Credentials: Whut? Thee Album, "Headbanger"
Ready to rock rough rhymes, renegade rapper Redman ripped when it was rhyme time. And it was with addictive alliteration like that, on EPMD's foreboding 1990 classic "Hardcore," that the always frowny-faced Newark MC spectacularly announced his arrival on the scene. However, even before his first recorded appearance, reigning kings like Biz Markie took the young MC around to parties to show off his gift of gab, immortalized in this Queens nightclub recording.
Two years later, the then 22-year-old Reggie Noble released his debut LP, Whut? Thee Album, and made it clear there was much more to Redman than repetitive wordplay, punchlines, and skull hats. The album, with its loose narrative structure, aggressive funk tracks, vicious battle raps, and hilarious stories, gave listeners a uniquely rugged ride through The Bricks.
As a lyricist Red built on the lineage of Slick Rick's narrative styles and the split personality concept introduced on "Mona Lisa," combined with the multi-syllablic word flipping of Kool G Rap. But he also added a monstrous grit, courtesy of dirty Jerz, that was entirely new. He was precise, and even delicate at times, as he bluntedly, and bluntly, stomped a mudhole in that ass. In many ways Red was a pivotal MC, bridging the gap between the rhyming innovation of '87 and '88, and rap's emerging hardcore, gangsta aesthetic. He demonstrated that elite lyricists could be complicated and complex, and ruff, rugged and raw, too.
Echoes of his style can be clearly heard in the work of everyone from Wu-Tang a year later, to Eminem at the turn of the century, to Danny Brown today. Red remains a remarkable talent, but in the year of the Phillie blunt, hip-hop turned on his dime. And everyone pressed rewind, but not because he hadn't blown their mind.
Honorable Mentions: Treach, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Q-Tip
A fair argument could be made for Treach as the dominant MC of 1992. Naughty By Nature was at the top of the charts, and everything from the East Orange MC's iggity-biggity, Big Daddy Kane–inspired tongue flipping to his bike lock accessories and hockey jerseys were being bitten East to West. But the aforementioned fads faded fast, and with it Treach's claim.
Meanwhile, off the April release of "Deep Cover" and the December release of The Chronic, Long Beach newcomer Snoop Doggy Dogg was making it clear that the West had something to say. And that they were going to say it with cooler-than-a-cucumber style. But Snoop was not quite ready to assume the mantle. He barely made eye contact during interviews, despite rap fans' unquenchable thirst for his flow.
Q-Tip had come into his own in the final months of 1991, with the release of The Low End Theory. Thanks to his excellent rapping and in-demand production he had vaulted himself quietly into the center of hip-hop, appearing in '92 on posse cuts and producing for everyone from Apache to the Fu-Shnickens. With A Tribe Called Quest he also dropped the much sweated "Scenario" remix and "Hot Sex" on the Boomerang soundtrack. — Noah Callahan-Bever (@N_C_B)