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A specific era in hiphop history. There have been many discussions about the difference between the "Old School" and the New School". One accepted view was put to words in alt.rap by Charles L. Isbell:

All of time can be divided pretty easily this way:
* Everything before "Run DMC" (Run DMC [1984])
* Everything before "It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back" (Public Enemy [1988])
It gets harder after that, but maybe you'd have to label parallel movements with stuff like:
* Everything before "Straight Outta Compton" (NWA [1988]) and "Amerikkka's Most Wanted" (Ice Cube [1990]) for the West Coast Gangsta Movement
* Everything before "3 Feet High And Rising" (De La Soul [1989]) and "Low End Theory" (A Tribe Called Quest [1991]) for the Jazz/Bohemian Movement
Others seem to think we're about to enter the Everything before "93 'Til Infinity" (Souls of Mischief [1993]) era for the Ascendency of Hieroglyphics, but I'll reserve judgement on that.
There are also several dark moments: MC Hammer ushered in the HipPop Era and Vanilla "No I really used to be rich; May I take your order?" Ice ushered in something unspeakable (Snow, if nothing else).
Hmmmmm, here's a way to pass the time: what are the key moments/movements and what albums/artists best represent them? How have they influenced the direction of rap? Making no value judgements, I'd have to say that the four most influential hiphop moments/movements are the ones I listed above and for obvious reasons.