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Golden age hip hop


Golden age hip hop

Hip hop's golden age is a name given to a period in mainstream hip hop music, usually cited as the late 1980s to the early 1990s. It is said to be characterized by its diversity, quality, innovation and influence.[1][2][3][4][5] There were various types of subject matter, while the music was experimental and the sampling eclectic.[6]

The artists most often associated with the phrase are Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, De La Soul, EPMD, A Tribe Called Quest, Slick Rick, Ultramagnetic MC's,[7] MC Lyte, and the Jungle Brothers.[8] Releases by these acts co-existed in this period with, and were as commercially viable as, those of early gangsta rap artists such as Ice-T, Geto Boys and N.W.A, the sex raps of 2 Live Crew and Too Short, and party-oriented music by acts such as Kid 'n Play, The Fat Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and MC Hammer.[9]


  • Style 1
  • Time period 2
  • Legal cases 3
    • Grand Upright Music v. Warner Brothers Records 3.1
    • The Turtles v. De La Soul 3.2
  • Notable artists 4
  • References 5


The golden age is noted for its innovation – a time "when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre,"[1] according to Rolling Stone. Referring to "hip-hop in its golden age",[10] Spin's editor-in-chief Sia Michel said, "there were so many important, groundbreaking albums coming out right about that time",[10] and MTV's Sway Calloway added: "The thing that made that era so great is that nothing was contrived. Everything was still being discovered and everything was still innovative and new".[11] Writer William Jelani Cobb said, "what made the era they inaugurated worthy of the term golden was the sheer number of stylistic innovations that came into existence... in these golden years, a critical mass of mic prodigies were literally creating themselves and their art form at the same time".[12]

One of the definitive characteristics of the golden age of hip-hop is the proliferation of sample-heavy music. The ability to sample different beats from a wide variety of sources gave birth to a new breed of producers, DJs who did not necessarily need formal musical training or instruments, just an ear for sound collages.These samples were derived from a number of genres, ranging from jazz, funk and soul to rock & roll. For example, Paul's Boutique, the Beastie Boy's second studio album, drew from over 105 individual samples, 24 of which were featured on the last track of the album.

During this time, sound bites were not limited to just music. The RZA, the de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, a hip hop collective from the 90s, sampled sound clips from his own collection of 70s kung-fu flicks to bolster and frame the group's gritty lyrical content. Many of the sample-laden albums released during this time would not be able to receive legal clearance today.[13]

The era also provided some of the greatest advances in rapping technique. Kool G Rap, referring to the golden age in the book How to Rap said, "that era bred rappers like a Big Daddy Kane, a KRS-One, a Rakim, a Chuck D. . . their rapping capability and ability — these dudes were phenomenal".[14][15]

Many of hip hop's biggest artists were also at their creative peak. Allmusic said the golden age "witnessed the best recordings from some of the biggest rappers in the genre's history... overwhelmingly based in New York City, golden age rap is characterized by skeletal beats, samples cribbed from hard rock or soul tracks, and tough dis raps... rhymers like PE's Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Rakim, and LL Cool J basically invented the complex wordplay and lyrical kung-fu of later hip-hop".[16]

In addition to lyrical self-glorification, hip hop was also used as a form of social protest. Lyrical content from the era often drew attention to a variety of social issues including afrocentric living, drug use, crime and violence, religion, culture, the state of the American economy, and the modern man's struggle. Conscious and political hip hop tracks of the time were a response to the effects of American capitalism and former President Reagan's conservative political economy. According to Rose Tricia, " In rap, relationships between black cultural practice, social and economic conditions, technology, sexual and racial politics, and the institution policing of the popular terrain are complex and in constant motion. Even though hip hop was used as a mechanism for different social issues it was still very complex with issues within the movement itself.[17]

There was also often an emphasis on black nationalism. Hip hop scholar Michael Eric Dyson stated, "during the golden age of hip hop, from 1987 to 1993, Afrocentric and black nationalist rap were prominent",[18] and critic Scott Thill described the time as "the golden age of hip hop, the late '80s and early '90s when the form most capably fused the militancy of its Black Panther and Watts Prophets forebears with the wide-open cultural experimentalism of De La Soul and others".[19]

Stylistic variety was also prominent. MSNBC said that in the golden age, "rappers had an individual sound that was dictated by their region and their communities, not by a marketing strategist"[2] and the Village Voice referred to the golden age's "eclecticism".[20]

Along with focusing on black nationalism, hip hop artists often talked about urban poverty. This brought many listeners to the genre who were struggling with poverty and were coping with the scourges of alcohol, drugs, and gangs in their communities. Public Enemy's most influential song, "Fight the Power," came out at the time of urban poverty. The song speaks up to the government, proclaiming that people in the ghetto have freedom of speech and rights like every other American. One line in the song, "We got to pump the stuff to make us tough from the heart," grabbed listeners' attention and gave them motivation to speak out for themselves.[21]

Time period

Allmusic writes, "Hip-hop's golden age is bookended by the commercial breakthrough of Run–D.M.C. in 1986 and the explosion of gangsta rap with NWA in the late 80s and Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg in 1993."[16] However, the specific time period that the golden age covers varies among different sources. The New York Times also defines hip-hop's golden age as the "late 1980's and early 90's".[22] Ed Simmons of The Chemical Brothers said, "there was that golden age of hip-hop in the early 90s when the Jungle Brothers made Straight Out the Jungle and De La Soul made Three Feet High and Rising"[23] (though these records were in fact made in 1988 and 1989 respectively). MSNBC called the 80s the "Golden Age" of hip-hop music.[2]

In the book Contemporary Youth Culture, the "golden age era" is described as being "from 1987–1999", coming after "the old school era: from 1979 to 1985".[24] In Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture, the golden age is described by scholar Mickey Hess as "circa 1986-1994."[25]

Music critic Tony Green, in the book Classic Material, refers to the two-year period 1993–1994 as "a second Golden Age" that saw influential, high-quality albums using elements of past classicism – E-mu SP-1200 drum sounds, turntable scratches, references to old school hip hop hits, and "tongue-twisting triplet verbalisms" – while making clear that new directions were being taken. Green lists as examples the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Nas' Illmatic, De La Soul's 1993 release Buhloone Mindstate, Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle, A Tribe Called Quest's third album Midnight Marauders and the Outkast debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.[3]

According to copyright, music, and pop culture scholars Kembrew Mcleod and Peter DiCola, the golden age of hip-hop sampling spans from 1987-1992. Artists and record labels were not yet aware of the permanence of hip-hop culture in mainstream media, and did not yet accept it as a legitimate institution. They believe the ruling made in Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. marked the end of the golden age of hip hop and its sampling practices.[26]

Legal cases

Grand Upright Music v. Warner Brothers Records

This lawsuit was known for effectively ending the "Wild West" period for sampling during the golden age of hip hop.[27] In 1991, Gilbert O'Sullivan's song publisher sued Warner Brothers Records over the use of the original in Biz Markie's song "Alone Again." No copyright case precedents were cited in the ruling of the final verdict, and the presiding judge's opinion was prefaced with the words "Thou Shalt not Steal."[28]

The Turtles v. De La Soul

The sixties pop band The Turtles filed a lawsuit in 1989 against hip hop group De La Soul for the uncleared use of a sampled element derived from their original 1968 track "You Showed Me." The lawsuit was settled out of court for a reported $1.7 million, though group members later claimed that the actual payout was significantly less.[28]

Notable artists

According to a number of sources, such as; Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Allmusic, The Age, MSNBC, and author William Jelani Cobb, the following were key artists in the golden age of hip hop:[2][9][11][12][16][20][25][29][30][31] [32]

















  • Onyx
  • Organized Konfusion










  1. ^ a b Coker, Cheo H. (9 March 1995). "Slick Rick: Behind Bars".  
  2. ^ a b c d The '80s were golden age of hip-hop - Entertainment - Music -
  3. ^ a b Green, Tony, in Wang, Oliver (ed.) Classic Material, Toronto: ECW Press, 2003. p. 132
  4. ^ Jon Caramanica, "Hip-Hop's Raiders of the Lost Archives", New York Times, June 26, 2005.
    Cheo H. Coker, "Slick Rick: Behind Bars", Rolling Stone, March 9, 1995.
    Lonnae O'Neal Parker, "U-Md. Senior Aaron McGruder's Edgy Hip-Hop Comic Gets Raves, but No Takers", Washington Post, Aug 20 1997.
  5. ^ Jake Coyle of Associated Press, "Spin magazine picks Radiohead CD as best", published in USA Today, June 19, 2005.
    Cheo H. Coker, "Slick Rick: Behind Bars", Rolling Stone, March 9, 1995.
    Andrew Drever, "Jungle Brothers still untamed", The Age [Australia], October 24, 2003.
  6. ^ Roni Sariq, "Crazy Wisdom Masters", City Pages, April 16, 1997.
    Scott Thill, "Whiteness Visible" AlterNet, May 6, 2005.
    Will Hodgkinson, "Adventures on the wheels of steel", The Guardian, September 19, 2003.
  7. ^ Linhardt, Alex (June 10, 2004). Album Reviews: Ultramagnetic MC's: Critical Beatdown. Pitchfork Media. Retrieved on December 24, 2014.
  8. ^ Per Coker, Hodgkinson, Drever, Thill, O'Neal Parker and Sariq above. Additionally:
    Cheo H. Coker, "KRS-One: Krs-One", Rolling Stone, November 16, 1995.
    Andrew Pettie, "'Where rap went wrong'", Daily Telegraph, August 11, 2005.
    Mosi Reeves, "Easy-Chair Rap", Village Voice, January 29th 2002.
    Greg Kot, "Hip-Hop Below the Mainstream", Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2001.
    Cheo Hodari Coker, "'It's a Beautiful Feeling'", Los Angeles Times, August 11, 1996.
    Scott Mervis, "From Kool Herc to 50 Cent, the story of rap -- so far", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 15, 2004.
  9. ^ a b Bakari Kitwana,"The Cotton Club", Village Voice, June 21, 2005.
  10. ^ a b Jake Coyle of Associated Press, "Spin magazine picks Radiohead CD as best", published in USA Today, June 19, 2005.
  11. ^ a b Scott Mervis, "From Kool Herc to 50 Cent, the story of rap – so far", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 15, 2004.
  12. ^ a b Cobb, Jelani William, 2007, To the Break of Dawn, NYU Press, p. 47.
  13. ^ McLeod, Kembrew & Kuenzli, Rudolf E. “Crashing the Spectacle: A Forgotten History of Digital Sampling, Infringement, Copyright Liberation and the End of Recorded Music.” Culture Machine.
  14. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Dave Shewring, Chicago Review Press, p. vii.
  15. ^ Rap Radar :: How To Rap: Kool G Rap (Foreword)
  16. ^ a b c "Golden Age | Significant Albums, Artists and Songs | AllMusic".  
  17. ^ Rose,Tricia. Black Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary American. Hanover: Wesleyan U, 1994. Print.
  18. ^ Dyson, Michael Eric, 2007, Know What I Mean?, Westview Press, p. 64.
  19. ^ Scott Thill, "Whiteness Visible" AlterNet, May 6, 2005.
  20. ^ a b Mosi Reeves, "Easy-Chair Rap", Village Voice, January 29th 2002.
  21. ^ Public Enemy, [1] Lyricsdepot, May 25, 2008.
  22. ^ Jon Caramanica, "Hip-Hop's Raiders of the Lost Archives", New York Times, June 26, 2005
  23. ^ Will Hodgkinson, "Adventures on the wheels of steel", The Guardian, September 19, 2003.
  24. ^ Steinberg, Shirley R., 2006, Contemporary Youth Culture, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 361.
  25. ^ a b Hess, Mickey., 2007, Icons of Hip Hop [Two Volumes] [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture (Greenwood Icons), Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 341.
  26. ^ DiCola, Peter & Mcleod, Kembrew. “Creative License: The Law & Culture of Digital Sampling.” Duke University Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0822348757
  27. ^ Passman, Donald. “Everything you need to know about the music business 8th Edition.” Free Press. 2012. ISBN 978-1451682465
  28. ^ a b DiCola, Peter & Mcleod, Kembrew. Creative License: The Law & Culture of Digital Sampling p. 132. Duke University Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0822348757
  29. ^ Cheo H. Coker, "KRS-One: Krs-One", Rolling Stone, November 16, 1995.
  30. ^ Andrew Drever, "Jungle Brothers still untamed", The Age [Australia], October 24, 2003.
  31. ^
  32. ^ DJ Flash, "MTV Bio" | 2012, pg.1 Retrieved 27-07-2014
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