Sun Rises In The East (? 1993/? 1994 - may 1994) briefly brought back party-rap's original sound.

New York's duo Organized Konfusion (Larry "Prince Poetry" Bakersfield and Troy "Pharoahe Monch" Jamerson) refined the dramatic/poetic skills of rap music, from the ghetto vignettes of Organized Konfusion (? 1990/? 1991 - oct 1991) to the psychologial hip-hopera The Equinox (oct 1996/aug 1997 - sep 1997).

Philadelphia's The Goats (1), led by Oatie Kato (Maxx Stoyanoff-Williams), orchestrated the "hip-hopera" Tricks Of The Shade (apr/jul 1992 - nov 1992), a concept album built around the evils of the USA way of life, with both samples and a live band, deep grooves and a canvas of jazz, funk and rock.

"Prince Paul" Huston (1), the producer of De La Soul's 3 Feet High And Rising (? 1988 - mar 1989) and the equally psychedelic My Field Trip To Planet 9 (? ? - jul 1993) by Justin Warfield, penned Gravediggaz's gothic 6 Feet Deep (? 1991/? 1993 - aug 1994) with Wu-Tang Clan's Robert "RZA" Diggs, and the solo albums Psychoanalysis: What Is It? (? ? - june 1996) and especially the concept album A Prince Among Thieves (? 1997/? 1998 - feb 1999).

Philadelphia-born Roots' collaborator Ursula Rucker was a black spoken-word artist who coined a new form of art with her single Supernatural (1994), a dance hit created by a-capella vocals. After being a mere novelty on other people's songs, she emancipated her voice and her stories of black women on Supa Sista (? ? - sep 2001).

Alien to the street culture of much hip-hop, New York's J-Live (Justice Allah) was one of the MCs who turned rhymed storytelling into a veritable art, both on The Best Part (? 1996/? 1999 - ? 2001), released five years after being recorded, and All Of The Above (? ? - apr 2002).

Equally independent and idiosyncratic, Divine Styler, the project of New York's rapper and producer Mark Richardson (who converted to Islam and changed his name to Mikal Safiyullah), penned the abstract psychedelic hip-hop music of Spiral Walls Containing Autumns Of Light (apr/may 1991 - mar 1992).


TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

On the West Coast, "gangsta-rap" was the dominant theme. Schoolly D had invented it in 1984, but, starting with Ice-T in 1986, it was in Los Angeles that the form found its natural milieu. In 1992, when racial riots erupted (following the police beating of a black gangster), Los Angeles was said to have 66 gangs of teenagers, mostly black, with daily shootings among them. They reached a temporary truce in april. It is not a coincidence that gangsta-rap became a national phenomenon in the following twelve months. Gangsta-rap was not so much about gangster lives as about a metaphorical, solemn, doom-laden recreation of the noir/thriller atmosphere of the urban drug culture. It was more than a mere depiction of their lives, just like psychedelic music had been more than a mere reproduction of the hallucinogenic experience. Gangsta rap was about the mythology and the metaphysics of the gang life, with sexual and criminal overtones. As Greg Kot wrote, "The gangster rappers depict a world in which gangbangers and crack-heads fester in a cesspool of misogyny, homophobia and racism". Invariably dismissing women as teasers or sluts, these rappers indirectly revealed the sordid and desperate conditions of the women of the ghettos. Their justification was that they were not promoting that kind of violence, but merely documenting it: gangsta-rap was a documentary of daily life in the ghetto. Furthermore, the arrogance of these self-appointed super-heroes was often accompanied by a fatalistic mood: gangsta-rap was not about immortality, albeit about survival. N.W.A. (1), or "Niggaz With Attitude", formalized "gangsta-rap" on Straight Outta Compton (? 1987/? 1988 - aug 1988), and two of its former members, O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson with AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (jan/mar 1990 - may 1990), a total immersion in a nightmarish atmosphere, and Andre "Dr Dre" Young (1) with The Chronic (jun 1992 - dec 1992), featuring rapper Calvin "Snoop Doggy Dogg" Broadus, and later with 2001 (? 1999 - nov 1999), gave it its masterpieces. The latter, heavily influenced by George Clinton's psychedelic funk, also coined a subgenre called "G Funk".

Houston's Geto Boys, featuring young rapper Brad "Scarface" Jordan, were one of the first crews from the South to become known nation-wide, thanks to the the terrifying gangsta-rap of their second album Geto Boys (? ? - aug 1990). Robert-Earl "DJ Screw" Davis, who died at 30 of an overdose, became a Houston legend by slowing down ("screwing") rap hits into psychedelic, dilated melodies.

Gangsta-rap became mainstream via albums such as Doggystyle (jan/oct 1993 - nov 1993) by Los Angeles native Calvin Broadus, better known as Snoop Doggy Dogg (1), produced by Dr Dre, and Me Against The World (oct 1993/dec 1994 - mar 1995), the third album from Oakland's 2Pac (aka Tupac Shakur, born Lesane Parish Crooks, shot to death in 1996), produced by Sam Bostic, which was followed by All Eyez On Me (oct 1995 - feb 1996), the first double album of hip-hop music.

As gangsta-rap generated sales, rappers found it almost obligatory to spin the usual litany of hard-boiled tales of drugs, sex and murder.

One of the main sources of creativity for the Los Angeles scene was the the Freestyle Fellowship crew, responsible for the elaborate collages of To Whom It May Concern (? 1991 - oct 1991) and especially Innercity Griots (? ? - apr 1993). The second album, A Book Of Human Language (? ? - apr 1998), by Aceyalone, a founding member of the "Freestyle Fellowship" crew, was lavishly arranged by Matthew "Mumbles" Fowler, and retained a literate approach that contrasted with the old "gansta" style. Magnificent City (? ? - feb 2006) featured beats by Jon "RJD2" Krohn.

Los Angeles was also the birthplace of Latino hip-hop, which debuted with Escape From Havana (? ? - aug 1989) by Cuban-born Mellow Man Ace (Sergio Reyes) and Hispanic Causing Panic (? 1989/? 1990 - jul 1990) by Kid Frost (Arturo Molina). Kid Frost's La Raza (1990) and Mellow Man Ace's Mentirosa (1990) became the reference standards for all subsequent Latin rappers. The artistic peak of West-Coast rap was probably reached by a semi-Latino group, Cypress Hill (1), the project of producer Lawrence "Muggs" Muggerud and rapper Louis "B Real" Freeze, with their hyper-depressed trilogy of Cypress Hill (? 1990/? 1991 - aug 1991), Black Sunday (feb 1992/apr 1993 - jul 1993) and Temples Of Boom (? 1994/? 1995 - oct 1995). The large Latino collective Ozomatli offered ebullient salsa-funk-rap on Ozomatli (? 1997/? 1998 - jun1998), featuring wizard turntablist Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden).

Oakland was the headquarters of most black rappers from the San Francisco Bay Area. The main acts were the crew Digital Underground (1), the brainchild of Greg "Shock G" Jacobs and the main hip-hop purveyors of George Clinton's eccentric "funkadelia", notably on Sex Packets (? 1989 - mar 1990); and rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien (Teren Delvon Jones), also inspired by the P-funk aesthetics on I Wish My Brother George Was Here (? 1990/? 1991 - oct 1991). The Mystic Journeymen, formed by rappers Pushin' Suckas' Consciousness (PSC) and Vision The Brotha From Anotha Planet (BFAP), were important not so much for their 4001: The Stolen Legacy (? 1995 - ? 1996), but as founders of the Oakland collective "Living Legends".

San Francisco produced some of the most virulent agit-prop rap of all times: the Beatnigs, with Beatnigs (? ? - ? 1988), Consolidated (1), with The Myth Of Rock (? ? - ? 1990), and the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy (1), with Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury (? 1991 - mar 1992).

Gangsta-rap reached the East Coast with Onix's Bacdafucup (sep 1991/aug 1992 - mar 1993), Nasir "Nas" Jones' powerful Illmatic (jun 1992/feb 1993 - apr 1994), the Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace)'s Ready To Die (? 1993/? 1994 - sep 1994), produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and others (Wallace was shot to death in 1997), and Mobb Deep's second album The Infamous (? 1994/? 1995 - apr 1995), featuring Albert "Prodigy" Johnson.

Fat Joe (Joseph Cartagena), the first major Latino rapper from the Bronx, also embraced the gansta-rap aesthetic, notably on his second album Jealous One's Envy (nov 1994/aug 1995 - oct 1995). Fat Joe was the most notorious member of New York's rap collective D.I.T.C. (Diggin' In The Crates), formed by Joe "DJ Diamond D" Kirkland and first tested on Diamond D's Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop (? 1991/? 1992 - sep 1992). The other notable member, Lamont "Big L" Coleman (shot to death in 1999), released perhaps the best of their albums, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (? 1993/? 1994 - mar 1995), produced by Anthony "Buckwild" Best.


TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Progressive-rap of the kind pioneered by Public Enemy thrived with works such as Arrested Development (1)'s 3 Years 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life (? 1991 - mar 1992), the product of Atlanta-based rapper Todd "Speech" Thomas and disc-jockey Timothy "Headliner" Barnwell; Movement Ex's Movement Ex (? ? - oct 1990), a concentrate of stereotyped conspiracy theories from Los Angeles; Oscar "Paris" Jackson's second album Sleeping With The Enemy (? 1991/? 1992 - nov 1992), from the Bay Area; Public Enemy associate "Sister Souljah" (Lisa Williamson)'s 360 Degrees Of Power (? 1991 - mar 1992); Brand Nubian's One For All (? 1989/? 1990 - dec 1990); X-Clan's To The East, Blackwards (? 1989/? 1990 - apr1990) from New York, KMD's Mr Hood (? 1989/? 1991 - may 1991), featuring rapper Daniel "Zen Love" Dumile (later known as MF Doom), and Return Of The Boom Bap (? 1993 - sep 1993) by former Boogie Down Productions mastermind KRS-One (Lawrence Krisna Parker). These groups harked back to the radical, militant, Afro-nationalist ideology of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. They basically represented the "positive" alternative to gangsta-rap: instead of advocating rape and murder, they confronted issues of both local and global politics. Even feminism found its hip-hop voice: Yolanda "Yo-Yo" Whittaker, who debuted with Make Way For The Motherlode (? 1990/early 1991 - mar 1991) and founded the "Intelligent Black Woman's Coalition" to promote self-esteem among women.

This subgenre reached a fanatical peak with Steal This Album (? ? - nov 1998) by Oakland's duo The Coup, that reads like Mao's "Red Book" or a Noam Chomsky pamphlet.


TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

This was also the decade of "jazz-hop" fusion. Jazz-hop fusion had distinguished predecessors. Some consider Miles Davis' On The Corner (jun/jul 1972 - oct 1972) the precursor of hip-hop. For sure, in the 1990s the Last Poets, a Harlem-based trio of former jail convicts who had converted to Islam (led by Jalal Mansur Nuriddin), were using "spiel" (as rap was called in those days) over a jazz background.

Within the rap nation, jazz-hop was pioneered by: scratcher Derek "D.ST" Howells's collaboration with jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, Rockit (1983); the Jungle Brothers' Straight Out The Jungle (? 1987/? 1988 - nov 1988), possibly the first example of full-fledged jazz-hop fusion; And Now The Legacy Begins (? 1990/? 1991 - apr 1991), the eclectic multi-stylistic manifesto of Toronto-based duo Dream Warriors (with the prophetic My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style); A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory (? 1990/? 1991 - sep 1991), which featured guest musician Ron Carter; Carlton Douglas "Chuck D" Ridenhour's big-band tribute to Charlie Mingus (1992). Jazz returned the favor with post-bop saxophonist Greg Osby's 3D Lifestyles (oct 1992 - may 1993), with Miles Davis' very last recording, Doo-Bop (jan/feb 1991 - jun 1992), and with the "acid-jazz" scene of San Francisco (such as Broun Fellinis and Alphabet Soup).

Besides being one of the first groups to follow in the footsteps of Public Enemy's militant hip-hop, Gang Starr (1), rapper Keith "Guru" Elam and producer Christopher "DJ Premier" Martin, pioneered the mature exploitation of jazz on Step In The Arena (? 1990 - jan 1991) and Daily Operation (? ? - may 1992), and then ventured beyond jazz-hop on Moment Of Truth (? 1997/? 1998 - mar 1998). Martin's extensive use of jazz sampling and percussion loops revolutionized the way "raps" ought to be orchestrated.

Jazz-hop became the sensation of 1993 with Guru (1)'s own Jazzmatazz Volume 1 (? 1992/? 1993 - may 1993), US3's Hand On The Torch (? ? - jul 1993), for which British producer Geoff Wilkinson mined the Blue Note catalog, the Digable Planets' Reachin' (? 1992 - feb 1993), from Boston, Pharcyde's dadaistic, carnivalesque Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (? 1991/? 1992 - nov 1992), from Los Angeles, and Plantation Lullabies (? ? - oct 1993) by Washington's Me'Shell Ndege' Ocello (Mary Johnson). The trend was amplified in the following years by albums such as One Step Ahead Of The Spider (? ? - jun 1994), the third album by Dallas' white rapper Mark Griffin, better known as MC900 Ft Jesus (1), the Fun Lovin' Criminals' Come Find Yourself (apr/may 1995 - feb 1996).

Philadelphia's Roots (1) approached jazz not via samples but through live instrumentation, led by the rhythm section of drummer Ahmir-Khalib "?uestlove" Thompson and bassist Leon "Hub" Hubbard and by keyboardist Scott Storch, on Do You Want More (? 1993/ ? 1994 - jan 1995), the album that introduced spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker. A quantum jump in arrangements (notably James "Kamal" Gray's electronic keyboards) made Phrenology (jun/sep 2002 - nov 2002) a case in point for the marriage of technology, composition and performance, transforming hip-hop music into avantgarde architecture; and its successors Game Theory (mar/may 2006 - aug2006) and Rising Down (? 2006/? 2007 - apr 2008) refined their invention (catchy, agitprop, beat-based and cross-stylistic music) by wedding those lush production values with dark and high-energy vibrations.

The horizon further expanded with Chicago's Common Sense (Lonnie Rashied Lynn), who evolved from the mellow jazz-hop of Resurrection (? 1994 - oct 1994) to Electric Circus (? 2002 - dec 2002), an experiment reminiscent of psychedelic and progressive-rock, and with New York's Dante "Mos Def" Smith (1), who reacted to gangsta-rap by bring back the serious-minded philosophy of the "Native Tongues" posse while at the same time accomodating rock, soul and funk on the phantasmagoric Black On Both Sides (? 1998/? 1999 - oct 1999).

Basically, hip-hop music had fragmented along three seismic faults of rebellion: one could vent negro anger as a gangsta, as an Afronationalist militant or... by playing jazz music.

Hip-hop domination

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

By the mid 1990s, hip-hop had dramatically evolved from an art of "messages" that were spoken in a conversational tone over an elementary rhythmic base to an art of cadenced speech in an emphatic and melodramatic tone over an intricate rhythmic collage. Regardless of the "message" that was now being broadcasted, the sense of black self-affirmation had moved to the forefront. The main continuity with the original form of Grandmaster Flash was in the "urban" setting of the music: except for free-jazz, no other form of black music had been so viscerally tied to the urban environment.

During the 1990s, hip-hop spread outside of its traditional bases (New York and Los Angeles), reaching the far corners of the globe.

Acid-rap, a morbid style related to Gravediggaz's horrocore, was coined by Detroit's rapper and producer Esham (Rashaam Smith), both on his solo album Boomin' Words From Hell (? 1988 - ? 1989), recorded when he was 15, and on the harsh and disturbing Life After Death (? 1991 - feb 1992), credited to his group NATAS ("Satan" spelled backwards).

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (? 1993/? 1994 - apr 1994) by Atlanta's Outkast (1), the duo of Andre "Dre" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, was representative of the rise of southern hip-hop, with its emphasis on soul melodies and pop arrangements. Outkast turned hip-hop into a new form of space funkadelia on their sumptuous kaleidoscopes of aural ecstasy, Aquemini (? 1997/? 1998 - sep 1998) and Stankonia (? 1999/? 2000 - oct 2000) Another product of the Atlanta school was Goodie Mob's Soul Food (oct 1994/aug 1995 -nov 1995), fronted by vocalist Thomas "Cee-Lo Green" Callaway and credited with starting the "Dirty South" movement. Meanwhile, Master P assembled the No Limit posse in New Orleans.

The limitations of Southern gangsta rap were well represented in Texas by UGK (Underground Kingz), the rapping duo of Bun B (Bernard Freeman) and Pimp C (Chad Butler), who debuted with The Southern Way (? ? - apr 1992). The "hard" sound of that album rapidly disappeared in favor of a smooth radio-friendly sound, leading to the bestsellers Ridin' Dirty (? 1995/? 1996 - jul 1996) and Underground Kingz (? 2006/? 2007 - aug 2007). While Pimp C died in 2007 from a drug overdose, the effervescent Bun B launched a successful solo career with the eclectic and star-studded Trill (? 2004/? 2005 - oct 2005) and II Trill (? 2007/? 2008 - may 2008).

Meanwhile, around 1991 in Houston, a dj called Robert Davis and known as DJ Screw invented a technique of "chopped and screwed" mixtapes to mimic the effect of "sippin' sizzurp" (codeine cough syrup), an increasingly popular drug. A group of rappers known as the Screwed Up Click (including Marcus "Lil Keke" Edwards, Kenneth "Big Moe" Moore, Cedric "E.S.G." Hill, John "Big Hawk" Hawkins and his brother Patrick "Fat Pat" Hawkins) began rapping on that music. In 1994 Big Hawk, Fat Pat, DJ Screw, Lil' Keke and Koldjack formed the group D.E.A. and released the album Screwed For Life (? ? - sep 1998). DJ Screw died in 2000 of an overdose, after releasing dozens of mixtapes, but his style lived on and became influential in the age of trap music.

In Britain, Fun-Da-Mental, the brainchild of Aki "Propa-Gandhi" Nawaz, attempted an original and brutal fusion of hip-hop, industrial music and world-music on Seize The Time (? ? - jun 1994), propelling his agit-prop raps with a style reminiscent of Tackhead, Consolidated and Public Enemy. And Asian Dub Foundation, a London-based sound system of ethnic Indian musicians halfway between Tackhead and Clash, concocted the militant ethnic-punk-folk-dance music of Rafi's Revenge (? 1997/? 1998 - may 1998).

Irish communist rappers Marxman sounded like the British version of Public Enemy on 33 Revolutions Per Minute (? 1992 - apr 1993), but without the musical talent.

The most influential idea was perhaps the one pioneered by the Ragga Twins (Trevor and David Destouche) on Reggae Owes Me Money (? ? - mar 1991): the fusion of reggae and hip-hop breakbeats (that would lead to a whole new genre, "jungle").

MC Solaar (Senegal-born Claude M'Barali) catapulted French hip-hop to the forefront of the international scene with the brilliant Qui Seme Le Vent Recolte Le Tempo (? 1990/? 1991 - oct 1991) and Prose Combat (? 1993 - feb 1994).

Assalti Frontali, the leading hip-hop posse of Italy, unleashed the confrontational manifestos Terra di Nessuno (? ? - jul 1992) and the hardcore-tinged Conflitto (nov/dec 1995 - ?1996).

Instrumental hip-hop

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Crucial for the development of an atmospheric pseudo-dance genre was instrumental hip-hop.

Instrumental hip-hop was largely legitimized by a Los Angeles native resident in London, DJ Shadow (1), born Josh Davis. A legendary turntablist, Davis used prominent bass lines and scratches to detonate his extended singles Entropy (1993) and In/Flux (1993), and basically bridged classical music and hip-hop on elaborate, multi-part compositions such as What Does Your Soul Look Like (1995). Endtroducing (? 1994/? 1996 - sep 1996) was possibly the first respectable album of all-instrumental hip-hop, entirely composed on the sampler but nonetheless lushly orchestrated.

The dub-tinged soundscapes of New York's Skiz "Spectre" Fernando (2) were best deployed on the imposing gothic, post-apocalyptic trilogy of The Illness (? ? - jun 1995), The Second Coming (? ? - oct 1997) and The End (? ? - sep 1999), each of them the hip-hop equivalent of a William Blake poem.

Japanese dj DJ Krush added a jazzy tinge to the idea on Strictly Turntablised (? ? - sep 1994) and Ki-Oku (? ? - aug 1996), featuring trumpeter Toshinori Kondo.

With DJ Shadow, Spectre and DJ Krush operating in three different regions, the genre of instrumental, sample-based hip-hop became an international koine.

Urban soul

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

"Urban" was the nickname grafted to the smooth and sophisticated rhythm'n'blues ballad of the late 1980s, best personified by Janet Jackson (Michael's sister) and Whitney Houston. Jackson debuted with Control (aug/oct 1985 - feb 1986), crafted by producers Jimmy Jam (James Harris) and Terry Lewis, that offered urban soul music tinged with hip-hop beats to propel her sensual whisper. Houston exploded with Saving All My Love For You (1985), How Will I Know (1985), Greatest Love Of All (1985), I Wanna Dance With Somebody (1987), Didn't We Almost Have It All (1987) and One Moment In Time (1988).

Urban soul came to dominate pop music as well, thanks to the Los Angeles-based stars of Shalamar's singer Jody Watley, Brandy Norwood and Macy Gray (born Natalie McIntyre), revealed by the moribund growl of I Try (1999), a rousing ballad composed with keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, bassist David Wilder and guitarist Jinsoo Lim.

The fact that black female artists such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson came to dominate the charts and set new sale records was, if nothing else, proof that black artists and female artists had made tremendous progress in being accepted by a world that used to worship only male white idols such as the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Urban soul became a much more rhythmic affair in 1988, after Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced Janet Jackson's Control (aug/oct 1985 - feb 1986), Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds produced the Pebbles' Pebbles (? 1986/? 1987 - nov 1987) and after Teddy Riley produced Keith Sweat's Make It Last Forever (? 1987 - nov 1987). Finally, Teddy Riley's own group Guy and Bobby Brown's second album, Don't Be Cruel (dec 1987/apr 1988 - jun 1988), also produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, fused urban soul with hip-hop to create "new jack swing". Bobby Brown had beeen a member of teenage-group New Edition, whose biggest hit, Cool It Now (1984), was probably the first to use rapping in a pop-soul context. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis topped everybody else with Janet Jackson's second album, Rhythm Nation 1814 (sep 1988/may 1989 - sep 1989). Later, the style was perfected by producer Sean "Puffy" Combs on Mary J. Blige's What's The 411? (aug 1991/may 1992 - jul 1992), and by producers/writers Tim "Timbaland" Mosley and Melissa "Missy" Elliott on the second album by teen-idol Aaliyah (Haughton), One In A Million (aug 1995/? 1996 - aug 1996).

The most successful of the new jack swing artists were Philadelphia's Boyz II Men, who established their "hip-wop" style (new jack swing plus four-part harmonies a` la doo-wop) with Cooleyhighharmony (sep/nov 1990 - apr 1991), produced by Michael Bivins of the New Edition, and churned out colossal hits such as the Babyface-penned End of the Road (1992), that broke a record held by Elvis Presley since 1956, I'll Make Love to You (1994), another Babyface creation (which even beat the previous record), On Bended Knee (1994), produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (a hit which beat their own record), and One Sweet Day (1995), a duet with Mariah Carey (which, again, broke their own previous record). The era of new jack swing ended with multi-instrumentalist Robert "R" Kelly, whose double album R. (? 1996/? 1998 - nov 1998) marked a revival of classic soul music. Kelly later premiered his campy, cartoonish television soap hip-hopera Trapped In The Closet (? 2004/ ? 2012 - oct 2005/nov 2012) that looked like a parody of the whole scene.

The spiritual message and the Caribbean-pop-rap fusion of London-born Des'ree Weekes came to focus on I Ain't Movin' (? 1993/? 1994 - may 1994).

Assembled in 1988 by Los Angeles writers/producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy (both former Club Nouveau), the female quartet En Vogue rejuvinated the concept of the "girl group" for the video age with their second album Funky Divas (may 1991/jan 1992 - mar 1992). However, the new vanguard of female rhythm'n'blues groups was represented by TLC, the brainchild of producer Dallas Austin, that debuted with Ooooooohhh (apr/dec 1991 - feb 1992). They, in turn, inspired Houston's Destiny's Child (featuring the rising star of Beyonce Knowles), who came to dominate the charts at the turn of the century.

The Minneapolis sextet Mint Condition was the most competent combo of mainstream rhythm'n'blues throughout the 1990s, from Breakin' My Heart (1991) to What Kind of Man Would I Be (1996).

A revival of soul music, updated to the technology of the hip-hop era, was heralded by D'Angelo's Brown Sugar (? 1994/? 1995 - jul 1995), and by Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (? 1994/mar 1995 - apr 1996), a sumptuous Marvin Gaye-style romantic concept album.

In fact, the soul revival had been predated by, yet again, the influential production duo of L.A. Reid and Babyface, for example on Toni Braxton's two massive bestsellers, Toni Braxton (may 1992/? 1993 - jul 1993) and Secrets (jan 1995/may 1996 - jun 1996), the latter containing one of the most famous ballads of all times (Un-break My Heart, composed by Diane Warren).

After having pioneered jazz-hop with Plantation Lullabies (1993), Washington's Me'Shell NdegeOcello (1), born Mary Johnson, went on to pen the depressed confessional concept Bitter (1999) and especially its alter-ego, the sensual concept Comfort Woman (2003). She ambitiously ventured into jazz territory with Dance of the Infidel (2005), on which she played bandleader and "composer" for the improvised music of Jack DeJohnette, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Kenny Garrett and Cassandra Wilson, finally achieving musical maturity with her most spiritual work, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (2007).

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