By the end of 1993, Death Row Records came out of nowhere to drop two of the biggest selling rap albums of all time—Dr. Dre's The Chronic, released December 15, 1992 and certified 4x platinum, and Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle, released November 23, 1993 and certified 5x platinum. They came into 1994 on a major roll, sitting on an estimated $75 million in revenues and looking to add to a talent roster that already included Dr. Dre and Snoop. Its next release was somewhat unexpected: a movie soundtrack—to a film about, of all things, NYC street basketball. Although it didn't have a lot to offer New York rap fans, Above The Rim was a banger from top to bottom, further solidifying Tha Row's chokehold on the business.
Through Snoop and Dre, Death Row brought raw, uncut gangsta rap to MTV, elevating hip-hop to never-before-imagined commercial heights. And they did it while cultivating the most fearsome reputation in the music industry. To use a Star Wars metaphor the label was rap's Death Star, complete with its very own Darth Vader, football-player-turned-bodyguard-turned-CEO-with-street-gang-connections Marion "Suge" Knight. By 1994 Suge had the whole music industry shook.
Although it was available on cassette tape as well as CD, the release of Above The Rim The Soundtrack—20 years ago this past weekend—marked a turning point in hip-hop history. Not only the soundtrack album but the film itself, specifically the behind-the-scenes drama that went on during its production in 1993, would have an indelible impact on hip-hop in all sorts of ways. So pour yourself some gin and juice, cue up track one, and think back on all the ways ATR changed the rap game forever.
Written by Rob Kenner (@boomshots)