I always say Music is a gift from God. When you think about how sacred music is across the world and the way cultures are connected, it’s amazing to say the least. As a kid, I listened to whatever my big brother listened to. I listened to what I heard my older cousins and uncles played. Just like any other kid, I’m a product of my environment. After the Motown Sound started to fade, it was 80’s Rock, 80’s R&B and finally, Hip Hop. I didn’t get into Jazz until my last few years of college. As for Hip Hop, 1985 was when I absolutely fell in love with Hip Hop as I played Run DMC at every chance. There are several years that resonate with me including, but not limited to 1985, 1988, 1994, 1996 and a few moments here and there in the 2000’s. The year of 1994 was an amazing time for Hip Hop in my personal opinion and the start of a life changing journey for me as well.
In 1994, I graduated High School in the spring and started College at UNC-Greensboro that fall. I was still riding high off the great Rap Albums that dropped in 1993. You see, 1993 was an epic year for Hip Hop. You had the emergence of Wu Tang Clan and their debut album 36 Chambers, A Tribe Called Quest dropped The Midnight Marauders and Snoop Dogg delivered the highest anticipated project in years with Doggystyle. I was a senior in High School during fall 1993. The West Coast also ruled 1993 on the Billboards with Doggystyle, Black Sunday (Cypress Hill), Lethal Injection (Ice Cube) and It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187 Um Killa (Eazy E). We were starving on The East Coast and even though Wu Tang and Tribe were headlining a run of very good East Coast albums, it still felt like we were yearning for more. The West Coast also had its version of Tribe with the release of 93 Till Infinity by Souls of Mischief. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of the dope music that came out but was patiently waiting to be absolutely blown away.
Up until 1993, I enjoyed Rap Music but I didn’t have to think too hard in regard to the lyrics. Some MC’s were more intricate than others but I never had to dissect the words much. I never had to sit back and look at the sky with a certain bag of emotions as I nodded my head. In 1994, everything changed for me in regard to how I would listen to hip hop leading up to the current year of 2017. Gang Starr released Hard To Earn and the tracks Code Of The Streets, Mass Appeal and DWYCK stayed on repeat. Several other albums were released and then it happened. Nas released the soundtrack to Queens, New York with Illmatic. If you weren’t familiar with the “Concrete Jungle”, Nas provided listeners with a tour. Lyrically, this was the first time I was ever forced to rewind verses. The wordplay was something I had never heard. For me, Hip Hop became more vivid on April 19, 1994. As excited as I was with Nas, I was just as amazed again 7 days later. On April 26, 1994 Jeru Da Damaja released The Sun Rises In The East and Outkast released Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik. Jeru went deep into Black Consciousness, Black Pride, and also tackled a brand of hip hop that he felt was hurting the genre. We know about Come Clean, but go back and listen to "Aint The Devil Happy" and "Jungle Music". As for Outkast, if you had never been to Atlanta, this was your tour guide in the exact fashion that Dr. Dre described Compton on The Chronic. The highest level of lyrical ability from The South up to that point was introduced on Outkast debut album.
By the time I graduated from High School in spring 1994, I already had Illmatic, The Sun Rises In The East and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in my walkman. Yes, this is 1994 my good people. The summer was approaching and I was honestly satisfied. During the summer of 1994 I listened to Warren G’s Regulator…G-Funk Era and a few other releases until Fall 1994. Oh, how can I forget about Craig Mack’s "Flava in Ya Ear"? Da Brat also became the 1st female MC to reach Platinum Status with "Funkdafied". I started class at UNC-Greensboro late August and less than a month later Biggie dropped Ready To Die. I initially heard Biggie on a track called "Party and Bullshit" off Who’s The Man? Soundtrack. I thought he was dope but I didn’t expect this. Like Illmatic, I had to rewind Biggies verses several times to get the full potency. For the 3rd or 4th time in a year, an MC had an album that amazed me. Listening to “Suicidal Thoughts” literally put chills in my body. Little did I know we would only have this gem for 3 more years until his untimely death. During my first semester in college I admit, I didn’t study much. Of course the spring was totally different but I digress. During the Winter of 1994, several bangers were released such as Common’s Resurrection, Digable Planets Blowout Comb, Redman’s Dare Iz A Darkside, O.C. Word Life, Tupac’s Thug Life Vol.1, Pete Rock & CL Smooth The Main Ingredient and Method Man’s Tical each provided 1994 with an all star ending. During this time, I was blown away by a song called “I Seen A Man Die” by Houston’s Scarface of Gheto Boys fame. I was always a fan but just a casual one to be honest. I heard the song on a mixtape and then I saw the video on BET. The grim, vivid, darkness and reality of this track was nothing I had ever seen in Hip Hop History. It would take 2 more years before I would be emotionally touched again by a Rap Song and that was Tha Crossroads by Bone Thugs. What Scarface did on The Diary was the true definition of “Reality Rap.” I can go on and on about this special year.
Picture: CREDIT: Delphine Fawundu
As I conclude these thoughts, Music connects us all to a time period in our lives. It take us to significant moments and also define some life events, experiences and perspectives. Music is Powerful. In 1994, I left Winston-Salem, NC to attend College and the music traveled with me. Music (various genres) has always been a huge part of my life. As a Hip Hop fan, 1994 was the year Nas became my favorite MC, Biggie became my Top 5 favorite MC, Oukast became one of my favorite groups and Scarface made me look at life differently. We had The Golden Child, Battle MC from the block, a legendary southern group along with the Grim Reaper of Hip Hop all bringing their talents and life stories into our consciousness. I’m not saying 1994 is the Greatest Year in Hip Hop because there is no consensus for a “Greatest Year.” It’s all about the year that resonates best with you personally. I will always debate that 1988, 1994 and 1996 are the 3 best years to me. I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. If you haven’t heard some of these albums in years, pull them out and enjoy.
Scarface - I Seen A Man Die #1994