Without doubt, the mid 90s independent rap scene blessed us with some killer underground records. The names may not always be that familiar, or it may not be a recognisable label in many cases, but the product very often can be top notch quality hip hop. The mid 90's saw a huge lack of interest from the major labels in releasing hip hop music, so many dope underground artists took it upon themselves to release and distribute their product.
Now I'm guilty more than most of concentrating on the 80s golden era of hip hop, but I am just as much a lover of quality mid-90s indie bangers. The artistic freedom expressed, coupled with the lack of sample clearance issues very often meant true hip hop from the heart. No crossover, no sell-out.
Here I wanna drop some of my favourite indie joints from the 90s - enjoy!
BMX - "Microphone Microphone" VINYL DOGS 1997
A class indie track for sure. The intro starts with a guiro scraping noise (you know - those Latin wooden fish things), then simple beats and an infectious sample keep you hooked as a listener, whilst the Black Man Xperience tell us they "rock them like Led Zeppelin!".
A definite head-nodder from 97 - this New Jersey indie got much play on mixtapes back then. But as with most vinyldogs releases not an expensive piece to find. I minted up my copy recently for the one with the sticker sleeve, see photo. Despite the simple nature of the production, this track reeks of longevity, and I can't put my finger on it with the rhymes, as they're no lyrical masterpiece but the flow is tight and fluid.
Produced by the Vinyl Dogs and engineered by Jim Sorensen at 300mph.
NY CONFIDENTIAL - "Backstabbed" GUILLOTINE RECORDS 1998
A serious indie record by anyone's standards, and a highly regarded record amongst collectors of that mid 90s boom bap. All tracks are strong, but for me the track "backstabbed" is the winner by miles. You could be forgiven for hearing these beats and thinking it is a Mobb Deep classic - the mood is sinister to say the least, especially when you hear the "get rid of the bodies!" film snippet in the intro.
I was shrewd enough to purchase my copy back on release, as now it can make quite a price when it appears on ebay, discogs etc... Back in 98 it was the dope label art and chrome sticker on the cover that encouraged me to pick it up. And the name GUILLOTINE RECORDS just screams out underground beats and rough raps. Produced by E. Knight for HEADS TO THE FLOOR PRODUCTIONS.
ILL BROTHERS - "Funkneck" NERVE DEAFNESS 1997
I think I first heard this funky banger on a DJ GREENPEACE mixtape, but my buddy BEAT DETECTIVE will correct me if I am wrong on that. Instantly I NEEDED to know WHAT that record was, although it
took me a while to find one as it was poorly distributed. (I found out later that Mr Bongo's on Poland Street carried a few copies).
The drum loop and bassline on this joint are crazy dope. I especially like the metallic sounding snares and simplicity of the production, much like my own beats. But it is the rhymes that make this track - not just the catchy "Funkneck" chorus with the speak n spell scratching!
"Yo I betcha wish that you was tighter than a knot,
but what you got is a style that's more wack than a belly flop.
You would think with current lyrical progressions,
That ni##uhs would try different shit to make a first impression,
I got a question for you wack crews and writers,
Why you gotta make wack shit like rhyme biters?"