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list Aug 28 2019 Written by

Independent As F***, Part 2: 25 Essential Underground Hip Hop Releases From 1998

Tags Of The Times Vol. 1 [May Joy] (January 20th, 1998)

“Tags Of The Times” was a Japanese indie/underground Rap compilation that spread via international Hip Hop mailorder and sites like Sandbox Automatic, Hip Hop Site & UGHH. Selections include Siah & Yeshua daPoED “No Soles’ Dopest Opus”, Indelible MC’s “Weight”, Natural Resource “Negro League Baseball”, MF Grimm & B-1“Emotions”, Frankenstein “Rain Is Gone”, Livewire f/SMK “As The Tables Turn”, Kool Kim f/Essense “Ya Gotta Know” & Powerule “Bright Lights, Big City”etcJapanese tracks featured Shing02, Mikidozan & E.G.G. Man. The first indie/underground Rap compilation of 1998. First saw it as an import CD at Newbury Comics.

All Natural — No Additives, No Preservatives [All Natural Inc.] (February 16th, 1998)

Chicago underground Rap stalwarts All Natural dropped one of the most memorable Rap albums of 1998 featuring contributions from DJ Tone B. Nimble, emcee/producer Capital D, His-Panic (Molemen), No I.D. & Andy C. Tracks like “It’s OK” and “Thinkin’ Cap” are smooth, soulful lyrical Hip Hop like we used to hear on the radio & see on Viacom networks just 18–24 months previous. This album set the stage for what to expect in terms of quality that year.

The Dynospectrum — S/T [Rhymesayers] (March 3rd, 1998)

Rhymesayers Entertainment was back dropping more heat in 1998 with a supergroup project featuring Musab, I Self Devine, Mr. Gene Poole (Headshots & Phull Surkle), Slug & Ant all using aliases in a collective called The Dynospectrum. I was introduced to the album by my skater friends and my graf writing people who copped Scribble Magazine & Life Sucks Die where Rhymesayers Entertainment mailorder catalogs were part of the ad pages. Ant produced the project and supplied scratches under the name Solomon Grundy. Top to bottom a classic Rap album.

Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision [Hiero Imperium] (March 24th, 1998)

I copped this tape from the Tower Records several blocks down the street from my apartment and played it so much it popped and I had to go right back to that same Tower Records and buy it on CD. I never bought another Rap tape after this one snapped in the middle of “Oakland Blackouts”. I can still hear “Dune Methane” playing in my head as I type this sentence. This album was the jam. If you didn’t rock this tape loud as fuck in opposition to the wack shit on the radio back then? I guess “You Never Knew”.

People Under The Stairs - The Next Step [PUTS] (March 24th, 1998)

The dynamic duo of Thes One & Double K put together a classic underground album on their own label which if you weren’t an underground Hip Hop head, it’s very likely you never heard it. That’s quite unfortunate because “The Next Step” is a work of art that matches up with any other classic Rap album of the 2nd Golden Era. Just listen to “4 Everybody”“Time To Rock Our Shit” or “San Francisco Knights” for proof. Any more questions?

Aceyalone x Mumbles — A Book Of Human Language [Project Blowed] (April 14th, 1998)

The combination of Project Blowed legend Aceyalone and producer Mumbles resulted in one of the standout and most influential underground Rap releases of 1998, “A Book Of Human Language”. It (in)famously got a bad review in the Rap magazine “Blaze” but when we heard it for ourselves a lot of us heads wondered what the f*** album they listened to? Easily one of the most creative concept albums of the past 20 years alongside “Prince Among Thieves”“Deltron 3030”, “The Downfall Of Ibliys: A Ghetto Opera” & “A Long Hot Summer”.

Mr. Dibbs — Turntable Scientifics [Four Ways To Rock] (April 28th, 1998)

This is the CD re-release of one of 1200 Hobos’ Mr. Dibbs’ legendary turntablism mixtapes from 1995. Quite honestly, it was a toss-up between adding this or the 1200 Hobos turntablism/scratch album releases as Presage on Future Primitive Sound called “Outer Perimeter”. I had a hard time trying to nail down a release date for it and this project was more well known so… *shrugs*

Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1 [Rawkus] (May 5th, 1998)

Rawkus’ ambitious double CD compilation was arguably the most visible underground/indie Rap project of 1998 up until the Fall happened. It was a veritable Who’s Who of the underground Rap world. The videos for Mos Def, Q-Tip & Tash (Alkaholiks)’ “Body Rock” and KRS OneThe Last Emperor & Zack De La Rocha’s “C.I.A. Criminals In Action” made the rounds on all the Viacom video networks so the album got the necessary amount of press to get the visibility necessary to move a significant amount of units. The partnership with Ecko Unlimited Co. certainly helped out. The lion’s share of production was handled by Shawn J. Period & 88-Keys with contributions from Nottz, DJ Hi-Tek, DJ Scratch, William Tell, El-P & Ge-Ology.

Hip Hop Independent’s Day Vol. 1[Nervous] (May 5th, 1998)

Beneath The Surface [Beneath The Surface/Celestial] (May 12th, 1998)

Showbiz & AG — Full Scale EP [D.I.T.C] (May 26th, 1998)

The legendary duo Showbiz & AG returned to the fold with an indie project on their own imprint D.I.T.C. Records. The comeback EP was loaded to the gils with that Diggin’ In The Crates boom bap heads were accustomed to, including “Full Scale”“Drop It Heavy”“Spit” & “Q&A” featuring guest appearances from KRS One, Big Pun & The Ghetto Dwellas. It was a spiritual return to their roots since they first emerged as a duo on the “Soul Clap EP” back in 1991.

The Colored Section — Bomb MC [12 Inch RPM] (June 16th, 1998)

L.A. outfit The Colored Section emerged in Summer with an album named after their standout lead single from the previous year. The combo of Coke Rock, Che Ski & DJ Homocide (also of Sugar Ray) would’ve flown under the radio without the indie/underground Hip Hop Internet community listening to RealPlayer clips of Rap 12″s on Sandbox Automatic and UGHH. Tracks like “Introduction”“Beat Street”“Light Skinnded” and “Tabitha” helped the album spread via word of mouth all throughout the year.

J. Rocc — Walkman Rotation [Conception] (June 23rd, 1998)

One of the many crucial indie/underground Rap compilations from 1998 was from Seattle indie Rap label Conception. The mixtape/compilation was their version of Rawkus’ Soundbombing but mixed by The Funky President J.Rocc of the Beat Junkies. The featured artists include Jake One, 3rd Degree, Eclipse, Conmen, Kutfather, Diamond Mercenaries, Mr. Supreme, etc. If you weren’t checkin’ for Conception Records after hearing “Walkman Rotation” it’s likely you didn’t have a pulse…

Rasco — Time Waits For A Man [Stones Throw] (July 21st, 1998)

Straight outta Fresno came Soulfather Rasco, his initial singles “The Unassisted”“Heat Seeking” & “Hip Hop Essentials” bled into his debut LP on Stones Throw which features jawns like “What’s It All About”. Production was handled by Peanut Butter Wolf, Fanatik, DJ Design, Evidence, Joey Chavez, Protest, Paul Nice, Kut Masta Kurt & Rasco himself with guest appearances from Encore, Dilated Peoples, Defari, Vin Roc & scratches by DJ Babu, D-Styles & DJ Revolution. No list of essential underground Rap albums from 1998 would be complete without it.

Wu Tang Killa Bees — The Swarm [Wu-Tang] (July 21st, 1998)

1998 was a transition year for the Wu. Their most memorable releases from 1998 aside from RZA’s solo album as Bobby Digital included projects from affiliates like Cappadonna, Killarmy, Sunz Of Man & La The Darkman. “The Swarm” compilation included some of the dirtiest, grimiest Wu Elements production made that year. If you were a Wu head or an underground Rap aficionado, this was a must buy.

Mix Master Mike — Anti-Theft Device [Asphodel] (July 21st, 1998)

Meta human turntablist Mix Master Mike (Invisibl Skratch Piklz & Beastie Boys) got to release his debut solo project on Naut Humon’s Asphodel label. The Serial Wax Killer Mix Master Mike went insane all over this album further expanding the boundaries of what was possible for turntablists as both artists and performers in this era. And he was far from alone…

DJ Faust — Man Or Myth? [Bomb Hip-Hop] (July 28th, 1998)

DJ Faust was a well-respected turntablist/battle DJ who appeared on several DJ/scratch compilations before dropping this solo project “completed using only an 8 track recorder, two turntables and a beat-up MTX mixer” per the liner notes that preceded the “Fathomless EP” by DJ Faust, DJ Shortee & DJ Craze which dropped about 2 months later on Bomb Hip-Hop. If you’re into scratch albums then you needed to own this one as well. No brainer purchase back in 1998 for heads.

Styles Of Beyond — 2000 Fold [Bilawn] (August 18th, 1998)

This was without a doubt one of the many surprise underground Rap albums of 1998. Ryu, Takbir, DJ Cheapshot & producer Vin Skully. With help from DJ Rhettmatic, DJ Revolution, Divine Styler, Emcee 007 & Bilal Bashir crafted what is now considered a classic in “2000 Fold”. It was re-released the following August and introduced to a wider audience then it kept getting re-discovered every few years up to & including the Fort Minor years due to their friendship/involvement with Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park/Fort Minor). Ryu & Takbir would later become Demigodz affiliates but that is another story for another time.

Beats & Lyrics 2 [Industry] (September 1st, 1998)

The first “Beats & Lyrics” compilation was released in 1997 and the sequel pretty much picked up where the original left off. Contributions from Hieroglyphics, Abstract Rude & A Tribe Unique, The Pharcyde, Casual, Aceyalone, Dres (Black Sheep) & Edo. G. with production from Kool DJ EQ, DJ Slip, Fat Jack, Casual & Artistic. Flew under the radar even as an underground project.

Deeper Concentration [OM Records] (September 22nd, 1998)

This OM Records compilation consisting of Hip Hop, turntablism/scratch selections, instrumentals & Electronica was a sequel to its highly influential predecessor “Deep Concentration”. The lineup of featured artists is impressive, boasting names like Beat Junkies, Rob Swift, Scratch Perverts, DJ Apollo, DJ Spooky, Mix Master Mike, Scratch Perverts, Eddie Def & Push Button Objects. This was also an enhanced CD with Mixman loaded so you could remix and manipulate tracks.

Black Star — Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star [Rawkus] (September 29th, 1998)

This was, without a doubt, the highest-profile indie/underground Rap album of 1998. It had the most publicity, it was the most anticipated, plus it came out on what is arguably the last great release date in Rap history. I honestly don’t think I need to spend much time describing or explaining this album. You all know why it’s on the list.

L*Roneous Da Versifier — Imaginarium [Ocean Floor] (October 13th, 1998)

When we discuss “slept on” or “underrated” classic Rap albums that didn’t get their just due not because of their quality, but solely because they were indie/underground projects devoid of widespread media coverage or radio airplay. L*Roneous’ “Imaginarium” was a favorite amongst Sandbox Automatic, Hip Hop Site & UGHH frequenters. Tracks like “L’chemy”“Implosion” & “Imaginarium” make it clear this is without a doubt one of the best Rap albums of the year which went missing from most lists devised by mainstream Rap publications. Damb shame, too.

Stretch Armstrong presents Lesson 2 [Dolo] (October 13th/20th, 1998)

One of the crucial compilations of 1997 was “Stretch Armstrong presents Lesson 1” and the second installment continued that trend. It featured Mass Influence “Life To The MC”, Laster “Searching 4 Meaning”, Dynasty “Wildcat”, Smut Peddlers “One By One”, Dilated Peoples “Work The Angles”, Buc Fifty “Dead End Street”, Black Attack “Correct Technique” and closed with the Canadian national anthem, “Northern Touch” by Rascalz featuringChoclairCheckmateThrust & Kardinal OffishalAny underground Rap compilation that has both Xperado “Paradox” and Mike Zoot’s “Midnite Run” on it deserves all the recognition in the world.

DJ Rhettmatic — World Famous Beat Junkies Vol. 2 [Blackberry/Ill Boogie] (October 13th/20th, 1998)

The fact this mixtape/compilation was available for purchase the same week as “Stretch Armstrong presents Lesson 2” was fortuitous for underground Hip Hop heads and backpackers alike. The three listed release dates for both projects included October 13th, 16th & 20th, 1998. This project is largely credited with popularizing Slum Village’s classic single “I Don’t Know” and introducing cats on the East Coast to jawns like Visionaries “Blessings”, Foot Souljahz “Hoes To Doughs”, T-Love “I’m Comin’” and The Associates “Ubiquity”/”From The Ground Up”. Cats were searching for those 12’s like they were Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Memories…

DJ Q-Bert — Wave Twisters — Episode 7 Million: Sonic Wars Within The Protons [Galactic Butt Hair] (November 24th, 1998)

*BONUS: DJ Morpheus— Phax N’ Phixion: The Nu Hip Hop Underground [SSR] (December 8th, 1998)


Republished from Medium

Written by

Host of Dart Against Humanity/Boston Legends. CCO @ Producers I Know/journalist @ Okayplayer/DJBooth/Complex/NPR/Mass Appeal/IV Boston/HipHopWired/KillerBoomBox…

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