If I had to choose a favorite year of hip-hop and R&B from the ’90s, I’d have to go with 1996. It’s a year that was stacked with more good music than I even had time to listen to, and definitely more than I could afford to buy. Regardless of whether it was in heavy radio rotation or only heard on the late-night mixshows, I was listenin’ and lovin’ it all. There was the Bad Boy sound, the early days of the Timbaland sound, the beginning of “Neo-Soul“, a “commercial vs. underground” divide in hip-hop in which good music was coming from both sides of the fence, and of course that “East vs. West” thing back when both were still at the top of the rap game. Sure, there was also stuff like Coolio, but not much I could do about that.Still, amongst all the hitmaking that went on, there were some who were bound to only pull it off once. For every R. Kelly or Fugees, there would have to be a Crucial Conflict or Tony Rich. In that respect, I bring you the fifth installment of “One Hitta Quittas“, with four from ’96 that made it happen… if only for a few months.
Crucial Conflict “Hay”: Coming from Chicago and on Fab 5 Freddy‘s label Pallas Records, Crucial Conflict dropped in the spring with their big hit. “Hay” was a song that caught on quick, as I remember seeing it once or twice on Rap City, and then hearing it all over the place by the following week. Back when being “country” wasn’t quite yet the in-thing, CC brought it tenfold in their songs as well as their videos. Even with their Final Tic album going gold and having a marginally successful follow-up single “Rodeo“, “Hay” was the only clear-cut hit Crucial Conflict had. By the time they came back out in ’98 with their second album, the world had moved along.
Mista “Blackberry Molasses”: Around the mid-’90s, the production team of Organized Noize was hitting hard, working with everyone from Outkast and the Goodie Mob to En Vogue and TLC. In the midst of this run, they discovered a teenage group named Mista, and produced their entire debut album. The hit from the album was a song about struggle and overcoming adversity, “Blackberry Molasses”. It ended up being the only hit, and they split up shortly after their debut. However, it wasn’t over for every member of the group- almost ten years later, their lead singer Bobby Valentino returned solo and pumped out a few hits of his own.
The Tony Rich Project “Nobody Knows“: I find it funny that there are still people who to this day think this song was done by Babyface. Aside from the vocal similarities, and the fact that he was on LaFace Records, and that he wrote songs for artists like Toni Braxton and Boyz II Men… there weren’t much similarities between Tony and ‘Face, right? Heh. Anyway, “Nobody Knows” was one of those all-too-true stories of the man who misses his woman to death but is killing himself with it because he’s the only one that knows it. I suppose a lot of people have gone through that, because it was a huge hit on both the R&B and Pop chart, and it was even remade by country artist Kevin Sharp that same year. With the success of this song even winning Rich a Grammy, it seemed he had a career ahead- then, he dropped his follow-up album in ’98. And nobody knew it but him.
Do or Die feat. Twista “Po’ Pimp”: The Houston-based Rap-a-Lot Records was mostly known for housing hardcore rap acts from Texas, most notably Scarface and the Geto Boys. But in ’96, they signed a group from Chicago named Do Or Die, who scored an unexpected hit with “Po’ Pimp”. It was also notable for the return of a rapper who’d been considered somewhat of a gimmick in the early ’90s, Tung Twista, who stole the show on this track and opened up a lane for a second phase in his own career. He went on to further success and hit a popularity peak around ’03-’04. Meanwhile, Do or Die became increasingly less visible in the following years- obviously, well…And there, my people, are four of the many that I enjoyed in ’96, and still enjoy every now and then in 2011. It’s not to say that these artists didn’t potentially have another big record in them, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t chosen… had that happened, maybe I’d be featuring them as TWO hitta quittas. Regardless, they’ll always have the reality of those few months in 1996 during which they met their greatest success. They’ve could’ve stood to do much worse.