The Notorious B.I.G. passed away on March 9, 1997 weeks before his sophomore album Life After Death was set to be released. It was an event that stopped the ever-growing East vs West beef which was sparked by two friends, 2Pac and Biggie, and spun out of control.
In the height of their careers, two mid-20-year-old Black men gunned down due to senseless violence in the midst of a growing regional rap war. While we knew things would change, who knew that hip hop would change like this?
The year was 1997. Hip hop was going through sort of a transition at the time. With the death of 2Pac, and Dr. Dre deciding to leave the label he co-owned, Death Row Records the west coast was losing the dominance it which was partially sparked by the popularity of Dr. Dre’s debut album The Chronic in 1992. Back on the East Coast, it was time where artists were beginning to stop being so gritty, and raw, and exchange their Champion sweatshirts, and into shiny suits.
The death of Biggie left a gaping hole in New York City. He was the biggest artist in hip hop at the time, and was holding the torch for New York City. Who was going to carry the torch for the Big Apple in his absence?
We would not have to answer this question for another year. March 25, 1997, Notorious B.I.G.’s anticipated sophomore album Life After Death was released. An instant classic, the new version of Biggie had songs for the radio and for the hood in a double-disc album that had no skips. Little did we know at the time, but this would be the beginning of Bad Boy’s explosion.
Biggie was there to see the beginning of that very success as Puff Daddy released his first single, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” after debuting at 32 on the Billboard Hot 100, the track featuring Mase reached number one. That was later taken over by Biggie’s hit single, “Hypnotize” before the tribute track “I’ll Be Missing You” was released and dominated the charts in Biggie’s passing.
While bittersweet, Puff Daddy continued to grow the Bad Boy Records brand following the release of No Way Out in July of that year. It has a few songs you may have heard such as “All About The Benjamins,” “Been Around The World,” “Victory,” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Oh, in case you thought he was done. Mase decided to come out with his debut album that October. An amazing 3-peat of success for Bad Boy Records.
Following the deaths of both 2Pac and Biggie we were starting to see a trend of hip hop that was straying away from its authentic rawness, and going into a more mainstream, cartoonish style.
It was no longer trending towards the Mafioso style we began to see from Big, Jay Z, and even Nas in 1996. The suits were being traded in for bubble jackets and ski goggles, raise the roofs and bank head bounces.
Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes were helping to transform the art of music videos in 1997. Missy’s exaggerated visuals in “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” and Busta Rhymes’ cartoonish characters in “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” helped bring the genre to a lighter place, thanks to Williams’ vision.
Speaking of Hype Williams, nothing can showcase the new trend more than Jay-Z’s video for his single “(Always Be My) Sunshine.” Following the release of Reasonable Doubt, it was his time to follow up out of the shadows of Big and show that he can be the next best Brooklyn rapper with In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. With help of The Hitmen, The album displayed a formula similar to Biggie’s sophomore project. It mixed some of his more personal tracks and mixed in some mainstream sounding singles with features from Babyface, Blackstreet, and of course Puff Daddy himself and Lil’ Kim.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Wu-Tang Clan left street hip hop fans excited once again as they all returned with their double album, Wu-Tang Forever. The project was eventually nominated for a Grammy at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards for “Best Rap Album” but ended up losing to Puff Daddy & The Family’s album No Way Out. This led for a moment in hip hop history as Ol’ Dirty Bastard to storm the stage to express his displeasure of losing the “Song of the Year” award for “Sunny Came Home.”
1997 laid the groundwork for what was going to become a boom in hip hop in terms of music and business. It was time to have fun again. Things got so serious and tense that it needed a new breath of fresh air. As the calendar turned to 1998 the year the business changed for better or for worse depending on who you ask. The formula of street tracks mixed in with commercial favorites helped bring career-changing albums from DMX, Jay Z, and Ja Rule and anchored the Def Jam era.
What was your favorite single from 1997?