The general phenylpropanoid metabolism generates an enormous array of secondary metabolites based on the few intermediates of the shikimate pathway as the core unit. The resulting hydroxycinnamic acids and esters are amplified in several cascades by a combination of reductases, oxygenases, and transferases to result in an organ and developmentally specific pattern of metabolites, characteristic for each plant species. During the last decade, methodology driven targeted and non-targeted approaches in several plant species have enabled the identification of the participating enzymes of this complex biosynthetic machinery, and revealed numerous genes, enzymes, and metabolites essential for regulation and compartmentation. Considerable success in structural and computational biology, combined with the analytical sensitivity to detect even trace compounds and smallest changes in the metabolite, transcript, or enzyme pattern, has facilitated progress towards a comprehensive view of the plant response to its biotic and abiotic environment. Transgenic approaches have been used to reveal insights into an apparently redundant gene and enzyme pattern required for functional integrity and plasticity of the various phenylpropanoid biosynthetic pathways. Nevertheless, the function and impact of all members of a gene family remain to be completely established. This review aims to give an update on the various facets of the general phenylpropanoid pathway, which is not only restricted to common lignin or flavonoid biosynthesis, but feeds into a variety of other aromatic metabolites like coumarins, phenolic volatiles, or hydrolyzable tannins.