Mellow Man Ace represents Latino culture, Usher and Rihanna make their debuts, Kanye West crushes the sophomore slump and more — it all happened on this day in hip-hop history.
1989: Mellow Man Aces Releases Escape from Havana
Cuban-American rapper/songwriter Mellow Man Ace dropped his debut album, Escape From Havana, and scored a hit with the Spanglish song, "Mentirosa." Ace was a founding member of California rap group Cypress Hill (along with his brother Sen Dog), but left the group in 1988. A year later, he released his breakout solo album, and followed it up with 1992's Brother With Two Tongues. After that, he all but disappeared from the music scene, showing up only sporadically to drop four more albums over the next two decades, while also making movie and soundtrack appearances. However, "Mentirosa," produced by Tony G, remains his biggest hit to date, and is considered a significant bridge-building moment in bringing the Latino community to the forefront of hip-hop.
"The song 'Mentirosa' opened many doors not just for me but for Latinos as a whole," Mellow Man Ace said in a 2011 interview with A New Podcast. "For me it gave me an exit visa to travel the world many times. I’ve been fortunate to have met thousands of good, and not-so good-characters who either live, or pretend to live this as a culture. The song also typecasted me much like a child actor at times, but I have learned to take the good with the bad over the years. But over-all I give the song credit for giving me a great life on and off the field."
1994: Usher drops Usher
Usher made his debut at the age of 15, with his self-titled album. Executive produced by Sean "Diddy" Combs and L.A. Reid, the record found Usher trying to find his groove, with production work courtesy of Al B. Sure! (who also worked extensively with Usher's counterpart, Tevin Campbell) and Chucki Booker. The album, which is certified gold, produced minor R&B hits, including the sexy "Can U Get Wit It" and the mellow jam, "Think of You." Usher talked about the album and how he signed with LaFace specifically to work with Babyface, but was initially met with disappointment.
“…When I first signed to LaFace Records, I wanted to do an album with Babyface and LA Reid, right?" he told Questlove on Questlove Supreme in 2017. "I signed specifically for that reason. So L.A. Reid wanted Babyface to work on me and they were going through, you know, a lot of drama at the time. They were kinda severing their ties … And [Babyface] built an entire album for me, and he gave the whole album to somebody else…Tevin Campbell!”
Usher's breakout record came three years later in 1997, with his six-times platinum release, My Way, on which he worked with Atlanta's Jermaine Dupri.
2005: Kanye West's Late Registration Arrives
Kanye West's first three albums — College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation — are all certified rap classics, and Album of the Year Grammy nominees. It's a feat no one else has accomplished, except for Kendrick Lamar, who achieved similar commercial and critical success with his first three major label records, all of which were also nominated for Album of the Year.
When Late Registration dropped in 2005, West was already viewed as a hip-hop phenom, thanks to the success of his innovative, game-changing debut, College Dropout, as well as his supreme production talent, which could be heard everywhere—from Alicia Keys to Jay-Z. Anticipation for his second album was high, and the Chicago native defied the notorious sophomore slump, delivering a classic hip-hop record, which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 and earned eight Grammy nominations in all. The album produced a number of mainstream and hip-hop hits, including "Gold Digger" (featuring Jamie Foxx), "Heard 'Em Say" (featuring Adam Levine), and "Touch the Sky" (featuring fellow Chi-town native, Lupe Fiasco).
2005: Tony Yayo Releases Thoughts of a Predicate Felon
Fresh off the "Free Yayo" campaign launched by 50 Cent and Eminem to have him released from federal prison, G-Unit rapper Tony Yayo dropped his debut, Thoughts of a Predicate Felon in 2005. The album arrived on the same day that Kanye West released Late Registration, and finished just behind it — at No. 2, with 215,000 copies sold — on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The record was bolstered by the lead single, "So Seductive," featuring 50 Cent, who also served as the album's executive producer.
"The first album was definitely a classic, it went gold and platinum worldwide, so I'm happy for that," Tony told The Boombox back in 2015.
2005: Rihanna Debuts With Music of the Sun
Rihanna made her Def Jam debut in 2005 with the moderately successful, Music of the Sun. After auditioning for Jay-Z and L.A. Reid in Def Jam's offices, the Barbados-born singer was signed on the spot.
“I knew it was all or nothing,” she recalled in a 2009 interview with Glamour. “Right away, the Def Jam people said, ‘You can’t leave the building.’ They closed the door, and the lawyers stayed until 1AM or 2AM to do the deal.”
The album debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and spawned the No. 2 hit "Pon De Replay." The next single, the summery “If It’s Lovin’ That You Want,” didn't fare as well on the charts but did prove that Rihanna could craft solid songs. Though her debut was successfully introduced her as a new face on the pop/R&B scene, she would not achieve superstar status until her 2008 hit, "Umbrella," from her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad