The 1990s were full of new music, eccentric styles, and unforgettable TV shows - but out of all those, the '90s hip-hop stars who rose to fame continue to be one of the hottest topics of all. This decade was packed with big names like Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Dr. Dre, and more - all known for their poetic rhymes and unique beats. However, their public and private personas sometimes differed; these stories show what the rappers were like outside the studio.
While working with '90s hip-hop artists may have the reputation of being a difficult and demanding task, these firsthand accounts paint a different picture of what it was like being close to the stars.
- Photo: Tommy Boy / Warner Bros.
When rapper Coolio (real name Artis Leon Ivey Jr.) passed suddenly on September 28, 2022, friends and colleagues in the music industry expressed their shock and sadness. Actress Michelle Pfeiffer, who appeared with Coolio in the music video for her 1995 hit, Dangerous Minds, took to Instagram to share her own grief.
Writing that she was “heartbroken” to hear of his death, Pfeiffer gave major credit to the artist and his single, “Gangsta's Paradise,” for the film's success:
A life cut entirely too short. As some of you may know I was lucky enough to work with him on Dangerous Minds in 1995. He won a Grammy for his brilliant song on the soundtrack - which I think was the reason our film saw so much success. I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear the song. Sending love and light to his family. Rest in Power, Artis Leon Ivey Jr.
Charis Henry was just 18 years old when she became Eazy-E's assistant. She worked closely with the late rapper (real name Eric Wright) for seven years, and in that time she noted who and what were important to him. In an interview with Billboard, Henry reflected on her time with Eazy-E:
The day of that [“Express Yourself”] video shoot - it was a two-day shoot - I was just around, and [Eric] had two beepers, and he would only answer one. He said, “One is for my office; one is for my friends and family.” But he wouldn’t answer his office beeper.
After a quick audition for Missy Elliott's 2002 music video for her song Work It, Alyson Stoner quickly landed the part of a back-up dancer. The then 9-year-old remembers hundreds of kids at the audition, and it feeling surreal to hear she was hired.
Stoner reflected on her time with Elliott in a 2017 interview with Vibe, discussing how the singer truly cared about the children she worked with:
I would have never expected to work with her for that long. There were times we considered going on tour with her, and Missy and her camp just simply said, "A tour is not a good environment for kids, and we don’t want them around it." People would probably have loved to see us go off!
Now, a generation later, it’s a little more common, but at that time, it would have been us on stage with Eminem, and 50 [Cent] and these other people. Missy said, “Nah, not for the little ones.” She was thinking about our well-being the whole time, and that’s really great.
During a 2020 appearance on Naomi Campbell's radio talk show, No Filter with Naomi, R&B legend Mary J. Blige discussed what it was like to work with Biggie Smalls on their track together, "What's the 411?" Blige remembers how reserved and sweet Biggie was:
He was sweet and fun... funny jokes. When I first met Biggie, we were doing "What’s the 411" remix, and he was in the studio on the wall, smoking, quiet. And so it was time for him to go in and do his verse on the remix... he came out [of the studio] and he was like "You feeling that, mom?" And I was like "Yeah! Of course I’m feeling that!” ...so he was always just humble, and quiet, and sweet. And fun, just a lot of fun.
When DJ Clark Kent recorded "Brooklyn’s Finest" with hip-hop legends Jay-Z and Biggie, he remembered the moment Jay-Z rapped his verses entirely from memory. According to the DJ, it was at that studio session where Biggie felt inspired by Jay-Z to become a better artist.
In a 2016 interview with VladTV, Kent recalled the session:
They met each other. It wasn’t even like they had a conversation; they just started to laugh, clap hands - because there was an insane amount of respect for each other’s craft. You don’t really have to talk in those moments. Big is like mystified [at Jay-Z remembering his verses from memory]. I was like, "I told you: he don’t write no rhymes."
And from that point, Big stopped writing rhymes. He’s like, "I’m not gonna be the guy that’s gonna be here writing when this guy can do that." Even though I told [Biggie] a bunch of times, "He don’t write his rhymes down," he thought it was impossible that he could say rhymes that good without writing them down.
Although they were both well-known for their legendary work in the music world, Janet Jackson and Tupac both took a turn to acting when they starred alongside each other in the 1993 film Poetic Justice. The two spent much time together throughout the duration of filming, and Jackson remembers Tupac as a fun, wild guy.
She shared her memories of the late rapper in an interview with Bootleg Kev and DJ Hed of radio station REAL 92.3 LA:
Tupac was crazy and I adored him so... He was one way I think the way people saw him, and not to say that that wasn’t him, but he also had another side to him. He was fun and silly, and he used to call me "square" all the time. I guess because I’m very quiet, and I would just sit back and watch and laugh.
There were times where he was late for the set... we were on time and waiting patiently, and he was back at the hotel, and he would say “the longer you knock, the longer I’m going to sit in this bed.” I think he was really special, incredibly talented, and definitely an icon.