XXL has been in existence for more than 10 years now. (Perhaps you noticed the sirloin-thick anniversary issue that tilted your local newsstand six months back.) In that time, since September 1997, we’ve put out 99 magazines covering, as the saying goes, hip-hop on a higher level—all the moments that made the music mean so much.
It should be noted, of course, that 1997 is significant for another reason. The death of the Notorious B.I.G. in March of that year closed what stands as the most momentous chapter in hip-hop history: the great Brooklyn MC’s rivalry with his California counterpoint, Tupac Shakur. In that light, the XXL era can be seen as the post–Biggie-Tupac era.
As we watch and wait to learn what will define the future, we cast an eye back at what we’ve witnessed so far. In celebration of our 100th issue, here are the 100 biggest hip-hop moments of our time.
#8: EMINEM SIGNS TO AFTERMATH
MARCH 9, 1998. LOS ANGELES.
Canibus once said, “The greatest rapper of all time died on March 9.” While the 1997 murder of the Notorious B.I.G. will forever mark the ninth day of the third month on hip-hop’s calendar, another great MC celebrates the date for happier reasons. In 1998, on the one-year anniversary of Biggie’s death, Eminem officially became the cornerstone artist of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment.
Childhood friend and fellow D12 rapper Bizarre understands the impact of Em and Dre’s union. “Marshall was looking at smaller labels, like Duck Down, Fat Beats and Rawkus,” he says. “If he had went with all those underground labels, I think he would have just been one of those guys that was respected as a dope lyricist in the underground circuit. I don’t think it would’ve gotten to the level that it got to without Dre.”
The relationship has been mutually beneficial. Following his departure from Death Row Records, Dre’s first two album-length projects were failures: his 1996 compilation disc, Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath, and rap supergroup the Firm’s underwhelming 1997 debut, The Album, which he co–executive produced. Dre’s redemption came with the release of Eminem’s 1999 debut, The Slim Shady LP. Going platinum in a quick five weeks, the album—which currently stands at more than five million sold—proved the G-funk creator’s Midas touch was still intact and sent hip-hop into the 21st century with a new, racially charged mandate.
Fashion designer Maurice Malone, who founded Detroit’s famed Hip-Hop Shop, where Eminem earned his stripes battling in the early ’90s, acknowledges the effect on the culture. “His music related to inner-city kids and White kids that wanted to be Black,” says Malone. “It was an unlimited audience, and he was the guy that proved that in hip-hop—worldwide, overseas, everywhere.”
The Slim Shady LP was immediately followed by Dre’s seven-times platinum sophomore effort, 2001, which spawned such hits as the Eminem-assisted “Forgot About Dre.” The pair proved their success wasn’t a fluke, when Eminem’s monstrous second set, The Marshall Mathers LP, took home the 2001 Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year and sold more than 10 million copies. After numbers like that, it wasn’t long before Dre gave Eminem his own label imprint, Shady Records, which has released platinum projects from D12 (2001’s Devil’s Night) and Obie Trice (2003’s Cheers).
However, the clearest manifestation of the power of the partnership would come to light with Em and Dre’s joint signing of 50 Cent in 2002. Exploding on the scene in February 2003, the dynamic duo’s Queens-bred protégé broke SoundScan records with his Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and gave birth to the mighty G-Unit brand.
All told, in historical terms, Eminem’s signing is more responsible than any other event for making Aftermath’s distributor, Interscope Records, the dominant force it is in today’s music biz—more than 50 million in album sales directly connectable to the day the pens hit the paper.
“Eminem has gone way beyond what anyone that grew up with him expected,” says Malone. “He’s continuing to do things in an amazing way—way beyond everybody’s expectations.”—ANSLEM SAMUEL
THIS IS ONLY A PREVIEW!
Read the full “100 Moments” countdown in the 100th issue of XXL, on stands now!