If you came of age in the late '90s or early 2000s, you might remember the new Golden Age of commercial hip-hop. At the time, many rap heads were unhappy with how the music was changing, but for most of America, it was the genre's coming-out party, the moment when the true national might of the hip-hop generation conquered the pop charts. Rappers from New York to Miami, Atlanta to Los Angeles, New Orleans to St. Louis were all staging a full-on assault on popular music.
You had Ruff Ryders and Roc-A-Fella, Slip N Slide and Bad Boy, Dr. Dre's second solo album, the Neptunes, Timbaland, Nelly, Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent and G-Unit, Nas, Swizz Beats, No Limit, Cash Money, and Irv Gotti. It was an era that exploded with a diversity of sonic approaches, extravagant personalities, and, above all, massive commercial success.
After the rise of Atlanta in the early 2000s with T.I., Young Jeezy, and Lil Jon, Lil Wayne and YMCMB stpped up as the indisputable popular champions, keeping rap on the pop charts along with MMG and G.O.O.D. Music.
But these days the rap that does make the charts seems pretty lonely. Most popular music now sounds more like millennial European club music than it does millennial American. And one of hip-hop's biggest success stories is Nicki Minaj, who manages to continue her reign because she knows how to make tracks that appeal to the mainstream's taste for club music.
While hip-hop used to dominate the charts, and remains a creatively flourishing art form, it seems that the heads of the late '90s got their wish—most excellent rap music being made these days is safely underground.