*BONUS* How they Was Rappin’ in 1990

1990 rap collage

ICYMI: Check out our previous entries/playlists from the 1990s:

Yooooo! Damn near two years after the fact, and here I am, back with the long-overdue 1990 bonus mix! I don’t expect anyone who originally followed this series to have a reason to check back in, but given that Billboard Magazine (@billboard) dubbed 1990 as “THE YEAR THAT RAP EXPLODED!“, this entry was always going to arrive sooner or later…in this case, far, far later.

A lot has changed since I began creating these blogs and playlists (as things tend to do over the years) and one of the bigger adjustments affecting this series has to do with Spotify‘s (@Spotify) licensing agreements. There are pros and cons to this — several of the songs which I was unable to add to the previous years have since been made available on the platform. Obvious pro. The flip side to this is that some of the tracks I compiled at the time the playlists were originally released have seen their license expire. I suppose this is a simple reality of the modern streaming era but things like these demonstrate to me that serious music fanatics will always see the value in a physical release for this very reason. There is nothing that bothers me more than seeing an album on Spotify that is available in the United States, but not Canada. Fuck geo restrictions. Regardless, the ’91 through ’99 playlists may have seen some very minor alterations since your last listen — some additions, a few subtractions, still nothing but the finest.

Back to THE YEAR THAT RAP EXPLODED: As far as the mainstream was concerned, 1990 was the year which saw the legitimization of rap as a musical force…by way of MC Hammer (@MCHammer) and Vanilla Ice (@vanillaice). Hammer was arguably the first ever rapper to become a household name and his first top 10 single, “U Can’t Touch This“, driven by its iconic sample of Rick James‘ (@RickJames) “Super Freak“, helped to single-handedly bring the genre into the ears and minds of ‘White America’. Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned Vanilla Ice would drop the infamous, “Ice Ice Baby“, which would go on to become the first hip-hop single ever to reach the #1 spot on the US Billboard charts.

hammerman cartoon

Remember the Hammerman cartoon?

At the same time, hip-hop and rap was beginning to be taken far more seriously from a critical perspective, largely thanks to Public Enemy‘s (@PublicEnemyFTP) earth-shattering release, Fear of a Black Planet, the follow-up to its monumental predecessor, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back. Although, upon its release, the group were attempting to overcome controversial and divisive statements made by Professor Griff (@GRIFFTHENME) in reference to Jews and homosexuals, the sheer force of FOABP was, and remains, undeniable to this day. Propelled by the impact of “Fight the Power“, PE‘s theme contribution to Spike Lee‘s Do the Right Thing, the song and album each represent the first two Grammy (@RecordingAcad) nominations of the group’s career. Inspired by the PE discography, Ronald “Bee-Stinger” Savage (@ronald__savage), member of the Universal Zulu Nation and Son of the Hip-Hop Movement, would soon thereafter establish the Six Elements of the Hip-Hop Movement — those being Consciousness Awareness, Civil Rights Awareness, Activism Awareness, Justice, Political Awareness, and Community Awareness.

Rap, as an art form, was beginning to mature and receive the recognition it so desperately deserved in return for its raw and uncompromising look into the daily life of the inner-city. As more and more rappers began transitioning away from the party raps in order to provide thoughtful and articulated social commentaries, the geography of hip-hop began to expand, paving the way for a spotlight to be shone onto the opposing west coast.

This perfect storm led to the creation of one of rap’s all-time classics, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, from the legendary Ice Cube (@icecube). Fresh from his split with N.W.A., Cube sought out a few productions from Hank Shocklee (@hankshocklee) of the Bomb Squad, a production group made famous through their work with Public Enemy. After Shocklee expressed that his interest would be dependant upon his ability to produce the album in full, the two entities were able to create what became arguably the greatest inter-coast rap collaboration of all-time. It’s a shame that the big East vs. West rivalry would begin picking up less than a year after its release, for we may never know what kind of gritty funk could have come about if tensions had been avoided.

Nevertheless, rap would be flipped on its head from a lyrical / content perspective and its strength as a commercial force was only beginning to be revealed. As evidenced by the launch of the Source magazine (@TheSource), 1990 was the year which demonstrated that hip-hop’s staying power was reaching far beyond ‘fad’ territory.

Also, for as ill as AmeriKKKa‘s was and is, I had to lead off the ’90 playlist with a track off Cube‘s Kill at Will EP — one of the hardest EPs ever!

I hope you all enjoy this one and that it was worth the wait!

best rapper of 1990: ice cube

The best rapper of 1990 (according to Complex) : ICE CUBE

As it often goes, Spotify didn’t have all of the tracks I wanted to include here. While I managed to fit the majority in, there always manages to be a few elusive cuts which aren’t available for listening on streaming platforms.

I’d have definitely included the following joints had they been an option for me:

Above the Law – Livin’ Like Hustlers

Barsha – Barsha’s Explicit Lyrics

Kwamé – A Day in the Life: A Pokadelick Adventure

Lakim Shabazz – The Lost Tribe of Shabazz

Master Ace – Take a Look Around

Richie Rich – Don’t Do It

Shazzy – Attitude: A Hip Hop Rapsody

  • Above the Law: In 1990, these N.W.A. affiliates dropped what is essentially the pre-Chronic. Having laid a claim down on the origin of the term, ‘G-Funk‘, Above the Law‘s debut provides an early glimpse into the sound that would go on to dominate the urban west coast landscape for the better part of the next decade. An undisputed pioneer of that classic 90s California funk!
  • Barsha: A one and done rapper, Barsha dropped his only release to minimal fanfare, but his diet / lite interpretation of the 2 Live Crew type raunch is balanced out with some genuinely conscious expressions. Comparisons to a less-proficient Big Daddy Kane (@bigdaddykane) are numerous and the average head will pick up on his stylistic similarities right away. A fun yet underrated and oft overlooked release, if not entirely essential. Definitely worth a listen, though!
  • Kwamé: One of the illest things about Kwamé was that he was one of the few rappers at the time to accompany himself with a live band. It didn’t matter if it was live or in studio, having been a product of growing up around New York’s burgeoning jazz scene seemed to instil an intense appreciation for traditional instrumentation. Lumped in with what were referred to at the time as “bohemian rappers” or “hip-hop hippies”, Kwamé released, A Day in the Life: A Pokadelick Adventure, an album that was an unapologetically nerdy coming-of-age story. The record is basically a documentation of his days as a high schooler, touching on topics like girls, bad grades, bullies, and more. A true time capsule which harkens back to a time when the genre was still in the midst of forming its own identity.
  • Lakim Shabazz: As a founding member of the original Flavor Unit, Lakim‘s brief foray into the world of rap was brief but significant. One of the earliest rappers to introduce the genre to the teachings and concepts of the Five Percent Nation, his ultra-militant pro-black raps displayed a high degree of lyrical skill and verbal acrobatics that left a lasting legacy. To this day, Lakim gets name-checked as a favourite rapper of some of your favourite rappers.
  • Master Ace: Back in the Cold Chillin’ days, he was known as the Master. These days, anyone who knows me knows that I consider Masta Ace (@mastaace) to be one of the best rappers to ever grip a microphone. He may be the most underrated storyteller in the history of the game! I own a copy of Take a Look Around and I remember Ace looking stunned when I saw him in Toronto asked him to tag my copy up for me. Cool moment. I can talk about this dude for days. Looking back, this record was considered to be kinda ‘soft’ at the time but this shit definitely holds up. “As I Reminisce” is fire and “Together” is one of my favourite album outros from out of that time period.
  • Richie Rich: Rich (@RICHIERICH) has two massive claims to fame. Firstly, he left a huge impression upon a pre-fame Snoop Doggy Dogg (@SnoopDogg), to the point he directly influenced the sound and stylistics of Snoop‘s raps. Secondly, he became the first rapper from the Bay to sign with Def Jam (@defjam), the significance of which can’t really be overstated given that this occurred in 1995—just a year prior the beginning of the end of the east-west feud. Listening to Don’t Do It nowadays and it’s still 100% Oakland through and through.
  • Shazzy: Who remembers Shazzy!? Dante Ross (@DanteRoss) was one of the executive producers on this project, and apparently, he shits all over it these days. That’s a shame because I was always a Stimulated Dummies fan and I really fux with the beats on this album! One of the earliest ‘femcees’ that can be remembered, there is very little information on Shazzy, presently or historically, which is unfortunate because this album still goes pretty hard!

So that’s it! More than two years after it began, I am finally putting this playlist series to bed. Having said that, as I’ve done with the other entries, I will be periodically adding tracks as they become available. Hopefully, there won’t be too many subtractions, only additions! How do you think I did for the 1990 playlist? Any notable omissions that I failed to cover? If so, who do you suggest I include?

Honestly, rap music brings me a ton of joy so I hope these playlists sent a lot of pleasure / memories / information your way. The first entry into this series, rappity raps circa ’91, peaked at a total of 30 followers on Spotify and it brings me an untold amount of satisfaction when you guys follow and listen to these playlists — I really dig having the opportunity to nerd out on this rap shit with anyone willing to engage. If you’re able to help drive the follow counts up on these, it would mean a lot to me. I’d like to think of this series as a comprehensive catalogue for all the heads out there looking for a deep dive into the genre. I hope you can appreciate all of the love and effort! If you are also willing to participate in the poll below, it would be helpful to me. Thanks for reading, listening, and for all of your support! 🕺

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