Often you will hear people speak of music and talk about their favourite decade. I tend to find that a lot of people, especially of my generation and the one just before, really feel the 90s vibe the most.
It’s easy to see why as well: as a ’91 baby with relatively young parents, I was very musically clued in. Growing up in a house filled with Jill Scott, D’angelo, Erykah Badu, Prince, Tupac, Arrested Development, Wu-Tang Clan, Black Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie), and Busta Rhymes may explain how even a child as young as I was in the 90s could develop an early understanding of certain types of music that probably wouldn’t make sense to an average 6 or 7 year old today. By that age, I was already well aware of Luther Vandross, George Benson, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Marley, James Brown, Parliment, and all those I mentioned earlier.
It was an age where UK radio was particularly diverse; it would play everything, and, from an urban perspective, it was a golden age. Hip-hop was mainstream, Neo-Soul was rising, and here in the UK we had the birth and growth of Acid Jazz, Garage, Jungle and Drum and Bass. It was a great time for me and many others as children as we had a wealth of music to just bathe in.
Understandably, this is sorely missed by many. I am amongst those who lament being born a little too late to really appreciate that age, but that’s not to say the 90s were perfect. I find a lot of people tend to romanticise this “Golden Era” and chastise this era, but let’s be clear: there was a lot of trash back then too… and I know a bunch of names just sprang to mind for you, too!
As the 90s faded into the early 2000s, I fell out of love with hip-hop and RnB. I discovered nu-metal and rock – which was kind of synonymous with that same kind of era – but yet, by the time you got to the mid 2000s, music had changed dramatically – again!
Fast forward to today, and you often hear talk of music carrying no substance. To keep that a little more specific, I think people tend to mean ‘mainstream’ music – it’s very interesting to go from hearing The Fugees and Erykah Badu on the radio and TV, to Lil Wayne and Miley Cyrus, and herein lies the source of people’s vexation, I feel. We heard Chris Brown go from “Yo Excuse Me Miss” to “Yeah Yeah Yeah”. We heard songs of sensuality and making love turn to “F*ck That B*tch”. And songs of dancing and having a slightly tipsy/merry night with your homie turned to popping molly and loving the coco with your squad. The change is undeniable… but does that mean music’s meaning and intelligence is actually dead?
We live in an age of information, and that means access to music also. By the time I was 14, I was already surfing the internet looking for music no-one else knew about. Now, granted I had some kind of advantage in terms of the musical background I already came from, but regardless of that I was quickly and irrevocably falling in love with the sounds of Nujabes (R.I.P), Fat Jon, Ta-ku, Slakah the Beatchild, and Elaquant to name but a few. I turned from the mainstream completely, as did so many others, and in doing so I have reached a point where, over the past 3/4 years, I’ve quietly observed trends rising on the extreme underground and found artists long before their current prominence today. As a result, I’ve decided we’re actually living in a Golden Age 2.
The 90s came with a rich buffet of different and wildly experimental sounds and styles musically. Let’s take hip-hop as an example: you had the left field menace and wackiness of crews like Fu-schnikens, Wu-tang Clan, and Leaders of the New Skool; you had the smooth jazzy vibes of the Native Tongues posse such as A Tribe Called Quest; you had the boisterous party RnB anthems of Motownphilly and the slower, smokier “Brown Sugar”. In the UK, we had the rise of a new type of rave music with Garage and Jungle music, but this was coupled with the wholly opposite stylings of Portishead and Tricky – and we still had room for the funky Jamiroquai.
Now let’s look at today. You want left field menace and wackiness? Odd Future, Chance the Rapper, and a bit of Flatbush Zombies got you covered for starters. You want smoother and jazzier? I’d be remiss not to recommend Pro Era, Clear Soul Forces, Loaf Muzik. We can still find good party anthems too with artists like Kaytranada, Taku, Esta, anyone Soulection plays and promotes, and if you want to slow it down a little for that end of night, ‘grab a partner’ vibe… Come on! You know we got Miguel and Anderson Paak, as well as Tinashe coming up into that category.
My point is that we have to remember that everything goes in cycles. There are a lot of us who were born in the mid 80s and onwards who’ve grown up and started making the music we miss. This is the age of the independent artist. The internet, regardless of what anyone says, is our greatest friend as fans of art and music. It’s an open library that keeps growing and growing. It’s simply an incredible time to be a music fan, because you can find anything you want without getting out of bed.
Now here’s where I get a bit preachy and righteous: the biggest thing we have to do as fans is to support these artists!! Whether you’re a fan of someone as prominent as an ASAP, Cole, or Kendrick (or you’re quietly vibing out to people like Loaf Muzik and CSF), these people still need you to buy their music, their merch, and come to their shows. That’s the only way they can keep making music – because they probably won’t get that radio support to show them off to the vast masses from day one. They probably won’t get that prime-time rotation slot on MTV for their latest video, but why should they need it if you, as a fan, are giving the same love they put into their music back in every way you can? I’m a sucker for this: I will go broke for gigs, CDs, and even random mixtapes a guy will hand me in the queue of a show (speaking of which: you really need to check out Phoenix the Icefire).
If this is a Golden Age 2.0, the biggest difference is that, this time, we have even more control over this one, and we can even become a part of it simply by sharing the music around on our social media. The main two things we have to remember are that 1) music is someone’s labour of love, so we should reward that love; and 2) the music is not yours, mine or anyone’s alone – it’s ours. So listen, vibe, and – most importantly – share it.