Notable Albums during the Platinum Age of Hip Hop

Summary of the key albums during the second era of Hip Hop from 1996 to 2006

Platinum Era

The Platinum Era represents a time when hardcore rappers found mainstream success, the dirty south was rising fast, and artists from different cities and regions started to collaborate. Hip Hop production had blended with R&B and pop causing rap stars to be some of the highest selling artists of any music of that time period. Music acts were developed by labels and the music was highly scrutinized before its release. On one level the era is criticized for its pop influence, over production, and formulaic singles. On the other hand it is praised as a time when rappers were filtered by labels leaving the truly talented to release music and music itself was polished.

Below, is a list of 10 notable Platinum Age albums. They represent both a mastery of the craft as well as reaching new audiences that initially didn’t understand the genre.

All Eyez on Me

Artist: 2Pac

Released: February 13, 1996

Sub-genre: Gangsta Rap, G-Funk, Crossover Rap

Length: 2:12:20

Label: Death Row, Interscope

Producer: Dr. Dre

Notable Track(s): California Love, How Do U Want It, I Ain’t Mad at Cha, 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted

U.S. Billboard 200 Peak Position: 1

RIAA Certification: 5xPlatinum (April 13, 1996); Diamond (July 23, 2014)

After being released from prison 2Pac felt like the world was watching to see what he would do next. As a polarizing figure he had a lot of people that wanted him to succeed and a lot that wanted him to fail. The album is a mix of many topics from celebration to lashing out on enemies.

The album features plenty of guest spots with much of the production from Johnny J and Daz Dillinger.

The songs on All Eyez on Me were a step away from the personal, social consciousness, and political consciousness of his previous work but still contained some songs of that nature. This album was more of an unapologetic celebration that leaned heavier into the Gangsta image that had been established by Death Row. Containing more songs with a hardcore sound, R&B sound, and even club songs. It was a reflection on each facet of his life all at once and he proved that he was one of kind in regards to making beloved songs with a wide range.

The range of this album was a big influence for the Platinum Era moving forward. Record labels pushed artists to showcase versatility more than specializing. It became common for all the majors to have each artist release three singles: one for the streets, an R&B one for the ladies, and a club song.

Reasonable Doubt

Artist: Jay-Z

Released: June 25, 1996

Sub-genre: Mafioso Rap, Boom Bap

Length: 55:32

Label: Roc-A-Fella

Producer: Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke

Notable Track(s): Ain’t No Nigga, Dead Presidents II, Can’t Knock the Hustle, Feelin’ It

U.S. Billboard 200 Peak Position: 23

RIAA Certification: Platinum (February 7, 2002)

When underground battle rapper Jay-Z put out his debut album on his independent label he broke new ground that put him on the path to riches. Outside of that, Reasonable Doubt represents the pinnacle of the Mafioso themed rap.

It had a gritty realism as Jay-Z had truly lived the life as a drug-dealer and was well suited to deliver the organized crime style of gangsta rap. In this album Jay-Z talks about how the drug game can affect a person’s inner peace and what it can do to their mind. Jay-Z himself compared the studio as a psychiatrist’s couch during the recording for Reasonable Doubt. The songs featured a mix of bragging, serious moments, playful lines, advanced rhyme schemes, great wordplay, and a mature reflection of his life up to that point all over Boom Bap production at a time when crossover sounds had become more popular.

Life After Death

Artist: Notorious BIG

Released: March 25, 1997

Sub-genre: Hardcore Rap, Crossover Rap

Length: 2:00:39

Label: Bad Boy, Arista

Producer: Puff Daddy

Notable Track(s): Hypnotize, Mo Money Mo Problems, Sky’s the Limit

U.S. Billboard 200 Peak Position: 1

RIAA Certification: Platinum (1997); Diamond (2000)

Life After Death is the long awaited sophomore album from Notorious BIG. The flow was smoother than his previous work but still featured strong content that pleased a lot of audiences at once. The tracks range from the bright commercial sound to boom bap production, and the content from mafioso and hardcore rap to more personal and reflective songs. The full album has a cinematic feel.

The lyricism stands out as Biggie’s rhyming doesn’t follow patterns or schemes often. Instead he is changing the pattern all the time and sounds as if he is rhyming whenever he chooses as opposed to needs to. Also, in the lyricism Biggie’s word choice always remains natural and reflects a natural monologue as opposed to a structured song.

The album embraced styles from other regions of the United States, and featured guests from different regions as well.

It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

Artist: DMX

Released: May 12, 1998

Sub-genre: Hardcore Rap, Boom Bap

Length: 65:10

Label: Ruff Ryders, Def Jam

Producer: Dee & Waah

Notable Track(s): Ruff Ryder’s Anthem, Get at Me Dog, How’s It Goin Down

U.S. Billboard 200 Peak Position: 1

RIAA Certification: 4xPlatinum (December 18, 2000)

During the late 90s the sound of mainstream rap clearly had taken on a more commercial style or dirty south style. However, the debut of DMX brought in a return to gritty, hardcore, disrespectful, and deep rap that was unlike any heard previously.

The Dame Grease beats were haunting and dark. Over the years many of the New York hardcore rappers had taken a more smooth flow and approach even if the content was edgy, however DMX’s flow was super expressive and physically aggressive.

The storytelling on the album really stand out as the listener is not just being rapped to but having songs truly acted out for them.

Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life

Artist: Jay Z

Released: September 29, 1998

Sub-genre: Crossover Rap, Hardcore Rap

Length: 61:43

Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam

Producer: Dame Dash, Jay Z, Kareem Biggs Burke

Notable Track(s): Money Ain’t A Thing, Can I Get A, Nigga What Nigga Who, Hard Knock Life

U.S. Billboard 200 Peak Position: 1

RIAA Certification: 5xPlatinum (2000)

Jay-Z’s previous album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 had received criticism for sounding too commercial and polished. Going into Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z sought to have a sound that struck a balance between glossy Bad Boy production and the rougher sound that his core base wanted. He ended working with a wide range of producers from Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, Stevie J, Kid Capri, DJ Premier, Irv Gotti, Erick Sermon, and a few others to comprise the album.

Outside of the quality production, the lyricism on this album truly represents Jay at his best. It dives into his background as a hustler but mainly reflects where he was at the present time. A rapidly rising rap star that bragged about his successes but also addressed the new challenges in his life. Although these were common themes in rap, Jay did it in a way that was more nuanced and sharper than anyone else making this release a classic.