By Chaz Kangas
September 11th brought irrevocable change to our society, and the music industry was no exception. It was also a very strange time; both rap group The Coup and metal band Dream Theater released album covers with the World Trade Center in flames. Radio DJs across the country, meanwhile, were forced to consider if it was appropriate to play “Bootylicious.”
The day of the attacks was actually a quarterly “Super Tuesday,” an important day for the music industry when numerous big name releases were unleashed simultaneously. Hip-hop titan Jay-Z launched The Blueprint — considered by many to be the best rap album of the aughts — while Bob Dylan returned to form with “Love and Theft“, the 2001 Pazz and Jop album of the year winner, and one of the most decisive in history. Then there was metal icon Slayer's exceptionally heavy — but unfortunately titled — God Hates Us All and Mariah Carey's first release under her $100 million Virgin contract, the Glitter soundtrack.
Prior to September 11th, mainstream radio was dominated by Shaggy and Linkin Park, two artists who would have sounded dramatically out of place a year prior. 2001's biggest releases so far had been Staind's Breaking the Cycle and N*SYNC's Celebrity, the last gasp of rap-influenced nu-metal and boy bands, respectively. Amidst this chaos, September 11th was supposed to chart an entirely new course – and it did.
Radio stations and record labels immediately switched direction after the towers collapsed, from the re-release of Whitney Houston's “Star-Spangled Banner” Super Bowl performance to the reemergence of Lee Greenwood's “God Bless the USA.” (Some artists' 9/11 responses were good, while others were not so good.) There was the MTV-assembled all star “What's Going On” remake (originally intended for AIDS in Africa relief) and compilations like The Concert for New York City and America: A Tribute to Heroes. (The latter's bizarre pairing of Limp Bizkit with Johnny Rzenick really exemplified how united Americans were.)
But it was the blockbuster September 11 albums that really set the tone for the next decade of music. Rock music felt it the most, with Nickleback's breakthrough smash Silver Side Up and P.O.D.'s Satellite. These albums bared both a melodic idealism and rugged emotion that struck a chord with listeners for whom “Nookie” was no longer enough.
Just as vulnerable was Jay-Z's The Blueprint, in which he both vented his frustrations against rival Nas and waxed poetic about his mother and the neighborhood he grew up in. The work convinced a generation of rap artists that showing both sides of their personalities was the formula for a classic. “Love and Theft” gave listeners a certain comfort with a reliable voice that was there when needed.
Perhaps Dylan's was the most indicative of these September 11th releases, ultimately showing that if there's one thing Americans wanted, it was to go back to the way things were before.