Here’s an enlightening fact for the senior citizens in the house – 1998 was 20 years ago.
Yes, that means that Silkk da Shocker CD you’ve been carting around for decades is older than some people reading this very post.
But for those music fans who experienced the magic of the year 1998, you know just how important those 12 months were to hip-hop and R&B. Artists who would go on to be legit legends debuted. Albums that would become undeniable classics landed in our laps. And, for better or worse, hip-hop would begin its march toward mainstream dominance.
Yes, hip-hop is now the most popular genre of music in America in 2018. But that foundation was laid two decades ago by daring artists who aspired toward commercial and critical success.
Let’s look back at the incomparable albums, the singles that never left our headphones and the stories behind the biggest artists of their era.
1998 might not be considered a “golden era” among some music critics but it was the last time hip-hop and R&B collectively shined this brightly.
The Unforgettable Debuts
In an era of shiny garbage man suits and over-the-top soul samples, DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell is Hot was the grimy, scowling movement that hip-hop needed. X’s rawness kicked open the doors for a more aggressive street sound, making himself a superstar and allowing his Ruff Ryder fam to bum rush the game with motorcycles and bandanas.
Obviously Lauryn Hill was far from a rookie in 1998 – she’d been in the public eye nearly a half decade prior to her breakout debut album. We all knew she’d spread her wings and go solo eventually – what we didn’t expect was for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to become such a landmark release, one that majestically blended hip-hop and soul into a profound statement of black womanhood.
Big Pun’s rise wasn’t just big for his native Bronx, it was legitimately history-making – Pun’s debut, Capital Punishment would be the first solo Latin hip hop record to achieve platinum certification. And there were skills to back up those sales – Pun’s tongue-twisting delivery, infectious humor and overwhelming charisma made him an instant star. We lost him far too soon.
Yeah, we know Beyonce is unquestionably the biggest pop star in the world, but it her legacy began 20 years ago with the debut at Destiny’s Child, a standout album that’s extremely underrated in the grand scheme of Bey’s career. Speaking of underrated, Playa’s Cheers 2 U is a fantastic evolution of soul and helped launched Static Major – one of the most unsung writers in R&B history. Kelly Price’s Soul of a Woman and Tamia’s first album were top-shelf releases that still eclipse anything released in the modern era.
The L.O.X. showed us the meaning of Money, Power & Respect, a promising release that helped position them as one of the greatest rap collectives in the game. And if you’re talking rap collectives, Talib Kweli and Mos Def’s joint release Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star has fans STILL salivating for a follow-up. Tyrese and Mya introduced themselves to the mainstream with powerful debuts. And shout out to Nicole Wray – her debut Nicole is the best release from the era y’all never heard.
The Game Changers
Now if you listen to narrative from Jay Z some fans, Shawn Carter debuted with one of the greatest rap albums in history in 1996 and immediately became the greatest rapper of all time. They’re only half right. Jay’s Reasonable Doubt was a masterpiece, no doubt, but he wouldn’t become a mainstream force of nature until 1998’s Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life, and album that mixed his critically acclaimed flow with more mainstream production. His album became a template for success for the next decade to come.
OutKast’s legacy was already pretty secure in 1998, thanks to two critically acclaimed albums and a couple of No. 1. singles. But it was in the fall of 98 that Aquemini would cement their legacy. The blend of hip-hop and psychedelic funk made the set a sonic masterpiece. They were already a force. Aquemini made them legends.
We already mentioned how DMX bombarded the game with a classic debut in the summer of 1998. Seven months later, he did it AGAIN. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood had every reason to be a sloppy cash-in but instead it was a yet another top-tier release. The Dog was undefeated in 1998.
Before taking over for the 99 and the 2000s, Cash Money’s dominance started in 1998 thanks to Juvenile’s breakout 400 Degrees. Cash Money Record’s joint distribution deal with Universal Records gave Juve much more national promotion – basically allowing him to bring New Orleans to America’s doorstep. It was the first step in Cash Money’s rise to power.
And speaking of power, no one had rap on lock quite like Percy Miller in the late 90s. No Limit Records’ gaudy gold tank was EVERYWHERE. No Limit dropped TWENTY-THREE albums across the calendar year, with Master P’s MP Da Last Don, Silkk the Shocker’s Charge It 2 da Game, C-Murder’s Life or Death, Mystikal’s Ghetto Fabulous and Kane & Abel’s Am I My Brother’s Keeper all hitting No 1. Mia X, Fiend, Soulja Slim, Snoop Dogg and a host of others dropped noteable albums under the No Limit flag as well. It was the very definition of a movement.
The Five-Star Albums
2018 marks my 10th year as a music reviewer online. In that time, I’ve only given ONE album a five-star review. But in 1998, we got no less than NINE five-star albums in one calendar year:
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Big Pun, Capital Punishment
Kelly Price, Soul of a Woman
112, Room 112
DMX, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
Jay Z, Vol 2 … Hard Knock Life
Busta Rhymes, E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
Albums You Need In Your Collection
Gang Starr, Moment of Truth
Dru Hill, Enter the Dru
Brandy, Never Say Never
Onyx, Shut ‘Em Down
Xscape, Traces of My Lipstick
AZ, Pieces of a Man
Goodie Mob, Still Standing
Monica, The Boy Is Mine
Jermaine Dupri, Life in 1472
Whitney Houston, My Love is Your Love
Deborah Cox, One Wish
Redman, Doc’s the Name 2000
Def Squad, El Nino
Faith Evans, Keep the Faith
A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement
Total, Kima, Keisha & Pam
Keith Sweat, Still in the Game
The Hot Singles
What were your favorite albums and singles of 1998? And which albums did I overlook? Let us know below.