1993: Snoop Doggy Dogg
Credentials: The Chronic, Doggystyle
Kool Moe Dee revolutionized the art of MCing from skibbity-bee-bop party rhymes to the battle raps upon which Run's House was built. And there, in the future reverend's place of worship, a generation of rappers prayed at the altar of wordplay. That is until Snoop Doggy Dogg came through and crushed the building.
Quite out of the blue, at a time when East Coast rappers were committing alphabetic slaughter via infinite iggity-biggities and manic multi-syllable matching, an unassuming 21-year-old Long Beach native turned the paradigm on its head, putting rhythm and melody over content and complexity. Snoop cruised over beats with soft intonation and self-assured ease.
His simple, almost old school-esque rhymes were instantly memorable ("One, two, three and to the four, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door..."), and his ability to fluidly navigate negative space provided a much appreciated relief from the frenzied spitting that was in vogue on the East Coast. Fans could not get enough of it.
Riding his numerous appearances on Dr. Dre's The Chronic—which had been released in December of 1992—through damn near three quarters of the following year, as single after single topped the charts, the appetite for Snoop's flow was unending. The thirst was real. The release of his much anticipated debut, Doggystyle, broke new artist first week sales records—to the tune of 800K—that would not be matched for a decade (until a future Dr. Dre protege, 50 Cent, would outdo him).
Musically even more polished, and more pop than The Chronic, Doggystyle was a cultural watershed. But Snoop's lyrics remained uncompromising, and the album propelled gangsta rap further into the mainstream consciousness than it ever had been. Songs like "Gin & Juice" and "What's My Name" juxtaposed supple melodies with meandering G talk, while records like "Pump Pump" and "For My Niggaz & Bitches" barreled through listeners' ears, with Snoop, even uptempo, still in nonchalant repose. The total package was easy listening, until you wrapped your mind around what exactly the gang-banging Crip was saying.
That blueprint would influence both carbon copy artists like Da Brat and Domino and even subtly affect the music of The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z (the future East Coast titans, who had rapped like Mr. Funkee of LOTUG and the Fu-Schnickens, respectively, noticeably decompressed their flows, letting words and lines breathe, in the wake of Doggystyle), among other East Coast artists. But in 1993, as his album cover crudely (but awesomely) illustrated, no one could catch the Dogg.
Honorable Mentions: Method Man, Treach, Q-Tip
Riding the lesson of Snoop's ascent that how you say things can trump what you're saying, Method Man, Wu-Tang's first breakout star, employed melody to an equally addictive result. While every member of the Clan impressed on "Protect Ya Neck," it was Meth's hummable flows on the track's b-side, "Method Man" that propelled the ensemble onto the radio and off the shelves. However, like Snoop on The Chronic, Meth had to share the spotlight on 36 Chambers, piquing interest, but holding him back from the throne.
In the first half of 1993, Treach and Naughty would position themselves as the uniters of hip-hop with the gimmicky anthem "Hip Hop Hooray" (which admittedly had awesomely all-star cameos in the video), but in the Death Row era Treach's vision of gangsta became quickly dated.
Q-Tip continued to be a major musical force in '93, remaining relevant even as tastes changed with ATCQ's perfect movement, Midnight Marauders. That said, as the scene put increasing value on tough talk and gangster posturing, Tip's brand of everyman rap slid slowly to the fringe. — Noah Callahan-Bever (@N_C_B)