“1995” Looking Back On An Amazing Year In Hip-Hop History – As we wrap up the year that was 2015, many like to look forward by looking back. Analyzing or reviewing the waning year gives us clarity on the one to come. But we are Back in The Day Buffet, we care more about the yesteryear than the year upcoming. So we look back to 1995, a key year in hip hop history with many of the greatest MC’s dropping albums throughout those months. Now with 20 years gone by, the true classics stick out and its true depth of quality can be seen for what it is. There was an incredible amount of talent creating music during that era, that today’s artists still have a hard time matching.
I must admit, I did not listen to rap in 1995. I wish I had been a part of the hip hop scene at the time, but I was in a different mode. I don’t know how rap felt before Smif N Wessun or Mobb Deep became household names. I can’t say I was there when everyone got their first taste of “The Purple Tape” and the Wu-Tang Experience really took hold. I have no idea what it was like to have my heroes like Krs-One or Kool G Rap come back with a vengeance after going solo. All I know is when my friend introduced me to “Liquid Swords” some two years after its release, I was hooked on hip hop.
GZA’s “Liquid Swords” has it all. The killer beats, perfect vocals, outros and intro’s you remember as much as the songs, every guest spot memorable. There could not be a better introduction to that era’s rap than this RZA produced classic. Many would say “The Purple Tape” is the greatest Wu-solo album, but “Liquid Swords” is my favorite. I like GZA as an MC more than Raekwon, but really both of these albums are must have for any hip hop fans. Including the classic debut from Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Return The 36 Chambers”, the Wu-Tang Family had maybe its strongest solo year with arguably the three greatest solo albums all released back to back to back. Three favorite tracks from the albums are “Ice Cream”, “Shadowboxin’, and “Brooklyn Zoo”.
Some of my favorite groups also debuted in ’95 including the certified classics “Da Shining” from Smif N Wessun and Goodie Mob’s “Soul Food”. These two albums are just incredible and deserve their own articles to do them justice. “Bucktown” and “Cell Therapy” should be on anyone’s list of top hip hop jams of all time. Tek and Steele may not have had the greatest career but the Boot Camp Clik members did leave us with a hip hop gem that still stands up today. Goodie Mob has enjoyed much more success than Smif N Wessun, everyone knows Ceelo Green by now, but I believe “Soul Food” remains their undeniable gift to rap fans everywhere. It is an album that front to back is a hip hop wonder.
Other groups who dropped legendary albums were Mobb Deep, Eightball & MJG, The Roots, Tha Alkaholiks, FunkDoobiest, and less so Das Efx. Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous” stands out amongst the crowd as the one album that set the tone for an entire era of rap. The dark gritty sound that Havoc and Prodigy brought forth on the album still resonates in today’s rap. The song that sticks out the most from the album is “Shook One Pt. II”. It’s in my Top 10, it should be in yours. It may be the greatest beat every created, it just gets me every time. While “On Top Of The World” isn’t 8Ball & MJG’s best, “Comin Out Hard” is, it’s their biggest commercial success and finds the group at the “top of their world”. Their is some true classics on this album, if you need one I’d pick “Pimp In My Own Rhyme”. It’s classic Dirty South.
For The Roots “DoYouWantMore?!!!??!” I got to go with “What Goes On, Pt. 7”, a great beat with some of Black Thought’s finest rhymes. Tha Alkaholiks dropped a solid sophomore effort with “Coast II Coast” and the jam to me off the album was “DAAAM!”. Any track with Tha Alkaholiks, King T, and Xzibit (aka Tha Likwit Crew) all dropping verses has got to be dope, but this is when they all were writing some of their best stuff. FunkDoobiest is a highly underrated group and their sophomore effort Brothas Doobie was their best record to date. DJ Muggs brings it with some of his illest beats and leaves us with tracks like “Lost In Thought”, one of the few serious tracks from the Brothers Doobie and without a doubt, one of their best. Das Efx gave us “Hold It Down” their third effort and definitely not their best. While the production lineup is dynamite, the pair failed to give us an album worth remembering although “Ready To Rock Rough Rhymes” is a banger worth listening to again.
This was also a year which saw many of the greatest MC’s in hip hop history drop albums whose legend and mystique have waxed and not waned over the years. Big L and AZ, two of hip hop’s great rhyme smiths, dropped their solo debuts with the albums “Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous” and “Do Or Die”. Neither had much commercial success although both artists were well received for their lyrics, the production was lackluster and therefore the overall reviews were mixed. Both rappers were considered great “up and comers” then, but now are revered as rap legends. “Do Or Die” is now a classic that follows in sync with its predecessor “Illmatic” and to some is the equivalent of Nas’ own debut. The top track from the album is “Mo Money Mo Murder (Homicide)” which features Nas. Big L used the production from his fellow D.I.T.C. members to create “Lifestylez…” and while not a great collection of beats, the album has aged well and now showcase the “Devil’s Son” as one of the G.O.A.T.’s of the game. “Put It On” with Kid Capri is the track that gets me going every time.
More classic albums made in ’95 came from Vallejo, CA’s E-40 with “In A Major Way” as well as Nine (“Nine Lives”) and Kool G Rap (“4,5,6”). While “4,5,6” is one of those undeniable classics, many have not heard of Nine, or, have been able to get into E-40 so their albums remain underrated classics. Kool G Rap’s solo debut is one of the most influential albums of the 90’s and G Rap’s bravoso rap style influenced everyone from Nas to Raekwon. Top track from the album for me is “It’s A Shame”. Nine is a Bronx rapper originally affiliated with Funkmaster Flex. His debut “Nine Livez” is a classic within rap circles and deserves a listen, try the track “Everybody Won Heaven (Redrum Remix)”. E-40 is an MC that has a flow which to some, sounds like a drunken man’s drawl. It took a few listens for me but his flow can grow on you and with that “In A Major Way” really becomes a standout album, one that becomes better with age. The top track for me is “It’s All Bad” featuring Lil E aka Droop E aka E-40’s son. Listening to E-40 spitting truth about the world and it’s expectations is both funny and enlightening.
1995 also saw releases from many legendary MC’s like KRS-One, Masta Ace, DJ Quik, Guru, and 2Pac. KRS-One’s self titled album gave us one of hip hops most widely sampled tracks “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” a classic from the BDP veteran and DJ Premier. Masta Ace Incorporated released their final album as a group “Sittin’ On Chrome” and the East meets West vibe inspired by Dr Dre’s “The Chronic” gave us a gem. Masta Ace and the crew’s “The I.N.C. Ride” is a classic jam reminiscent of G Funk and The Pharcyde. DJ Quik’s album “Safe + Sound” showcased Quik at his height, with the MC Eiht Diss track “Dollaz + Sense” topping the list of best tracks. Also the Boston MC Guru, one half of Gangstarr, released his second Jazzmatazz album featuring a toned down jazz infused hip hop this time around. “[Mental Relaxation] Medicine” featuring Ini Kamoze and TruMaster is one of those jams you will be singing in your head for the rest of the day. Finally 2Pac drops his classic “Me Against The World” which found Tupac at his most vulnerable and gave us tracks like “Death Around The Corner”.
1995 was an amazing year, and there is no way that this small article can do it justice. These are only the albums that have influenced me, they are not a reflection on what was important to hip hop in 1995. Artists like Eazy E and Bone Thugs and Harmony released some of their best stuff in ’95 while others like Fat Joe, Mic Geronimo, King T, and Group Home, I’ve never had an opportunity to get into. There’s also some great soundtracks released that year including “Friday”, “The Show”, “Dead Presidents”, and “New Jersey Drive”. I can’t forget to mention some of the West Coast hip hop released this year like Tha Dogg Pound, Spice 1, RBX, WC and The Maad Circle, and Pharcyde. I wish I had more time to get into these albums, and some day I’m sure I will. Until then, this is my list of essential listening from the year that was 1995. Make your own list, send it in, let us know what we missed or what you liked. We are Back In The Day and that was 1995.