The 90’s were an amazing time in the landscape of music. The incredible wave of Hip-Hop that took shape in the late 80’s continued to build into a tidal wave bringing RnB and Funk along for the ride. Reggae, was taking the world by storm like no other global music import in decades and became the fuel for a conscious uprising. Highlife was developing a life of it’s own in Africa alongside Fela’s, outspoken musical jambalaya that moved the people in the 80’s. All of this swirl of creative brilliance was contributing to the movement we know today as Afrobeats. Some of the best and most beloved musicians of the time from across the globe were pushing the boundaries, creating innovative, revolutionary music that would be just as powerful over twenty years later.
Reggae, born decades ago in 60’s Jamaica, was a crowd favorite, continuing to grow in influence. The genre, named for the 1968 song “Do the Reggay” by Toots and Maytals, combined jazz, rhythm and blues, African music, calypso and traditional mento- a type of rural folk music- producing a hip, chill sound and vibe.
Early Reggae legends were musicians such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. They left the songs ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘One Love’, and ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’, paving the way for legions of musicians that would come after them. The 90’s saw new masters of the genre. ‘Boombastic’ by Shaggy, ‘I Can’t Help falling in love With You’ by UB40, ‘Shy Guy’ by Diana King, ‘Murderer’ by Buju were tremendous successes, becoming modern classics.
But Reggae was more than just music, it was culture too. The language, fashion, sound and Rastafarian religion invaded society. Everywhere black, red, yellow and green clothing and wool hats became instantly recognizable.
The 90’s were also undeniably great time for the Rap genre. The late 80’s and the early 90’s are largely considered the golden age of Hip-Hop. Rap artistes such as LL Cool J, and Run DMC C, Ice T and Ice Cube, known as the top lyricists of the genre were at the peak of their game. In underground spheres, the beginnings of the Gangsta Rap sub genre was being developed. And who can forget the infamous West Coast and East Coast Rivalry which culminated in the deaths of two of the best and most revered rappers in history, Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG? Both Rappers created their hit songs ‘California Love’, ‘Dear Mama’, ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ and ‘Notorious B.I.G’ during that time, inspiring dozens of future rappers with their music.
Back in Nigeria, the sound and swing of Highlife was thriving. Oliver De Coque in particular is remembered as an exceptional musician without par. Infinitely talented, Oliver de Coque is one of the most popular and productive Highlife musicians till date, recording over 73 albums, including the songs ‘No More War’, ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Identity’. His music style was joyous, blending Highife with traditional Igbo music, painting pictures of affluence that people could relate or aspire to.
Quintessential Juju Music singer, Shina Peters and his band ‘Sir Shina Peters and his International Stars’ lit up the scene as well. A King of Juju Music, Shina Peters took things a step further, combining the genres of Afrobeat and Juju to create a brand new sub genre of Afro Juju which he drove so successfully that ‘shinamania’, as it was referred to in the press, took over the people.
Not a lot of female musicians graced the scene but Onyeka Onwenu more than represented women everywhere. Beautiful, articulate, and talented Onyeka Onwenu- or the Elegant Stallion, as she was sometimes called- began as a secular singer, releasing some of the best songs of the day such as ‘Iyogogo’, before shifting to Gospel and Inspirational music that focused on social issues like AIDS and female rights. Decades later, she is still regarded as one of the greatest of her generation.
In 1997, technology took a big leap forward with the emergence of the mp3 player. The first successful Mp3 player was produced, changing and significantly upgrading how music would be listened to from that point onwards.
With that the magnificent 90’s inevitably came to an end, but even better was on the horizon. Out with magnificent 90’s and in with the grand 2000’s.