Somewhere on the outskirts of New York a hip-hop moment twenty years in the making is about to commence. It’s the kind of frosty, January night that inspired the uncompromising verses and beats that defined an era: “Escuchela La ciudad respirando….”
In one part of town a leader of hip-hop’s new school, 9th Wonder is holding a release party for his Jamla label at S.O.Bs. Despite being from North Carolina the producer and sometimes MC, has been an apostle for the gritty, asphalt-flavored brand of hip-hop that was born on nights like this in the city that never sleeps. His friend and collaborator Young Guru holds court in the belly of the venue along with Dres from Black Sheep, Statik Selektah and others.
However, a few clicks south fans have gathered at SRB in Brooklyn for another communion. Separated by one letter, a bridge and two decades of history the energy is the same. Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po, the duo known as Organized Konfusion, will perform their sophomore album, “Stress: The Extinction Agenda” in its entirety. Released three years after their self-titled debut, “Stress” found the Queens duo in complicated space personally and professionally and they captured their very relatable struggle in every bar. It’s why the same people who were performing at SOBs a few hours ago will find themselves here to witness and celebrate history. Like so many other albums that came out in 1994 “Stress” was special and the ensuing celebration would eventually bring out everyone from Large Professor and O.C to Royal Flush to pay homage.
“See, the reason why the ’90s was the golden era–and I compare it to the 70s in a way–it was a time we were experiencing things as young kids like Howard Beach, absorbing different politics and war, coming of age,” says Pharoahe Monch a few days later. He’s parked on a side street in Queens previewing tracks from his upcoming album, “P.T.S.D.” “The ability to express those things in music is what made the sh*t relatable in the Golden Era. From Tribe to Souls of Mischief to EPMD to NWA. It’s f*ckin phenomenal.”
“It felt just like it was a young movement. It was something new and fresh. It was alive, especially in NY,” adds producer Ski Beatz, whose group Original Flavor released their second and final album in 1994. “It was a scene. NY was the place to be to do the music. There was just so many different types of groups out. So many different styles. You had conscious rap, gangster rap, lyrical rap all on the radio at the same time. It was a melting pot of music. It was new. It was our time. For the moment we had it felt fresh, new and young. When you’re young and involved in something so new it’s dope.”
Now imagine that there are no blogs, no iTunes, no Soundcloud, no Youtube. The only place you can see these artists is on TV(during certain times), in a magazine, at a show or to hear them on the radio (again only during certain times). And when the album dropped you had to actually walk to a store to buy their tape or CD.
But the single most important reason to give 1994 its due is the impact and continued influence that these albums and artists have had two decades later. But don’t take our word for it. Take a moment and read what the people who were there making the music and promoting it have to say. In the first part of our tribute we speak with Bad Boy’s Derrick “D-Dot” Angelettie, Pete Rock, Big Daddy Kane, Young Guru, Pharoahe Monch, Dres of Black Sheep and Ski Beatz.
Big Daddy Kane
Release: “Daddy’s Home,” September 1994
What I remember about “Daddy’s Home” is I think that’s when I started realizing the mistakes I was making. Because during the Warner Brothers days I did “Taste Of Chocolate” and “Prince Of Darkness” and those were just throwout albums that I was doing to hurry up and get off the label. But after “POD” I started realizing people ain’t really into [me] anymore. Cats is moving on, they saying “you fell off. You need to put some real gutter stuff together.” So we did “Looks Like a Job For” in 1993. I thought that bringing in Large Professor, Easy Mo Bee and Trackmasters and everybody [would be enough]. I thought we did something. But after listening to the project and comparing it to some other artists at the time like Wu-Tang I said ok, the production is right but I’M not right. Lyrically I’m doing my thing but flow wise I sounded DATED. I sound like an ’80s Kane. I sound old school. So I stepped my flow game up. I think with “Daddy’s Home” I tried a lot of different flows and brought something innovative to the whole Kane thing.
I remember Nas and Biggie and the impact they had on the scene. I just had an ill big smile on my face because of my love for hip-hop I always wanna see it grow. When people like myself, Rakim and KRS came in the game I think KRS took what Melle Mel was doing to another level, Rakim took what Kool Mo Dee was doing to another level and I think I took what Grandmaster Caz did to another level. When these cats came in the game I saw Biggie taking what I do to another level. I saw Nas taking what Rakim does to another level. I felt like the game was elevating with great lyricists and I just thought that it was dope.
“SHOW And PROVE” (featuring Scoob Lover, Sauce Money, Jay Z, ODB and Shyheim The Rugged Child)
With “Show and Prove” I wanted to do one of those posse cuts again like with “The Symphony” but I also wanted to showcase new talent. The video was filmed at Lafayette Gardens where Mr. Cee lived in Brooklyn. Everyone was excited being on a DJ Premier track. It was a family affair. It wasn’t like when we did “The Symphony.” Me and G Rap were the only ones that hung together. But that was the first time I’d met Masta Ace.
The thing no one knows is that Biggie was supposed to be on the song as well. Mr Cee asked me about it and he was like “You really need to put Big on this song.” This was before he was big. After I looked at it the song was already six minutes and this is when we recorded on reel, so there’s not enough room. We already went over. To put him on DJ Premier would have to re-track the beat. I don’t think anyone knew about that. I think that would have really made it even more historic.
Derrick “D-Dot” Angelettie
Captain Of The Hitmen, A&R, Producer, Manager, Bad Boy Records
[In 1994] I was Director of Merchandising and Management for Bad Boy. I was making all the T-shirts and scullies you saw back then. Today I posted a picture of my business card on Instagram and it said “Director of Merchandising and Management.” 810 West 19th St. That was the original Bad Boy office. After Puff left Scarsdale and got office space that’s the office we were on between 5th and 6th. It was a couple blocks from where he ended up opening up Justin’s.
The crazy part is Puffy didn’t have a position for me. He said “make something up and figure something out and you can rock.”
I said “You got nobody selling yourself sh*t for you so I’mma do that.” Biggie and Craig Mack were new artists but I’d already been in 2 Kings In A Cipher (with Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence) and I’d been around the country building with the promoters. So I said if “I can get them some shows can I be Director of Management?” Puff said yeah. So I got Big and Craig Mack some shows around the country messing with all the guys that had booked me when I was on the road as a rapper. I had to make my own way. I was still considered an intern but I wasn’t treated like one. Puff said you can run with me but I can’t pay you. So figure out something, blow yourself up and we’ll go from there. So when he started managing MJB he needed somebody else to co-manage with her and be on the road with her. So I was her road manager at the time.
I was always involved with the music. After we got dropped from our label Ron Lawrence got discouraged and he moved to L.A. I moved back to NY from D.C. cuz our record career was over. But I made enough money to buy my own drum machine. So that’s when I reached out to all my old hip-hop heads like Kedar Massenburg, Big Daddy Kane, Mr Cee, Q-Tip and Busta. I went and sat with Kedar one day and Rakim was in there and I played them some beats. And I played them some Ron Lawrence beats and actually sold two beats to Rakim in ’94. Mary will tell you that whenever we had breaks on tour I’d be sitting on the back of the bus with a drum machine. Ron would send me disks with some drums on it and I was learning how to make beats.