The ‘90s gave us plenty of fashion trends that we’d all like to forget ever happened, such as wearing short sleeve shirts over long sleeve shirts and tying our hoodies around our waists. However, the final decade of the 20th century also contained some amazing music, and 1998, in particular, was a phenomenal year for Hip Hop and R&B.
Twenty years later, we’re remembering classic debuts and career-defining albums from the great 9-8.
Aretha Franklin — A Rose Is Still A Rose
Release Date: March 23, 1998
Memorable Songs: “A Rose Is Still A Rose“ | “Here We Go Again”
In 1998, before Nicki Minaj was even able to break any records, it had been a very long time since The Queen of Soul had made a memorable album. The aptly-titled A Rose is Still a Rose changed all that, as Aretha updated her sound with production from the likes of Puff Daddy and Jermaine Dupri. Lauryn Hill, who had a hell of an ‘98 in her own right, wrote and produced the title track, which earned a nomination for Best R&B Song at the 41st Grammy Awards. The album itself went Gold and was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Album, proving that Franklin still deserved her R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Beastie Boys — Hello Nasty
Release Date: July 14, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Intergalactic” | “Remote Control”
When people think of the Beastie Boys’ albums, they usually cite 1980s classics such as
Big Pun — Capital Punishment
Release Date: April 28, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Still Not a Player” | “Twinz (Deep Cover 98)” (f. Fat Joe)
A year before Eminem became the first credible white solo rapper, Big Pun became the first Latino solo rapper to have an album reach platinum status. The Punisher’s enormous physical frame prematurely claimed his life a couple of years later, but you wouldn’t know it to listen to his multisyllabic, nimble flow on Capital Punishment. The album featured the unforgettable single “Still Not a Player” (featuring Joe), and earned a nod for Best Rap Album at the 41st Grammy Awards. Pun may not have been a player, but he sure knew the game.
Black Star — Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star
Release Date: September 29, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Respiration” (f. Common) | “Definition”
Then-newcomers Mos Def and Talib Kweli defined backpack rap in the late ‘90s. They combined the street-smart, conscious lyricism of the Native Tongues with hard-bodied East Coast production courtesy of Hi-Tek, J’s Rawls and Period, among others. They were all about peace in the wake of the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie, but make no mistake, they weren’t afraid to kick the taste outcha mouth with steel-toed bars. “Definition” dominated college radio in ‘98 and “Brown Skin Lady” remains one of the smoothest Hip Hop love songs ever laid down on wax.
Brandy — Never Say Never / Monica — The Boy Is Mine
Release Dates: June 9, 1998 & July 14, 1998
Memorable Songs: “The Boy Is Mine” | “Almost Doesn’t Count” | “Angel of Mine”
These two R&B media darlings are grouped together because of “The Boy Is Mine,” the sizzling-hot single that graced both of their sophomore albums. The song was influenced by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s “The Girl Is Mine” off The King of Pop’s earth-shattering Thriller. Brandy and Monica’s duet was nominated three times at the 41st Grammy Awards, winning for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. The albums themselves were similarly hailed. Brandy’s newfound maturity was reflected in her music, and audiences and critics alike raved about the pop-tinged R&B that permeated the album.
Meanwhile, Monica’s Hip Hop-inspired R&B delighted both fans and writers. The album featured production from Jermaine Dupri, and featured Outkast on “Gone Be Fine.” Never Say Never incredibly sold more than 16 million copies around the world, while The Boy Is Mine reached triple-platinum status.
Busta Rhymes — E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
Release Date: December 15, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Gimme Some More” | “Party Is Goin’ on Over Here”
No rapper could blow the roof off a joint quite like the boisterous Busta Rhymes. E.L.E. found him at perhaps his liveliest — a thought both scary and exciting — and the music was only better for it. With strong production from the likes of DJ Scratch, Nottz and Swizz Beatz that matched his energy, Busta smoked mics and memorably ad-libbed his way through the album. He earned a platinum plaque for his efforts, as well as three nominations at the 42nd Grammy Awards: Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gimme Some More” and Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group for “What’s It Gonna Be?!” featuring the iconic Janet Jackson. Woo-ha!
Destiny’s Child — Destiny’s Child
Release Date: February 17, 1998
Memorable Songs: “No, No, No (Part 2) (f. Wyclef Jean) | “With Me Part I” (f. Jermaine Dupri)
Say their name. You know it, and so does the rest of the world. Yet, before “Survivor,” before the lineup changes and solo careers, and before Jay and Bey, Destiny’s Child was comprised of four teenagers who just really loved to sing and perform. Group staples Beyonce and Kelly Rowland, as well as future defectors LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett, made a splash with “No, No, No Part 1” and “No, No, No Part 2” featuring Wyclef Jean. The album peaked at No. 67 on the Billboard 200 but went on to reach platinum status. Although the Michelle Williams-assisted Destiny Child’s remains its most popular iteration, the group’s debut stands as a remarkable introduction to one of the best R&B groups of the last 40 years.
DMX — It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot & Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood
Release Dates: May 12, 1998 & December 22, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” | “Get At Me Dog” (f. Sheek Louch) | “Slippin'”
1998 was the truly the Year of the Dog. While JAY-Z, Puff Daddy and the rest of Bad Boy Records were donning clean suits and sipping champagne like Stringer Bell, Earl Simmons was living a day at a time, pulling off daring robberies like Omar Little. X’s compelling mix of spirituality and hardcore street tales were refreshing in the onslaught of foreign sports cars and designer clothing. However, it’s not as if X couldn’t make a hit. His methodical classic, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” is as catchy as it is menacing. As if one No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 wasn’t enough, X returned at the end of the year with Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood to become only the second rapper (next to 2Pac) to have two Billboard 200-topping albums released in the same year.
Though not as impactful as his debut, the album was nonetheless a magnetic display of X’s intriguing duality and engaging mic presence. The two albums combined sold more than nine million copies. X done started something.
Dru Hill — Enter The Dru
Release Date: October 27, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Beauty” | “How Deep Is Your Love”
This streetwise R&B quartet got the feet moving and the bodies grooving with its sophomore album in ‘98. Even at this pivotal juncture in their career, it was easy to see Sisqó’s star power; he carried four songs solo on Enter The Dru. Their multi-purpose record “How Deep Is Your Love” was suitable for both the dance floor and a midnight cruise, while “You Are Everything” was a memorably slow-rolling apology ballad with an up-tempo Ja Rule remix. Enter the Dru hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and went double-platinum in five months. The rest, including Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” was history.
Gang Starr — Moment Of Truth
Release Date: March 31, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Above the Clouds” (f. Inspectah Deck) | “The Militia” (f. Big Shug & Freddie Foxxx a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles)
Gang Starr’s fifth album was a curtain call of sorts of Guru and DJ Premier. Yes, they released the well-received The Ownerz in 2003, but Moment of Truth punctuated the incredible run this duo had in the ‘90s. The album featured velvet-voiced rhymes from a socially conscious Guru, as well as Premo’s signature sample-heavy production. It also contained several high-profile features, from Scarface to M.O.P. to Inspectah Deck. The lead single “You Know My Steez” reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, and the album itself was certified gold. Truly a moment to be cherished for the legendary duo and Hip Hop as a whole.
JAY-Z — Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
Release Date: September 29, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Can I Get A…” (f. Amil & Ja Rule) | “Hard Knock Life”
Shawn Carter gave us prophecy on his first joint, and we all lamed out. We didn’t really appreciate Reasonable Doubt until In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 came out. But it was Hov’s third album which officially crowned him King of New York in the wake of The Notorious B.I.G.’s death. Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life replaced Jay’s baggy jeans with shiny suits and featured a polished sound courtesy of producers like Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. While he remained lyrically sharp, Jay’s greatest accomplishment on Vol. 2 is the mammoth hits — “Hard Knock Life” and “Can I Get A…” featuring Amil and Ja Rule — that his first two albums lacked. Vol. 2 won Best Rap Album at the 41st Grammy Awards and went on to sell more than five million records in the United States alone. Hov had officially arrived.
Juvenile — 400 Degreez
Release Date: November 3, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Back That Azz Up” (f. Mannie Fresh & Lil Wayne) | “Ha”
You thought we were gonna leave Juvey off this list, ha? You were ready to ball up your fists, ha? You bumped this album while pretending your Bud Light was Cris, ha? Well, you weren’t alone. Cash Money Records released a slew of blingtastic records in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but none more iconic than Juvenile’s third (but first nationally known) studio album. In addition to the street favorite, “Ha” which was remixed twice on the album, Juve garnered instant fame with the still-played-to-this-day, “Back that Azz Up.” Even 20 years later, Mannie Fresh’s opening intro alone is enough to get everyone on the dance floor hyped. Fresh produced the entire album, which featured verses from a hungry and relatively unknown Lil Wayne. No wonder the album pushed more than five million units across the globe.
Lauryn Hill — The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Release Date: August 25, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Doo Wop (That Thing)” | “Ex-Factor”
Ms. Hill is known as much for her no-shows at concerts as for anything else these days, but from 1996-1998, she was flawless in her artistry. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is an undisputed classic, beautifully melding R&B with Hip Hop. She flexed her rhyming muscles on “Lost Ones” and “Doo Wop (That Thing),” while showcasing her powerful vocals on “Ex-Factor” and “To Zion.” The album sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and garnered Hill five Grammys, including Album of the Year at the 41st Grammy Awards. No artist since has been so skilled at both rapping and singing, a combination which makes The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill a timeless masterpiece.
A Tribe Called Quest — The Love Movement
Release Date: September 29, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Find a Way” | “Rock Rock Y’all” (f. Punchline, Jane Doe, Wordsworth & Mos Def)
By 1998, Tribe was in a state of chaos. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg were at odds, and the chemistry that had resulted in so many jazzy classics throughout the ‘90s was damaged. Still, even on their worst day, Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were better than most. The album went gold and was well received by critics, who praised Tribe for its mature, positive lyricism. It would be the last album Tribe released for 18 years, and We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Serviceproved to be a more fitting bookend for one of the greatest rap groups of all time. Still, The Love Moment is memorable for being, if not imperfect, at least a solid placeholder to one of the best runs Hip Hop has ever seen.
Outkast — Aquemini
Release Date: September 29, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Rosa Parks” | “Aquemini”
As we all know, eventually, the sun went down on our ATLien heroes and Outkast died. (Nothing lasts forever, people. Especially not your narrow-viewed nostalgia. Ha!) However, in the 1990s, everything Andre 3000 and Big Boi put out was a breath of fresh air for Hip Hop. The duo’s third — and arguably best — album contained all the elements that made Outkast such an incredible group. There was the experimental production, Big Boi’s southern-fried mic presence, and Andre’s left-field lyricism. But most of all, there was the sense that these two knew they were at the top of their game and were unafraid to take risks that paid off in a major way. One such gamble was “Spottieottiedopaliscious,” the sprawling, spoken-word, live instrumentation cut that serves as a manifesto of sorts for Outkast. The harmonica-driven classic “Rosa Parks was nominated for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the 41st Grammy Awards, and Aquemini went twice platinum in the states.
Whitney Houston — My Love Is Your Love
Release Date: November 17, 1998
Memorable Songs: “Heartbreak Hotel” (f. Faith Evans & Kelly Price) | “When You Believe” (f. Mariah Carey)
There was no stopping Whitney Houston in the ‘90s. My Love Is Your Love continued (and coincidentally ended) her hot streak as a viable living legend. Released two years after the gospel soundtrack to The Preacher’s Wife, Houston once again displayed her range by combining R&B, Hip Hop and dance music. The album spawned hit after hit; the title track, “Heartbreak Hotel” featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price, and “When You Believe,” a duet with Mariah Carey, all went platinum. Another single, “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” won for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 42nd Grammy Awards, while “When You Believe,” which was featured in the movie The Prince of Egypt, won for Best Original Song at the 71st Academy Awards. The album itself has sold more than 10 million records worldwide and is a testament to the late, great Whitney Houston’s status as a global phenomenon and music anomaly.