Hip-Hop Hooray: The Best Singles Ever From 1996
1996. A year that launched a thousand rap albums all across the United States. The West was flourishing with rap crews like The Click (E-40), Tha Dogg Pound (Snoop Dogg) and Digital Underground. Out in New York, Timbalands and chew sticks pounded up and down Billboard as Nas, Jeru tha Damaja, Akinyele and Capone-N-Noreaga all broke out with captivating efforts. Hip-hop was blooming, budgets were buzzing and the game was all good, which meant that competition was in full swing. The burgeoning scene enabled rap to become an escape out of poverty and negativity for some of the game’s brightest wordsmiths.
OutKast proclaimed that “the South had something to say,” while Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill were playing “mind tricks” on the rest of the game. Even the Midwest was in the mix, as Common Sense (as he was then known) was weaving street tales into conscious-laced lyrics and in Cleveland, Ohio, Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony were building up their reputation as the fastest rappers around. Cash Money, No Limit, Slip-N-Slide Records were all bubbling as Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella and SoSoDef were eating up real estate on the radio and Billboard charts.
Suffice it to say that in 1996, everybody was eating off of rap and getting tubby stomachs, too! The game had stretched outside of the Five Boroughs, and now, it was up to everyone involved to keep this thing moving and afloat. At that time, nuanced styles, clever lyrics, signature producers and innovative albums that pushed the genre forward were an every month staple for those of age. Plus, this is before iTunes, Amazon and the like — heads looked forward to Super Tuesday, heading to the mom-and-pop stores and rip off the plastic of their newly purchased selection. With such factors in place, 1996 was prolific and profitable enough for stars to bank their careers for the next two decades (Puffy, Jay Z, Nas), to tour on their reputable catalog (Naughty By Nature) or do something different entirely (Common).
The single era might be dead and gone nowadays, with songs easily downloadable and transferred to parts unknown. But, we’ll always have a soft spot for these hits that made us jump, wiggle and get out our seats. So, without any further ado, here we present the Best Singles Ever from the year that was… 1996!
15. Snoop Doggy Dogg — “Snoop’s Upside Your Head”
The first single release from Snoop Dogg‘s second major label album, Tha Doggfather, found him battling a major murder case, creating an effort without his partner, Dr. Dre, and battled the emotional weight of losing his friend (2Pac) before the release of his project. Despite those issues (plus Suge Knight being indicted on racketeering charges) — Tha Doggfather did a cool two million in sales first week, while “Snoop’s Upside Your Head” would hit the Top 20 in the UK Top 75 charts.
14. OutKast — “Wheels Of Steel”
One of the first salvos fired from André 3000 + Big Boi after declaring that the South “had something to say” at 1995’s The Source Awards, “Wheels Of Steel” showcased their ability to not take no shit while being flawless with the wordplay. Even though their debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was beloved by the masses, these two dope boys rejected complacency and decided to push past the limit. “Wheels Of Steel” was one of those tracks where the South Bronx met Southwest Atlanta, GA by bridging the turntablist skills that New York loved with thinking-man’s lyrics provided by Possum Aloysius Jenkins + Daddy Fat Sax.