1997 - A Year In Rap

1997 is a year which many associate with the dawn of the so called ‘Indie’ era. The music of 1997 set the stage the development of two distinct sounds over the following years, the underground independent sound nurtured by labels such as Correct, ABB, Rawkus et al and the commercial sound of the major labels typified by the output of artists such as Jay Z, Foxy Brown and others. Whilst the independent productions of the likes of Shawn J Period and DJ Hi Tek certainly broke new ground, the commercial output should not be written off, with novel sample sources still playing an important role (see Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz’ use of Steely Dan or Lil Kim’s use of Jeff Lorber for example). Notable albums include, of course, Notorious B.I.G’s (pictured above) seminal ‘Life After Death’ and at the other end of the spectrum Jurassic 5’s debut ‘J5’ EP and Company Flow’s leftfield classic ‘Funcrusher Plus’. 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:

- After a year of critical acclaim, The Fugees announce that they are going their seperate ways, citing creative differences. Wyclef Jean almost immediately begins work on his solo debut.

- After leaving the Soul Train Music Awards in Los Angeles, the Notorious B.I.G. is shot and killed in a drive-by shooting that eerily resembles that which claimed 2Pac’s life six months earlier. With the twin murders of two of it’s biggest stars, the hip-hop community is forced to take stock of itself and what it represents. B.I.G.‘s second album, the prophetically titled ‘Life After Death’, is released only a few days after his killing and becomes the best-selling rap album of all time.

- Sean Combs, now calling himself ‘Puff Daddy’ releases two benefit singles as memoriam to the slain Notorious B.I.G.

- The Wu-Tang Clan release their second album, the double LP ‘Wu-Tang Forever’. It sells well but fails to match the critical respect of the group’s more acclaimed debut.

- Suge Knight is sentenced to four years in prison for parole violation.

- After writing and producing hits for MC Lyte and R&B groups Xscape and 702, female rap artist Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott releases her debut album, ‘Supa Dupa Fly’. It is a triumph and she is praised for her wit and quirky musical approach.

- Puff Daddy makes his debut as an artist with ‘No Way Out’. Spawning four top ten singles, the album becomes a monster hit and makes Puffy the biggest star on the Bad Boy label in the wake of B.I.G.‘s murder.

- Snoop Dogg finally releases his second album, the lackluster ‘The Doggfather’. After the album fails to sell, Snoop announces he is leaving the crumbling Death Row Records.

- After starring in his third-straight summer blockbuster, ‘Men In Black’, Will Smith confirms his status as one of the biggest box-office draws of the 90s. In a somewhat surprising move, he also returns to music, releasing his first solo album, ‘Big Willie Style’. Though lightweight, it becomes one of the best-selling albums of the year.

- Ending a five-year period of seclusion that saw his reputation as a lyricist reach near-mythic proportions, Rakim finally makes his return with ‘The 18th Letter’, his solo debut.

- After operating in obscurity in the Deep South for almost a decade, New Orleans based rapper-entrepeneur Master P releases ‘Ghetto D’. Derided by critics as an untalented hack, the album nonetheless becomes a hit and opens the floodgates for a wealth of New Orleans gangsta rap to hit the airwaves. Master P, as founder and CEO of the No Limit record label, unexpectedly becomes one of the most powerful men in hip-hop.

- Emerging from the shadow of Notorious B.I.G, Bad Boy rapper Ma$e releases his debut album, ‘Harlem World’. It is a smash and confirms Bad Boy’s status as one of the most commercially successful labels in rap.

- Def Jam Records signs Jay-Z and releases popular albums by rappers Redman, Method Man, and Foxy Brown, signalling a return to form for Russell Simmons and rap’s longest-running label.

- Simmons also signs a newly-reformed EPMD and DMX, an intense MC from Yonkers. Jay-Z releases his second album, ‘In My Lifetime, Vol. 1’. It sells much better than his debut, but critics deride it as a flaky attempt to reach a crossover audience.

- Afeni Shakur, mother of the slain 2Pac Shakur, releases ‘R U Still Down (Remember Me)’, a double-album of unreleased material the rapper recorded prior to his death. It is the beginning of a flood of songs, compilations and albums from the deceased rap star’s vaults.

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