Looking Through Time: 1994

posted March 31, 2019 in

With the anniversaries of culturally important albums sprouting up each and every year, the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Department will be diving into albums from select years and breaking down their impact. Here are the albums from 1994.

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Ready to Die”

“Ready to Die” is the debut studio album of one of the most iconic figures in hip-hop history, on the project The Notorious B.I.G. introduces the world to his impressive vocabulary and diction combined with his imposing cadence making his voice one of the most recognizable in history.
Biggie also showcases his ability to create gangster stories that are only rivaled by Hollywood films.

In “Gimme the Loot” and “Warning,” Biggie takes the listener into his world where they become audio witnesses to the narrative Biggie constructs. Biggie would also delve into more darker themes as he does on “Suicidal Thoughts,” where the listener hears Biggie creates a fictional suicide due to his regret of the crimes he’s committed in his past life. This song is the official outro to “Ready to Die” which ties together his sophomore album aptly titled, “Life After Death.”

“Ready to Die” is also the first album released by Sean “Puffy” Combs’ label Bad Boy Records. As an executive producer Combs help add to the narrative based tracks with added effects. Additional production was handled by Easy Mo Bee, Darnell Scott, and Lord Finesse.

Biggie’s talent combined with a strong ear for production allowed for some of the greatest songs ever created in hip-hop usually powered by R&B sampled beats such as “Juicy” which is possibly the most recognizable hip-hop song ever.  This combination of smooth production helped balance Biggie’s violent raps with more melodic beats.

“Ready to Die” launched the career of the most talented artist hip-hop has ever seen in Biggie and helped launched one of the most recognizable hip-hop labels in Bad Boy. In hindsight, this project shows what could’ve been if Biggie did not meet his tragic death a couple of years later. - Jerome Taylor

Weezer - “Weezer” (The Blue Album)

An amazing year for the alternative rock genre, there were three different scenes. Britpop was over in England, and two scenes in the States, the heavier sound introduced by Green Day on their debut “Dookie,” and the softer, nerdier, alternative pop-rock introduced by Weezer. Their self-titled album, known to many fans as “The Blue Album,” was a breath of fresh air in the grunge-dominated alt-rock scene of the ’90s. Still considered by Weezer fans to be one of their two finest records, the fun pop sound found on this record is a super enjoyable listen.

The lineup of Rivers Cuomo on vocals, Brian Bell on Guitar, and Patrick Wilson on drums has stayed consistent throughout the 25 years of Weezer’s discography. Bassist Matt Sharp was present on the first two records, which are considered the band’s pinnacle. “The Blue Album” has various genre influences.

“Buddy Holly” is influenced a lot by early rock, found in the name and the accompanying music video directed by music video legend Spike Jonze. “Surf Wax America” is influenced by the California surf rock scene, mixing elements of punk in one of the more enjoyable tracks on this record. Rivers was not afraid to get personal on tracks like “Say it Ain’t So,” which covered his feelings on his parents’ separation and his dad’s alcoholism. One could not mention this album without the light-hearted “Undone-The Sweater Song.”

This album is responsible for the revival of Emo’s melancholic side, as many tracks had dark, introspective lyrics, but with cheery vocal delivery, and instrumental tracks influenced by bubblegum pop, surf rock, and a geek rock sound Weezer helped pioneer. For fans of alternative, this is a must-listen, and one of the best alternative albums ever made. - Owen Paiva

Blur - “Parklife”

Grunge was at its peak in popularity in 1994, and the United Kingdom was not happy with the growing popularity. The genre of Britpop, with brighter, catchier, alternative songs started to explode, with Blur’s third album, “Parklife” being arguably the most important album in the genre. This masterpiece captured the vibe perfectly. Described as "Southern England personified," the consistent foursome of frontman Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James, and drummer Dave Rowntree teamed up with longtime producer Stephen Street for “Parklife.”

Albarn masterfully leads listeners through a melancholic journey, showing all the struggles one faces in the UK, masking dark and sometimes personal lyrics with the happy, bright accompaniment of Rowntree’s drum work, Coxon’s creative riffs, and James’ steady bass work. The many different instruments such as Albarn’s fondness for the melodica, which is like a mix of a harmonica and a keyboard, or Coxon’s accompanying saxophone and clarinet work that can be heard on different tracks on the album. Albarn and Coxon, in particular, are the two driving forces of the band’s sound, and each is a musical genius in their own right.

The exploration of different genres also adds to the appeal of this record, ranging from dance pop-heavy tracks like “Girls and Boys,” to the lighter ballad of “Till the End,” to the punk-influenced title track, which features narration by Phil Daniels. The variety found in this album adds to its charm. Albarn himself stated that each song is loosely linked by the travels of a mystical lager-eater, who is a passive observer of the middle class and working class in London, commenting on the phenomenon dubbed as “Parklife,” that still holds up in quality 25 years later. - Owen Paiva

 

Ween - “Chocolate and Cheese”

On their first album with professional production, Ween perfected their oddball style with this eclectic collection of tracks. “Chocolate and Cheese” features pop hits, country-western musings, Funkadelic-style guitar instrumentals, comedic ditties, classic rock and everything in between. Ween is a songwriting duo from New Hope, Pennsylvania whose work has influenced artists ranging from Gotye to Stephen Hillenburg, collecting a fanatic cult audience along the way.

Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo trade vocal and instrumental duties between tracks, but the core of this duo is Deaner’s inventive guitar style and Gene’s dynamic vocals. Their songwriting is on par with any of their contemporaries, allowing a record with such a diverse genre selection to still flow as a cohesive piece of work.

For those interested in more conventional numbers, there are tracks like “Take Me Away,” “Joppa Road” and “Freedom of ‘76” which are beautifully executed and tonally interesting, yet easily digestible for those that dislike more experimental affairs. The instrumental “A Tear for Eddie” and the closer “Don’t Sh*t Where You Eat” both present a simple musical concept made compelling by the trademark Ween flair.

More subversive cuts also pervade this album. In particular, “I Can’t Put My Finger On It,” “Voodoo Lady” and “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” stand out as innovative rock songs infused with strange influences. Without a doubt, the highlight of the album is the revenge western “Buenas Tardes Amigo.” Like with the rest of the record, this track is built on the back of its enrapturing songwriting but uses a restrained performance to its fullest effect.

“Chocolate and Cheese” is one of the hallmark albums of a band whose influence is still felt today. Ween would later embark on more ambitious projects, but this effort was the one which put the pair on the map. For those interested in stylish and unique music, “Chocolate and Cheese” is a wonderful introduction to the most delightful group in the 90s and 2000s rock. - Billy Jackson

Dinosaur Jr - “Without a Sound”

Dinosaur Jr is an oft-overlooked grunge act popularized after the alt-rock boom of the early 90s brought the underground into the public eye. Fronted by reputable guitar hero J Mascis, Dinosaur Jr’s sixth studio album explores his depression after the loss of his father. The result is a dreary record that utilizes Mascis’ raspy vocals in contrast to a very bright and melodic guitar.

“Without a Sound” was the band’s greatest financial success. Peaking at 44 on Billboard, it also featured the No. 4 hit “Feel the Pain,” a melancholic reflection on the difficulties of life in the 1990s. This song, like much of the album, embraced a gloomy atmosphere along with its catchy instrumentation.

On tracks like “Outta Hand,” “Mind Glow” and “Over Your Shoulder,” Mascis and company repeat the Daur theme to great success. There is not a lot of variety in the mood for each song, but the album works because they are each on consistent quality.

From front to back, “Without a Sound” is the prototypical 90s grunge rock album. It mixes hard rock with slick melodies to create a fresh and contemporary sonic style. A far departure from the likes of Nirvana or Soundgarden, the more downbeat Dinosaur Jr sound was one which proved to outlive the extinction of the attitude era. - Billy Jackson

Outkast - “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”

Hip-Hop group Outkast released their debut studio album “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” in 1994. Rappers Andre 3000 and Big Boi met in 1992, and after striking up a quick friendship, decided to work on music together. Both artists were influenced by southern hip-hop style, with their debut album showcasing it on all fronts.  

“Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” set itself apart from other hip-hop albums of the time because of its emphasis on live instrumentation over sampled beats and drum loops. The album was heavily inspired by other genres as well, incorporating elements of funk and soul throughout the entirety of the project.

Andre 3000 and Big Boi wanted to make a statement with “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.” This took the form of putting a spotlight on the life of African Americans in the south. The two recorded the project as teenagers, so also addressed coming-of-age topics that fit the overall theme of the album. The two also included southern-slang as to make the project more authentic to the southern hip-hop style.

Upon the album's release, it peaked at number 20 on the Billboard 200, eventually being certified platinum in the United States. At the time, west coast and east coast rap were the dominant forces in the hip-hop scene. Big Boi and Andre 3000 were able to make southern hip-hop a more popular form within the genre, shedding light on other artists that held a similar style.

Twenty-six years later and “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” is regarded as a landmark release for both hip-hop and the Atlanta music scene. The two made a mark with this project, going on to expand their sound and solidify themselves as legends in the hip-hop scene and music in general. - Zach Hall

TLC – “Crazy Sexy Cool”

Coming off the tremendous success of their debut record, TLC was showered with criticism and praise from all angles. Now faced with the need to impress once again with an even better successor, TLC’s second release lived up to and surpassed expectations. “Crazy Sexy Cool” is an absolute masterpiece and an album that still hasn’t lost, and may very well, never lose its unique touch.

Departing from the initial style of their debut, the group reinvented themselves and reached a perfect blend between their R&B, hip hop and rap influences. Injecting their music with themes of violence, sexual confidence and romanticism, the group reached a noteworthy level of social and cultural commentary through their messages. Featuring some of the group’s best and most recognizable tracks, such as the deep groove-infused “Creep” and the sensual “Red Light Special,” TLC made huge waves with their consistent flow and the extensive variety of their musical aesthetic.

Due to challenges with rehab and criminal charges, the late Lisa Lopes, better known by her stage name Left Eye, was unable to provide the album with as much of her noteworthy rap infusions as she had on the group’s debut. However, Lopes would contribute her unique rapping style on the iconic “Waterfalls,” in which she had a major hand in writing.

Incorporating themes of gang violence, drug use, and sexual promiscuity, “Waterfalls” quickly became TLC’s signature song. The track is also considered to be a cultural milestone, due to its cautionary response to gang violence and unsafe sex, becoming the first number one hit that mentioned the AIDS virus, which till that time, received very underwhelming mention and attention in the media. Their music video for “Waterfalls” dominated MTV and the track quickly became the group’s second number one hit.

Other tracks such as “Case Of The Fake People” and the funky “Kick Your Game” made the album an infectiously enjoyable listening session, with high revisiting potential. The album also featured an innovative structure of meshing jazzy interludes throughout the transitions of the record, making the album an engaging and soulful experience. “Crazy Sexy Cool” sold exceptionally well both internationally and in the states, making TLC the first girl group to reach a diamond status in the US.

An album that still holds up its flow and impact, “Crazy Sexy Cool” has been regarded as one of the best and most influential girl group albums of all time. Proving that they could provide a musical experience unlike any other, TLC’s rhythm, lyricism, and energy on this incredible record cemented their legacy and proved definitively the power that an all-female group can possess. - Scott Perdue

 

 

Jerome Taylor is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jerometaylor91697@gmail.com.

Owen Paiva is a sophomore majoring in film/video. To contact him, email owenpaiva@sbcglobal.net

Billy Jackson is a junior majoring in film/video production. To contact him, send an email to wjj5064@psu.edu.

Zach Hall is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email zth5043@psu.edu.

Scott Perdue is a sophomore majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.

About the Contributors

Owen Paiva's photo

Owen Paiva

Sophomore / Film-Video

Owen Paiva is a Writer and Contributor for the Arts Department at CommRadio. Owen is one of the co-hosts of CommRadio’s Movie, Television, and Video Game Discussion Talk Show, Reel Talk, along with Lilly Adams, airing Thursday from 7:00 - 7:30. To contact, Owen, feel free to send a message to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jerome Taylor's photo

Jerome Taylor

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Jerome Taylor currently serves as one of two Arts & Entertainment Managers for CommRadio. He currently serves as a host for the department’s flagship radio show, “The Nittany Record Club.” He has also written several album reviews and has contributed to several lists that the department has produced. Jerome has also served as a beat writer and producer for several Penn State sports including, lacrosse, volleyball, and basketball. After graduation Jerome hopes to work in the broadcast journalism field covering sports or entertainment. Follow him on twitter (@ThatGuy_Rome) or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Zach Hall's photo

Zach Hall

Senior / Journalism

Zach Hall is a writer/podcaster for CommRadio Arts as well as a writer/actor for two PSNtv shows. After college, Zach would like to pursue a career in investigative journalism with an emphasis on filming and editing.