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list Dec 2 2016 Written by

Top 100 Hip Hop Albums Of The 1990s

top hip hop albums 1990s

The 1970s were the decade in which Hip Hop was born, witnessed solely by the happy few who were there. The 1980s saw Hip Hop grow from a local phenomenon to a fledgling worldwide musical genre, with Hip Hop albums steadily starting to be released from the mid- eighties on. The 1990s were the first full decade in which Hip Hop albums were being released, with classic records coming out every single year.

Obviously, not everyone (or no one…) will agree 100% with the order on this list- but that’s exactly why these lists exist: to have a healthy discussion about the music we all love.

So please do weigh in if you have a different opinion. Don’t just say 2Pac should be number 1, 2 and 3 – but also explain why you think so. And when saying this or that album should be higher on the list, also state which one(s) should be lower – after all: they can not all be in the Top 10. Go ahead: enjoy & disqus!

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1. Nas - Illmatic (1994)

best hip hop album 1990s

“Rappers, I monkey flip ’em with the funky rhythm I be kickin’ / Musician, inflictin’ composition of pain…” (NY State Of Mind)

One of the very best Hip Hop albums in history, period. A young and hungry, insanely talented emcee comes together with some of the finest producers in the game, who all bring their best work. No skits, no fillers – just nine 5-star tracks that combine into a seminal work that will forever be revered as one of the most important releases in Hip Hop ever. A monumental masterpiece.

Top tracks: NY State Of Mind | Life’s A Bitch | The World Is Yours | It Ain’t Hard To Tell

2. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am / Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram…” (Check The Rhime)

PERFECTION. The Low End Theory is the definitive statement about what creativity, innovation, artistry, fun and raw talent can produce. Building on the quality work of their debut, Tribe perfected the fusion of jazzy influences and bass heavy Hip Hop beats. The album is so coherent and consistent, it almost feels like one long song – in this case a good thing.

Phife, who only played a small part on the first album, really increased his skills as an emcee and establishes a perfect interplay with the exceptional Q-Tip. Clever lyrics and smooth and warm music – this album is nothing short of perfect.

Top tracks: Check The Rhime | Verses From The Abstract | Butter | Scenario

3. Wu Tang Clan - Enter The Wu Tang (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“And if you want beef, then bring the ruckus / Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuttin’ ta fuck with” (Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuttin’ Ta Fuck Wit)

What can be said about this seminal album that hasn’t been said a thousand times over already? One of the most innovative, groundbreaking, influential and important Hip Hop albums EVER. New York’s answer to Dr Dre’s worldshaking The Chronic of the year previous.

RZA’s incredible innovative production resulting in that trademark dirty and gritty Wu-Tang sound, complemented by 9 emcees who all bring their A-game and show crazy versatility and never-seen-before lyrical creativity: unbeatable.

A true Hip Hop masterpiece and a classic for the ages.

Top tracks: Bring Da Ruckus | C.R.E.A.M. | Protect Ya Neck | Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’

4. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca And The Soul Brother (1992)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Déjà vu, tell you what I’m gonna do / When they reminisce over you, my God…” They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)

A timeless musical masterpiece, tasteful and irresistible. After the excellent EP they dropped the year previous, Pete Rock & CL Smooth followed up with this brilliant album. Pete Rock’s multi-layered, horns-filled, bass-heavy boom bap production is simply masterful. CL Smooth delivery serves as another instrument to complete the musical feast this album is from start to finish. Incredibly consistent throughout, Mecca And The Soul Brother is one of Hip Hop’s all-time greatest albums.

Top tracks: They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) | Straighten It Out | Ghettos Of The Mind | Can’t Front On Me

5. De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (1991)

best hip hop albums ninety nineties

“This is the stylin’ for a little that sounds silly / But nothin’ silly about triflin’ times of Millie / Millie, a Brooklyn Queen-originally from Philly / Complete with that accent that made her sound hilly-billy…” (Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa)

De La Soul more or less invented the rap-skit and to this day, they remain one of the very few acts who know how to use it. Where in 95% of the cases skits do not add anything, except annoying breaks in the flow of albums, De La actually know how to use a skit in the right way – to give a thematic and coherent feel to an album.

De La Soul Is Dead is a long album, but packed with brilliance, musically and lyrically. A marked change in style and feel to their equally brilliant debut 3 Feet High & Rising, De La Soul Is Dead showed a darker and more contemplative side of De La Soul. Gone is the happy-go-lucky positivity of their debut, in stead we get De La’s disillusioned vision on the state of Hip Hop, which would turn out to be highly prophetic. This album was so ahead of its time, Hip Hop still hasn’t caught up yet.

Top tracks: Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa | Keepin’ The Faith | Bitties In The BK Lounge | Afro Connections At A Hi 5

6. Dr Dre - The Chronic (1992)

best hip hop albums ninety nineties 1990s

“1, 2, 3 and to the 4 / Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door / Ready to make an entrance so back on up / (Cause you know we’re about to rip shit up)…” (Nuthin But A G Thang)

Was there ever a more influential album in Hip Hop? Another 1990’s masterpiece that is about the production first and the lyrical content second.

Dr Dre‘s production on this album is just INCREDIBLE. Often imitated, never duplicated. It also showed us the full potential of Hip Hop’s next superstar – a young Snoop Dogg. Along with lyrics from a host of other talented rappers and Dr Dre himself, The Chronic is filled with the ‘standard’ gangsta themes (violence, sex, drugs, parties) – difference from most of the others is that on this album it sounds GOOD.

An all-time fan favorite to this day, The Chronic will forever be remembered as one of Hip Hop’s most influential and important albums.

Top tracks: Let Me Ride | Nuthin But A G Thang | Fuck Wit Dre Day | The Day The Niggaz Took Over

7. OutKast - Aquemini (1998)

best hip hop albums of the ninety nineties 1990s

“Many a day has passed, the night has gone by / But still I find the time to put that bump off in your eye” (Rosa Parks)

Always creative and innovative, it’s hard to agree on which album is OutKast’s best. They are all classics in their own right, with this one arguably being their magnum opus, where everything that makes OutKast part of Hip Hop’s elite comes together. The beats, the lyrics – both are truly excellent, but it is the overall vibe of the album that makes Aquemini so special. A stylistic and musical experience that transcends Hip Hop – Aquemini is a creative masterpiece that belongs in every music lover’s collection.

Top tracks: Rosa Parks | Da Art Of Storytellin 1 & 2 | Slump | Aquemini

8. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die (1994)

 

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“It was all a dream / I used to read Word Up! magazine / Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine / Hangin’ pictures on my wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl…” (Juicy) 

Another landmark album and all-time classic. The Notorious B.I.G. made a big splash on the scene with his classic debut single Party & Bullshit. Expectations were high for his full-length debut album and boy did he deliver with Ready To Die.

One of the most naturally gifted emcees and storytellers in the Hip Hop game ever, everything came together for him on this album. Excellent production throughout with Biggie’s simultaneously brash and vulnerable lyrics to top off the banging instrumentals. Few others were ever able to express their thoughts and feelings the way Biggie was. Super classic.

Top tracks: Juicy | Gimme The Loot | Things Done Changed | Warning

9. Public Enemy - Fear of A Black Planet (1990)

best hip hop albums nineties 1990s

“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” (Fight The Power)

How do you do you follow up on the best Hip Hop album ever made? The answer is: with Fear Of A Black Planet.

Building on the perfection of It Takes A Nation… Fear Of A Black Planet consolidated Public Enemy‘s status of most important Hip Hop group of the time.

Fear Of A Black Planet is fiercely political, intelligent, unrelenting, uncompromising, profound, powerful, intense, boundary pushing – a landmark album in (Hip Hop) music history.

Perhaps a little less accessible than It Takes A Nation… but equally important and a bonafide classic.

Top tracks: Burn HollyWood Burn | Fight The Power | Welcome To The Terrordome | 911 Is A Joke

10. A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Honey, check it out, you got me mesmerized / With your black hair and your fat-ass thighs / Street poetry is my everyday / But yo, I gotta stop when you trot my way” (Electric Relaxation)

Faced with the impossible task of following up on the flawless masterpiece that is The Low End Theory, Tribe delivered an album that is every bit as awesome as its predecessor. There can be no greater praise.

As fresh today as it was on the day it was released: the mark of a true classic.

Top tracks: Electric Relaxation | Award Tour | Oh My God | We Can Get Down

11. Raekwon - Only Built For Cuban Linx... (1995)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s

“Me and the RZA connect / Blow a fuse, you lose / Half-ass crews get demolished and bruised” (Incarcerated Scarfaces)

The best Wu-Tang solo album? Everyone will agree it’s up there with of the best of them. It’s not even a ‘real’ solo album – every Wu-Tang Clan member appears on one or more tracks and production is in the more than capable hands of RZA. That makes this album even more of a group effort than most other Wu-Tang solo releases.

After Kool G Rap, Raekwon can be seen as one of the pioneers of the mafioso sub-genre and this album is one of the best, if not the best of its sort. Only Built For Cuban Linx… was loosely composed to play like a film with Raekwon as the “star,” fellow Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah as the “guest-star,” and producer RZA as the “director.” The cinematic feel of the album, along with the top notch production and emceeing, make this one an all-time classic.

And… don’t forget about Nas’ epic guest appearance on one of the album’s centerpieces: Verbal Intercourse. Greatness!

Top tracks: Incarcerated Scarfaces | Verbal Intercourse | Ice Cream | Wu Gambinos

12. 2Pac - Me Against The World (1995)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Inside my mind couldn’t find a place to rest / Until I got that Thug Life tatted on my chest” (So Many Tears)

2Pac’s best album. Although the follow-up All Eyez On Me may be the more popular album, Me Against The World is much more cohesive, balanced and tight.

Me Against The World is 2Pac’s third album and the one on which he reaches real maturity. He is not the all-out thug persona yet and the album is better for it. On this album, he is able to show us all aspects of his tormented being, better than on any of his other albums. An impressive album, and an all-time classic.

Top tracks: Dear Mama | So Many Tears | Me Against The World | Old School

13. De La Soul - Stakes Is High (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“The instamatic focal point bringing damage to your boroughs / Be some brothers from the east with some beats that be thorough” (Stakes Is High)

Another De La Soul masterpiece. All of their first for albums are classics in their own right, this one may just be the album that is their most mature and confident effort up till then. No gimmicks, no frills, just straight up Hip Hop.

Three decades in and still going strong, De La Soul easily is one of the most consistent acts in Hip Hop ever and they are truly Hip Hop’s elite.

Top tracks: Stakes Is High | Big Brother Beat | The Bizness | Supa Emcees

14. OutKast - ATLiens (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“In the Cadillac they call us / Went from Player’s Ball to ballers...” (Elevators)

A step up from their already awesome Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik debut album. On ATLiens OutKast shows real growth and new found maturity, resulting in an album that is simply amazing lyrically as well as musically. No skits, no filler, no bullshit – just straight up dope Hip Hop with that unique OutKast twist.

Top tracks: Elevators (Me & You) | Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac) | Jazzy Belle | ATLiens

15. Ice T - Original Gangster (1991)

best hip hop albums 1990s

“When I wrote about parties / It didn’t fit / Six in the Mornin’ / That was the real shit…” (Original Gangster)

Ice T‘s masterpiece. Original Gangster is a long album, but it is put together PERFECTLY. It feels and flows JUST RIGHT. You can just feel the love and the energy that went into the making of Original Gangster. It is one of those albums that feels as fresh today as it did when it was released, an album you can keep on constant rotation because it never gets old. A true classic.

Top tracks: Midnight | The Tower | Bitches 2 | Original Gangster

16. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard / Loving you is like a battle, and we both end up with scars…” (Ex-Factor)

Maybe this genre-bending album does not really ‘qualify’ as a Hip Hop album. It incorporates styles such as Soul, R&B, Jazz, Rock, Gospel as much as it does Hip Hop. But Lauryn Hill is Hip Hop and this album’s spirit is Hip Hop.

Similar to artists such as The Roots and OutKast, Lauryn Hill is not afraid to expirement and here she allows her talent to produce the album that suits it. The result is an all-time classic musical masterpiece, not just for Hip Hop, but for all genres of music.

Top tracks: Lost Ones | Doo Wop (That Thing) | Every Ghetto, Every City | Ex-Factor

17. Ice Cube - AmeriKKKas Most Wanted (1990)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Some don’t think I can flow, so here we go  / To a new track, to show the wack, that I can throw / Styles that show up, I blow up and blast here / Niggaz still trippin off the shit I said last year…” (Get Off My Dick And Tell Yo Bitch To Come Here) 

Young, hungry and angry. Ice Cube hit his peak after leaving N.W.A with this album. Creatively it is truly outstanding. Recruiting the Bomb Squad for an East Coast sound on the production resulted in a sonically epic album.

Lyrically Cube murders ever track on the album. Raw, hard and unapologetic, Ice Cube dropped a bomb on the (Hip Hop) nation when it was released. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a unique blend of political, socially conscious and gangsta rap, Ice Cube at his best, and a true Hip Hop classic.

Top tracks: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted | You Can’t Fade Me | Once Upon A Time In The Projects | Tales From The Darkside

18. GZA - Liquid Swords (1995)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Protect Ya Neck, my sword still remain imperial / Before I blast the mic, RZA scratch off the serial” (Shadowboxin’)

Liquid Swords is another highlight in the Wu-Tang (solo) catalogue. The album would have even higher on this list if they hadn’t overdone it a bit on the skits / intro’s, but most of the songs on this one are true bangers. Elite production by the RZA as usual in that era, and the trademark dope Wu-Tang lyricism. Classic Wu-Tang.

Top tracks: Liquid Swords | Shadowboxin’ | 4th Chamber | Cold World

19. Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“With so much drama in the L-B-C / It’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G / But I – somehow, some way / Keep comin’ up with funky-ass shit like every single day” (Gin & Juice)

In the pre-internet and Social Media days, when music promotion was a whole different ballgame, there have been few albums that were as hyped and anticipated as Snoop Doggy Dogg‘s solo debut. Having made an incredible impression with his unique style on Dr Dre‘s Deep Cover single and later as the top emcee on Dre’s monumental The Chronic, Snoop was hailed as Hip Hop’s next superstar.

With mentor Dr Dre on the boards, Doggystyle managed to meet the crazy high expectations – no mean feat. An all around Hip Hop classic, on the West Coast arguably only surpassed in ‘classic-ness’ by N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and Dre’s The Chronic, Doggystyle is and always will be Snoop Dogg’s magnum opus.

Top tracks: Gin & Juice | Murder Was The Case | Gz & Hustlas | Da Shiznit

20. Gang Starr - Step In The Arena (1991)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

In the arena or forum, weak MC’s I will floor ’em / Causin mayhem, I’ll slay them, and the blood’ll be pourin / Furthermore I implore, that as a soldier of war / I go in only to win and be the holder of more / Trophies, titles, and triumphs cause I dump all the sly chumps / Never choosin to lose my spot, not once…” (Step In The Arena)

On their second album Gang Starr started coming into their own sound.Guru‘s supremely recognizable monotone voice and DJ Premier‘s signature style of DJing and producing really come together here.

This is a long album but there are no filler tracks. You can listen to the whole album without having to skip a song. The beginning of Gang Starr’s flawless discography.

Top tracks: Step In The Arena | Take A Rest | Just To Get A Rep | Who’s Gonna Take The Weight

21. Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)

mos_def_talib_kweli_are_black_star

“One two three, Mos Def and Talib Kweli / We came to rock it on to the tip-top, best alliance in Hip Hop, Y-O” (Definition)

Both Mos Def and Talib Kweli planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP – and what a collaboration it is. Great album.

Top tracks: Definition | Respiration | Brown Skin Lady | Children’s Story

22. Ice Cube - Death Certificate (1991)

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“It’s the nigga ya love to hate with a new song / So what really goes on / Nothing but a come-up, but ain’t that a bitch / They hate to see a young nigga rich…” (True To The Game) 

Still angry, still hungry. Ice Cube picks up where he left things with his classic debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and even takes things a bit further.

Raw and uncompromising, Death Certificate was highly controversial in its subject matter. Ice Cube pulls no punches and spares no one in his examinations of early 90s American society, which can make it an ‘uncomfortable’ listen at times.

Sonically, there is nothing wrong with Ice Cube’s and Sir Jinx’s production – although the funk induced beats on Death Certificate may seem a little less appealing than the Bomb Squad’s stand-out work on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – but this album is all about the lyrical content.

Widely considered Ice Cube’s best work (together with AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted), Death Certificate is a truly important album in Hip Hop history.

Top tracks: True To The Game | Steady Mobbin’ | Color Blind | No Vaseline

23. Mobb Deep - The Infamous (1995)

295-1995

“I got you stuck off the realness / We be the infamous / You heard of us, official Queensbridge murderers” (Shook Ones) 

An album that will forever polarize opinions. Considered an absolute classic and a top 10 album by many, there are also those who find it inaccessible because of the ‘too’ gritty and dark nature of the album and who don’t like it at all.

Wherever you stand, there can be no denying this is a landmark album, both production-wise and lyrically. Mobb Deep brought their A-game on their second album and The Infamous will always be seen as one of the most important mid-90s East Coast albums.

Top tracks: Shook Ones | Survival Of The Fittest | Drink Away The Pain | Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)

24. The Roots - Illadelph Halflife (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Lost generation, fast paced nation / World population confront their frustration / The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken / It’s all contractual and about money makin” (What They Do)

The Roots’ best album? Hard to pick a favorite in a discography of such outstanding overall quality, but on Illadelph Halflife everything works. This is a LONG album, but there are few, if any, wasted moments. This is smooth, jazzy Hip Hop at its finest, with live instrumentation and exceptional lyricism – true brilliance from Philly’s legendary Roots crew.

Top tracks: Clones | What They Do | Concerto Of The Desperado | Section

25. Nas - It Was Written (1996)

327-1996

“I never brag how real I keep it, cause it’s the best secret…” (Take It In Blood)

Although Nas‘ debut album Illmatic initially sold underwhelmingly, it was an overwhelming critical success. So, how to top or even equal a classic like Illmatic? An impossible task, even if It Was Written turned out to be another excellent Nas album.

Going for a more commercial-friendly sound here and there, and trying out the mafioso subgenre on some tracks, It Was Written just feels a little less tight and coherent than Illmatic did. Nas’ lyrical brilliance is still on full display, though. With It Was Written Nas cemented his status as one of the most talented, all-around skilled emcees in the game, ever. Essential Nas material.

Top tracks: The Message | I Gave You Power | Take It In Blood | If I Ruled The World

26. The Fugees "The Score" (1996)

316-1996

“Ready or not, here I come, you can’t hide / Gonna find you and take it slowly ” (Ready Or Not)

A great commercial as well as critical success, The Score was a massive improvement on The Fugees‘ enjoyable but somewhat uneven Blunted On Reality debut album. The Score is a timeless and flawless masterpiece and paved the way for Lauryn Hill‘s monumental solo debut The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.

Top tracks: How Many Mics | Ready Or Not | Cowboys | Fu-Gee-La

27. OutKast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Halle-lu-jah, halle-lu-jah / Y’know I do some things more different than I used to…” (Player’s Ball)

After quality releases from groups like Geto Boys, UGK, Eightball & MJG and others in years previous, OutKast‘s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was THE album that put Southern Hip Hop on the map as a major part of Hip Hop, which after this album could no longer be divided simply in East- and West Coast.

Not immediately recognized as such upon its release, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik gained more and more recognition over the years and is now universally recognized as a staple of (Southern) Hip Hop.

Top tracks: Player’s BallSouthernplayalisticadillacmuzik | Git Up, Git Out | Crumblin’ Erb

28. Makaveli - The Don Killuminati The Seven Day Theory (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“To live and die in LA, where everyday we try to fatten our pockets / Us niggas hustle for the cash so it’s hard to knock it” (To Live And Die In L.A.)

Released just a few months after 2Pac’s murder, The Don Killuminati The Seven Day Theory turned out to be extremely prophetic with so many references to (his own) death it’s chilling. The albums features some of the best instrumentals Pac ever got to work with and lyrically it’s 2Pac at his harsh, yet emotional and poetic best. The last masterpiece of a young tormented genius who sadly ‘thugged’ his way to his own demise.

Top tracks: To Live And Die In L.A. | Me And My Girlfriend | Hail Mary | Hold Ya Head

29. Mos Def - Black On Both Sides (1999)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“You wanna know how to rhyme you better learn how to add / It’s mathematics” (Mathematics)

Mos Def’s masterpiece. Mos Def must be one of the most underrated emcees out there – but he has a unique voice and his flow is tight. He’s intelligent, humorous, passionate, creative, and socially conscious. Black On Both Sides is a must have for any and all Hip Hop fans.

Top tracks: Mathematics | Ms. Fat Booty | Brooklyn | Hip Hop

30. Gang Starr - Moment Of Truth (1998)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Nobody’s invincible, no plan is foolproof, we all must meet our moment of truth” (Moment Of Truth)

Few artists can boast a catalogue as consistent as Gang Starr‘s. Ask six fans about their favorite Gang Starr album and they may all pick a different one. That says enough about the overall excellence of their work. Moment Of Truth is Gang Starr’s fifth and arguably most cohesive of all their albums. Lyrical genius from Guru and musical genius from DJ Premier – Hip Hop can’t get much better than this.

Top tracks: Moment Of Truth | Above The Clouds | Robbin Hood Theory | JFK 2 LAX

31. Jay Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Ahh, who wanna bet us that we don’t touch leathers, stack cheddars forever, live treacherous all the etceteras…” (Dead Presidents II)

Jay Z‘s first and arguably best album (along with 2001’s The Bleuprint). Because of a string of mediocre later releases and probably also because his mega-successful business dealings, Jay Z has become a love-him or hate-him kind of figure. There’s no denying the excellence of this album, though. A young, hungry and ambitious Jay Z paints a compelling picture of his life as a hustler. Masterful production, brilliant lyricism, Reasonable Doubt shows us Jay Z at his peak as the Hip Hop artist he was (and not the business mogul he would become).

Top tracks: Can’t Knock The Hustle | Dead Presidents II | Brooklyn’s Finest | Coming Of Age

32. O.C. - Word…Life (1994)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Non-conceptual, non-exceptional / Everybody’s either crime-related or sexual / I’m here to make a difference, besides all the riffing / To traps I’m not sticking, rappers stop flipping / For those who pose lyrical but really ain’t true I feel…” (Time’s Up)

O.C.‘s Word… Life is very similar to Nas’ Illmatic in many ways (excellent beats, clever lyricism, overall cohesiveness), but incorrectly much less revered. Maybe due to bad promotion by O.C.’s Wild Pitch label, maybe because the competition in 1994 was so awesome – whatever the reason: Word… Life flew so far under the radar it’s ridiculous. This easily is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 1994. Don’t sleep on Word… Life.

Top tracks: Time’s Up | Word… Life |  Born 2 Live |  Constables

33. Showbiz & AG - Runaway Slave (1992)

best hip hop albums 1990s

“Record labels try to juice me / (For what?) For my papers / They offer me a mule / (And what else?) And 40 acres / I’m dissin’ snakes now, there’s no time to catch the vapors / And I’m not a pup (for what?) a Muppet caper…” (40 Acres And My Props)

This is what Hip Hop is supposed to sound like. A flawless album: top notch production from Showbiz (and Diamond D) and guest appearances from Lord Finesse and Big L (among others) – this may just be the best DITC album in a series of excellent albums. Amazingly consistent and entertaining throughout.

The album flew well under the mainstream radar but was quickly recognized as a classic by true heads. Quintessential NYC early 90’s Hip Hop.

Top tracks: Runaway Slave | Represent | Soul Clap | 40 Acres And My Props

34. The Roots - Things Fall Apart (1999)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Yo, one, two, one-two one-two / That’s how we usually start, once again it’s the Thought / The Dalai Lama of the mic, the prime minister Thought” (The Next Movement)

With Questlove laying down the perfect instrumentals and Black Thought’s thoughtful, socially-conscious rhymes (not to mentions his exceptional emcee skills), Things Fall Apart is yet another excellent The Roots album, their fourth. With additional rhyming from Malik B, Dice Raw and guests like Common and Mos Def, you know you can’t go wrong with The Roots.

Top tracks: The Next Movement | You Got Me | Double Trouble | Act Too (The Love of My Life)

35. The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)

best hip hop albums nineties

“Now there she goes again, the dopest Ethiopian / And now the world around me be gets moving in slow motion…” (Passin’ Me By)

With gangsta rap becoming the dominant thing on the West Coast in the early 90s, these guys were a breath of fresh air. Highly original, humorous, fun and not afraid to show their vulnarable sides – The Pharcyde were never concerned with gangster posing and tough guy posturing, but were more like a West Coast version of ATCQ or De La Soul.

Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde is an innovative album and will forever be recognized as a true Hip Hop classic.

Top tracks: Passin’ Me By | Otha Fish | Return Of The B-Boy | Officer

36. MF DOOM - Operation Doomsday (1999)

best hip hop albums 1990s

“Me and this mic is like yin and yang ” (Doomsday)

What a comeback! After a long hiatus following his brother’s death and the end of KMD, Zev Lov X reinvented himself and came back on the Hip Hop scene as MF DOOM. He would go on to release a myriad of excellent albums and collaborations – and Doomsday is up there with the best of his work. Classic material.

Top tracks: Doomsday | Rhymes Like Dimes | Hey! | Gas Drawls

37. Jeru The Damaja - The Sun Rises In The East (1994)

best hip hop albums nineties 1990s

“Real, rough and rugged, shine like a gold nugget / Every time I pick up the microphone I drug it / Unplug it on chumps with the gangster babble / Leave your nines at home and bring your skills to the battle” (Come Clean)

In a year when Premier dropped another excellent Gang Starr album, he reserved his very best beats for Brooklyn emcee Jeru The Damaja. Jeru’s intellectual street flows combined with Premier’s best instrumentals result in a tight 10- song album with no filler tracks.

Top tracks: Come Clean | D Original | Ain’t The Devil Happy | My Mind Spray

38. Dr Octagon - Dr Octagonecologyst (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“Earth people, New York and California / Earth people, I was born on Jupiter” (Earth People)

Is this Kool Keith‘s best album (outside Ultramagnetic’s debut Critical Beatdown)? In a catalogue as deep and diverse as Kool Keith’s, it may be hard to choose – but Dr. Octagonecologyst just may be his magnum opus.

An all-time underground favorite, Dr. Octagonecologyst simply is a perfect album. The production by Dan The Automater is absolutely phenomenal. Innovative, eery, spaced-out: the instrumentals provide the perfect backdrop for Kool Keith’s trademark bizarre lyrics.

Top tracks: Earth People | Blue Flowers | 3000 | Real Raw

39. De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Now I’m somethin’ like a phenomenon / I’m somethin’ like a phenomenon…” (Ego Trippin Pt 2)

De La Soul‘s third album, De La Soul’s third classic. Few groups in Hip Hop, if any, can boast both the longevity and consistency De La Soul has shown over the years.

Buhloone Mind State may just be the most underappreciated album of De La Soul’s first four. Reason for that probably is that it has less commercial appeal than the others. Artistically it is every bit as strong, though – cohesive and consistent throughout – an artistic peak for both De La Soul and producer Prince Paul.

De La Soul’s first four albums are all classics, this one is definitely up there with the best of them. Another De La masterpiece.

Top tracks: Ego Trippin Pt 2 | I Am I Be | Breakadawn | Area

40. A Tribe Called Quest - Peoples Instinctive Travels On The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)

best hip hop albums ninety nineties 1990s

“I ordered enchiladas and I ate ’em / Ali had the fruit punch” (I Left My Wallet In El Segundo)

The third part of the Native Tongues triple classic album introduction to the world (the first two being the Jungle BrothersStraight Out The Jungle and De La Soul‘s 3 Feet High And Rising) – People’s… introduces us to A Tribe Called Quest.

People’s… is a musical masterpiece. An innovative fusion of hard beats and jazzy samples, combined with fun, clever and positive lyrics – mainly from Q-Tip (Phife was still finding his voice here and his lyrical skills would improve significantly on Tribe’s follow up The Low End Theory).

This one – along Tribe’s 2nd and 3rd album, should have a place in any music (not just Hip Hop) lovers record collection.

Top tracks: Can I Kick It? | Bonita Applebum | I Left My Wallet In El Segundo | Luck Of Lucien

41. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - The Main Ingredient (1994)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“It’s going down from out of town / Off the wicked streets of New York trouble / Me and my man map the plan and make a hefty bundle…” (I Get Physical)

Lacking a monster hit-single like T.R.O.Y. from their classic full-length debut album Mecca And The Soul Brother, The Main Ingredient is often overlooked when it comes to considering Hip Hop’s best albums. That is wrong, because this one is just as flawless as its predecessor. True enough: CL Smooth isn’t the greatest emcee or lyricist ever, but these albums are all about Pete Rock’s production, which is as good as ever on this top notch feel-good album.

Top tracks: The Main Ingredient | I Get Physical | Carmel City | All The Places

42. Goodie Mob - Soul Food (1995)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

“What you niggas know about the Dirty South” (Dirty South)

This is Southern Hip Hop at its finest. Real and raw, Soul Food has that genre-bending musicality reminiscent of OutKast with true lyrical depth. One of those albums that age like fine wine and only get better as times goes by. Cee-Lo, T-Mo, Big Gipp, and Khujo dropped a real gem with this album.

Top tracks: Soul Food | Cell Therapy | Dirty South | Thought Process

43. KRS One - Return Of The Boom Bap (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“Return Of The Boom Bap means jus that / It means return of the real hard beats and real rap” (Return Of The Boom Bap)

After 5 albums as Boogie Down Productions, KRS One decided to start releasing albums under his own name. In his 30-year career, KRS dropped many classic albums – this one ranks with the best of them.

Lyrics, flow, delivery, message, beats, diversity – this album has everything. You know you can’t go wrong with KRS One, and with the likes of DJ Premier, Showbiz, Kid Capri and KRS himself on the boards the result has to be a classic. This is Hip Hop.

Top tracks: Sounds Of Police | Outta Here | Mad Crew | Return of The Boom Bap

44. Main Source - Breaking Atoms (1991)

best hip hop albums 1990s

“(Peace!) / Piece of what? / You can’t mean P-E-A-C-E / Cause I’ve seen people on the streets / Shoot the next man and turn around and say peace / But that’s leaving people in pieces / It’s not what the meaning of peace is…” (Peace Is Not The Word To Play)

Excellence. Large Professor, one of Hip Hop’s most respected producers, exploded on the scene with this classic album – showing both his extraordinary talents on the boards and on the mic.

Breaking Atoms is an important and hugely influential album in the history of Hip Hop and a testament to the brilliance of Large Pro.

And not to forget: this album contained the official debut on wax from young Queensbridge emcee Nasty Nas, with a brilliant opening verse on the dope posse cut Live At The BBQ.

Top tracks: Looking At The Front Door | A Friendly Game Of Baseball | Peace Is Not The Word To Play | Live At The BBQ

45. Wu Tang Clan - Wu Tang Forever (1997)

best nineties 90s hip hop albums

“I bomb atomically / Socrates’ philosophies and hypothesis / Can’t define how I be droppin’ these / Mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery / Flee with the lottery / Possibly they spotted me…” (Triumph)

Wu-Tang Clan‘s second album had A LOT to live up to. In addition to their monumental debut, the classic Enter The Wu-Tang, there were 5 outstanding solo projects by Wu-Tang Clan members released prior to this sophomore effort.

Wu-Tang Forever is a double album, which is always tricky. The risk is that the album loses focus and cohesiveness, that there are some tracks that will be seen as filler material and that the album simply is too long(winded).

Not the case here. It could have done with fewer tracks (and certainly with fewer skits), but overall this is an excellent album and great addition to the Wu-Tang catalogue. Sadly, Ol’ Dirty Bastards input is very limited, but the others are lyrically on point as ever, with RZA producing some of the most captivating soundscapes ever. Classic Wu-Tang.

Top tracks: Triumph | Reunited | It’s Yourz | Hellz Wind Staff

46. Paris - The Devil Made Me Do It (1990)

best hip hop albums 1990s

“Black radio shame, pop rap’s to blame / Program your playlist to sound the same / With a disco tempo, cliche intro / Wack rap tracks for commercial shows / Mindless music for the masses has to take / Time away from the real rap master / So I’ll stay cool for community airplay /While ratings slip for the shit that you play” (This Is A Test)

Why this album is hardly ever mentioned when discussing best ever Hip Hop albums is a mystery. Everything about this album is DOPE. Production is on point, Paris is a great emcee with a dark, menacing tone of voice and the subject matter is thought-provoking.

Powerful and intelligent, controversial and political – Paris’ debut is a straight up Hip Hop classic.

Top tracks: Scarface Groove | This Is A Test | The Hate That Hate Made | The Devil Made Me Do It

47. Common - Ressurection (1994)

best hip hop albums nineties 1990s

“…but I’ma take her back hoping that the shit stop / Cause who I’m talking ’bout, y’all, is Hip Hop” (I Used To Love H.E.R.) 

Clever and conscious wordplay over excellent production – on his second album Common is maturing into what he would eventually become: one of Hip Hop’s most revered emcees and personalities. In one of Hip Hop’s biggest years, this album measures up to any of the other releases with ease.

Top tracks: I Used To Love H.E.R. | Sum Shit I Wrote | Resurrection | Book of Life

48. Diamond D - Stunts Blunts & Hip Hop (1992)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

“See I write my own rhymes, produce my own shit / Yeah boy, I ain’t the one to fuck with…” (Best Kept Secret)

Yet another NYC classic, true Hip Hop for connaisseurs. Diamond D always was a producer first and an emcee second and it shows. The beats on this joint are flawless start to finish, no need to skip tracks on this album. An underrated Golden Age gem.

Top tracks: Best Kept Secret | Sally Got A One Track Mind | I’m Outta Here | A Day In The Life

49. Big Pun - Capital Punishment (1998)

best nineties hip hop albums

“Flawless victory you niggaz can’t do shit to me / Physically lyrically hypothetically realistically” (Beware)

Big Pun’s only album released during his lifetime, Capital Punishment is regarded as a classic if only because of Pun’s technical efficiency and incredible wordplay. Great production and plain awesome lyricism by one of the best emcees ever – excellence.

Top tracks: Beware | Super Lyrical | Glamour Life | Twinz (Deep Cover 98)

50. 2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)

best hip hop albums 1990s

“Bury me smilin’, with G’s in my pocket / Have a party at my funeral, let every rapper rock it” (Life Goes On)

Maybe 2Pac‘s most popular album, released when he was at the peak of his fame (while alive). Packed with classic songs, showcasing 2Pac signature mix of “thug-ism” and his vulnerable, thoughtful side, All Eyez On Me surely is a landmark album.

A double-album, it may be just a little bit too long (and a little too heavy on the ‘thug’ side) for its own good, especially the second album contains a few filler tracks. Much like Biggie’s Life After Death, it probably would have been better had the best 15 tracks been released as one album – which would have made it a Top 15 record. As it is, it still is an excellent album and no doubt one the highlights of Pac’s epic career.

Top tracks: I Ain’t Mad At Cha | Picture Me Rollin | Only God Can Judge Me | Ambitionz Az A Ridah

51.  Gang Starr – Daily Operation (1992)

52.  Black Sheep – A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing (1991)

53.  Aceyalone – A Book Of Human Language (1998)

54.  Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999)

55.  Hieroglyphics – 3rd Eye Vision (1998)

56.  Common – One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997)

57.  Gang Starr – Hard To Earn (1994)

58.  Eric B & Rakim – Let The Rhythm Hit Em (1990)

59.  Black Moon – Enta Da Stage (1993)

60.  Scarface – The Diary (1994)

61.  Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91…  (1991)

62.  Blackalicious – Nia (1999)

63. Big L – Lifestyles Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (1995)

64.  Smif N Wessun – Dah Shinin (1995)

65.  Lord Finesse – Funky Technician (1990)

66.  Ghostface Killah – Iron Man (1996)

67.  Ras Kass – Soul On Ice (1996)

68.  Boogie Down Productions – Edutainment (1990)

69.  Pharoahe Monche – Internal Affairs (1999)

70.  LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)

71.  Freestyle Fellowship – Innercity Griots (1993)

72.  Redman – Muddy Waters (1996)

73.  Eric B & Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique (1992)

74.  Dr Dre – 2001 (1999)

75.  Ultramagetic MCs – The Four Horsemen (1993)

76.  Organized Konfusion – Stress… (1994)

77.  Above The Law – Livin Like Hustlers (1990)

78.  Digable Planets – Blowout Comb (1994)

79.  Brand Nubian – All For One (1990)

80.  Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night (1997)

81.  UGK – Ridin’ Dirty (1996)

82. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997)

83.  Prince Paul – A Prince Among Thieves (1999)

84.  Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Wanted Dead Or Alive (1990)

85.  The Pharcyde – Lacabincalifornia (1995)

86. Goodie Mob – Still Standing (1998)

87.  Souls Of Mischief – 93 Til Infinity (1993)

88.  Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return To The 36 Chambers (1995)

89.  Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5 (1998)

90.  Digable Planets – Reachin’ (1993)

91. People Under The Stairs – The Next Step (1998)

92.  Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Live And Let Die (1992)

93.  EPMD – Business As Usual (1990)

94.  Compton’s Most Wanted – Music To Driveby (1992)

95.  AZ – Doe Or Die (1995)

96.  Beastie Boys – Check Your Head (1992)

97.  Bone Thugs N Harmony – E.1999 Eternal (1995)

98.  Redman – Whut Thee Album (1992)

99.  N.W.A. – Efil4ziggan (1991)

100. Master Ace – Take A Look Around (1990)

Honorable Mentions

  • Poor Righteous Teachers – Holy Intellect (1990)
  • Digital Underground – Sex Packets (1990)
  • Too Short – Short Dog’s In The House (1990)
  • Intelligent Hoodlum – Intelligent Hoodlum (1990)
  • Salt N Pepa – Black’s Magic (1990)
  • D-Nice – Call Me D-Nice (1990)
  • Organized Konfusion – Organized Konfusion (1991)
  • 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
  • Ed OG – Life Of a Kid In The Ghetto (1991)
  • Geto Boys – We Can’t Be Stopped (1991)
  • Scarface – Mr Scarface Is Back (1991)
  • L.O.N.S. – A Future Without A Past (1991)
  • Del – I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991)
  • Freestyle Fellowship – To Whom It May Concern (1991)
  • Naughty By Nature – Naughty By Nature (1991)
  • Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill (1993)
  • Compton’s Most Wanted – Straight Checkn Em (1991)
  • Chubb Rock – The One (1991)
  • DJ Quik – Quik Is The Name (1991)
  • 3rd Bass – Derelicts Of Dialect (1991)
  • KMD – Mr Hood (1991)
  • UMCs – Fruits Of Nature (1991)
  • X-Clan – To The East, Blackwards (1991)
  • WC And The MAAD Circle – Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed (1991)
  • Hardknocks – School Of Hardknocks (1992)
  • Ice Cube – The Predator (1992)
  • EPMD – Business, Never Personal (1992)
  • Lord Finesse – Return Of The Funky Man (1992)
  • Paris – Sleeping With The Enemy (1992)
  • Das EFX – Dead Serious (1992)
  • Boogie Down Productions – Sex And Violence (1992)
  • Positive K – The Skills Dat Pay The Bills (1992)
  • Ultramagnetic MCs – Funk Your Head Up (1992)
  • Arrested Development – 3 years… (1992)
  • Too Short – Shorty The Pimp (1992)
  • Common – Can I Borrow A Dollar (1992)
  • 2Pac – Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993)
  • Lords Of The Underground – Here Come The Lords (1993)
  • Queen Latifah – Black Reign (1993)
  • Fat Joe – Represent (1993)
  • Del – No Need For Alarm (1993)
  • The Roots – Organix (1993)
  • Masta Ace Inc. – Slaughtahouse (1993)
  • Cypress Hill – Black Sunday (1993)
  • Too Short – Get In Where You Fit In (1993)
  • Geto Boys – Till Death Do Us Part (1993)
  • Scarface – The World Is Yours (1993)
  • Eightball & MJG – Comin’ Out Hard (1993)
  • Spice 1 – 187 He Wrote (1993)
  • Ice Cube – Lethal Injection (1993)
  • Brand Nubian – In God We Trust (1993)
  • King Tee – Tha Triflin’ Album (1993)
  • The Beatnuts – Street Level (1994)
  • UGK – Super Tight (1994)
  • Keith Murray – The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (1994)
  • Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (1994)
  • Method Man – Tical (1994)
  • Warren G – Regulate (1994)
  • Da Brat – Funkdafied (1994)
  • The Coup – Genocide & Juice (1994)
  • Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (1994)
  • Redman – Dare Iz A Darkside (1994)
  • Artifacts – Between A Rock And A Hard Place (1994)
  • Coolio – It Takes A Thief (1994)
  • Thug Life – Vol. 1 (1994)
  • Dred Scott – Breakin Combs (1994)
  • Public Enemy – Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age (1994)
  • Boogiemonsters – The Underwater Album (1994)
  • Show & AG – Goodfellas (1995)
  • The Roots – Do You Want More…? (1995)
  • KRS One – KRS One (1995)
  • Aceyalone – All Balls Don’t Bounce (1995)
  • Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food (1995)
  • E-40 – In A Major Way (1995)
  • WC – Curb Servin (1995)
  • Tha Alkoholiks – Coast II Coast (1995)
  • DJ Quik – Safe + Sound (1995)
  • LL Cool J – Mr Smith (1995)
  • Eightball & MJG – On Top Of The World (1995)
  • The Nonce – World Ultimate (1995)
  • Cypress Hill – III (1995)
  • Keith Murray – Enigma (1996)
  • ATCQ – Beats Rhymes & Life (1996)
  • Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal (1996)
  • Jeru The Damaja – Wrath Of The Math (1996)
  • Xzibit – At The Speed Of Life (1996)
  • Busta Rhymes – The Coming (1996)
  • Bahamadia – Kollage (1996)
  • Westside Connection – Bow Down (1996)
  • M.O.P. – Firing Squad (1996)
  • Lost Boyz – Legal Drug Money (1996)
  • Mobb Deep – Hell On Earth (1996)
  • Lil Kim – Hardcore (1996)
  • Foxy Brown – Ill Nana (1996)
  • Sadat X – Wild Cowboys (1996)
  • Nine – Cloud 9 (1996)
  • Ultra – Big Time (1996)
  • Poor Righteous Teachers – The New World Order (1996)
  • Lord Finesse – The Awakening (1996)
  • DJ Shadow – Endtroducing (1996)
  • Jay Z – In My Lifetime Vol 1 (1997)
  • O.C. – Jewelz (1997)
  • Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus (1997)
  • Atmosphere – Overcast! (1997)
  • Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
  • EPMD – Back In Business (1997)
  • Organized Konfusion – Equinox (1997)
  • Capone-N-Noreaga – The War Report (1997)
  • Jungle Brothers – Raw Deluxe (1997)
  • Busta Rhymes – When Disaster Strikes (1997)
  • Kool Keith – Sex Style (1997)
  • Rakim – The 18th Letter (1997)
  • Rampage – Scout’s Honor (1997)
  • Jedi Mind Tricks – The Psycho-Social […]  (1997)
  • Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty (1998)
  • Killah Priest – Heavy Mental (1998)
  • Rasco – Time Waits For No Man (1998)
  • Pete Rock – Soul Survivor (1998)
  • The Coup – Steal This Album (1998)
  • ATCQ – The Love Movement (1998)
  • Jay Z – Vol 2 Hardknock Life (1998)
  • RZA – Bobby Digital (1998)
  • Canibus – Can-I-Bus (1998)
  • Heltah Skeltah – Magnum Force (1998)
  • Fat Joe – Don Cartagena (1998)
  • Xzibit – 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz (1998)
  • AZ – Pieces Of A Man (1998)
  • Juvenile – 400 Degreez (1998)
  • DMX – Flesh Of My Flesh… (1998)
  • DMX – It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot (1998)
  • Ice Cube – War & Peace Vol.1 (1998)
  • Busta Rhymes – E.L.E. (1998)
  • Jay Z – Vol 3 (1999)
  • Q-Tip – Amplified (1999)
  • Dr Dooom – First Come First Served (1999)
  • Kool Keith – Black Elvis (1999)
  • Nas – I Am (1999)
  • Nas – Nastradamus (1999)
  • Inspectah Deck – Uncontrolled Substances (1999)
  • Lootpack – Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)
  • Arsonists – As The World Burns (1999)
  • Handsome B-boy Modelling School – So How’s Your Girl (1999)

Written by

HHGA founder. Hip Hop historian. Avid reader. Proud dad. Marketing guy. Top 5 Golden Age MCs: Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS One, Chuck D, Nas…

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