1994: Hip Hop’s Finest Year

Two thousand and fourteen is off and running. We’re already a month and a half in and we are reminded that 1994 was TWENTY years ago!?!?! Really?!? To any of you over the age of 30, ’94 may seem like yesterday. It certainly does for me. I had JUST returned back to the ATL, my home, after completing my military obligation and ready to bathe in my #21yearoldness. And boy did hip hop have something in store for me and the world.

Coming into ’94, hip-hop had serious and unprecedented momentum. Late 1993 saw the debut album releases from Snoop Doggy Dogg, Wu Tang Clan and Black Moon which helped raise the stakes for 1994. A Tribe Called Quest (bordering on legendary status quickly) also released their 3rd LP “Midnight Marauders,” their most cohesive work, late in ’93. These releases set the stage huge things and the power players of rap music were up to the task…and then some.

The first major hip-hop release of 1994 was Gang Starr’s “Hard to Earn” which featured their biggest hit to date – “Mass Appeal”. This, their 4th album, solidified their place as New York rap royalty. The following month saw two colossal debut albums hit the shelves: Nas’ “Illmatic” and Outkast’s “Southernplayalisticadillacmusik”. Both were immediate game changers in the largest sense, as the term “classic” was instantly applied to both. The bar was raised to a level hip-hop had never seen before both from a creative and competitive stance. Who’s got next?!?

Spring and summer releases from The Beastie Boys (“Ill Communication”), Jeru The Damaja (“The Sun Rises In The East”) and Warren G (“Regulate…The G Funk Era”) kept the parties jumpin’, the blocks bumpin’ and the jeeps blasting. Emcees were clearly relishing the challenge of trying to not only ‘1 up’ the next rapper, but chasing perfection simultaneously. The hot producers at the time (DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Organized Noize to name a few) were actually PRODUCING records along with these artists and not just simply submitting beats to the labels’ A&R’s. That made a huge difference when it came to cultivating an organic song or album…and we were the lucky recipients of the magic collaboration.

Late summer/early fall of ’94 saw perhaps the year’s most timeless works. Sophomore albums from Common(then known as Common Sense) and Organized Konfusion were both highly lauded critically and quite possibly, maybe even their best works ever. The ticking time bomb of the Notorious B.I.G. was looming as well. His debut album “Ready To Die,” both commercially and critically, was a smashing success. It returned New York rap to the top of the charts where Dr. Dre, Snoop and company had been dominating for the past 2 years, and effectively jump started the unfortunate East coast-West coast beef. But 1994 wasn’t done…

Houston’s Scarface (front man of the seminal Geto Boys) released his most personal work, “The Diary,” late in the year featuring his classic “I Seen A Man Die” (download this track NOW). Debut solo albums from Keith Murray and Method Man closed out the ’94 hip-hop docket with grandeur. Even hip-hop influenced acts got in under the 1994 umbrella, with artists such as TLC, Mary J Blige and Jamiroquai ALL releasing their breakthrough second efforts (“CrazySexyCool,” “My Life” and “Return of the Space Cowboy” respectively). I’m of the belief that none of these three artists have ever made better albums.

Take some time this year, 20 years removed and load your iPod with some of 1994’s (and slightly beyond) finest rap music. This piece is my argument for it being the finest in urban music in the last 25 years.

10 Essential Tracks From 1994

“Regulate” – Warren G ft. Nate Dogg
“The World is Yours” – Nas
“Come Clean” – Jeru The Damaja
“Mass Appeal” – GangStarr
“I Seen a Man Die” – Scarface
“How About Some Hardcore” – MOP
“Players Ball(remix)” – Outkast
“Juicy” – Notorious B.I.G.
“I Used to Love H.E.R” – Common
“Get it Together” – Beastie Boys ft. Q-Tip

-Jermaine Raetone Johnson

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