Enter the 36 Chambers slashed through all competition in 1993 and showed that innovation is the key to reinventing hip-hop. Led by the Abbot, or RZA, the Wu-Tang Clan mixed classic kung-fu samples with stripped down beats and ricocheting lyrics to produce classics like “Protect Ya Neck,” “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Can It Be All So Simple.” The brainwork that went into 36 Chambers is evident in the method the members use to feed off of each other on tracks. Staten Island, known amongst hip-hoppers as Shaolin, was the setting for the Clan and many of its albums. Nine of the 10 clan members later went on to release solo albums, all contributing phrases like “tiger style,” “killa bees,” “peace God” and “wallabe Clarks” to every hip hop lover’s lyric dictionary.
Reverend Run, Darryl McDaniels and Jam Master Jay are the grandfathers of hip hop– the first to do it all. Run-DMC pierced the ’80s rock armor, showing the music industry what hip hop had to offer. These patriarchs from Hollis, Queens, took their primeval rhymes and New York swagger to the next level when they collaborated with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way.” Run-DMC, despite the group’s great loss last year in Jam Master Jay’s untimely death, is to hip hop what Genesis is to the Bible and is responsible for some of the greatest moments etched into hip-hop history.
A Tribe Called Quest
Tribe changed the face of hip hop with Ali Shaheed’s groovy-mellow beats, the nasal slang of Q-Tip and the constant barrage of the gritty-yet-cognizant phraseology of Phife Dawg. Infused with beat-driven jazz and soul influences, Tribe provided a new soundtrack for hip-hop connoisseurs thirsty for a change of pace. Musical benchmarks like “Bonita Applebum” and “Electric Relaxation” propelled Tribe into the sacks of backpackers across the United States and showcased the sound of hip hop’s future.
The politically charged twosome known as Public Enemy are a living oxymoron when compared to its name; they are much more like musical public servants or community up-lifters than anything else. Chuck D and Flavor Flav started the group in the mid-80s and released their first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, in 1987. The two, now in their early 40s, were the first hip-hop group to shoulder socio-political views and disseminate them through their music. The result of their actions helped pave the road for a horde of new politically conscious and musically gifted artists such as Dead Prez and Mos Def.
What started as just another 1981 punk rock band quickly evolved into one of the best hip-hop groups to ever make music. The legendary and innovative Beastie Boys were discovered by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons in 1983 and were persuaded to axe the rock and for hip hop’s sake. The Beasties appeared in the hip-hop classic Krush Groove and later went on to open for Madonna on her 1985 tour. Their avant-garde approach to creating music provided modern classics like “Paul Revere,” “You Gotta Fight for Your Right (To Party)” and “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.”
The Notorious B.I.G./ Biggie Smalls
Puffy’s protÃ©gÃ© beat the odds by escaping the turbulent streets of Brooklyn, only to be murdered several years later. But while he was alive, he quickly transcended to a plane that has yet to be reached by any other rapper. With the release of his first album, Ready to Die, the world was introduced to the indelible lyrics and grit-covered beats that would become characteristic of Biggie Smalls records. The New York native who would often spout the phrase, “Where Brooklyn at?” left behind a legacy that lives on through his music, fans and musical seeds.
This Bronx native by way of London, commonly known as a Slick Rick, is one of the most dexterous emcees to ever grip a mic. Rick crafted brilliant street stories out of still air and translated them into word form on memorable tracks like “Children’s Story” and “Mona Lisa.” He also recorded unequivocal duos like “Lodi Dodi” with Doug E. Fresh and “If I’m Not Your Lover” with Al B. Sure! Even when “Rick the Ruler’s” gold-toothed grin was found on the wrong side of the law, his music still lived on, as it will as long as hip hop moves forward.
Eric B. and Rakim
Oct. 10, 1987 marked the release of an album that cleared a path for future rap artists like Nas and Eminem. Paid in Full, Eric B. and Rakim’s first record, ushered in a new kind of music and permanent style to an industry that was dominated by groups like Run-DMC and LL Cool J. Rakim, with a smooth lyrical delivery and cross-referencing rhyming style, came to be known as one of the greatest lyricists in hip hop. He and Eric B. released four albums between ’87 and ’92. Rakim quite possibly spit one of the most memorable rhymes of all time in, “You thought I was a doughnut/you tried to glaze me.”