Remember what was happening across the world ten years ago? People were losing their minds, wondering what was going to come from the ominous Y2K bug. However, while all the old farts were shaking in their boots waiting for the clocks to strike midnight, something 100x cooler was happening – in music! Looking back at all the fantastic hip-hop that has come out in this past decade, I was struck by how many of my favorite albums were released in 2000.
Many of these albums I would personally consider classic, or near classic. Here’s just a few for a quick reminder:
Common – Like Water For Chocolate
Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030
Blackalicious – Nia
Quasimoto – The Unseen
Slum Village – Fantastic, Vol. 2
Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek) – Train of Thought
Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
Outkast – Stankonia
Del Tha Funkee Homosapien – Both Sides of the Brain
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
Dilated Peoples – The Platform
Binary Star – Masters Of The Universe
Dead Prez – Let’s Get Free
Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Scienz Of Life – Coming Forth By Day: The Book Of The Dead
Dan The Automator – A Much Better Tomorrow
Zion I – Mind Over Matter
Jurassic 5 – Quality Control
This was a cool year in hip-hop for many reasons. First of all, major names were still making great music, and getting radio play for it. Common exploded with hit singles “The Light” and “The 6th Sense”. Meanwhile Eminem and Outkast were nearly inescapable, even crossing over into pop radio with songs such as “The Real Slim Shady” and “Ms. Jackson”, respectively. Dr. Dre was still riding the wave of 2001 (thanks largely to Snoop Dogg and Eminem). Jay-Z was preparing to release The Blueprint, all while feuding with Nas, who too was poised for his own release with Stillmatic. However, there was a bit of a paradigm shift happening in hip-hop around the same time.
While underground acts have always had their place in hip-hop, around the turn of the century it seemed that more than ever, underground acts began to push the boundaries of traditional hip-hop. This is evident simply by looking at the outrageous years that Dan The Automator and Kid Koala had. Both artists released formidable solo albums, and each lent a hand to Deltron 3030 with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. Furthermore, new labels were popping up all over the place to release experimental hip-hop.
Peanut Butter Wolf formed Stones Throw Records, arguably the most important underground hip-hop label of the past decade, in 1996 (the same year that DJ Shadow took the world by storm with Endtroducing…, and Kool Keith along with Dan The Automator released Dr. Octagonecologyst). However, it wasn’t until 1999 that he pressed his solo album, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton. Stones Throw also introduced many new listeners to Madlib that same year with the overdue release of Soundpieces: Da Antidote! 1999 also saw the formation of Def Jux, another enormously important label of the previous ten years. Although El-P and crew had released Company Flow’s seminal Funcrusher Plus in 1997, things really took off for him post-Def Jux. Late-1999 was also when many ears were turned onto the nonsensical, free-associative rhymes of MF DOOM, and Aesop Rock. Artists like DOOM and Aesop, combined with the numerous releases from Madlib (Lootpack, Quasimoto), and groups such as Cannibal Ox made it freakishly cool to create weird, abstract, blunted hip-hop.
Sure, experimental hip-hop has existed all along. British label Warp was in business for over a decade by the time 2000 rolled around. Smaller independent labels were also pushing boundaries, even if not gaining the publicity the music warranted. Groups such as KMD were often working on something out of left field. However, this style of hip-hop never really gained serious traction and prominence until around 2000, give or take. This may largely be due to the rise of the internet. With technological advances it became much easier for music to be distributed (legally and illegally), exposing a larger audience to progressive underground sounds, that may have in the past been harder to come across.
All in all, 2000 produced a plethora of fantastic albums. Major players were doing their thing, underground heads were getting love in packed small venues across the country, and life was good. Hip-hop was growing, expanding and experimenting, and faster than ever. So when considering the multitude of sub-genres we have in hip-hop today, take a second to appreciate how far the boundaries of hip-hop have expanded over just the past decade, and where those influences may have come from.
Here’s to another great decade of hip-hop. Who’s going to push us forward this time?