1996 is a year which marks a turning point for the genre with a divide growing between the popular RnB influenced sound and the underground 'independent' sound blossoming in reaction to it. Whilst many established artists including De La Soul openly attacked the emerging commercial sound of the day, artists such as Busta Rhymes managed to retain underground credibility and deliver more chart friendly offerings for major labels. Notable album releases include the Fugees' (pictured above) commercially succesful yet credible 'The Score', Tribe Called Quest's Ummah produced 4th album, 'Beats Rhymes and Life', Jay Z's 'Reasonable Doubt' and Jeru's 'Wrath of the Math' in stark contrast to it. Debut releases from Kool Keith alias Dr Octagon and newcomers Company Flow set the tone for a new breed of leftfield acts. 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:
- 2Pac releases his fourth album, 'All Eyez On Me', hip-hop's first double-disc of all-original material and his first album for Death Row Records. It becomes a hit and raising the rap star's ever growing profile.
- Underground sensation Jay-Z begins a budding friendship with the Notorious B.I.G. and releases his first two mainstream singles, 'Dead Presidents' and 'Ain't No N*gga'. Both are moderate hits and help build anticipation for his debut album.
- Cleveland rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony release, 'The Crossroads,' the second single from their critically-acclaimed 1995 album, 'E. 1999-Eternal'. With it's heartfelt lyrics and funereal production, it becomes a huge hit and is nominated for a Grammy.
- Alternative rap group The Fugees release their second album, 'The Score', a stirring mix of reggae, rap, and soul, the album is one of the most acclaimed of the year and the group members, (Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras) are thrust into the spotlight.
- 2Pac releases the inflammatory b-side single, 'Hit 'Em Up'. Dissing the Notorious B.I.G. and Bad Boy Entertainment, he also claims to have had sex with B.I.G.'s estranged wife, Bad Boy ingenue Faith Evans.
- Nas finally releases 'It Was Written', the follow-up to his landmark 'Illmatic'. With the lyrical focus shifting from street poetry to a glamorised criminal lifestyle and the production becoming more slick and accessible, he is bashed by hip-hop purists for selling out to a pop audience.
- Dr. Dre
abruptly announces he's leaving Death Row Records. He goes on to form a new label, Aftermath
- Will Smith stars in the action sci-fi flick 'Independence Day', raising his profile as an A-list celebrity in Hollywood.
- Jay-Z's debut album, 'Reasonable Doubt' is released to much praise from critics but disappointing initial sales.
- After leaving a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas, a car carrying Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur is riddled with gunfire. Though Suge only suffers minor injuries, 2Pac, after fighting for his life for seven days in a hospital, dies from his wounds.
- Southern rap duo Outkast release their second album, "ATLiens." It is critically acclaimed for it's positive outlook, progressive lyrics and a more futuristic production style.
- The Notorious B.I.G. is almost killed in a car accident in New Jersey. With his leg partially shattered, he is forced to walk with a cane.
- Eminem, a White rapper from Detroit, releases his debut album, 'Infinite', on a small indie label. Despite displaying a flair for clever, witty rhymes, the album goes largely unnoticed by fans and critics.
- A Tribe
Called Quest release their fourth album, 'Beats, Rhymes, & Life'. For the first time in their storied career, the trio is bashed by critics for
releasing a half-hearted album. The album however displays the early examples of Dilla's stripped down production style that would go on to shape the course of seminal underground releases for years to come.
- Two debuts by two new female rappers, B.I.G. protege Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, albums that feature a heavy emphasis on sex and materialism, signal a change in direction for female MCs in hip-hop.