I love the ‘90s. It was the decade of my 20s, my college years, and my first real job in life, working in the music industry at the iconic Def Jam Records and Violator Management (Rest in Power Chirs Lighty) working with legendary artists like A Tribe Called Quest (RIP Phife Dawg), De La Soul, Fat Joe, and Busta Rhymes (shout out Leaders of The New School) during the greatest decade in hip hop. Yes, I said it! The greatest decade of hip hop.
Fast forward 30 years, three career changes, 20 years as a food entrepreneur and editor, and we arrive at this moment, a marriage of careers, as I go in on my most memorable food moments in ‘90s hip hop.
Ask any of my best-good friends, I remain stuck in a ‘90’s hip hop vortex, mostly east coast. Yes, I got to be in it, in the studio with producers like the legendary DJ Premier of Gang Starr (RIP Guru, shout out to Group Home, Big Shug), on tour, backstage, in the office managing projects, and hanging out, but I was also just a fan. Notorious B.I.G. (RIP), Wu-Tang Clan (RIP Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Nas, Jay Z, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, DMX (RIP), Mobb Deep (RIP Prodigy), Black Moon, Li’l Kim, Outkast, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, KRS-1, The Roots…a vortex. These artists put some flava in ya’ ear (whaddup, Craig Mack?!) using food as part of their storytelling to analogize a person, paint a picture, or capture a moment in time.
Big Poppa - The Notorious B.I.G.
The first food I think of in ‘90s hip hop is in the song Big Poppa by the Notorious B.I.G.. The lyrical genius he was, he let us know exactly what was going to happen after leaving the club with a new lady friend:
So we can steam on the way to the telly, go fill my belly (G). A T-bone steak, cheese eggs and Welch's grape.
B.I.G. suggests they stop somewhere on their way to the hotel (telly) to get a baller’s after-the-club breakfast, steak and eggs. However, in true fashion, the steak must be the most expensive kind, the t-bone. While it is the thinner (1/2-inch) cousin of the (1 1/4-inch) porterhouse, both include filet mignon and NY strip, the most coveted cuts of the animal and priced accordingly.
The cheese eggs most certainly used processed cheese slices which, when cooked in, makes the most wonderful soft-scramble creamy curd. Though there is debate on which Welch’s grape product to which he refers, juice or soda, his pairing provides a sweet-tart palette cleanser. B.I.G. took us to breakfast with just eight words.
Gin & Juice - Snoop Dogg
Released the same year I graduated from college, Snoop Dogg’s Gin & Juice from his debut album, Doggystyle, is a west coast anthem celebrating a night out with the homies.
Rollin’ down the street, smokin’ indo, sippin’ on gin and juice. Laid back.
As the refrain of the song, we are repeatedly transported to a convertible lowrider with the top down, smoke blowing, and the gin and juice flowing. While Snoop starts the song with some Seagram’s gin, his “homie Dr. Dre came through with a gang of Tanqueray” to make this two-ingredient cocktail reminiscent of the simplicity of the time.
And what is the juice? We don’t see it in the video, but, if I let my 20s tell it, it is orange, pineapple or any juice that makes the spirit go down easier. Ironically, today, I am a big G&T fan. Thanks, Snoop!
Ice Cream - Raekwon The Chef
Now, on to one of the most legendary hip hop groups of all time, Wu-Tang Clan. Each of the seven members had a uniqueness of their own, but it is Raekwon The Chef that brings us to this moment in ‘90s hip hop food history from his 1995 solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (p.k.a. The Purple Tape), with a song called Ice Cream.
Watch these rap (brothers) get all up in your guts. French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe. Even caramel sundaes is gettin' touched. Scooped in my ice cream truck. Who tears it up.
As you might assume of a 20-something year old man, The Chef is talking about the varied types of women in his sights, much like picking his favorite ice cream. From caucasian women, French vanilla, to Black women, chocolate deluxe, and Puerto Rican women, butter pecan. I dare not guess what a caramel sundae is, but that too is getting touched.
Ham N' Eggs - A Tribe Called Quest
There are other hip hop songs from the ‘90s that use food in its literal form to discount its very consumption. A Tribe Called Quest’s song, Ham N’ Eggs, from the 1990 album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was one of those songs from the very first words.
I don't eat no ham n' eggs, 'cause they're high in cholesterol. Aye yo, Phife do you eat em? No, Tip, do you eat em? Uh huh, not at all.
As the lyrics state, ham and eggs are not on the plate (my limited rhyming skills), though the reason has more to do with the culture of The Five Percenters and some of its Islamic teachings around not eating pork. The song continues with all of the vegetable based dishes like collard greens, candied yams, plus an occasional steak, chicken, and…”apple sauce and some nice red beets. This is what we snack on when we're Questin' (No second guessing).”
The Pioneers of Food in Hip Hop
In hip hop, we always must give respect to the pioneers of the culture. So, when it comes to food in hip hop, those pioneers are the 1980s rap group, The Fat Boys. Prince Markie D (RIP), Kool Rock Ski, and The Human Beatbox (RIP) created iconic songs about their favorite subject—food. Decked out in Kangol hats, Cazal glasses, dookie gold chains, Adidas track suits and sneakers, they did not play around with their love of food penning songs like Jail House Rap and this funky joint, All You Can Eat from the Krush Groove movie soundtrack.
$3.99 for all you can eat? Well, I'ma stuff my face to a funky beat! We're gonna walk inside, and guess what's up. Put some food in my plate, and some Coke in my cup. Give me some chicken, franks, and fries. And you can pass me a lettuce. I'm a pass it by. So keep shoveling, (Ha!) onto my plate. Give me some sweets and lots of cake. Give me some hot macaroni and cheese! Give me some more food PLEASE!!!! Give me some bologna, salami, and ham. Toast with butter and strawberry jam. I love it whether the food is cold or hot. Put a burger on the plate, and it'll hit the spot. We'll eat everything. An incredible feat. $3.99 for all you can eat!
Thank You, Hip Hop
The ‘90s was my personal life-bridge decade and hip hop is the seed of my creative being. Songs like Protect Ya Neck by Wu-Tang Clan and N.Y. State of Mind by Nas were my hype anthems as I snarled the lyrics in the bathroom mirror to let folks know I’m comin’ through and taking names today. ‘90s hip hop set a foundation of what working in your passion could look like and it has propelled and fortified me in my career in food.
My plate is full! Thank you for taking this journey down memory lane with me in honor of the greatest decade in hip hop history, the ‘90s, and the foods of the time. Yes, there are more food references to digest, but I will leave it to you to sidle up to the hip hop “buffet” and put it on your plate.
Peace to the gods. ONE!