Why Were So Many Great Hip-Hop Albums Released in a 7-Day Span?
By Alexander Fruchter
There's a large section of the Hip-Hop community that welcomes the fall. The air is crisp. It will wake you up, it may make you say, "damn, I wish I had a jacket right now." But it won't go through your bones. There's no major windchill, and no need for winter coats. This time period is often referred to as "hoodie season" or Timberland weather - not the producer — but the boot that could leave a foot print on your face if not careful.
Early to mid-November is the fall's last hurrah. Winter officially starts December 21, but hoodie season is usually over by Thanksgiving. Things wind down, people's minds trend towards the holidays. We focus on the last 4 weeks of work or school before some much needed winter vacations.
Looking back, November has given us many classic Hip-Hop albums. If you look at the month as a whole, you have beloved releases like the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II, which was released 11/24/91. LL Cool's debut LP, Radio, debuted on November 11, 1985. His labelmates, and the guys that found his demo and handed it to Rick Rubin, otherwise known as the Beastie Boys, released their classic debut Licensed To Ill almost exactly a year later on November 15, 1986. Slick Rick hit shelves with his debut LP, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, on November 1, 1988, while 2Pac released his first official LP, 2Pacalypse Now on 11/12/91.
The changing leaves provide for more contemplative listening. The carefree summer bops are over, the windows only slightly cracked or possibly rolled up. Pool parties give way to tail-gating. Mixed drinks transform to dark beer. Friday ditch days become long hours trying to get shit done or studying for finals. Dark and grimy Hip-Hop just sounds better on the way to get your car winterized or your gutters cleaned. New York Hip-Hop especially seems made to thrive during this time period. Hip-Hop may have been birthed in August, but it surely was ready for visitors in November.
"There is definitely a correlation," says longtime Hip Hop connoisseur and Chicago based-DJ, Brian Vaxter. "I feel like more grimy, thought-provoking Hip-Hop got released fall/winter and the more catchy bouncy in the spring/summer. I definitely remember 'OPP,; 'Around The Way Girl,' and 'Humpty Dance' being summertime jams, and joints like Tical, Hard To Earn, The War Report being fall/winter releases."
Hip-Hop Historian, Dart Adams, has some thoughts on November as well. "The thing is, that 4th quarter rap album benefits from several factors," he says. "One being the colder weather as fall transforms into winter, the second is the Holiday season, which begins with Thanksgiving then Christmas and New Year's Eve. These three holidays are when people gather and they have time off from school and work so they can share and spread things. I can't even describe how many albums, video games and movies I either saw or rented from the video store through friends and family throughout this stretch of time. This is when countless classic Rap albums spread and record labels have to be aware of this phenomenon as well."
Labels had to know what they were doing, or at the very least observed a pattern and began to slide certain types of music into the 11th month of the year. If November is a Hip-Hop mountain, then the 7-day span of 11/3-11/10 can represents its Apex. That week-long span gave us the following LP's:
Juvenile's 400 Degreez (11/3), Jay-Z's In My Lifetime Vol. 1 (11/4/97), 2Pac's Makaveli (11/5/96), Gza's Liquid Swords (11/7/95), Goodie Mob's Soul Food (11/7/95), Queen Latifah's All Hail The Queen (11/7/89), A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders (11/9/93), Wu-Tang Clan's Enter The 36 Chambers (11/9/93), UGK's Too Hard To Swallow (11/10/92).
There must be a rhyme and reason to all this, something to explain how and why so many classics hit during this time period. "When the emcees came to live out their name", they had to be dressed in fleeces and sweaters, right? The cats that were "peaking in my windows" were wearing skull caps, and trying not to step on crunchy leaves. When Bun B and Pimp C listened back to the final master of Too Hard to Swallow, they must have looked at each other and thought, "This feels like a November album," right?
This time period has to be a magical time purposefully constructed when A&R's, artists, and label presidents took a deep breath and slotted that stick to your ribs Hip-Hop, the classic shit. Well, not exactly.
"Just when it dropped," Bun B told me in bubble bursting fashion. "No special reason at all."
Ok, so maybe that UGK album was just a timing-thing. I'm almost positive that A Tribe Called Quest's classic Midnight Marauders was specifically made for the fall.
"Nah, weather had nothing to do with it," says Jeff Sledge, veteran A&R and Label Executive who was working at Jive and managing ATCQ's stellar third LP. Instead, Jeff credits the 11/9 release date for Midnight Marauders to two things: sales potential and Q-Tip's perfectionism. "I was working at Jive. I was the A&R person for MM," he told me. " It happened to come out because that's when we could pry the album from Q Tip... It worked out because both MM and 36 were highly anticipated and drove a lot of traffic into stores."
Damn. I was hoping that Jeff would come back with a better answer, one that at least acknowledges it was partly hoodie influenced. "The weather is just incidental to the season. People spend a lot more money between November and January because of the holidays," he confirms. "In the late 90's, the reason why albums would drop at this time of year is because of Black Friday. Labels wanted to make sure albums were in stock because previous to the streaming era, stores like Target, Walmart, Best Buy, etc were the biggest retailers of CD's. Anticipated albums would have a good first week, then get a turbo boost on Black Friday when all the shoppers were out."
This is a great example of the line between art and commerce. It also shows the separation between the consumers of Hip-Hop music and culture, and those that produce and sell it. As listeners and participants in Hip-Hop, we attach our own meaning and expectations to the music. Music gets permanently linked to moments that get locked in time. We associate a certain style of music to the fall months, one that coincides with fashion and weather. Music and Hip Hop is all encompassing. It makes sense that we see a week of classic Hip Hop releases and search to figure out how and why the stars aligned to produce such greatness in such a short time-frame.
I thought for months about this article and emailed countless record label people trying to find out this magical link, that ultimately proved not to be a link at all. It's really just about sales potential. According to Dante Ross, 36 Chambers was expected to move units. Midnight Marauders was expected to move units. In My Lifetime Vol. 1 was expected to move units. Simple as that. "4th quarter is always for the heavy hitters," he told me. "It's always a rush for POP and shelf space at retail."
This was more a foreshadowing of Hip-Hop's star power and global reach, more than a kismet spirit traveling through all of these artists, pushing them to finish and released albums between November 3 and November 10.
Whatever the motivation or the reason, we can still apply our own magic and meaning to this time period. That's the beauty of being fan and that is the beauty of music. It's all up for interpretation and it is all subjective. Grab a hoodie and throw on 400 Degreez, you'll be better for it.