So come with me, on a trip to the 90's if you will...
Nostalgia, it can be a funny thing. More often than not the thing from our past that we remember is often, we find upon closer examination, further review, clouded by rose tinted glasses. What we thought was so great, was merely only our imagination of a more simple time in our lives.
However, there is one period of time in my life that I can look back on with admiration, and know for a fact that it was indeed just as good in reality as I remember. Sometimes even better than my memory serves: That period is the 90's, and that subject ladies and gents, is rap music videos.
You see, the 90's was a transformative decade for the certain genre of music known as Hip Hop. It was a period that many fans and critics have dubbed "The Golden Age" due to the genre really coming into it's own out of the genesis in the late 70's and 80's. Artists began to debut at a rapid pace as the now maturing art form evolved and became infinitely more deep and complicated. It was proven that this kind of tune wasn't just a fad, but something that was here to stay as one after the other each new rapper seemed both completely talented, and unlike any other that had come before them.
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Along with this the music business itself was in a big stride, with many new artist commanding million dollar budgets for marketing. A sum that would often be co-opted into the emerging creativity of the new artist, which in turn allowed them to bring that creativity to the visual clips that they created for their music. Money begat freedom, and that freedom begat some incredible stuff.
Below you will find just a snippet of some of the most incredibly memorable, and classic music videos to ever have come out of a decade that would end up being the last of it's kind. So sit back, enjoy, and hit that play button. You are about to take a journey into the visual world of cool tunes, and cooler people.
Busta Rhymes - "Gimme Some More" (1997)
Where can a discussion of the greatest rap videos even begin but with Busta? Innovator, creative genius, and absolute comedian, Busta realized right at the beginning of his career that he wasn't like all the other New York MC's. He was special. And to showcase that unique style, he would not only do it with his rapid fire lyrics, but in the visuals that would accompany them. Teaming up with the then relatively unknown Hype Williams, they broke out the fish-eye lens, and got some costumes. The rest was history. In one of the most memorable and longest running series of videos, the two went where nobody ever had done, the bizarre, the strange, the hilarious. Busta wasn't afraid to dress up, to make jokes, to experiment. His videos could be fun, even if his music was serious. Then they came: classic video, after classic video, after classic video, culminating (for me at least) in this one. It never fails to make me laugh, even after many repeated viewings.
Missy Elliot - "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" (1997)
I can still remember the first time I saw this one. I didn't know exactly what I was seeing, but I did know two things for sure: 1) I wouldn't forget it. 2) I loved it. Thus began the career of another music video genius along with the career of one of the best producers to have ever been in the rap game. To say that Missy is the woman version of Busta is an insult. She did things with the visual medium that no one else has neither had the courage or creativity to even come close to. The best part? This was just the beginning for her. The future would only bring more incredible stuff.
Juvenile - "Ha" (1998)
I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that this is one of the best music videos ever made. Not in the bounds of rap music, but in the medium period. Coming simply with the concept of "hood as art" it is a matter of fact, unpretentious look at the place where Cash Money began. We see the superstars in Juvie, Mannie Fresh, Birdman, and an unbelievably young Lil Wayne. They look hungry, they look poised, they look like stars. And in the video we see their environment, the heat, the crime, the impossible poverty. All right in front of us in powerful imagery. Children playing on a dirty mattress, residents out on their stoops, police shakedowns. This one still gives me goosebumps. A masterpiece.
DMX - "Get At Me Dog" (1998)
One of the most effective debuts of a rapper ever. Filmed at the notorious and legendary New York club The Tunnel, this was the world's introduction to the superstar that would go down in history as one of the most intense rappers ever. And boy did they get that across from the jump. Irv Gotti, the future CEO of Murder Inc was responsible for this video, choosing to capture the incredible charisma and intensity that is a DMX performance by filming in stark black and white mixed with flashing negatives. DMX hit the rap scene like an atom bomb, single handedly making New York grimy again whilst tolling the death knell for Diddy and BIG's "Jiggy Era" of shiny suits. Rap was dead serious now, and had a new king.
Ol' Dirty Bastard - "Brooklyn Zoo" (1995)
Speaking of grime...Fresh off the iconic debut of The Wu-Tang Clan, the following year each member broke out on their own to put out solo albums due to their one of a kind record deal secured by RZA, whereby each member could sign their own solo deal irrespective of the group one and put out their own music. An unheard of occurrence back then, and still to this day. ODB took his ass to Elektra and dropped a classic. An album that showcased his one of a kind idiosyncrasies to a T. Along with that, he proceeded to make one of the grimiest music videos of the era. No concept, no plot. Just ODB and his fellow Wu associates hanging out in scummy areas, being themselves. Twisting their hair up into wild braids, wearing an eye patch for no reason, even rocking a vampire teeth grill 20 years before that kind of stuff became fashionable. The energy here. It just jumps off the screen at you, the rawness you can feel. There will never be another ODB, nobody else could get that grimy.
Redman - "I'll Bee Dat" (1998)
Speaking of one of a kind rappers...Look, there's 90's rappers and then there is Redman. Now everybody who is a Hip Hop Head, always says that Jadakiss is the most underrated/underappreciated rapper ever. The fact is, it just isn't true. He gets respect. The truth is that it always was and has been Redman. The first big rapper to represent Newark (Brick City), the first to become a Wu lifetime honorary member, and the first rapper to make music videos so funny that they made me spit up my breakfast cereal. One of those is this absolute classic. The idea: Redman is inside of every late night television show/advertisement. The execution: absolutely flawless. We get to see him: selling his own brand of (terrible) soda, peddling his own workout tape (complete with hilarious address and payment options), starring in a late night Taxicab Confessions show, and even celebrating sugary cereal with kids. Culminating in one of the most classic and absolutely hilarious interludes ever. You will know it when you see it, and you will laugh.
Method Man "Bring The Pain" (1994)
You didn't think you'd get through this list without another Wu member did you? The first video from the man who was clearly the breakout star of The Wu went further in the direction of the group's early grime aesthetic. Method chose not to make himself look like he was a millionaire, although at this point he certainly was. Instead, he threw in the grill, the white eyeball contacts, and made himself the dude you might think twice about sharing a subway car with. It's just one of those classic looks that you remember forever, especially as success continued and he shed this image for more traditional looks. Still though, grimy as fuck Meth is the man forever.
Mobb Deep "Quiet Storm" (1999)
Every rap video that was memorable didn't just necessarily have some sort of hook or gimmick to make it so. The 90's was another era for the medium as an effective story telling device, a way for artists to star in their own mini-movies, which often had production value that rivaled what you could find on the silver screen. This clip is one of those, where the duo of Mobb Deep, more known for their gangster personas, flipped it all the way on you to create something special. In this classic cut for a classic song, Prodigy and Havoc became betrayed police officers, a bold move for a genre of music that has never, and still doesn't, harbor much love for the law. They are on the run, writing raps underneath desks as SWAT teams search the room for them. Slinking through ventilation ducts with night vision goggles. Just all together something else.
Craig Mack f/Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J "Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)" (1994)
I know I have copiously used the words "iconic" and "classic" throughout this column, and with good reason. However, to call this clip anything but those two words would be to understate it's impact to a large degree. In fact, those words might just be an understatement. This video right here, is how the world was introduced to Biggie, and holy smokes what a memorable intro. Craig Mack had been around for a little while, but Bad Boy Records was still a fledgling label, not carrying too much weight in the rap game. However, Puff Daddy had a trick up his sleeve, and from the very beginning of this stark black and white clip, you could tell as he borrowed the Coke bottles from The Warriors, that Puffy knew he was about to unleash a monster on the world. Then he did. There he was, big, baritone voiced, and rapping his ass off. The rest is history.
LL Cool J "Doin' It" (1996)
Today, it is easy to forget about LL. As he hosts the Grammy's, stars on NCIS along Chris O' Donnell, you may be pressed to remember that at one time he was one of the biggest stars in the world. Def Jam's most loyal artist and one of the people who would eventually see the label become one of the most important (if not THE most important) institutions in Hip Hop. He was innovative, talented, and smart. Like the way he became one of the genres biggest and longest enduring sex symbols, one of the first to use his body to sell records as a rapper, and made sure he brought the ladies along so that fellas could enjoy the visuals as well. LL is and always will be the man, for making videos like this, that both sexes could enjoy together, and then later enjoy by themselves. If you get my meaning...GO BROOKLYN, GO BROOKLYN, GO BROOKLYN!
Notorious B.I.G. "Hypnotize" (1997)
How could you possibly make a column about the most memorable rap videos of the 90's and not have the absolute kings of the genre make a proper appearance. Bad Boy Records could have their own post featuring only their videos. For Christ's sake, Puffy was responsible for singlehandedly taking the video game to a new level. He created his own era, the Jiggy era, known for big budgets, big singles, shiny ass suits, and unforgettable music videos. To call this one memorable is a complete understatement. 9 out of 10 people who have seen it could at least describe over half of the scenes to you in perfect detail. The Bentley/motorcycle car chase in reverse, the boat chase, the fly girl dancers, and BIG's impeccable Versace wardrobe. BIG himself could hardly keep your attention, even with his absolutely incredible verses on this one, the visuals were just that arresting. Hail to the kings baby, Bad Boy knew how to do it big for the biggest rapper of the era, both in persona, talent, and charisma. Perfect.
These clips only begin to scratch the surface of the hundreds of incredible and unforgettable videos that accompanied some of the most classic music to ever have been made in the genre. In just one magical, hyperkinetic decade, Hip Hop music transitioned from conscious afrocentrism, to biting political gangster commentary, to shiny suits and big budgets, onward to the conspicuous consumption of the "bling" era. And in only a few more years after that, it would all be over as the Internet age would change the music industry forever.
No more million dollar budgets, no more high concept visuals. Nowadays you are lucky if you get a decent green screen, or a story line at all other than "I am rich and famous and you should want to be me."
That's not to say there aren't interesting things still being done, but never again like it was. However, through the medium that shook it all up (the Internet) we are able to look back any time we want. To be able to see a bygone era, and appreciate the creativity that existed, the potential that was.
Things may never reach these heights again, but for a time, things were sure fun to look at.