History project


Questlove from the Roots claimed that Hip-Hop peaked in 1994 (Vulture interview part 1,2,3,4,5,6). While I love the 98-02 Rawkus era, it is hard not to look at the early 90s and see some classics.

Dre’s Chronic, Nas’s Illmatic, The Pharcyde’s Bizzare Ride II, Biggie’s Ready to Die, Wu-Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)…

Is there any way to analyse Questlove’s assertion? Well, it would require A LOT of data. Using the reviews I have gathered in my discography project I also gathered the release date.

This means I have a list of albums, ratings and dates… plug them into a graph and let’s see what we get below.

However, it’s not that easy:

  • Some albums don’t have release dates – I’ve assumed the first of the month/year when I’m missing data
  • Allmusic, and most ratings, are historical before the internet became a big thing, so there will be bias towards older classics
  • A linked, but separate, issue is that of historical perspective – early albums are only looked back fondly and reviewed, current albums are reviewed within their own era

I have used two different measures. The first is mean values per year, and the second is the number of ‘elite’ albums. I have classified these as albums with ratings of 90 or above.

The Results

Still not sure what this all means just yet. I don’t think we have enough data to really conclude.

The trendline shows a gradual decline in quality over the years, but there are a number of factors to explain that.

The relative number of ‘elite’ albums against those included in our database is an interesting one. It looks like the late 80s and early 90s perform better.


Inconclusive, come back later.

What does look interesting is Graph 5; there are two definite change points (as at 900 albums added). These occur in 1988 and 2004. Between this years, there is an increased gradient, which would indicate a greater frequency of 90+ rated albums. This would suggest a ‘golden age’.