Duke Bootee’s Hip Hop History – Lesson 3: New School 90s


Nu-School rappers, much like the soldiers who came home from W.W.II., rode the gravy train the originals and the “old schoolers” laid the piles and tracks for. LL Cool, N.W.A., The Ghetto Boys, Uncle Luke, Big Daddy Kane… these acts mostly had major label deals. By this time all the major institutional paragons of distinction had recognized the voice of the under class. There were Grammys being won and intellectuals writing about the genre in the N.Y. Times and other recognized academic journals. Society has always danced to the rhythm of the sufferer. The new school became as main- stream as sliced bread. This can be good and this can be bad. Luke gave free speech a run for its money, Public Enemy stretched the political envelope and Kane wound up as a centerfold in some girlie magazine. This group went on to win main stream success in film, television, radio, stage and whatever else they could insinuate themselves into. Moguls were developed and fortunes were made and lost. There was then, and is now, no stopping rap. The thrusting forces that keep it irreverent and new are the conditions under which its stars were raised. The culture will always produce youthful angst and rebellion.

The regionalization of hip-hop had begun to develop styles and cadences that were born of the various urban centers all over this country and the world. Even suburban and country rap had made itself known. The virus was becoming a global pandemic. During the “nu-skool” era freakishness had yet to replace the rigors of the every day grind. There has always been an under current of latent fetish wear in rap ever since Flash, Mel and them went to London. It is hard to resist that shit over there. I had been into the New York scene for years and had been wearing black leather pants on stage since Edwin’s “War… What is it Good For”. Starr bought me my first pair of leather trousers from Carneby’s in Piccadilly Circus.

Run and them may have had their Adidas, but these kids had a hundred pair of “Jordans”. Graffiti was lining the walls of exclusive galleries and hip-hop was the shit for old tired vampires who only come out at night. The baton was being passed as the race got longer and faster, an obstacle relay with death defying jumps and soul stealing moats. Such is the life we crafted and was crafted for us. Though we are at war, there was, and is no draft so most rappers forgot about the war; they grew up not even aware of the lives lost at home and abroad. The new insular electronic world of self-absorption was gaining ground. There is a world out there beyond the me-ism that was a looming storm of narcissism, misogyny and latent jailhouse homosexuality that was to find its way into the visuals and themes of the music. Rap and hip-hop came of age during the nineties. What was a teen-age vision of the life they were leading turned into a vision of an arrested development manhood where men are still boys.

We watched kids like LL and Ice Tea, Ice Cube and Mos Def literally grow into men before our eyes. We have also watched what is essentially a genre conceived and crafted by young people masterfully age and transform itself time and time again. It will be the next school that begins the cannibalistic zombie “all I ever wanted to be was a rapper” narcissism that keeps some kids from seeing and honestly interacting with the world around them.