Exclaim!'s 2014 in Lists: Four Signs That '94 Hip-Hop is Back

Exclaim!'s 2014 in Lists: Four Signs That '94 Hip-Hop is Back
The young guys are paying homage to (copying?) it. The critics are reminiscing about it. And the artists are reuniting to tour it.

It's that golden age hip-hop sound from 1994, when the art form was at a creative peak. The beats from 20 years ago still hold up, and that spirit was tapped into big-time in 2014. "A lot of other people are trying to pull from that era," says Royce da 5'9", who joined '94 sound-shaper DJ Premier to form this year's PRhyme. "Preem is one of the architects from that era, that sound. We're not taking it back anywhere; we're just doing what we do — on some '94 shit."

Don't forget to head over to our 2014 in Lists section to see more of our Year-End coverage.

Four Signs That '94 Hip-Hop is Back:

4. Nas is liked

There was a point when Nasir Jones — one of most heads' top five, dead or alive — was either trying to match or make us move past his 1994 classic debut, Illmatic. Two decades later, age 41 and at peace with his crowning work, he embarked on a 17-stop nostalgia circuit in support of the excellent Time Is Illmatic doc, performing the entire tape's track list in order. Even more mid-'90s hip-hop? The tour was sponsored by Hennessey. Nas also launched a new indie label, Mass Appeal, to pump out acts true to hip-hop's creative spirit like Run the Jewels and Fashawn. "Mass Appeal," of course, is a Gang Starr single from '94.

3. Reunited — and it feels so 'hood

Think of all the rap groups that were poppin' 20 years ago that re-linked in 2014. The Wu-Tang Clan reunited — and stormed The Daily Show chambers — for the first crew LP in seven years. OutKast finally shared a stage together again, 20 years after their Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik debut, which no doubt influenced Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica. The Infamous Mobb Deep reunited for their first album in eight years, with a nod to 1994's "Shook Ones." Grimy New York groups Onyx, M.O.P. and the Lox (which formed in '94) also reconnected for fresh projects this year.

2. Old guys still got it

Reunions aside, 2014 was a stellar year for legacy rap artists who either debuted or were at their peak in 1994. Common delivered his darkest and best in years with Nobody's Smiling. Both members of Organized Konfusion — Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poetry peaked as a duo with '94's Stress: The Extinction Agenda — dropped solid solo efforts. Digable Planets MC Butterfly reaped more critical acclaim with Shabazz Palaces' sophomore LP. And the Roots, E-40, Ed O.G., DJ Quik and O.C. all turned in credible albums. Who says this is only a young man's sport?

1. The album is king again

"Singles and mixtapes rule all! The album format is dead!" Such has been the refrain of the modern rap listener and creator. But that's changing fast (let's give Kendrick Lamar some credit here), and we're seeing a shift back to the '94 aesthetic of album as king (think Ready to Die, Hard to Earn, Resurrection, The Diary, et al.). Instead of fiending for the latest Lil Wayne mixtape, Tha Carter V will determine if he's fallen off. J. Cole will release his third and supposedly most personal album this month with no singles and little promotion. And there's buzz aplenty for Lamar's followup LP and Joey Bada$$'s debut.