“Damn….those were the days”.
“I remember this song…wow”.
These are some of the things people might say when they listen to certain songs that send them back into that nostalgic era of positive rap music and good vibes. Back when there was little misogynistic lyrics of women, no mentions of “1-8-7’s”, etc. You know,…you felt good and somewhat up lifted after hearing the song. Some songs you found yourself actually dancing to (Go ahead break out the Roger Rabbit one time…I’ll wait). And I don’t mean bob your head, but actually DANCE.
Even some of the gangsta rappers developed some sense for a few minutes to do some decent songs of their own. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Gangsta rap’ was still prevalent in this era (1988-92), but at least it was more of a mixture of artists and themes. Every other song wasn’t just shoot.. shoot.. kill.. kill… fcuk bi**hes,… h*es here.. h*es there. Anyway, here are some of my personal faves. Some are danceable some aren’t. So sit back, relax and strap on your seat belts while I put my first tune in the tape deck. Yes, I said tape deck.
1. ‘Shakyilah’ (1991)
Artist/group: Poor Righteous Teachers
Interesting back story behind this: In 1991 when this song came out, I heard it on the radio and liked it. Here’s the funny part… I never heard it again but the chorus stuck in my head:
“wake up from all these silly dreams thinking that she’s yours not mine.
With those earrings and those silly chains it is just a waste of time, the queen is mine ..she’s mine”.
It wasn’t until last year (yes 21 years elapsed) until I heard it again literally. I was hanging out with some of my brothers and they played this song. I literally yelled out, “Oh sh**!” and had my moment.
This song was during a time period when there was an uprising of positive pan-African type of music which enriched the brothers of music. It was kind of sandwiched between New Jack Swing and for lack of a better term, ‘dance hall’ rap (i.e Kid n’ play), and right before Gangsta Rap came kicking in the door waving the 4-4. This track had a smooth rhythm dominated by drums and a piano riff. It illustrated the importance of treating your woman like a queen and nothing less.
2. ‘Juicy’ (1994)
Artist: As if he needs any introduction but for article’s sake Notorious BIG
During the peak of Gangsta Rap and when there was a coastal rap war going on (not the B.S. the media conjured up in ’95-96) but a war of talent as both coasts were boasting premier artists. A little known Christopher Wallace jumped in the hip hop waters with a splash of this remake of the 1983 hit: “Juicy”.
The track was a rags to riches story with a smooth lyrical flow and a nice chorus from R&B group Total. He stepped to the plate and smashed a home run with this track, his album as a whole and never looked back. It contributed in re-establishing the east Coast as a major musical player. The song had a positive vibe while making it seem okay to be poor so long as you work hard you’ll eventually succeed. Not for nothing, this song to my recollection was one of the very few if not the only one he made without any cursing or degrading remarks towards women (not that it took away from his lyrical genius).
3. ‘Self Destruction’ (1989)
Artist: Stop the violence All Stars
The group name speaks for itself. I mean look at this line up: MC Lyte, Doug E Fresh, Heavy D, Boogie Down Productions, Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy. All prominent hip hop artists at that time. The song was apart of a “Stop The Violence” movement which was inspired by the death of fellow Boogie Down Productions rapper Scott La Rock and the senseless homicides plaguing the urban communities throughout the nation. And listening to the song, it’s all self-explanatory. In case you forgot about it, watch ‘Self Destruction’ here.
4. ‘Keep Ya Head up’ (1993)
Artist: Tupac Shakur
“We ain’t meant to survive cuz it’s a set up, and even though you fed up, you gotta keep ya head up“
In between getting around, and worrying about Brenda’s baby he got down to business with some deep, informative, and encouraging ballads. This was an ode to Blacks, especially Black women everywhere simply telling them keep their heads up no matter how bad the struggle is. A sample from the Five Stair Step’s 1970 song “O-o-h Child“. Keep ya head up still receives plenty of radio play even 20 years later.
5. ‘Ain’t gonna hurt nobody’ (1991)
Artist: Kid N Play
Kid N Play in the eyes of many epitomized the ‘dance hall rap’ so to speak. They were all about dancing and having fun. There wasn’t a song where you didn’t break out their signature dance ‘the Kid N play’ which was and still is an extremely popular dance (for the 30+ age group).
This song was the perfect party song, talking about just that, partying.
“Aint gonna hurt nobody, we just dancin’ yall… aint gonna hurt nobody out there on the floor”
That just about says it all. Having fun, dancing, going to a kick a$$ house party and leaving all your worries and troubles at the front door. This era was close to the end of the ‘fun’ hip hop we knew and loved before Da OG’s and Hustlaz arrived. And rappers like Kid N Play, Nice and Smooth, MC Hammer, and others were pretty much told, “We’re no longer in need of your services for entertainment. We want guns, h*es, liquor, and money.”
The irony is that years later some of the dance hall rap came back, but this time with silly, buffoonish songs and dances that got ushered in along with the young boys, exposed boxer briefs and the skinny jeans. Watch Kid ‘N Play’s ‘Aint Gonna Hurt Nobody’
6. ‘People Everyday’ and ‘Mr Wendal’ (1992)
Artist: Arrested Development
In 1992 Arrested Development (not the tv show, but a little known group originating from Atlanta, Georgia) burst onto the scene with their powerful lyrics, good beats, solid chorus and melodies rightfully making themselves a staple among conscious rappers. To cap off their success they won two Grammy Awards and provided the hit single soundtrack (“Revolution”) for Spike Lee’s movie, “Malcolm X”. Although issues on money and creative control derailed this group, I couldn’t help but put them on this list.
‘People Everyday’ had a smooth beat and nice base line with a simple chorus, “I..I..I..I..I..I am everyday people” sampled from Sly and the Family Stone’s 1968 hit, ‘Everyday People’. These two songs certainly hit home for me, especially ‘Mr Wendal’. We all see it on a daily basis – people who fall on hard times resorting to living on the streets and being subjected to sub-human treatment. Arrested Development simply reminded us that ‘Mr Wendal’, and people like him are also human.
7. ‘Fight The power’ (1989) ‘Can’t Trust It’ (1991)
Artist: Public Enemy
Listen, there was too many of them but I’ll put two here. I will say they were THEE driving force behind positive hip hop with meaning behind virtually every ballad. Although they fizzled out by the mid 90’s, they were certainly a force to reckoned with in more ways than one. Even Flava Flav was respectable then, until he decided to sell out and coon himself for the public. Yes I said it, he did. Watch Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power.‘ and ‘Cant Truss It‘
Well, ladies and gents those are just some of my favs as far as the positivity that used to be hip hop. I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. What are some other favorites from back in the day that you would add to this list? The hip hop gems of yesteryear. The floor is yours.
Be sure to check out Hip Hop We Hardly Knew Ye, Part 2 here.