- Nas' It Was Written is released on 7/2/1996
- UGK's Ridin' Dirty is released on 7/29/1996
- A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes and Life is released on 7/30/1996
July 1996 is probably best remembered for the release of Nas' It Was Written. Biggie, 2Pac, and Snoop changed the game in years prior by making creative albums that were also commercial smashes. This left Nas—who had plenty of props but no platinum plaque for Illmatic—in the tough position of not only following up a classic, but also in need of a commercial breakthrough. With "Street Dreams" holding down the streets, and "If I Ruled The World" holding down Billboard, Nas had the best-selling album of his career while reaffirming that it was becoming more and more possible for rappers to make both creative and commercially successful music.
Far South of the streets of New York, Texas-based rappers UGK dropped their first major label release Ridin' Dirty. It didn't sell exceptionally well, but over the years it became revered as a classic and remains the main reason why ego trip once declared UGK the most underrated rap act. And finally, A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes and Life spelled the beginning of the end for the group that would ultimately break up two years later. If you consider Midnight Marauders as the last great Golden Era rap release, then Beats spelled the demise of the acts from that era, signaling that rap's future now lay in the hands of not just Nas and UGK, but 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and a whole new breed of MCs. —Insanul Ahmed