1994 was a year which for many is best remembered for giving us two of hip hop’s most revered debut albums, Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ and Notorious B.I.G’s ‘Ready to Die’. It was also a golden year for radio and mixtape DJs with tapes from the likes of Funkmaster Flex, Stretch Armstrong, Doo Wop, Ron G and others being a key outlet for the new breed of underground acts as well as established names. Despite tempos generally drifting downward in comparison with previous years and the general sound of the year’s output being laidback and largely jazz infused, ‘94 had its fair share of anthems, Craig Mack’s ‘Flava In Your Ear’, Gang Starr’s ‘Mass Appeal’ and Channel Live’s ‘Mad Izm’ being notable examples. 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:
- Arista chief Clive Davis signs Bad Boy Entertainment to a subsidiary/distribution deal. Puffy Combs begins work on the Notorious B.I.G.‘s debut album. After cameo appearances on several popular singles, B.I.G. finally releases ‘Ready to Die’, his debut album for Bad Boy. It spawns two hit singles, ‘Juicy’ and ‘Big Poppa;’ one hit remix, ‘One More Chance’, and returns the East Coast to the top of the charts after a two-year absence. It also elevates Puffy Combs’ Bad Boy label to the top of hip-hop.
- Queens rapper Nas releases his solo debut, ‘Illmatic’. It instantly becomes one of the most critically-acclaimed rap albums of all time, with Nas’ lyrical skill giving rise to comparison with veterans of the scene such as Rakim.
- Snoop Doggy Dogg releases the short film/soundtrack, ‘Murder Was the Case’. With it’s graphic storytelling about a man being sentenced for murder uncomfortably close to Snoop’s real-life legal woes, many critics blast the rapper for exploiting the unfortunate circumstances.
- ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’, the debut album from Atlanta-based rap duo Outkast signals a shift from hip-hop’s bi-coastal grip. Loose and funky with clever lyrics, the group becomes a cult favourite among hip-hop enthusiasts.
- Adding to a seemingly endless string of legal charges, 2Pac is charged with sexual assault by a female fan in New York City.
- Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, a new Cleveland-based rap group discovered by Eazy-E, release an EP called ‘Creepin’ On Ah Come-up’. Their sound is a combination of double time raps over downtempo West Coast production and vocal harmonizing. The single ‘Thuggish Ruggish Bone’ becomes a moderate hit.