15. Arrested Development
Founded in 1988 by rapper Speech (Todd Thomas) and turntablist Headliner (Timothy Barnwell), Arrested Development was the happy, upbeat, woke hip-hop group of the early 90s. During the birth of gangsta rap, Arrested Development’s afro-centric look into black culture stood out in a way that got them critical notice but also probably led to a limiting of their success. Honestly, they would probably have more traction if they started today rather than back when they did.
Arrested Development (who, yes, did sue FOX over the TV show of the same name) is undoubtably best remembered for their 1992 album 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in the Life of…” This album would win Album of the Year in Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop’s Critics Poll. That is an amazing award, because 1992 also featured Common’s Can I Borrow a Dollar, Ice Cube’s The Predator, Beastie Boys Check Your Head, and most amazingly Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. They would go on to win two Grammys in 1993 for Best New Artist and Best Performance by a Duo or Group and were Rolling Stone’s 1993 Band of the Year.
The success of this album is built around its first single, which hit #1 on the R&B charts in 1992, “Tennessee” a track that sampled Prince’s “Alphabet Street” without permission, but also was a deeply personal examination about what to do when your world starts falling apart. It also examines going back to your roots, regardless of how painful it might be. The lines “Where the ghost of childhood haunts me, walk the roads my forefathers walked, climb the trees my forefathers hung from ask those trees for all their wisdom they tell me my ears are so young” are some of the most powerful lines in the early 90s. “Tennessee” would be followed by two other charting songs off the same record, “People Everyday” (peaked at #8) and the slightly sappy “Mr. Wendal” (#6), a musical biopic about a homeless man for which they did donate half of the proceeds to homeless shelters. Following the success of 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days they also drew the notice of Spike Lee who had them contribute “Revolution” to the Malcolm X soundtrack.
But just when things seemed to be at their peak, their sophomore album Zingalamaduni was not as successful. Where their first album was a breath of fresh air, their second seemed preachy. The group did not recover from the disappointment and went their separate ways in 1996. And while they reunited with a rotating lineup starting in 2000 and have released an additional nine albums, including two last year, they have never come close to representing the success of their first album.
Which begs the question, they seem like a one album wonder why are they this high? First, their high was pretty high. Two Grammys, album of the year, and Band of the Year from Rolling Stone doesn’t just happen to everybody. And two, while in many ways they have become a bit of a joke (except for “Tennessee”) within the hip-hop community, they are the most likely pet project band in this group for someone to fall in love with. The history of the Rock Hall and who gets elected is littered with pet projects. And just being a pet project does not mean you will get elected. For every Percy Sledge there has been a Procol Harum. For every Darlene Love a J.B.’s. But that will likely get them some consideration.
And why? Because by the standards of 2017, while their music hasn’t necessarily stood up, the sentiments of their music have. They were woke before woke was a thing. In many ways, and I understand how damning this sentence is to someone in the Hip-Hop community, they are the modern white east coast liberal’s dream. A group of black people expressing themselves about the troubles within their community. And those white east coast liberals? That is basically who makes up the nominating committee (?estlove being one of the few exceptions) and a lot of the electorate. Will they get in? I don’t think so. But if for some strange reason the Lord leads them to Cleveland would I be shocked? No. And that’s why you end up at #15 ahead of more successful acts.
Sublime’s sound was an interesting mashup of punk, reggae, ska, surf rock, metal, and even a touch of hip hop and rap. Despite their growing underground following, the coalescence of all of these influences into one sound left venues doubtful about booking the band. So how do you find a place to play when no one will book you? You create your own production company. That company? Skunk Records, run by Happoldt. The weird sounding band Sublime? Not interested. The Skunk Records recording artists Sublime? A lot more palatable. They began to play lots of venues around Southern California with other ska bands, including fellow first time eligible (and yet to be seen on the list) No Doubt.
It was under the Skunk Records label that they recorded their first album, 1992’s 40oz. to Freedom. It was a track off of this album “Date Rape” that first got airplay for them in Southern California in late 1991. Despite being a homemade record, the album would eventually go 2x platinum. Not a bad way to break into an industry that was not really interested in letting you in in the first place. Their second album, 1994’s Robbin’ the Hood would go gold, but it was their third album, their self-titled Sublime album released on MCA Records in 1996 that would make them international superstars.
Unfortunately, Nowell would not live to see that fame. Sublime was on the original Sno-Core Tour and performed in San Francisco as part of that tour on May 24th, 1996. The next day, just over a week after he got married, Nowell would be found dead of a heroin overdose in his hotel room. Sublime had also finished recording their magnum opus (if a third wave ska band could have such a thing) just a few weeks before. Sublime (the album) would go platinum 6x over. Single “What I Got” would hit #1 on the Alt Rock charts. Follow ups “Santeria” and “Wrong Way” would both go to #3 on the same chart and “Doin’ Time” would hit #28. “April 29, 1992” about the Los Angeles riots would also get heavy airplay across the country.
There would be no follow up. While there were several posthumous compilation albums, the surviving members of the band had no interest in continuing to tour under the Sublime name. Wilson, Gaugh, and Happolt would start a new band, the Long Beach Dub Allstars where they would continue to play together until 2002. In 2009, Wilson and Gaugh tried to perform again under the Sublime name, replacing Nowell with Rome Ramirez, but were blocked from doing so by Nowell’s estate. Eventually they settled on the Sublime with Rome name. They have released two albums so far to moderate success.
So why is a band that has only three albums, no Top 40 hits, and a lead singer who died before they ever got famous end up at #14? Because they were originals. They were the forefathers of both the third wave of ska, also called “ska punk”, which includes bands like No Doubt, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Reel Big Fish, and of reggae fusion. And their influence on music in the 90s is evident. The death of Bradley Nowell is widely considered to be one of the greatest losses to music in the decade. Short time span plus huge shadow tends to garner votes notice. Honestly, I originally had these guys much higher at #6 on my list. But after doing the research I was forced to move them back. The short time frame plus the huge names still to come make it likely that they could get lost in the first year shuffle and once lost it is sometimes hard to get found again. But hey, they got a Dalmatian and the 14th spot on this list.
- Hootie & the Blowfish
They played together through college at which point Smith left to pursue music ministry and was replaced on drums by former Gamecocks soccer player Jim Sonefeld. They continued after college, playing clubs around Columbia and releasing their own EPs in 1991 and 1992. It is this second EP, Kootchypop, (which contained “Hold My Hand” and “Only Want to Be with You”) that was repressed and released in 1993, that their eligibility for this year’s Hall class is based on. They were signed to Atlantic records in 1993 and released their debut album in 1994, Cracked Rear View. And what a debut it was.
Cracked Rear View, which in my opinion is what their eligibility should be based on (meaning they’d be eligible in two years), is one of the fastest selling debut albums of all time. It was the top selling album of 1995 and went platinum 16x over. Let me repeat that… 16x over. To put that in perspective, Janis Joplin has only sold 15.5 million albums total. Hootie did that with their debut album, plus 500,000 records. It is the 14th bestselling album of all time. It would have four top 20 hits on the Billboard chart, “Only Wanna Be with You” (#6), “Let Her Cry” (#9), “Hold My Hand (#10), and “Time” (#14). They would also win the Grammys for Best Pop Performance by a Group or Duo for “Let Her Cry” as well as Best New Artist in 1996 on the strength of this album.
They would hit the charts again with “I Go Blind” (#13) off the Friends soundtrack, before releasing their follow up album Fairweather Johnson in 1996. This was not as favorably received. In a 2010 article, Pitchfork Media was included on the Top Career Killing Albums of the 1990s. Although for a career killing album, it still debuted at #1 and went platinum 3x over. It also gave them two more top 40 hits, “The Old Man and Me (When I Get to Heaven)” (#13) and Tucker’s Town (#38). And their following album 1998’s Musical Chairs would also go platinum with only minor hit “I Will Wait” to support it. They would go on to release two more albums before breaking up in 2008 so Rucker could pursue a solo career in country music. Whenever my career ends, I hope it fail as well as they did.
Hootie stood out as a blues/rock/pop fusion band in a sea of grunge when they came out. Their success was at the highest of highs and their lows, while really not that low, made them seem like they were a less successful band than they actually were. But the 14th best selling album of all-time, seven top 40 hits, two Grammys, and honestly Darius Rucker’s success as a country artist are all factors working in their favor. Ultimately, I don’t think Hootie will ever get in (although you have to wonder if they had a less ridiculous name if their career would be seen in a different light), but they reached heights that no other college band that started in a bathroom ever has. And Darius Rucker got to make a music video with his idol Dan Marino. So they’ve got that going for them.
- Rage Against the Machine
The band itself was founded when guitarist Tom Morello was getting disillusioned with his original group Lock Up. The drummer of Lock Up, Jon Knox, realized Morello wanted to leave and encouraged two of his friends, bass player Tom Commerford and singer/rapper Zach de la Rocha, to jam with Morello. They picked up drummer Brad Wilk, who had previously unsuccessfully auditioned for Lock Up and named themselves after a song that La Rocha had written for his previous group Inside Out.
They were pretty much instantly successful as a group. They released only four albums as a unit, but each has gone at least platinum. Their debut album was the self-titled "Rage Against the Machine" and had the same name and continued many of the same songs as their 12 song demo tape. It went triple platinum on the strength of "Killing in the Name" which went platinum in its own right as a single.
This album and the combination of hard rock and rap that it put out there, launched RATM to being Hard Rock Gods. "Rage Against the Machine" is also #368 on Rolling Stones' top 500 albums of all time. They followed it up with 1996's "Evil Empire" featuring "Bulls on Parade" and the Grammy Award winning "Tire Me". They won a second Grammy for "Guerilla Radio" off of 1999's "The Battle of Los Angeles" and then had a series of strange events that led to the break up of the band. These included storming the New York Stock Exchange during a music video shoot causing the riot doors to close, Commeford's spending the night in jail after scaling the scaffolding over the stage at the 2000 Grammy Awards when Limp Bizkit won best Hard Rock Band, and (although this is more a badge of honor than anything), having ALL of their songs deemed "Lyrically Questionable" by the 2001 Clear Channel Memorandum after 9/11.
While La Rocha went off to a solo career and some collaborations with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Morello, Wilk, and Commerford picked up Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and went on to commercial success as Audioslave, And while they have reunited many times over the years, as a overtly left-leaning band this has happened particularly for Liberal causes and events, they haven't put out any new music since 2001. Although they claim they have never truly broken up. Even as Morello, Wilk, and Commerford have picked up Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill to create a new super group called Prophets of Rage.
Regardless, their odds of being nominated are rather high, but you’ll notice not as high as last year when I had them at #3. Why? Because honestly, I covered them last year and there are 11 new acts I see as having a legitimate shot at getting in the Hall someday. Tom Morello is one of the 24-28 members (depending on who you believe) of the Rock Hall's Nominating Committee. And while the only thing better than knowing someone on the Committee is being on the Committee yourself. And while this year’s crop is much stronger than last year, they still probably have the fourth or fifth best chance, which is where they should be on the list.
So I expect Rage to be nominated at some point soon, but again I want to focus on the bands definitely eligible for the first time this year. So while you are pondering my inconsistencies on the list, please enjoy the video that I think best describes the band's political theory 2000's "Testify" directed by Michael Moore. This is the video they were recording when they stormed the NYSE and the comment at the end seems appropriate for the political climate this year as well.
Common debuted in 1992 with his first album Can I Borrow a Dollar? It is the first of three albums (including 1994’s Resurrection and 1997’s One Day It Will All Make Sense, which featured collaborations with Lauryn Hill, Cee-Lo Green, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, and De La Soul among others) of his that gathered critical acclaim but little in the way of record sales. He started writing and collaborating with many of the artists above in a hip hop collective in New York, called the Soulquarians. The Soulquarians are in many ways a who’s who of late 90’s early 2000’s hip hop, with ?uestlove helming the group and Erykah Badu, Bilal, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, J Dilla, and D’Angelo (among others as members).
One Day, which eschewed gangsta rap, was enough to catch the ear of a major label, MCA, and his first major label release 2000’s Like Water for Chocolate, produced and created through his collaborations the Soulquarians, went gold. The first single from this album “The Light” was his first to hit the top 50 on the Billboard chart. He followed this up with his first acting credit in 2002’s Brown Sugar and contributed his greatest hit, a collaboration with Badu called “Love of My Life (an Ode to Hip Hop)”, to the soundtrack. “Love of My Life hit #1 on the R&B charts and #9 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately his 2002 solo effort Electric Circus, despite its critical acclaim, was not able to capitalize off of this success.
He would move to Los Angeles with J Dilla, rooming with him until Dilla died of Lupus in 2006. During this time he started collaborating with Kanye West, appearing on his 2004 3x platinum album The College Drop-Out on “Get Em High” (with fellow Soulquarium Talib Kweli). He signed with West’s label GOOD Music and his next two albums would both go Gold, 2005’s Be and 2007’s Finding Forever. It would be his collaboration with John Legend “Glory” from the soundtrack of the 2013 movie Selma is what would win him both a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
So Common is a legend in the industry in many ways with many friends in the industry. And he is the only Hip Hop artist who has ever approached an EGOT. Even if he has never had a single one of his eleven albums platinum and only three go gold. When it comes to the Hall however, ?uestlove is on the Nominating Committee, wields a ton of influence (it is said that he single handedly got Hall and Oates elected to the Hall) and likely to be there for a long time. That makes it more likely that all the Soulquarians will have a leg up when they have a chance to be nominated. While the presence of both Dr. Dre and Wu Tang Clan this year seems to put Common third on the list (and the thrice nominated LL Cool J is still out there as well), his stature within the Hip Hop community and his list of awards bodes well for him if and when he ever gets the nomination.
Here is my favorite of his videos, which probably could have served as Taraji P. Henson’s “Empire” audition, “Testify” off of his 2005 Be album.