After the Jiggy Era took over the mainstream Rap world and commercial radio, the kind of Rap that once thrived on major labels was progressively forced underground like the Morlocks. What happened next was the formation of a Resistance forced to eek out spaces in the shadow of the First Order. SIDEBAR: I fought for the Resistance, thus this story is told from my perspective.
1998 was yet another transition year for Rap following the close of the 2nd Golden Era which spanned from 1992 to 1996. The official rise of the Jiggy Era in mainstream Rap was cemented by the release of Puff Daddy & Mase’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” in the very first week of January 1997.
The song’s breakout success marked a sea change in the sound of the mainstream Rap that was going to be increasingly more prominent as the year progressed. At the same time, the harder, more sample-based, traditional-sounding Rap that once had a foothold began to be pushed more and more to the margins.
The end result was a return to college radio and many acts that were once on major labels went the independent route. In addition, many acts that were gaining rabid followings in the underground released their first wave of highly influential independent Rap projects. As the Rap world went from having the underground be a farm system for the major label/mainstream Rap industry they soon became two separate but unequal Rap industries existing simultaneously in some odd Rap Apartheid/Jim Crow system.
Think of them kind of like Earth 1 & Earth 2 from DC Comics. I’m going to highlight 25 essential indie/underground Hip Hop projects in 1998 that further defined this divide and influenced an entire generation of artists, emcee, producers, turntablists and fans/listeners alike who followed.
The same way the first Golden Era in 1986 experienced a slow transition as the genre suddenly shifted from being single based to LP-based there weren’t very many releases that first year but they were several essential and seminal albums to the evolution of the artform’s lyrical and sonic aesthetic. 1997 was also analogous to 1990 in the sense a new identity and direction was being forged after the previous era came to a close before a new one emerged.
1998 was analogous to 1987 and 1991 in the sense it was the second year of a new era and the second year of a transition period simultaneously. Very few consider 1997–2002 to be a divergent era in Rap music as opposed to the traditional Golden Era narrative we’re used to, keep in mind that the Jiggy Era’s peak years were 1997 to 2000.
Just like how 1986 contained the initial seminal releases of a new era it didn’t contain as many key releases as the following year (1987), 1997 won’t have as many essential indie/underground releases as 1998. For that reason, we’ll have 25 seminal/essential/classic Hip Hop/Rap projects in this list spanning the 52 weeks of 1998. Let’s begin:
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”, etc. Japanese 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 One, The 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)
This was Nervous/Wreck’s response to the recent wave of indie/underground Rap compilations. This project featured luminaries such as Natural Elements, Polyrhythm Addicts, Mike Zoot, Apani B. Fly Emcee, Jigmastas, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, Breez Evahflowin’ and more. Production was handled by DJ Spinna, Shawn J. Period, Ge-Ology, Buckwild, Charlemagne and others. It was obscured by dropping the same day as “Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1”, instantly making an underground Rap compilation even more underground.
Beneath The Surface [Beneath The Surface/Celestial] (May 12th, 1998)
Omid’s underground Rap production album/compilation was initially released as an independent project you had to order directly from them before it finally landed distribution at the top of 1999. You could find print ads for it or mentions of it in the underground Hip Hop and graffiti magazines all throughout the year. The project was loaded with The Good Life/Project Blowedians like Aceyalone, Self Jupiter, Ellay Khule, 2Mex, AWOL One, NgaFsh, Riddlore?, P.E.A.C.E., Sesquipedalien, Xololanxinxo, Rakaa Iriscience, St. Mark 9:23, Phoenix Orion, etc.
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 featuringChoclair, Checkmate, Thrust & Kardinal Offishal. Any 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)
Arguably the most influential turntablist/scratch CD released in 1998 purely for the fact it captured the imaginations of people that weren’t already die-hard fans of the genre. “Wave Twisters” was a turntablist/scratch project that doubled as a concept album which gained more & more attention after its 1999 video for “Sneak Attack” was played on MTV & MuchMusic leading up to an animated feature for the entire project being produced by Q-Bert and a small team of animators was debuted in January 2001 at the Sundance Film Festival then subsequentially released on DVD.
This development greatly influenced Prince Paul’s approach to releasing “A Prince Among Thieves” and Daft Punk’s rollout of videos for “Discovery” led by Leiji Matsumoto & Toei Animation to produce the 2003 animated film “Interstella 5555” of which the first videos were produced between 2000 and 2001. Turntablism & a renewed interest in battle/scratch DJ’s flourished between 1997 and 2002 largely due to projects like this one.
*BONUS: DJ Morpheus— Phax N’ Phixion: The Nu Hip Hop Underground [SSR] (December 8th, 1998)
This compilation was heavily advertised in international Hip Hop publications like HHC (Hip Hop Connection), Rap Et Ragga, Radikal, Big Daddy & graf mags from all over the world. Soon, it became available for purchase online via Sandbox Automatic, Hip Hop Site and UGHH before rare physical copies actually ended up on store shelves stateside in 1999.
It features tracks from Jigmastas, Basement Khemists, Non Phixion, Massinfluence, Arsonists, Dilated Peoples, etc. plus the legendary selection “Releasing Hypnotical Gases” by Organized Konfusion. If you slept? It’s understandable… You had to go deep underground for this one. I’m talking Zion from the “The Matrix” trilogy. I think we’re done here…
Several other notable 1998 releases that warranted mention but just barely missed this list include but aren’t limited to: Godfather Don “Diabolique”, “Cue’s Hip Hop Shop Volume One”, Boulevard Connection “Sut Min Pik EP”,Abstract Tribe Unique “South Central Thynk Taynk”, The Grouch “Fuck The Dumb” , 3 Melancholy Gypsys “Gypsy’s Luck”, Cipher “360º” , Kool G Rap“Roots Of Evil”, Baby J “Birth”, DJ Cam “The Beat Assassinated”, The Coup“Steal This Album”, Shades Of Culture “Mindstate”, Eligh “Sidewaydaze”,Presage “Outer Perimeter” and Cut Chemist x Shortkut “Live At The Future Primitive Sound Session”
All of these projects served as crucial primers for those who missed the organic growth of the underground/indie Hip Hop all throughout 1998 and were looking to catch up in 1999. I spent quite a bit of change on the overwhelming majority of these albums both on CD and vinyl which I still possess today.
1999 led to releases like “Soundbombing 2”, “Superrappin’: The Album”, “Wide Angles”, “New York State Of Rhyme”, “Laid In Full”, “Anticon presents Hip-Hop Music For The Advanced Listener”, MF DOOM “Doomsday”, Mos Def “Black On Both Sides”, Pharaohe Monch “Internal Affairs”, The Lootpack “Soundpieces: Da Antidote!”, Peanut Butter Wolf “My Vinyl Weighs A Ton”,High & Mighty “Home Field Advantage”, Arsonists “As The World Burns”, J-Zone “Music For Tu Madre”, etc. in addition to turntablism albums/tapes by DJ Faust, Mr. Dibbs, DJ Disk, Roc Raida, Rob Swift, DJ Q Bert, Kid Koala, Shortkut, DJ Craze, Invisibl Scratch Piklz, Shortee, The Allies, DJ Z-Trip, Jeep Beat Collective, Mixmaster Mike, The World Famous Beat Junkies and 5th Platoon.
1998 could’ve been a transition year building up to a 3rd Golden Era but corporate interests and the rapidly changing mainstream Rap industry prevented that from ever happening. Once the many byproducts of the Telecommunications Act Of 1996, the exponential speed of communications technology and the greed of the RIAA all came to a head in Summer 1999 with the explosion of P2P sites nothing would ever be the same again.
The mainstream Rap industry and underground/indie Rap industry remained in their same holding patterns and never the twain would meet. Now you’re all caught up.
*Yeah, it’s 26. Sue me, bish.
Republished from Medium