As many who grew up in the era already know, ’96 was a top notch year for rap album releases, with everyone from the Fugees and 2Pac to JAY Z (Reasonable Doubt), NaS (It Was Written), UGK (Ridin’ Dirty), The Roots (Illadelph Halflife), Ras Kass (Soul On Ice) and Redman (Muddy Waters) releasing new material.
DJ Shadow’s critically acclaimed debut was released amidst a time when Trip-Hop was gaining mainstream exposure, with bands/artists like Portishead, Poe, DJ Food, The Herbaliser and UK-based indie label Ninja Tune leading the pack and capturing the ears of breakbeat-addicted B-boys and girls.
Fox Boogie’s — who clutched a deal with Def Jam (following a bidding war) solely off her performance on JAY Z’s “Ain’t No N*gga” and the Nutty Professor smash hit “Touch Me, Tease Me” with Case — debut, largely produced by the Trackmasters, landed at #7 on the Billboard 200 and #2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums — eventually going platinum, thanks in part to the hit singles “Get Me Home” featuring Blackstreet and “I’ll Be” featuring JAY Z.
Mobb Deep’s third LP, Hell On Earth (which could actually be considered their sophomore, if we ignore the fact that their debut album was Juvenile Hell) took the reinvented “mafioso rap” genre (led by pioneers like Kool G Rap and NaS) and flipped the entire script of the genre, intensifying the shadowy, gloomy vibrations found on their previous album, The Infamous, thanks in part to Havoc’s continued exploration of ominous, atmospheric sonic soundscapes.
Hell On Earth was also infamous (no pun intended) for the supposed subliminal shots sent towards 2Pac, such as on “Drop a Gem On Em,” and was also one of the first enhanced rap CDs that required access to a computer in order to unlock the album’s bonus track, “In The Long Run.”
With that said, here are a few favorites of mine off each respective album.