The Fans

The Choice Is Yours: 10 Great Rap Release Dates Of The 1990s

On September 28, 1993, three very different albums, Souls of Mischief's 93 'Til Infinity, Spice 1's 187 He Wrote and KRS-One's Return of the Boom Bap. i i

On September 28, 1993, three very different albums, Souls of Mischief's 93 'Til Infinity, Spice 1's 187 He Wrote and KRS-One's Return of the Boom Bap. Courtesy of Jive Records hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Jive Records
On September 28, 1993, three very different albums, Souls of Mischief's 93 'Til Infinity, Spice 1's 187 He Wrote and KRS-One's Return of the Boom Bap.

On September 28, 1993, three very different albums, Souls of Mischief's 93 'Til Infinity, Spice 1's 187 He Wrote and KRS-One's Return of the Boom Bap.

Courtesy of Jive Records

Raise your hand if you ever cut school to go buy a brand new album the day it came out. Raise your hand if you went to Tower Records, or The Wiz, and you did this in the 1990s. Raise your hand if you remember impatiently waiting for the doors to open, racing to the front of the register line and hoping to make it back to school before lunch — becoming the first to brag about owning the latest EPMD release or Illmatic.

Today, we live in an era in of streamable snippets and video preview clips — a technology that makes the selection process far less risky than it was when I was a kid. The stakes we faced then are nothing that today's rap fan experiences. The idea of previewing an album was unheard of in the '90s — outside of a listening station the most you could hope for was a video on MTV, or a couple songs on the radio, before you had to pay to play.

And so, back in the day, what you held in your hands in the lunch room mattered. Remember standing in front of the giant wall in the rap section of your local Sam Goody with $12.83 in your pocket? I do — that's exact change for a $11.99 tape plus tax in upstate New York, where I lived then. If you had similar concerns in, say 1993, like debating whether to cop KRS-One's Return of The Boom Bap or Souls of Mischief '93 Til Infinity, (which were both ­­­released on the same day, 20 years ago this week), the ten dates on this list may spark some nostalgia.

The money that flowed through the music business in the '90s and the quality of the music released then helped to create a fat spectrum of hip-hop music — enough that Tuesdays, the traditional release day for albums, was often full of tough choices. This list notes one such complicated day from each year of that decade. Every date here marks the entry of some very different sounds into our world, but the story of each person who bought one of the albums ends the same: furiously tearing into plastic, jamming a squeaky clean tape into a valiant Walkman (later, a Discman) and pressing play for the first time.

The Choice Is Yours

  • April 17, 1990

    A Tribe Called Quest, People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm vs. X Clan, To The East Blackwards i i
    Courtesy of Jive and 4th & Broadway Records
    A Tribe Called Quest, People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm vs. X Clan, To The East Blackwards
    Courtesy of Jive and 4th & Broadway Records

    A Tribe Called Quest, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm vs. X Clan, To the East Blackwards

    Afrocentric or alternative? That's the question posed by this matchup. Both Tribe and X Clan released their debuts on this date and the two albums couldn't be more different. Tribe's release was critically acclaimed (5 Mics in The Source), but it wasn't quite as successful from a commercial point of view, only reaching the 500,000 landmark six years after its release. The album's vibe was characterized by a lighter sound with humorous, yet socially conscious lyrics, which went on to define the credo of their crew, the Native Tongues. X Clan's sound, full of scratches and harder funk beats, screamed social consciousness almost to controversial levels, giving their revolutionary and afrocentric message an audio billboard for the whole world to hear.

    Listen: A Tribe Called Quest, "Can I Kick It?"

    Listen: X Clan "Funkin' Lesson"

    Honorable Mention: August 27, 1990: LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out vs. Too Short, Short Dog's In The House

  • January 15, 1991

    Gang Starr, Step In The Arena vs. DJ Quik, Quik Is The Name
    Courtesy of Capitol and Profile Records

    Gang Starr, Step In The Arena vs. DJ Quik, Quik Is The Name

    DJ Premier and DJ Quik are two of hip-hop's greatest producers, now considered luminaries of the culture, and their respective releases in 1991 helped set the stage for that legacy. Quik's album was his debut, and he set himself apart from his contemporaries on the West Coast by eschewing the tried-and-true gangsta rap formula and focusing on more playful and upbeat subject matter. His production work on this album laid the blueprint for the G-Funk sound that would later be made by Warren G, Snoop Dogg and Death Row-era Dr. Dre. Step In the Arena was the second album for Premier's group, Gang Starr, but it was this one and not the group's debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy, that locked in the duo's status as torchbearers of New York City's signature boom-bap sound.

    Listen: Gang Starr, "Just to Get a Rep"

    Listen: DJ Quik, "Tonite"

    Honorable Mention: September 3, 1991: Naughty By Nature , Naughty By Nature vs. Nice & Smooth, Aint' A Damn Thing Changed

  • September 22, 1992

    Da Lench Mob, Guerillas In Tha Mist vs. Showbiz & AG, Runaway Slave vs. Diamond, Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop vs. Redman, Whut? Thee Album
    Courtesy of Atlantic, Polygram and Def Jam Records

    Da Lench Mob, Guerillas In Tha Mist vs. Showbiz & AG, Runaway Slave vs. Diamond, Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop vs. Redman, Whut? Thee Album

    Two of D.I.T.C.'s most pivotal releases came out on the same day. As improbable as that sounds, it really happened, as the crew's double threat Diamond D went head-to-head with Show & A's classic debut. Neither album had much commercial success, but both have earned the distinction of ranking among the best albums in East Coast hip-hop. They were up against the debut from the biggest rapper to rep New Jersey, in Redman. Whut? Thee Album, with its funky production largely molded by EPMD's Erick Sermon and containing songs such as "Time 4 Sum Aksion" and "Tonight's Da Night," is often considered the best album in Reggie Noble's illustrious career. And then Da Lench Mob, Ice Cube's crew, offered a counterpoint from the West Coast with its intense political debut, a direct descendant of Cube's solo album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. The independent release was a timely critique of Los Angeles in the wake of the police beating of Rodney King.

    Listen: Da Lench Mob, "Guerillas in tha Mist"

    Listen: Showbiz & AG, "Soul Clap"

    Listen: Diamond, "Sally Got a One Track Mind"

    Listen: Redman, "Time 4 Sum Aksion"

    Honorable Mention: November 24, 1992: The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde vs. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Live and Let Die

  • September 28, 1993

    KRS-One, Return Of The Boom Bap vs. Spice 1, 187 He Wrote vs. Souls Of Mischief, 93 'Til Infinity
    Courtesy of Jive Records

    KRS-One, Return Of The Boom Bap vs. Spice 1, 187 He Wrote vs. Souls Of Mischief, 93 'Til Infinity

    Everybody talks about how diverse hip-hop has become in 2013, but exactly 20 years ago, three distinctly different albums came out on the same date. From the East Coast came the first album of Bronx native KRS-One outside of the BDP movement. With production from DJ Premier, Showbiz and Kid Capri, three legends-in-the-making, the album was gritty yet street conscious at the same time. Out in California's Bay Area , Spice 1 released the most commercially successful of the three albums. While Spice 1 is often overshadowed by other big names that came out of the Bay, 187 He Wrote is a seminal album in the gangsta rap canon. Meanwhile, 93 'Til Infinity might be one of the most important albums to come out of the same area. It's an underground cult classic and the most famous album from the Hieroglyphics crew.

    Listen: KRS-One, "Sound of da Police"

    Listen: Spice 1, "Don't Ring the Alarm (The Heist)"

    Listen: Souls of Mischief, "93 'Till Infinity"

    Honorable Mention: November 9, 1993: Wu-Tang Clan, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) vs. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders

  • May 24, 1994

    Beastie Boys, Ill Communication vs. Heavy D & The Boyz, Nuttin' But Love vs. Jeru the Damaja, The Sun Rises In The East vs. 8Ball & MJG, On the Outside Looking In
    Courtesy of Capitol, MCA, Fontana and Suave Records

    Beastie Boys, Ill Communication vs. Heavy D & the Boyz, Nuttin' But Love vs. Jeru the Damaja, The Sun Rises In The East vs. 8Ball & MJG, On the Outside Looking In

    On one end of the spectrum was Heavy D & The Boyz, who dropped their final album as a group. Nuttin' But Love was their most successful release on a commercial level, going two times platinum on the charts with an all-star production cast that included Teddy Riley, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, Easy Moe Bee and Pete Rock. On the opposite end was Jeru the Damaja, the gritty Brooklyn MC who was an extension of the Gang Starr Foundation. His debut, The Sun Rises in the East, was entirely produced by DJ Premier, and their chemistry was undeniable. The album was the pinnacle of Jeru's career, metaphorical wisdom over hard-knocking samples. As one group released their swan song and another MC made his introduction, right in the middle was the Beastie Boys, who were finding their stride. The Beasties fourth album, Ill Communication, was a resounding success. Songs like "Sure Shot" and "Sabotage" pushed the Beasties from "white boy rap" to global phenomenons. While Nuttin' But Love and Ill Communication took the sales and Jeru's release garnered local acclaim, the veteran Tennessee duo of 8 Ball & MJG were busy paving new ground for the South's emerging hip-hop scene with their third album.

    Listen: Beastie Boys, "Sabotage"

    Listen: Heavy D & The Boyz, "Nuttin' But Love"

    Listen: Jeru the Damaja, "Come Clean"

    Listen: 8Ball & MJG, "Playa's Night Out"

    Honorable Mention: November 22, 1994: Slick Rick, Behind Bars vs. Redman, Dare Iz A Darkside vs. Ice Cube, Bootlegs & B-Sides

  • March 28, 1995

    Big L, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous vs. ODB, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version vs. Dana Dane, Rollin' Wit' Dana Dane
    Courtesy of Columbia, Elektra and Maverick/Sire Records

    Big L, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous vs. ODB, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version vs. Dana Dane, Rollin' Wit' Dana Dane

    Tragically, Big L and ODB both passed away prematurely, but they're immortalized in their solo debut projects, which were released on the same date. ODB's outlandish style and crazed delivery made his album stand out, separating him from the rest of his brethren in the Wu-Tang Clan. The album spawned the classic single "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," along with another successful hit in "Brooklyn Zoo." Harlem's Big L was a rhyme animal with a direct, smooth flow and wild punchlines. While his album didn't sell as well as ODB's, it cemented L's legacy as one of the best lyricists to ever rap. Rounding out the trinity of NYC releases is the not-to-be forgotten Slick Rick affiliate, Dana Dane. Closing in on the twilight of his career, the Queens legend's third album matched the rapper's flashy style with West Coast production by DJ Battlecat.

    Listen: Big L, "Put It On"

    Listen: ODB, "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"

    Listen: Dana Dane, "Chester"

    Honorable Mention: March 14, 1995: E-40, In A Major Way vs. Tupac, Me Against The World

  • November 19, 1996

    Foxy Brown, Ill Na Na vs. Mobb Deep, Hell On Earth
    Courtesy of Def Jam and Loud Records

    Foxy Brown, Ill Na Na vs. Mobb Deep, Hell On Earth

    The fall of '96 set the debut album of Brooklyn's Foxy Brown up against the third release from Mobb Deep, the duo from Queensbridge. In the end Queens got the money — Prodigy and Havoc outsold Foxy the first week. Mobb's dark, sinister Hell On Earth featured the standout track "G.O.D. Pt. III." Released in the midst of the East Coast-West Coast feud, the album included "Drop A Gem On Em," a heated response to Tupac's "Hit Em Up." Meanwhile, Foxy's debut showcased a more upbeat sound, especially on her radio-friendly smash collaboration with Blackstreet, the single "Get Me Home." Ironically enough, Mobb Deep's Havoc made a guest appearance on the Ill Na Na cut "The Promise."

    Listen: Foxy Brown, "Get Me Home"

    Listen: Mobb Deep, "G.O.D. Pt. III"

    Honorable Mention: October 29, 1996: Black Moon, Diggin' In Dah Vaults vs. Ghostface, Ironman vs. OGC, Da Storm

  • November 4, 1997

    Jay-Z, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 vs. Rakim, 18th Letter
    Courtesy of Roc-A Fella and Universal Records

    Jay-Z, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 vs. Rakim, 18th Letter

    By 1997, Jay-Z had already cleared the hurdle of releasing his debut album, the now classic Reasonable Doubt. Aligned with Def Jam and looking to emerge out of underground obscurity, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was a turning point, as Jay tried to balance his roots with his aspirations, retaining producers like DJ Premier and Ski Beatz while also working with commercial producers like The Hitmen and The Trackmasters. It must have astonished Jay when he charted one place higher than one of his rap idols, Rakim, who dropped his very first album sans partner Eric B the same day. For his effort, the seasoned MC recruited Premier, too, as well as Pete Rock and Clark Kent. He remained true to his intellectual and spiritual content, dropping wisdom as only the God could. It turned out to be a last hurrah of sorts for Rakim, fitting as the date marked the commercial emergence of the man now considered the most successful rapper ever.

    Listen: Jay-Z "Streets Is Watching"

    Listen: Rakim, "The 18th Letter (Always and Forever)"

    Honorable Mention: August 19, 1997: OC, Jewelz vs. Royal Flush, Ghetto Millionaire

  • September 29, 1998

    A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement vs. OutKast, Aquemini vs. Brand Nubian, The Foundation vs. Jay-Z, Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life

    A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement vs. OutKast, Aquemini vs. Brand Nubian, The Foundation vs. Jay-Z, Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life Courtesy of Jive, La Face, Arista and Roc-A-Fella Records hide caption

    itoggle caption Courtesy of Jive, La Face, Arista and Roc-A-Fella Records

    A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement vs. OutKast, Aquemini vs. Brand Nubian, The Foundation vs. Jay-Z, Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life

    This was a battle of generations, styles and regions. Tribe came with their final album as a unit, an album that received favorable reviews across the board for sounding like a return to their signature jazzy sound. Brand Nubian's fourth album, a reunion of sorts for the entire group, relied on outside producers such as DJ Premier, Buckwild and Lord Finesse to offer a boom-bap boost to their conscious lyrics. Jay-Z hit paydirt with his third album, as songs like the Annie-sampling "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" and "Can I Get A..." popped in a major way, becoming some of his biggest singles ever. Meanwhile, Atlanta's celebrated duo offered up what many consider to be their magnum opus, another album rated a prestigious 5 Mics in the Source. In a sign of rap's accepted status in the mainstream, Vol. 2, Hard Knock Life, Aquemini and The Love Movement were the top three albums in the nation saleswise that first week.

    Listen: A Tribe Called Quest, "Find a Way"

    Listen: OutKast feat. Slick Rick, "Da Art of Storytellin'" [single version]

    Listen: Brand Nubian, "Don't Let It Go to Your Head"

    Listen: Jay-Z, "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"

  • February 23, 1999

    Prince Paul, A Prince Among Thieves vs. Eminem, The Slim Shady LP vs. Black Moon, War Zone vs. The Roots, Things Fall Apart
    Courtesy of Tommy Boy, Interscope, Priority and MCA Records

    Prince Paul, A Prince Among Thieves vs. Eminem, The Slim Shady LP vs. Black Moon, War Zone vs. The Roots, Things Fall Apart

    There is no denying now that The Slim Shady LP changed the face of hip-hop dramatically. But at the time, the album faced stiff competition with three other albums that received tremendous praise. The Roots had their break out moment with Things Fall Apart, which spawned the Grammy Award-winning "You Got Me." The album, which takes its title from the Chinua Achebe novel, propelled the Philly rap band into mainstream spotlight without diluting their wholesome sound, earning them their first platinum plaque earlier this year. Black Moon returned after a six-year hiatus with their sophomore release, which was an evolution in both production and content. While there was still a ruggedness to War Zone, it came with a low-fi sound and with some maturity from the rappers. The fourth album to come out on this date, from the multi-talented Prince Paul, was a concept album that told a gripping narrative from start to finish.

    Listen: Prince Paul, Prince Among Thieves comp video

    Listen: Eminem, "My Name Is"

    Listen: Black Moon, "Two Turntables & a Mic"

    Listen: The Roots, "You Got Me"

    Honorable Mention: April 27, 1999: Mobb Deep, Murda Muzik vs. Naughty By Nature, Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature's Fury vs. Rawkus Records, Soundbombing II

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