Though most music critics on the “knows how to do the Ed Lover Dance” side of the Gen-X/Millenial divide concede that the wild (wild) west of 1988 made for hip-hop’s greatest year, there’s a slowly rising age group who prefer the advancements of the Golden Age’s tail end — sorry, Marshall. 1993 was the first year to feel the full effects of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic — lush, hook-soaked, played on live instruments, produced like a Hollywood movie, and probably the savviest response to the 1991 lawsuit that made sampling a prohibitively expensive luxury. In turn, 1993 was the first time hip-hop’s focus shifted from New York City since the genre started in a Bronx rec room 20 years earlier: The boldest, richest, most radio-ready, headline-grabbing sounds were bursting from the cars that go boom in Los Angeles and Oaktown — Snoop Dogg, King Tee and his pals Tha Alkaholiks, and the already striking 2Pac. Of course, do-or-die New York returned serve with KRS-One returning to the boom bap, Wu-Tang Clan rebranding an under-appreciated borough as a kung-fu fantasy, and Black Moon doubling down on skills and grit.
The Bay Area blossomed with E-40’s self-sustaining, motormouth coke-rhymes and the Hieroglyphics crew’s free-spirited electric relaxation alike, informing the next two decades of explosive hyphy and implosive backpack rap. Memphis entrepreneurs 8Ball and MJG dropped a sui generis bomb whose tremors are still being felt all over the South. The post-Nevermind landscape meant that high-energy groups like Cypress Hill and Onyx had new allies in the Lollapalooza generation. Jimmy Fallon’s back-up band quietly emerged in Philly, Houston’s Rap-a-Lot continued a five-year winning streak, and rap ambassadors like Guru and De La Soul were ceding the spotlight in order to expose Americans ears to rappers from France and Japan. Here’s the 50 best records from what just might be the best 12 months in hip-hop history. This is how we chilled. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN