With commentary by Ill and Nil Doctrine’s Jay Smooth
“Jay Smooth, a longtime radio DJ, remembers there was a little sadness in the hip-hop community that there was less rhyming on the album than during Hill’s time with The Fugees. “We may have missed out on the best rap album of all time,” he says. Nevertheless, the album was a note that longtime fans of hip-hop had been craving for someone to hit. Smooth says that for people his age — the same age as Hill, the same age as people like Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls — “we saw our generation create something so powerful and innovative. They were speaking with a love and righteousness that we, perhaps naively, believed could change the world at that time.”
Smooth compares the idealism of the hip-hop generation to the hippies before it. But just as the optimism of the ’60s gave way to what he describes as “the malaise of the ’70s,” Smooth says that hip-hop had lost its way. The music grew more commercialized, and consequently more violent and self-involved, culminating in the deaths of Tupac in 1996, and then Biggie Smalls in 1997.
“It was right after that, in 1998, that Lauryn Hill’s album came out,” Smooth says. “And it seemed that she was that voice inside our soul — coming out and asking all of us, ‘How could we have gone so wrong?’ and ‘Can we have some grown folks talking about loving ourselves, before it’s too late? If it’s not already too late?’ “”