In the 90s, rappers found it difficult to book tours due to the perception that rap music is violent. Venues were too scared to book rapper in fear that fights or shootings would happen. Rap shows were underground and only the people that were true fans made it to the shows. In 1996, the Smokin' Grooves tour was launched and showed that rappers did not attract violence to their shows as rumored. It also showed that hip-hop tours were also in demand.
Before 1996, there were few Hip-Hop tours, but every other genre of music was flourishing off of live performances. Smokin Grooves was created as a response to Lollapalooza. Multiple classic Hip-Hop albums were released in 1996 and without live performances of those albums Hip-Hop may not have reached the amount of people it has. Smokin Grooves provide rappers the chance to hit the road and share their art. The first Smokin’ Grooves tour included Nas, The Fugees, Cypress Hill, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, and others. This tour brought these rappers out of a small bubble of low budget promo tours and put them in places that many of them have never been to before. Places like Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, Arizona, and others were getting a live dose of Hip-Hop that was not within their borders.
This tour proved that rappers were able to do more than pace the stage rhyming to recorded music. The Fugees brought a live band that often played snippets of other Hip-Hop acts in between their own hits. Busta Rhymes was so full of energy that on most tour stops he would jump in the crowd and perform.
Being one of the first major Hip-Hop tours, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Most of the venues were amphitheaters and the acoustics were not great for Hip-Hop songs. The open air took away the boisterous sound and delivery of some acts like Busta Rhymes, making him sound flat. The tour was still good enough to go on for another two years before fading away.
The Smokin’ Grooves tour was a safe bet for Hip-Hop’s image, opting to go with less abrasive acts, such as gangster rap artists that caused security concerns for venues. It was a step forward into broadening the influence of Hip-Hop. Smokin’ Grooves returned in 2002 and has expanded into an international tour with stops in Europe and Australia. Now rappers have no problem booking and selling out tours on their own.