1990 - A Year In Rap

As we enter the ‘90s, we present another round up of the key events in rap history for the year 1990. In terms of general trends in the culture’s development, 1990 is probably most celebrated as being the birth of the ‘afro-centric’ era, with debut albums from X-Clan, Professor X, Poor Righteous Teachers, Tribe Called Quest and many others hitting the stores during the year. But 1990 was also an important year for the artists from the opposite end of the spectrum: Compton’s Most Wanted, Capital Punishment Organisation and Above The Law all released debut albums proving LA’s harder edged sound had more to offer than just NWA. Aside from new developments, established artists including LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy and EPMD all dropped certified classics. Below is a snapshot of some of the year’s key events, produced this time with the assistance of Dream Door’s hip hop timeline:

- Queens-based A Tribe Called Quest (picture above) follow close stylistically in the footsteps of De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ with the release of their debut album, ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm’. Building on the template established by fellow Native Tongues crew members the Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and De La Soul, the group is praised for it’s intelligently quirky lyrics, inventive musical style and use of unconventional sample material.

- Following an acrimonious split from NWA, Ice Cube takes his new crew, Da Lench Mob to New York and records his solo debut with production from Public Enemy’s production team, The Bomb Squad. The album, “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,” goes down in history as a classic and sets Cube on the road to solo superstardom.

- M.C. Hammer continues to enjoy pop-rap notoriety with two Grammy nominations, a Saturday morning cartoon, and an action figure. Despite all of his commercial success; there is a growing backlash against his image and music among rap fans and artists, 3rd Bass’s 1989/1990 single ‘The Gas Face’ being a notable example of Hammer receiving a lyrical lashing from the credible underground.

- Salt-N-Pepa release their third album, “Blacks Magic.” The album receives strong reviews with the single ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ both causing controversy and attracting praise for it’s honest look at relationships and promiscuity.

- After shooting his cousin and leading police on a high-speed chase, Slick Rick is captured and taken to prison. Def Jam head Russell Simmons bails Rick out in time to finish his second album, ‘The Ruler’s Back’, but Rick is eventually sentenced to five years in prison on charges of attempted murder.

- Will Smith aka The Fresh Prince is tapped to star in a new sitcom, dubbed ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.

- Oakland-based alternative rap group Digital Underground release their debut album, ‘Sex Packets’. Drawing heavily on staple West Coast sample material from the Parliament / Funkadelic camp, the group are quick to capture the world’s attention with rapper Shock G adopting a number of voices in his raps to create a cast of quirky characters including the hapless ‘Humpty Hump’. The Album’s second single, ‘The Humpty Dance,’ becomes a platinum hit.

- Run DMC release their fifth album, ‘Back From Hell’. The single ‘What’s It All About’, which samples UK indie rockers The Stone Roses’ ‘Fools Gold’, is a moderate success, but in stark contrast to earlier releases, the album barely goes gold and the group takes a break from recording.

- ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ becomes a hit for Miami-based white rapper Vanilla Ice. Though Ice is derided as a fake, his debut album, ‘To The Extreme’ goes on to sell over seven million copies.

- Popular rapper Heavy D. convinces Andre Harrell, the president of Uptown Records (Heavy D’s label), to take on a young college student/dancer named Sean Combs (later known as Puff Daddy / P Diddy) as an intern. Combs goes on to forge the sound of the label’s further releases and play a central role in a hip hop / RnB crossover movement that will shape popular hip hop for years to come.

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