Why the 90's was the 'Illest'

By: Patricia Ranee

Let’s cut to the chase. If any era of music is deserving of being played on repeat for the course of a lifetime, it’s the 90’s! You heard it right, I said the 90’s! Don’t get me wrong, I respect and pay homage to the mellifluous eras of music that came before then: Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Jazz, Rock, Pop, Electric, etcetera, but the 90’s birthed a sound unlike any other, and that was both, Hip-Hop and R&B. Although Hip-Hop’s origin is in the 1980’s, it wasn’t considered “mainstream,” mainly due to public outrage about the interpretation of its lyrics. Also, because the genre was aboriginal, there was no variation in its field, so the range of music produced was limited, calling for a very small niche. But then came the 90’s…and with it, emerged the birth of rap: an amalgamation of lyricism, conscious flow, melodic choruses and raw energy. Even to date, some of the most influential rappers in the world, coined themselves in this era. I’m uncertain of whether this was his intent, but when Dr. Dre released his first album, The Chronic, which he debuted in 1991, he set off a domino effect for aspiring rappers worldwide. I was a small child when that album was released, but I can still remember the excited energy from people blasting his cassette tape on large boomboxes in the streets of Brooklyn. It was enrapturing. After The Chronic, we only saw the creativity and highlight given to Hip-Hop, steadily increase. We had the explosive birth of East coast rappers: The Notorious B.I.G, Nas, DMX, The Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and many others, who delivered us songs like Juicy, Hypnotize, Party Up, Ruff Ryder’s Anthem, C.R.E.A.M., NY State of Mind, and more, which exploded on the airway. And following in the footsteps of its hometown protégé, Dr. Dre, we had the rise of many West coast rappers who dominated the game with their own unique sound: Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Hammer, and others, who also brought us hits like, U Can’t touch this, Nuthin’ But a G thing, It Was A Good Day, I Get Around, Gin & Juice, and so much more, which also gained much traction. Aside from the fresh beats, and thought-provoking lyrics, my personal appreciation for 90’s Hip-Hop, stems from the voice I watched it lend to the otherwise voiceless. Prior to the 90’s, never had so many young Black men been given a platform to express their own creativity, in their way, in their words. This genre gave many young Black children something to aspire toward and allowed for mainstream society to a gain perspective into a world typically overlooked, the life of the poor. Hip-Hop offered a lens into the creativity of the streets while also fostering relatability throughout communities alike. To have music, but more specifically, Hip-Hop, serve as a platform to the pain of the underserved, undervalued, and the oppressed, well, that resonates in my spirit in a deeply profound way. Now don’t get me wrong, other genres of music have been produced during this decade, but 90’s Hip-Hop and R&B has penetrated me in a way that no alternate genre of music has been able to accomplish. (Not to mention, the fashion at the time was epic!) To support my already esteemed deference in musical choice, many young artists today, overly sample both the songs AND the fashion from the decade, solidifying the notion that there is just a little extra sauce in the nineties bowl. Now, let’s talk R&B, a genre so sexy, so cool, with the added ability to move you to tears in a heartbeat. When you think of 90’s R&B, I’m sure staple names automatically pop into your head: Aaliyah, TLC, Usher, 112, Jodeci, Boys II Men, Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, Dru Hill, The Fugees, Mya, 702, Sade, etc. Now after dropping these names, if not many, at least one hit record came to mind per artist, right? These artists gave us so many hit records during the decade: One in a Million, Back and Forth, Waterfalls, Creep, My Way, Nice & Slow, Cupid, Love You like I did, Bills, Bills, Bills, Ready or Not, Tell me, Always Be My Baby, Come and Talk to me, It’s All About Me, etc. I want to name more, but I’ll respectfully digress, lol. What was most captivating to me about 90’s R&B was the sheer amount of raw talent you had to expel to even become considered in the playing field. Record labels were not dishing out deals to artists of any gender who didn’t have a large base talent which made the music industry highly competitive, but also forced artists who wanted to make it big, to step their game up. So, when you look at the billboard charts from this decade, you find songs that actually show off vocal range and skill. Because of this, 90’s R&B became a powerhouse of voices: Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Lauren Hill, Sade, Brandy, Sisqo, Ginuwine, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, and these are just a few. R&B created a world opposite to that of Hip-Hop. It called for sensuality, gentleness, romanticism, and seduction, but also lent a lens into the raw emotions of heartbreak and pain. It allowed for myself to personally explore the depths of my imagination and paint my own perceptions of love. There were times I used to sit in my dining area with a notebook and pen, writing alternate endings to songs, or changing the endings of music videos to incorporate myself in the tale and I think that speaks to the level of creative genius produced during the time. Either that, or I’m just really crazy. But for real guys, so many high-profile artists were pushing the best out of themselves, to not only claim a spot at the top, but to maintain it as well. There was a certain level of hunger, of sheer aspiration that contributed to my desire of wanting to become a Writer. I saw minorities, both Blacks and Women, entering a filed and coming out on top. This helped me to dream about achieving in an unconventional, uncomfortable, large and explosive way, so yeah, if I were stuck on an island with nothing else to soothe me, hand me an iPhone with nothing but a 90’s playlist, I’ll be just fine. As I said before: 90’s for the win!

90s music
Patricia Ranee
Patricia Ranee
Read next: Jay Z: From Worst to Best
Patricia Ranee

See all posts by Patricia Ranee