Hip-Hop's Golden Age Is a Moving Target

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- In the early 1990s, I went to high school at a Catholic school in Montclair, N.J., whose student body seemed to come from just about everywhere else.

The Montclair that Stephen Colbert calls home today beckons New Yorkers to come out to New Jersey and raise their children in its Bourgeois Bohemian enclave dotted with arthouse theaters, galleries, organic groceries and antique shops. When I went to Immaculate Conception, however, it was still a historically diverse middle class town flavored by the working class towns around it. My grandfather drove me in from Belleville, my classmates came from East Orange, Newark, Bloomfield and elsewhere and everybody took home a lesson.

I remember one of my friends coming up to me and asking if I was OK the day after Kurt Cobain died. I remember my mom thinking about keeping me out of the school's walkathon the day after the Rodney King verdict, lest my nonwhite classmates suddenly think I looked too much like Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates and fly into a rage.

The small, superficial portion I remembered most, however, was hip-hop. Beyond the anti-crime Self Destruction compilation and the occasional Run DMC song or novelty single like UTFO's Roxanne Roxanne or Newcleus' Jam On It, I didn't get much exposure to hip-hop in junior high and was genuinely surprised when I came into school freshman year and nobody was listening to M.C. Hammer, Young MC or Technotronic. On the first day, my English teacher Mr. Taylor called one of my classmates a fool for having a notebook with Eazy-E from N.W.A. on its cover. When that classmate refused to switch, Mr. Taylor threw him out.

Within the next four years, I'd get a taste of a little bit of everything. I'd get to listen to Das Efx, Eric B and Rakim and Pete Rock & CL Smooth in the locker room. I remember sitting in Pizza Hut during their lunch buffet on one of our school's half days and a friend unwrapping a brand new copy of KRS-One's Return of The Boom Bap. The first time I heard then Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle was in the back of social studies class from a friend's Sony Discman.