Twenty years later, Summer 2016 stands as a pivotal period in hip-hop. Let’s set the scene — Bill Clinton was running for re-election, VHS was still a viable format, people were still waiting for N64 to drop, EBay launched, and Donovan Baily set a world-record at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. It was also the year that hip-hop was blessed with [what in hindsight] can be considered as bonafide, game-changing classics.
For one, Jay-Z dropped his classic debut Reasonable Doubt. Although at the time we couldn’t have known, it stands as the rawest, most hungry — and crucial — project in his catalog. He’s often noted that it’s the album that took his whole life up to that point to write. It’s ultimate success held Jay’s future in its palms. Had it flopped, Jay admits that he would have stuck to what he knew best, hustling. We, of course, know how the story went. Nas also had an album drop just over a week later. This is more significant if you consider the [on wax] battle they engaged in roughly six years later. It Was Written was a departure for Nas — well, sort of. At the time, he was criticized for lacking the emotion of Illmatic, which seems ridiculous now. It was much more successful commercially, led by the single “If I Ruled The World,” featuring Lauren Hill, whose group The Fugees had dropped their debut The Score earlier that year.
De La Soul also dropped a record that summer. Although not as widely commercially viable as the other two previously mentioned, it was a huge turning point for the group For one, it was their first time not collaborating exclusively with Prince Paul. The result was a much more varied sound and was the last project the group released in the 90s. It also was one of the first major appearances of the now incomparable Mos Def. Tribe Called Quest also held the Native Tongues down with the release of Beats, Rhymes, & Life. If their biopic rings true, the album was many things. It was the last album where the original members all had their heart in it from cover to cover. It was also the first time we were introduced to Consequence on the classic summer-record “Stressed Out,” featuring Faith Evans. “1nce Again” was also a big single that ruled airwaves and boomboxes.
On the south side of things, ATL duo Outkast released their critically acclaimed sophomore album, ATLiens. A lyrical departure from their debut, the album (which has since gone double platinum) ruled the latter part of the season with the ultra-catchy slow-flow of Elevators. Also from ATL, underground legends, UGK dropped their [often cited] Ridin’ Dirty. With no videos or actual singles, the project remains their most successful. Many artists, including Drake, have given it a place on their top lists.
Twenty years is a long time, and it hits home when you realize it. We older heads are often hard to the younger generation for not being fully up on some of these classics, but they dropped a lifetime ago. Literally. For those of us who spent the long hot summer of 1996 chanting “Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls, nigga shit your drawers,” debating on the commercialization of hip-hop (a topic prevalent since artists like Hammer broke through), and sweating out Kani t-shirts under the blazing sun — 1996 remains in our hearts.
Here are all of the albums mentioned — for either reminiscing or educating yourself.