Strangely, it has only been twenty years since new media and a transformative World Wide Web emerged; a long, Cold War ended; and a new kind of skepticism toward government turned entertainment on its ear. With it came the success of grunge rock, a hybrid of heavy metal and angsty punk. Fashion went flannel, sonic walls came crashing down, and blunt lyrics and dissonance helped the Seattle-based voice of Gen-X unapologetically climb the record charts. Another kind of reality check in music followed, as inner-city rhythms and rhymes of hip hop and rap exploded on the scene replacing grunge in popularity. Intolerance toward its controversial content was widespread, but rap’s glaring light on societal inequality would be a hallmark of this powerful, new music.
Shock value didn’t stand as the sole domain of grunge, and born-and-bred-in-America “reality rap” became defined by its uncompromising attitude and confrontational style. The very definition of the contemporary black experience, rap evolved into a top-seller by the end of the decade. The next generation of rap music found its way into mainstream pop and is considered to be today’s rock ’n’ roll. Twenty short years later, and the genre joined the establishment.
Tune in to the National Geographic Channel for the three-night event, “The 90s: The Last Great Decade?” this Sunday, July 6 at 9/8c.