50 Under-appreciated 1990s Hip Hop Albums: Discussing ‘best ever’ Hip Hop albums is fun, but at the same time often a futile exercise. It’s fun because it forces you to think and sometimes to re-evaluate, and it’s fun because talks with others can make you discover some great albums you otherwise might have slept on. But at times it’s futile too because inevitably not everyone has the same amount of knowledge. Trying to pitch more obscure Hip Hop titles to people who have only listened to 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Dr. Dre – and who don’t want to look any further – can get kind of tiring. Some people seem to think these four are all Hip Hop ever had to offer. That’s too bad because there has always been SO MUCH great Hip Hop by other artists out there. Casual Hip Hop listeners who ARE open to discovering some Hip Hop music they have never listened to before may find this list to be of value.
So no albums from 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Dr. Dre on this list, nor widely celebrated classics from acts such as A Tribe Called Quest, KRS One, Nas, Gang Starr, Mobb Deep, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, OutKast, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Redman, Wu-Tang Clan, Ice T, Scarface, The Pharcyde, Common, and other high profile artists. For this piece, we have selected – in no particular order – 50 excellent Hip Hop released in the 1990s that we consider being underappreciated, albums that don’t get mentioned enough when 1990s Hip Hop is celebrated. Some albums listed here are better known than others, but even heads who are used to digging deep may discover an album or two they have missed out on for some reason.
Also check: The Best 250 Hip Hop Albums Of All Time
Intelligent Hoodlum - Intelligent Hoodlum (1990)
Intelligent Hoodlum a.k.a. Tragedy Khadafi started out as the youngest member of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew. Marley Marl produced this dope debut album (with two tracks done by Large Professor). A very solid album from start to finish – dope beats, conscious lyrics, good emceeing. This album has always been somewhat overlooked, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Hard Knocks - School Of Hard Knocks (1992)
School Of Hard Knocks arguably is the most underappreciated album on this whole list. School Of Hard Knocks holds 12 tracks which are all good, with powerful and conscious rhymes and tight production – this is an excellent album.
Organized Konfusion - Organized Konfusion (1991)
This album has it all. Consciousness, politically juiced tracks, party anthems, story-telling – Prince Poetry and Pharoahe Monch pull off a perfect display of clever lyricism and dope wordplay. This is a forgotten cult classic that is a must-have for anyone who likes clever, layered Hip Hop.
Killah Priest – Heavy Mental (1998)
This album is intellectual and entertaining, with deep and thought-provoking lyrics by Wu affiliate Killah Priest and banging beats by 4th Disciple and True Master. Killah Priest’s delivery is dope too, so there’s a lot to enjoy here. Deep, complex, and unusual – the start of a long run of mostly excellent albums by one of the most intriguing artists in the game.
O.C. - Word…Life (1994)
O.C.‘s Word… Life is very similar to Nas’ Illmatic in many ways (excellent beats, clever lyricism, overall cohesiveness), but undeservedly 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.
Peanut Butter Wolf - My Vinyl Weighs A Ton (1999)
Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf drops a wonderful album with My Vinyl Weighs A Ton. Great turntablism and great lyricism from Stones Throw talent like Rasco, Planet Asia, The Lootpack (and others) over vibrant soundscapes cooked up by Peanut Butter Wolf.
K-Solo - Tell The World My Name (1990)
K-Solo was part of EPMD’s Hit Squad (together with Redman, Keith Murray, and Das EFX). This is a solid debut album with four or five stand-out tracks like “Fugitive”, “Tales From The Crack Side”, “Your Mom’s In My Business “, and “Spellbound”. K-Solo’s voice is dope and he has a great flow. Sadly, he never had much of a career, but this is a great debut and worth having in your collection.
Mood - Doom (1997)
This crew from Cincinnati, Ohio dropped an underground sleeper classic with Doom. Atmospheric and melodic production complemented with clever lyrics – this is real Hip Hop at its finest. The album features production by Hi-Tek and guest appearances by Talib Kweli and Wu-Tang-affiliated group Sunz of Man, and this album can be seen as a springboard for all their careers. Mood emcees Main Flow and Donte do an excellent job over Hi-Tek’s beats, the result is a slept-on masterpiece. It’s hard to single out standout tracks from this album because its strength is its consistency: one hour of excellence.
Hijack - The Horns Of Jericho (1991)
The Horns Of Jericho is a ‘britcore’ classic and of our favorite British Hip Hop albums of all time. Hard to find these days, but people who have never listened to this monumental album miss out if they don’t go looking for it.
Freestyle Fellowship - Innercity Griots (1993)
Innercity Griots is the follow-up to Freestyle Fellowship’s dope but rough around the edges debut To Whom It May Concern. With this sophomore effort, Freestyle Fellowship really deliver the goods. The jazzy production provides the atypical backdrop for a West Coast album, but perfectly complements the lyricism – and that’s what this album is all about. Conscious, humorous, clever, versatile: emcees Mikah 9, P.E.A.C.E., Self Jupiter, and Aceyalone bring it all. This highly original album is a slept-on lyrical masterpiece.
Styles of Beyond - 2000 Fold (1998)
This album from Los Angeles underground crew Styles Of Beyond is a forgotten gem. Originally released in 1998, it suffered from lack of promotion and several re-releases, which was cause for it never really got any spotlight. The album stands heads and shoulders above most other albums released in the late nineties, however. There’s great synergy between emcees Ryu and Tak, who sound like seasoned veterans (even though this is their debut), plus excellent production, dope sampling, clever rhymes, and wordplay – this album is an underground classic.
The Goats - Tricks Of The Shade (1992)
A very original concept album, ahead of its time. Not easy to get into though, mainly because they overdid it a little bit with all the skits. If you can get past the skits, you’re in for a highly original and intelligent, political album.
Show & AG - Goodfellas (1995)
After their critically acclaimed debut album Runaway Slave in 1992, DITC members Show & AG came back strong with this sophomore effort. Slept on and underrated, Goodfellas offers boom bap Hip Hop of the highest quality. Markedly darker sounding than their almost perfect debut record, Goodfellas is an excellent album in its own right.
Psycho Realm - The Psycho Realm (1997)
The Psycho Realm is the first album by Los Angeles crew Psycho Realm. At this time the group consisted of brothers Sick Jacken and Big Duke, along with Cypress Hill’s B-Real – who is the star of the show. Surprising lyrical depth here and there, plus excellent (mostly self-produced) instrumentals – this is one the most underappreciated Hip Hop albums of the late 1990s.
Poor Righteous Teachers - Holy Intellect (1990)
Poor Righteous Teachers is one of the most underrated groups in Hip Hop. They dropped a number of dope albums in the 90s; Holy Intellect was their debut. Best known for the classic track “Rock Dis Funky Joint”, but Holy Intellect has a lot more to offer. Intelligent, conscious lyrics over dope beats – you should check out Holy Intellect if you slept on it for some reason – and the albums that followed it – Pure Poverty (1991), Black Business (1993), and The New World Order (1996) – too for that matter.
The Dynospectrum - The Dynospectrum (1998)
The Dynospectrum is a collaboration from the Rhymesayers Entertainment artists, between Slug, I Self Devine, Sab the Artist, and Swift. As The Dynospectrum they performed under the pseudonyms Sept Sev Sev Two, Pat Juba, General Woundwart, and Mr. Gene Poole, respectively. The production was handled by Atmosphere’s Ant, who assumed the name Solomon Grundy for the project. This is an underground treasure, an excellent album for all those who are into real lyricism, fat beats and just plain old Hip Hop.
Above The Law - Uncle Sam's Curse (1994)
Above The Law‘s classic debut Livin’ Like Hustlers will forever be their magnum opus. But this forgotten third effort is another excellent Above The Law album and definitely a level above most of the other gangsta rap being released at the time. The lyrics are not just the generic gangsta stories, but also sometimes politically fueled and socially conscious. Additionally, Cold 187um’s production is always top level. A true West Coast G-funk innovator, he was never scared to experiment on the boards. Deep bass, whiny synthesizer sounds, smooth and funky – this is G-funk at its best.
Ed OG & Da Bulldoggs - Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto (1991)
A typical early 90s East Coast album; it sadly got lost in the shuffle a bit with so many dope albums being released left and right at the time. This one is up there with the best, though. Excellent soulful production and thoughtful, conscious content mixed up with some straight-up party stuff – Ed OG brings it. Ed OG is still in the game, consistently dropping quality, a shame he always flew under the radar a bit. This album is his debut, a cult classic and a must-have for Hip Hop purists.
Cru - Da Dirty 30 (1997)
An underground treasure. Production is handled by Yogi and is excellent throughout. Yogi and Chaddeo share the mic on almost all of the tracks, with a few guest appearances by the likes of Ras Kass, Black Rob, and the legendary Slick Rick to add extra spice. This is excellent mid-90s hardcore NYC boom-bap Hip Hop – no frills, no gimmicks. If they would just have left out the unnecessary and annoying skits, Cru would have had a true classic on their hands with Da Dirty 30.
OG Style - I Know How To Play Em (1991)
One of the early Rap-A-Lot releases, which went strangely unnoticed at the time and is mostly forgotten now. Strange, because there is a lot to like here. A very consistent album with a funky sound, no weak songs, and a few stand-outs such as “Funky Payback”, “Catch Em Slippin’”, “Power”, and “Playing It Cool”.
The Beatnuts - The Beatnuts (1994)
The production on this Beatnuts album is excellent, and the braggadocious and humorous rhymes are catchy and fun. This album is consistent from beginning to end, with no filler tracks and plenty of stand-outs, like “Props Over Here “, “Psycho Dwarf “, “Superbad”, and “Are You Ready”. The Beatnuts always came with quality Hip Hop, and this one is among their best work. This is a must-have for fans of that early 90s East Coast sound.
Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision (1998)
This supergroup – consisting of Del (The Funkee Homosapien), Pep Love, A-Plus, Tajai, Opio & Phesto (from Souls Of Mischief), Casual, Domino, Jay-Biz, Toure & Extra Prolific – brings together so much talent that the product of their cooperation has to be epic, right? Right! This album is pure Hip Hop, from one of the best collectives in the game.
The Jaz - To Your Soul (1990)
The Jaz, Or Jaz O, is now best known as Jay-Z’s mentor and their later beef. The Jaz was a pretty dope emcee though, who could go fast and slow effortlessly. The production on this album is a bit spotty in places, and maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s forgotten – but To Your Soul is an album worth checking out anyway thanks to The Jaz’s rhymes (and because of an early appearance of a very young Jay-Z on “The Originators“).
OGC - Da Storm (1996)
A dope album from the least known members of the Boot Camp Clik family. No surprises here, typical New York City mid-nineties noir Hip Hop, but what it does, it does really well. Emcees Top Dog, Louieville Sluggah, and especially Starang Wondah offer tight lyrics throughout, with guest appearances by several BCC crew members to complete the BCC experience. Fans of the mid-90s sounds of crews like Black Moon and Smif-n-Wessun will also love OGC.
Positive K - The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills (1992)
If only judged by the popular single I Got A Man (and the bubblegum album cover), you might think Positive K is just another pop rapper. That would be wrong, though. Positive K is an NYC Hip Hop veteran, loosely associated with MC Lyte and the Audio Two. Not counting the aforementioned hit single, this album is strictly NY boom-bap Hip Hop and Positive K shows he really has the skills to pay the bills. This is a dope album that deserves to be remembered.
Chino XL - Here To Save You All (1996)
Chino XL – a.k.a. King of Ill Lines & Punchlines – dropped a lyrical gem with Here To Save You All. This album would have a classic if the instrumentals had been on the same level as the lyrical display is, but even if the beats are nothing special this still is an outstanding album by one of the illest lyrical emcees EVER.
Boo Yaa Tribe - New Funky Nation (1990)
Boo-Yaa Tribe comes with that typical 90s West Coast flavor on their debut album New Funky Nation: very funky, yet hardcore at the same time. It blends Hip Hop, Funk, and even some Metal into a dope mix of musical styles – this is an album that definitely stood the test of time and it should be part of any music lovers’ collection. Don’t Mess!
Aceyalone - A Book Of Human Language (1998)
Los Angeles emcee Aceyalone is an incredibly talented artist, always pushing lyrical boundaries and succeeding effortlessly in all styles he employs. He released a string of excellent creative and innovative albums throughout his career, and this one is his very best. A Book of Human Language combines intelligence, creativity, and superior lyrical skill – resulting in a brilliant concept album that should be a part of any real Hip Hop fan’s music collection. A Book of Human Language is a left-field masterpiece.
Lords Of The Underground - Here Come The Lords (1993)
Lords of the Underground are a group from Jersey consisting of Mr. Funke, DoItAll, and DJ Lord Jazz. Production on this album was handled by Marley Marl and K-Def. The production is inspired and the emcees’ delivery is full of energy and passion, in style somewhat similar to Das EFX and Fu-Schnickens but less gimmicky.
Latyrx - The Album (1997)
Cali MCs Lateef the Truthspeaker and Lyrics Born deliver an album that may be a little bit too experimental, obscure, and abstract for most but deserves more attention nonetheless. Lyrics Born produced most of the album, with some cuts done by the supreme DJ Shadow. The off-the-wall production, combined with outstanding lyricism makes for an album that deserves a place in any (alternative) Hip Hop fan’s collection.
Godfather Don - Hazardous (1991)
Godfather Don is an emcee closely affiliated with Kool Keith and is probably best known for their collaboration under the name The Cenobites. Godfather Don dropped some dope solo material in the 1990s as well. This debut album is an excellent example of boom-bap done right and shows the competence of Godfather Don both on the mic and especially on the production tip. Slept on, definitely worth checking out.
Handsome B-boy Modelling School – So How’s Your Girl (1999)
Handsome Boy Modeling School was a collaboration between renowned producers Dan The Automator (Gorillaz, Dr. Octagon, Deltron 3030) and Prince Paul (Stetsasonic, De La Soul, Gravediggaz, A Prince Among Thieves), which produced two dope albums, most notably this experimental masterpiece, the first of the two HBMS albums. This clever and humorous album is just one of 1999’s hidden gems.
Ultra - Big Time (1996)
Basically a Kool Keith solo album, with some help from rugged- and-rough Ultramagnetic affiliate Tim Dog. Kool Keith’s trademark weirdness is in full effect here, bizarre lyrics galore. The dark and sometimes crazy beats fit the rhymes perfectly. This is a madly underrated Kool Keith album.
Suga Free - Street Gospel (1997)
A forgotten but dope album, that deserves to be mentioned when West Coast gems are talked about. This is a super-smooth project with that signature DJ Quik sound (DJ Quik produced the whole album). Suga Free is a great emcee who’s humorous hood tales perfectly complement Quik’s funked-out beats.
Leaders Of The New School - A Future Without A Past (1991)
Partly produced by the Bomb Squad, this is an extremely energetic album, both musically and lyrically. It introduces us to the unique styles and antics of emcees Dinco D, Charlie Brown, and of course Busta Rhymes, who would go on to build an impressive solo career on the style he set on this album.
Real Live - The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama (1996)
Talk about slept on. New Jersey natives and Hip Hop veterans K-Def and Larry-O come correct with this quintessential East Coast boom-bap album. With guests like Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna (among others), this album offers true Hip Hop at its finest. Don’t sleep!
K-Rino - Stories From The Black Book (1993)
K-Rino is a still active Houston legend and long-time regional favorite. He dropped A LOT of albums over the years, Stories From The Black Book – his official debut – arguably his best in an all-around impressive discography. Praised for his lyrical abilities and variety in his subject matter (he was never just another gangsta rapper), K Rino delivered a slept-on masterpiece with this album.
D-Nice - Call Me D Nice (1990)
D Nice was part of the Boogie Down Productions collective from the beginning, he came out with this solo debut in 1990. Some braggadocious tracks, a few more conscious ones – all over solid production by D Nice himself: what’s not to like? Stand-out tracks include “Crumbs On The Table”, “The TR 808 Is Coming”, “A Few Dollars More”, and “Call Me D Nice”.
All Natural - No Additives, No Preservatives (1998)
Chicago underground Hip Hop heavies All Natural dropped one of the most slept-on albums of 1998 with No Additives, No Preservatives. If you for some reason missed out on this hidden treasure, you will not regret checking it out now – never too late to catch up!
UMC's - Fruits Of Nature (1991)
Fruits Of Nature is a fresh album from a forgotten group. UMC’s were unlucky to have to compete with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul this year. They project a similar vibe, fans of The Native Tongues albums will also dig the UMC’s. Fruits Of Nature is a fun, positive and clean album, full of clever lyrics and dope beats. It just missed that little ‘extra’ to take it to the ATCQ and De La level – but it’s a very good album nonetheless.
MC Ren - Shock Of The Hour (1993)
Like most of MC Ren‘s solo work, Shock Of The Hour is underrated. Lyrically diverse (with lyrics that may be hard to digest for some) and sonically consistent (dark, eery, and atmospheric) from start to finish – this is a more than a solid album from N.W.A.’s ruthless villain.
Dälek - Negro Necro Nekros (1998)
Negro Necro Nekros is hauntingly dark and atmospheric, and a pioneering album for the industrial/noise Hip Hop subgenre. This album signified the start of an interesting catalog, with a bunch of albums that are well worth checking out for those who are not afraid to open their minds to something different.
Master Ace - Take A Look Around (1990)
Taking the spotlight for the first time in 1988 on Marley Marl’s classic posse cut The Symphony, Masta Ace presented himself as one of Hip Hop’s biggest talents. One of the best to ever do it, constantly reinventing himself by dropping new, inventive projects and collaborations – his debut was a fairly ‘straight forward’ Hip Hop album. Very dope though – Marley Marl’s and Mister Cee’s production is tight, Master Ace’s lyrics are on point and there are no filler tracks here. Take A Look Around is a highly enjoyable album and if you don’t have it, you should make adding it to your collection a priority.
Scaramanga - Seven Eyes, Seven Horns (1999)
Scaramanga a.k.a. Sir Menelik biggest claim to fame up till the release of this album was his contribution to Kool Keith’s classic Dr. Octagonecologyst. With Seven Eyes, Seven Horns he drops a wonderfully obscure album himself, filled with dope rhymes and beats.
Dred Scott - Breakin' Combs (1994)
Wrong year, wrong coast? If this outstanding album had dropped in NYC a few years earlier, it probably would have been bigger back then and universally recognized as a classic right now. As it is, Breakin’ Combs is an unjustly forgotten album. Entirely self-produced, Dred Scott delivers smooth, jazzy beats reminiscent of the sound of A Tribe Called Quest. Nothing wrong with his lyrics and Dred Scott’s emcee skills either. Why this album is so underappreciated is a mystery, but it deserves its props.
Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth Funky Technician (1990)
Founder of the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates Crew, Lord Finesse is one of the sickest punchline emcees in Hip Hop history (together with fellow DITC member Big L). Funky Technician can be seen as the first DITC album, and a dope album it is, start to finish. Finesse’s braggadocious rhymes are second to none and the production is typical early 90s NYC style. Funky Technician is slept-on by many, as is Lord Finesse himself. True Hip Hop heads will know what’s up though and will surely have this one in their collection.
People Under The Stairs – The Next Step (1998)
The Next Step is the independently released full-length debut by Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs, the first in a string of excellent albums. PUTS always comes with that authentic, real boom-bap Hip Hop and this first effort is a slept-on gem.
Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994)
Organized Konfusion was responsible for three excellent albums in the 90s, Stress: The Extinction Agenda arguably is their best. Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch show some unparalleled lyricism on this dark, dense, complicated, and intellectual album.
O.C. - Jewelz (1997)
It can be argued that the labels ‘slept on’ and ‘underrated’ are overused and applied to far too many emcees – who are either not very good or not slept on at all. O.C. is an underrated emcee who well deserves the label.
After his near-perfect debut Word… Life in 1994, he returns with another outstanding (and slightly more accessible) album. Production is tight and comes from renowned producers like DJ Premier, Lord Finesse, Showbiz, Buckwild, Da Beatminerz. Guest appearances from Big L, Organized Konfusion, and Freddie Foxxx are the icing on the cake.
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca And The Soul Brother (1992)
Ok, ok, this album is widely celebrated, and not really underappreciated at all. Still, we decided to include it because it’s rarely ever mentioned when best ever Hip Hop albums are discussed. It should be, though. Mecca And The Soul Brother is a timeless musical masterpiece, tasteful and irresistible. After the excellent All Souled Out 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.