Hip hop's "golden age" (or "golden era") is a name given to a period in mainstream hip hop, usually cited as being a period varying in time frames during the 1980s and 1990s said to be characterized by its diversity, quality, innovation and influence. There were strong themes of Afrocentricity and political militancy, while the music was experimental and the sampling eclectic. The artists most often associated with the phrase are Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, EPMD, Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Jungle Brothers. Releases by these acts co-existed in this period with, and were as commercially viable as, those of early gangsta rap artists such as N.W.A, the sex raps of 2 Live Crew, and party-oriented music by acts such as Kid 'n Play, The Fat Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and MC Hammer.


The golden age is noted for its innovation – a time "when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre" according to Rolling Stone. Referring to "hip-hop in its golden age", Spin's editor-in-chief Sia Michel says, "there were so many important, groundbreaking albums coming out right about that time", and MTV's Sway Calloway adds: "The thing that made that era so great is that nothing was contrived. Everything was still being discovered and everything was still innovative and new". Writer William Jelani Cobb says "what made the era they inaugurated worthy of the term golden was the sheer number of stylistic innovations that came into existence... in these golden years, a critical mass of mic prodigies were literally creating themselves and their art form at the same time".

It also provided some of the greatest advances in rapping technique - Kool G Rap, referring to the golden age in the book How to Rap says, "that era bred rappers like a Big Daddy Kane, a KRS-One, a Rakim, a Chuck D. . . their rapping capability and ability - these dudes were phenomenal".

Many of hip-hop's biggest artists were also at their creative peak – Allmusic says the golden age, "witnessed the best recordings from some of the biggest rappers in the genre's history... overwhelmingly based in New York City, golden age rap is characterized by skeletal beats, samples cribbed from hard rock or soul tracks, and tough dis raps... rhymers like PE's Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Rakim, and LL Cool J basically invented the complex wordplay and lyrical kung-fu of later hip-hop".

There was also often an emphasis on black nationalism – hip-hop scholar Michael Eric Dyson states, "during the golden age of hip hop, from 1987 to 1993, Afrocentric and black nationalist rap were prominent", and critic Scott Thill says, "the golden age of hip hop, the late '80s and early '90s when the form most capably fused the militancy of its Black Panther and Watts Prophets forebears with the wide-open cultural experimentalism of De La Soul and others".

Stylistic variety was also prominent – MSNBC says in the golden age, "rappers had an individual sound that was dictated by their region and their communities, not by a marketing strategist" and Village Voice refers to the golden age's "eclecticism".

Along with focusing on black nationalism, hip hop artists oftentimes talked about the urban poverty going on. This brought a great deal of listeners to the genre who were struggling with poverty and were relying on alcohol, drugs, and gangs to make them feel better. Public Enemy's most influential song came out at the time of urban poverty called "Fight the Power." The song speaks up to the government proclaiming that people in the ghetto have the freedom of speech and rights like every other American. One line in the song by Public Enemy, "We got to pump the stuff to make us tough from the heart," grasped the listeners attention and gave them motivation to speak out for themselves. This also motivated people living in the ghetto to work their way out of poverty and do something with their lives.

Time periodEdit

Allmusic writes, "Hip-hop's golden age is bookended by the commercial breakthrough of Run–D.M.C. in 1986 and the explosion of gangsta rap with NWA in the late 80s and Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg in 1993 ", However, the specific time period that the golden age covers varies among different sources. The New York Times also defines hip-hop's golden age as the "late 1980's and early 90's". Ed Simmons of The Chemical Brothers says, "there was that golden age of hip-hop in the early 90s when the Jungle Brothers made Straight Out the Jungle and De La Soul made Three Feet High and Rising" (though these records were in fact made in 1988 and 1989 respectively). MSNBC states, "the "Golden Age" of hip-hop music: "The '80s".

In the book Contemporary Youth Culture, the "golden age era" is described as being "from 1987–1999", coming after "the old school era: from 1979 to 1985". In Icons of Hip Hop [Two Volumes] [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture (Greenwood Icons) the golden age of hip hop is described by scholar Mickey Hess as "circa 1986-1994."

Music critic Tony Green, in the book Classic Material, refers to the two-year period 1993–1994 as "a second Golden Age" that saw influential, high quality albums using elements of past classicism – E-mu SP-1200 drum sounds, turntable scratches, references to old school hip hop hits, and "tongue-twisting triplet verbalisms" – while making clear that new directions were being taken. Green lists as examples the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Nas' Illmatic, De La Soul's 1993 release Buhloone Mindstate, Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle, A Tribe Called Quest's third album Midnight Marauders and the Outkast debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.


See AlsoEdit

The Four Core Elements Breaking | DJing | Graffiti | MCing
Hip-Hop culture Dance | Fashion | Music | Production | Theater | Beatboxing
History History | Golden age | Old school | New school
Subgenres Acid rap – Alternative hip-hop – Bit-HopBounce musicChicano rapChopped and screwedChristian hip-hopConscious hip-hopEast Coast hip-hopFreestyle rapGangsta rapHardcore hip-hopHorrorcoreIndie hip-hopInstrumental hip-hopMafioso rapMidwest hip-hopNative American hip-hopNerdcore hip-hopUnderground hip-hopPolitical hip-hopPop rapSnap musicTurntablismWest Coast hip-hop - Trap (music genre)
Fusion genres Abstract hip-hop - Baltimore clubCountry rapCrunkCrunkcoreCumbia rapElectro hopG-funkGhetto houseGhettotechGlitch hopHip-Hop soulHip houseHiplifeHyphyIndustrial hip-hopJazz rapMerenrapNeo soul - Rap metalRap operaRap rockRapcoreDigital Hardcore - Wonky (music)
By continent African | Asian | European | Latin American | Middle Eastern
By country
Other Turntablism | 1520 Sedgwick Avenue | Master of Ceremonies | Hip-Hop music | Hip-Hop culture | Hip-Hop Timeline: 1925 - Present | Scratching | Hook (music) | Break (music) | Sampling (music) | Synthesizer | Hip-Hop rivalry | Misogyny in hip hop culture | Rap Genius
Lists & Categories Genres | Models

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