There was once a time when airbrush shirts and throwback jerseys were all the wave. In the late nineties and early aughts, the record industry was hitting a commercial peak with boy bands, girl bands, the Titanic soundtrack and most interestingly, rap music. Today with moguls like Jay-Z and Diddy seemingly having their hands in every business venture, Kanye West becoming more iconic every time he opens his mouth, or Drake habitually line-stepping old rap boundaries, it’s easy to forget how far rap has fallen. From about 1998-2003, rap saw the explosion of Cash Money and No Limit Records, the creative peaks of Jay-Z and OutKast, Dr. Dre’s last record, and the first time the highest-selling album in a calendar year was made by a rapper.
The tired narrative of this era is that hip hop sold out after the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. But as Nelly, who sold 8.5 million copies of his 2000 debut album Country Grammar, famously said, “I hear them crying ‘You gon sell out?’/You’re damn right/I done sold out before and recopped the same night.” These dudes, along with women like Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Trina, Eve, Missy Elliott and a gang of others, were making money on their own terms and taking advantage of the record industry right before it crumbled to Napster. Here we look back on rap’s platinum age, where the cash and cultural crossovers flowed like Cristal.
First up is the second single from Brooklyn rapper Fabolous’s debut album. Featuring production from the Neptunes, the video shows Fab leave his limo stuck in traffic to take the subway to his destination. Traveling from uptown through downtown on his way to Brooklyn, he swaps numbers on his two-way pager with a fine lady, gives a stack of cash to a homeless man, and sees Lil’ Mo stunting in a purple denim ensemble. By the time the song ends and the video starts to preview another Fabolous song, everyone on the subway car is Harlem shaking, including the sole old white guy left on the train. Fab also wears a velour tracksuit and holds a boombox while scenes of breakdancing occur on the subway platform. Throwbacks on frobacks.