These "rewind" columns are a chance to take a look back at hip-hop history, but they also allow me to point out events that were going on in the world that shaped the outlook of people living in that era of history. One positive sign in 1988 was directly attributable to the man with the unmistakable birthmark to your right. Mikhail Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of what we knew at the time as the Soviet Union, which had been engaged in a "cold war" for decades with the United States, leading to a dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons and a lot of war-by-proxy in places like Nicaragua we were afraid would become satellite Soviet states (which also caused the Iran-Contra Affair here).
Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader who decided that the cost of these wars in lives and resources (particularly a disastrous campaign in Afghanistan) was a mistake and that it was time for a "rethink" of state policy. He introduced a period of glasnost (translation: openness) with increased transparency of government activities and greater freedom of the press concurrent to relaxed surpression of political dissent. He directly engaged the United States in talks which led over the years to a reduction in stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, the dissolution of the Berlin Wall (and reunification of Germany) and perhaps most significantly the feeling of hope that perhaps a nuclear war was NOT inevitable. 1988 seemed at the time like a change was in the air, that suddenly anything was possible, and (sorry if this sounds like a hippie sentiment) people really COULD live together in harmony.
The "golden era" of hip-hop to me is exemplified by 1988 - a year in which local, national and international politics all seemed to converge in greater freedom of expression and the feeling of change for the better in the air. There's little doubt that some of what rap turned an eye on was ugly - racism, police brutality, false history and corruption - but bringing the darkness to light only benefited everyone long-term. Even the non-political rap seemed to have more of a spark - there was a feeling that hip-hop was FUN and not trapped by the boring cliches of rock music. Here's how rap videos reflected that freedom of expression and fun back in 1988.