This weekend is a big bad dollop of 1997 for me. Tomorrow, 16 years ago to the very day, one of the greatest of all time was gunned down, and in Manchester I am off to see easily the best hip-hop album released that year performed live in it’s entirety, Camp Lo’s ‘Uptown Saturday Night’. And seeing as 1997 was the first full calender year where I was in love with the music from start to finish this week’s instalment of Five for the Funk simply had to celebrate the year.
Turns out thought that 1997, when peering beyond the sepia tinted memories, was a weak one for hip-hop and probably the worst in the decade. Even though I was enthralled by the genre at the time the lack of being on the money (I was 15 and living in a RAF base in the Midlands) meant it was mainly old albums (Doggystyle, All Eyez on Me, 36 Chambers) that I liked (Camp Lo aside), and a confirmation of a look at this list shows rappers were more about sales, quantity and that horrible beast in hip-hop; the double album.
That said there was still some decent music this year, and none of those pesky double albums were classics in my eyes but they did throw together some great tunes. Here’s five of the best hip-hop videos and tracks from 1997…
They didn’t quite nail it with ‘Wu Tang Forever‘, but you genuinely do have to admire the Wu for their balls. I can remember the hype on UK and European MTV for this album and in turn this single, which still wasn’t that in tuned to hip-hop compared to the way it was with rock, and to announce the return of the whole clan with a lead single that was straight up lyrical wordplay at six minutes long was insane. The closest thing it had to a chorus was ODB screaming out that ‘Wu Tang was here for ever mutherfuckers’, and this was the record they were taking over the world with at the very inception of the shiny suit era in hip-hop. I mean come on! Stateside it sold over 600k in the first week and smashed it to the top of the charts. Killer figures from the killer bees, and that opening verse from Insepktah Deck.
‘Triumph’ was just that, the Wu knocking the shit out of the rest of the world. One of ten or twelve very good records on the album, although it might not be as dynamic as the likes of ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’, it was still a relentless slab of stark hip-hop. And nothing on TV looked so gully at the time. A grimy as fuck two finger salute at the staunch sound of selling out.
The Wu were the antidote to all this, but that’s not to say everything about the bling era of hip-hop was awful (even if it had been sent up brilliantly by The Roots). Timbaland and Missy were space ageing the shit out R&B, Will Smith managed to ride the bandwagon with a tongue slipped in his cheek and then there was this. Like a lightening rod amongst obvious samples and poor lyrical wordplay, this was the absolute bomb.
Biggie knew he was the epitome of the best of both worlds. The ugly as fuck fat boy who was so silky smooth he made women forget his appearance as their panties fell to the floor. The rapper that could make an album that featured a rags to riches radio joint side by side with tributes to stick-up kids and paranoia soaked suicide notes. And an absolute club and radio banger that had some of the tightest flows ever on it. It shone of the real Biggie, braggadocio to the hilt but gloriously self aware.
A genuinely brilliant record, and although technically a 1996 joint an anthem both sides of the Atlantic throughout 1997. And every year since.
Boot Camp Clik ‘Headz R Ready’
Wu weren’t the only hoodies and timbs NYC hip-hop crew bringing that rugged and raw vibe in 1997, so too were Boot Camp Clik. The collective consisted of Black Moon’s Buckshot, Smif N Wessun, Originoo Gunn Clappaz and Louieville Sluggah, and this was a tight record that featured a lovely nineties era drenched video. If you were one of those teenagers, like me, who lived for that one or two hours a week in 97 when Yo MTV Raps rounded up the best videos of the time, this was more often than not what would greet you.
Tha Alkaholiks ‘Hip-Hop Drunkies’
The West coast was flatter than usual between 1996 and 1999, but in the midst of it all was an underground antidote to the chronic flavoured riddims of the G-funk sound. And one of the better crews repping it were tha Liks. Their 1997 album ‘Likwidation’ is an underrated beast, straight up beats and rhymes tomfoolery from J-Ro, E-Swift and Tash, and this video sums up their vibe brilliantly.
An inspired pairing of their alcohol focused swagger with hip-hop’s fav substance abuser ODB, it flips a sample of Marley Marl’s piano riff off ‘The Symphony‘ to create a posse cut for boozers. Like the video for ‘Triumph’ ODB’s role is played by an actor, laying the groundwork for his troubled years ahead. He rips it up on here though, particularly with the “no disrespect to any architect who tries to perfect, oh what the heck” lyric, riffing brilliantly on the production of the song and his own role in hip-hop with a flurry of densely packed inner rhymes. An absolute genius.
Look, I know I’ve given them loads of love recently, but still, this is THE ONE! Ski on beat duties looping Dynasty’s ‘Adventures in the Land of Music’, an amazing video that riffs Blaxploitation films and Dead Presidents, and two lyrically brilliant genius spouting braggadocio nonsense. Such an anthem. This is probably going to be an accurate image of how I react and look when I hear it live tomorrow.