I started driving in 1998. It was a glorious time. I was inheriting the family Ford Escort Station Wagon (mine was silver) and I was about to taste true freedom for the first time.

As a teenager waiting to drive, I had imagined all of the great things that driving could bring. Finally, I'd be free to do what I wanted when I wanted. I'd be free from depending on parents or other people for rides. I could leave for school in the mornings whenever I wanted. I could drive really fast on the highway. I could drive really slow on the highway. I could look forward to running errands and going all over town. But I never realized the hidden gem of driving: being able to listen to music while driving a car.

Now, I've always liked rap music, but I don't think I ever really loved rap music until I started driving. There's something incredibly gratifying about flying down the highway in a station wagon absolutely blasting rap music and screaming out the lyrics during a Detroit summer/winter. I would volunteer for errands in my household just so I could drive around and listen to music. So I could hop out of my car in the Meijer's or Farmer Jack's parking lot with my trunk/hatchback trunk rattling. Also, none of this would have been able to happen if I hadn't owned 1) a Sony Discman and 2) a car adaptor for my Sony Discman (by far one of the most important inventions in history). So, what does this all mean? Well, here goes:

I think that the combination of my new found freedom along with rappers going completely bonkers and releasing a slate of classics in late 1998 and early 1999 (actually 1997-2000), made that period the GREATEST PERIOD IN RAP HISTORY (sorry to go all Bill Simmons on you).

Scoff all you will. I don't care. I'd put up that time period up against any period you want (of course, you might be right, but I'm writing this blog post so you can eat a dick).

So what made this period so great? For me, as I've already stated, it was the fact that I could drive. Also, it was the last period where I really remember being excited to go to a record store and physically buy a CD. I graduated high school in 2000 and after graduation it was all CD-burners, Napster, and eventually iTunes. Buying a physical CD was never really that important to me after I left high school. So, I inevitably look back on that period with a heightened sense of nostalgia. Just like our parents look back on buying .45s (the records, not the guns).

So, we've got 1) driving and 2) buying actual CDs. And, of course, we've got the music.

I'd have to say that the defining artist of my high school career was DMX. My friend and I had a grand plan to memorize the lyrics to "Ruff Ryders Anthem" and perform it at our school's talent show wearing wife beaters, silver chains, and winter ski hats. We were going to bark and everything. It was going to be awesome. DMX would go on an unbelievable tear over the next year. He released "It's Dark and Hell is Hot," "Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood," and "...And then there was X" in a year and a half span that can only be described as shock and awe. I even freaking quoted him in my high school graduation speech. He was about as real as it gets. Then he got deep into crack and fell off the face of the earth.

At the same time, Jay-Z released "Vol 2" and between "Hard Knock Life" (he sampled freaking Annie - and for the next two years every rapper had the obligatory kids-singing-the-chorus song on their CD) and "Can I Get A...." (one song where the radio version absolutely does 0 justice to the real version - Can i get a what what?) he was absolutely dominant. That CD is when Jay-Z became Jay-Z. It started his meteoric rise.

Method Man and Redman also released solo albums at that time and collaborated on a album also. The video for "I'll Be Dat" is one of the better rap videos ever made. And the Chris Rock skit on "Tical 2000" is probably the only rap skit I listen to all the way through.

Between those 4 artists, Def Jam was on a major tear. Also, Def Squad (Redman, Erick Sermon, and Keith Murray) put out one of the most underrated albums that year - "El Nino." I mean, how great is that title?? The Hard Knock Life tour was HUGE, it was the precursor to the even bigger Up In Smoke tour, and I didn't go see it. Why didn't I see it? Because I was at school, laying out the latest edition of the my high school newspaper. I was a monster douche.

In the next year, the LOX released their debut album, Eminem would burst onto the scene, Dre would release the Chronic 2001 (oddly named because it was released in 1999), OutKast would release "Aquemini" and head down the path to become really weird, Big Pun released a song saying that you couldn't measure his dick with six rulers, and No Limit and Cash Money would release approximately 4,567 CDs (and all of them would have horrible, awful cover art). Extra side note: my dad picked up my Discman one day when I was listening to Master P's "Ghetto D" and he listened to the first song. About 5 minutes later he walked into my room, looking extremely disappointed and asked me what was so great about listening to songs about turning crack into cocaine. I put away my Pyrex pots covered in yayo, turned to him and said, "It's just music, Dad."

EVERYONE released albums then. Albums were big. They were huge. Somehow all of this was tied back to the Clinton years, the booming national economy at the time, and the impending doom of Y2K. It was like everyone was putting out albums because they knew that people would actually buy the things and because they were afraid that the world was going to blow up on December 31, 1999. It was awesome...and we were idiots for being afraid of Y2K.

Reading back on the last few paragraphs I'm realizing that it's absolutely impossible for me to do a good job of conveying how great this period was. That's probably because most of my reasons for really loving that period in rap music lie in the fact that I can identify specific songs on those CDs that matched up with some of my favorite memories from back in the day. Either way, if you don't get why this period was so great, that's my fault (actually, it's probably your fault), but the important thing that I want to get across is that it meant a lot to me. And rap music hasn't been the same ever since.

And here's a muxtape for you to listen to if you're interest is peaked. Seriously, listen to it, it's awesome (I really wanted to get Juvenile and Master P on there but I don't have the right type of digital file to upload).

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