The 90’s : Hip Hop Kids vs. Alternative Music Kid

The 1990s was a decade where young people identified strongly with either hip-hop or alternative rock. For those of us who lived through it (like you probably if you’re on this website), this wasn’t just about music; it was a lifestyle choice that influenced fashion and language, and even determined who we hung out with. Let’s dive into why such a divide existed and why today’s music fans listen to all types of music, never understanding how cool a CD holder on your visor was.


The Rise of Hip-Hop

Hip-hop emerged from the streets of New York City in the late 1970s and exploded in popularity throughout the 1980s and 90s. Representing Chicago’s own, we had Da Brat, Do or Die, and Twista. Icons like Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., and Public Enemy delivered powerful messages about social issues, life in urban America, and personal struggles. If you were a teenager in the 90s, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg made kids in suburban Chicago dream of moving to the West Coast or at least getting a satin Starter Raiders jacket.

The Alternative Revolution

On the other side of the spectrum, alternative rock, with its roots in punk and post-punk movements, offered a rebellious counter-culture vibe. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Radiohead became the voices of disaffected youth, rejecting mainstream commercialism and embracing a more authentic, DIY ethos. If you were lucky enough to sneak past your parents and head to The Empty Bottle in Wicker Park, you knew the thrill of seeing a new rock band before anyone else.

Music as Identity

In the 90s, music was a primary marker of identity. Being a hip-hop kid or an alternative music fan was not just about the music but about belonging to a community with shared values and aesthetics. Hip-hop fans adopted Tommy Hilfiger, spent lunch breaks looking at the Eastbay catalog, and spent weekends installing speaker boxes in their trunks. Meanwhile, alternative fans sported flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and band tees, showing their allegiance to the grunge movement. They hid their earrings from their parents and tried to look like Robert Smith, hoping to catch the eye of that girl in English class. (Hi Neilly Smith)

Technology Takes Over

The way music was consumed in the 90s also contributed to the divide. MTV played a pivotal role with shows like “Yo! MTV Raps” and “120 Minutes,” catering to hip-hop and alternative audiences, respectively. Ed Lover and Kennedy were almost as popular as the artists whose videos they played. Radio stations were similarly segregated, like early Q101 and B96. Music was purchased in physical formats like CDs and tapes, making it less accessible to explore different genres compared to today’s digital streaming platforms. Simply put, your allowance didn’t go far when shopping at Sam Goody in the Chicago Place Mall.

 A Time of Distinct Musical Identities

The 1990s were a time of distinct musical identities, with fans often choosing sides between hip-hop and alternative rock. This divide was shaped by cultural, social, and technological factors that reinforced strong group identities. Today, the landscape has changed dramatically. The digital age has ushered in an era of genre fluidity, making it easier for people to appreciate a wide range of musical styles. For those who experienced the 90s, the shift might seem remarkable, but it also highlights the ever-evolving nature of music and its role in our lives.

Whether you were a hip-hop kid or an alternative music fan, the 90s music scene was a defining part of your youth—a golden age of music. Sorry, Beatles fans. When you’re ready to recapture that feeling of being just a bit younger, back when music was still great (sorry, Tame Impala fans), turn on 95.9 The River. This station loved R.E.M. way before their song became the theme for “Get A Life,” the show with Chris Elliott. Yes, the same guy from “Schitt’s Creek” had his own show! Man, we are getting old.

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