The year was 1998.
It was a time full of uncertainty; the world around us was shifting towards the digital age. With the turn of the century steadily approaching, little did we know that the way we consumed music was about to change, forever. In the years prior, we lost two of hip-hop’s brightest stars due to senseless, gun violence. The deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace left a gaping hole in our hearts, along with a huge void to fill in this still growing genre. 1998 proved to be one of the greatest years ever in hip-hop; as well as the beginning of its acceptance towards new regions and sounds.
Since it’s inception in the 1970’s, rap music was dominated by two regions – the East and the West. Groups such as The Geto Boys (Da Good, Da Bad & Da Ugly), UGK and 8Ball & MJG were prevalent, but there was an apparent lack of respect for most emcees below the Mason-Dixon Line until about the mid 90’s. OutKast’s win at the Source Awards in 1995 opened America’s eyes to the possibility of the existence of lyricism outside of New York or California; but it was in 1998 that we witnessed the explosion of the 3rd coast.
Master P, a resident of New Orleans, burst onto the national scene in 1997 with his sixth studio album, Ghetto D. The project topped the Billboard music charts, and his No Limit Records label flooded the market with a bevy of talent in ’98. Silkk The Shocker (Charge It 2 Da Game), Fiend (There’s One In Every Family), Mystikal (Ghetto Fabulous), Mia X and Snoop Dogg (just to name a few) all released albums during the calendar year. Cash Money Records’ Juvenile and The Big Tymers, also garnered widespread attention for their projects. In the fall, the aforementioned group, OutKast, presented to the world with what many people feel is one of the greatest albums ever to come out the south; Aquemini. This record received widespread acclaim from critics, due to its experimental musicality and unique lyrical content. Aquemini was a testament to Andre’s words during that fateful night in ’95: “The South got something to say…”
The West coast was represented correctly in the midst of all this new and innovative music. Seasoned veterans such as Ice Cube, Nate Dogg, Mack 10, WC and Cypress Hill made their presence felt, while new comers like Xzibit, Kurupt (Kuruption!) and Daz Dillinger aimed to make albums that would solidify their place in California hip-hop history. The biggest story from the left coast in 1998, however, took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. After a tumultuous year with Death Row Records, the iconic Snoop Dogg was finally released from his contract and signed with No Limit Records. He dropped Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told in the summer; which topped the Billboard 200, selling 520K in it’s first week.
The murder of The Notorious B.I.G. still remains a mystery, but in 1997 his death not only left the Big Apple questioning the future; sadly, the title for the “King of New York” was also left vacant. At the time, Jay-Z was making a strong case for that position; with Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime: Vol. 1, and 1998’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. However, during an era that was controlled by catchy hooks and shiny suits, one man came and shook the game to its core… that man, was DMX. X (birth name Earl Simmons), released two number one albums in a seven-month span. He also starred in the cult classic, Belly, with the legendary Nas. Big Pun (Capital Punishment), The LOX (Money, Power & Respect), Cam’Ron (Confessions Of Fire) and N.O.R.E., also rose to prominence with their respective releases; each easing some of the pain caused by Biggie’s untimely death.
Even though 1998 was kind to many, it only belonged to one person. On the 25th of August, Lauryn Hill dropped her debut solo effort, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This album broke both barriers and records; her first-week sales were the highest by any woman at the time, and her 10 Grammy nominations (5 awards) made her the first female to receive that many nods and wins. Her singles, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, “Ex-Factor” and “Everything Is Everything”, were all huge hits, and only added to the popularity of the album, as well as the artist.
From the viewpoint of any millennial that lives in today’s fast-paced world, the 90’s seems like a time long ago. So much has changed since then, and the music industry has become a true reflection of that. Some of the popular artists of that time have faded into obscurity, and some aren’t with us at all. Regardless of how much time passes, nothing can take away from the memories that 1998 provided not just to hip-hop, but the world. Maybe one day, 20 years from now; some young journalist will construct a nostalgic post about 2018 and write about how much joy this year brought him/her…
…Or maybe not.