If Only Black Artists Today Were Like Black Artists in 1998

Missy Elliott - Sock It To MeAfter reading Jenn’s reflection on Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation, I was triggered into remembering the magical year in music that was 1998. For all of its merits and flaws, ’98 was a banner year for good black music.

The 90’s were a great decade for black music. And in my life, 1998 was the point when I really grew my interest in music, exerting my teenage freedom to buy CD singles from Sam Goody at the mall.

My most prized from that year were Uncle Sam’s “I Don’t Ever Want To See You Again” (if you don’t remember it, get your mind right), “I Get Lonely” by Janet Jackson featuring Blackstreet (still goes hard today) and “Sock It To Me” by Missy Elliott. That music video was brilliant, and Missy’s style was always uniquely her own. The woman was and remains a musical powerhouse, innovating in ways she may never get credit for.

But ’98 had much more to offer. Mariah Carey was belting out “My All”. Boyz II Men had us reflective with “Song For Mama”. ’98 had Dru Hill and Next. Destiny’s Child and Xscape. Janet Jackson and Monica. Lil Kim and Big Pun.

This was a time where Kelly Price was just breaking out from being Mariah Carey’s background vocalist, R. Kelly hadn’t yet been exposed as a sexual predator, and Ron Isley hadn’t faced tax evasion. And they all hopped on one track, “Friend of Mine”, with a truly epic video to match.


Even it’s one-hit wonders were legendary, from “Deja Vu” by Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz to “All Cried Out” by Allure and featuring 112.

But most importantly, these songs were charting right next to the most bubble gum of pop songs from the Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, and Britney Spears. Truly landmark music was being created, and it was marketed and consumed by the masses.

Yeah, it wasn’t without its misses, (we have 1998 to thank for “Gettin Jiggy With It“), but within one year we were gifted “Nice & Slow”, “They Don’t Know”, “Ghetto Supastar”, and “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”. Those songs are so dope that I didn’t even have to name who recorded them, and I bet you’re singing them to yourself right now.

Somehow, as we transitioned into the 2000’s, society-at-large’s interest skewed heavily into straight forward pop (or half-baked soul at best). Sure, there are artists out there that are still dedicated to creating true black music. Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show was a remarkably well-rounded album. Last year, Tyrese produced the most fundamentally R&B album I’ve heard in ages. There’s Fantasia. There’s John Legend. And that list goes on and on. The difference between now and 1998 is that those true musicians have become highly marginalized, getting play on radio stations with smaller audiences and getting little to no exposure in large outlets.

1998 was a simpler time. There was a true dedication to putting out quality music without losing sight of the importance of fun. This is perhaps best encapsulated in one of the biggest songs of that year, “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy and Monica. It’s that one of a kind, once in a lifetime magic that has been traded in for marketing strategies and disposable productions. And as I look around at the current music landscape, I can’t help but pity those that have to grow up during a time devoid of that spirit.


Photo credit: YouTube

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.