1990 was another year that showed incredible growth for Hip Hop as a musical genre. From the conscious and political raps from Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Paris, Poor Righteous Teachers, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, Intelligent Hoodlum and others to the blatant pop-rap from the likes of MC Hammer, Candyman and more – Hip Hop was as diverse as never before. Also, it was no longer just New York City that dominated the game – as more and more acts from especially the West Coast started leaving their mark. For this list, we have ranked what we think are the best 1990 Hip Hop albums. Agree? Disagree? Discuss!
Also read: Top 100 Hip Hop Albums Of The 1990s
1. Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet
“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” (Fight The Power)
How 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 the 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 undisputable classic.
Top tracks: Burn Hollywood Burn | Fight The Power | Welcome To The Terrordome | 911 Is A Joke
2. Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
“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 / N***** still trippin off the sh** I said last year…” (Get Off My D*** And Tell Yo B**** 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
3. Paris - The Devil Made Me Do It
“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 sh** 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
4. A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels And the Paths Of Rhythm
“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 Brothers’ Straight 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
5. LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out
“Don’t call it a comeback / I been here for years / Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear / Makin the tears rain down like a monsoon / Listen to the bass go BOOM…” (Mama Said Knock You Out)
LL Cool J came back HARD with Mama Said Knock You Out. Produced entirely by Marley Marl and LL himself, it has a consistent feel to it and is a tighter effort than LL’s much-maligned third album Walking With A Panther (although there was plenty to enjoy there as well). Having a ‘come-back’ record – his fourth album already – as early in the Hip Hop game as 1990, shows LL is a bonafide Hip Hop pioneer and truly one of the GOATS.
Top tracks: Mama Said Knock You Out | The Boomin System | Farmers Blvd | Illegal Search
6. Eric B & Rakim - Let The Rhythm Hit Em
“Wicked as I kicked it / Don’t need to remix it / ‘Cause I prefixed it / Reversed and switched it / To perform to perfection / Section for section / Rhymes keep connectin’…” (Let The Rhythm Hit Em)
On the heels of the super classics Paid In Full (1987) and Follow The Leader (1988) Eric B and Rakim drop their third album Let The Rhythm Hit Em. Maybe because of the epicness of their first two albums, this one is often overlooked in best-of Hip Hop album lists. It should not be though. Let The Rhythm Hit Em is a super tight album, a bit ‘darker’ sounding than the previous two, with Rakim as good as ever. Lyrically NO ONE can touch the R. The production is excellent as well (although the question is how much Eric B should be credited for that – look it up); the whole album is consistently dope, with a few stand out tracks.
Top tracks: Let The Rhythm Hit Em | Mahagony | In The Ghetto | Run For Cover
7. Lord Finesse - Funky Technician
“Now I’m the man with intellect, no one to disrespect / I kick a rhyme and make MC’s wanna hit the deck / And give it up and use they rhymes as a sacrifice / Brothers try they best, they ain’t even half as nice…” (Funky Technician)
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 woefully underrated, as is Lord Finesse himself. True Hip Hop heads know what’s up though and will surely have this one in their collection.
Top tracks: Funky Technician | Back To Back Rhyming | I Keep The Crowd Listening | Slave To My Soundwave
8. Brand Nubian - One For All
“Step to the rear, Grand Pu is on arrival / Raised in the ghetto singing songs called survival / Running round town giving all the girls Puba snacks / I wouldn’t try to steal the style, you just might catch a cardiac” (Step To The Rear)
This album is a testament to the history of Hip Hop music. Original, both lyrically and musically. Sadat X, Lord Jamar, and Grand Puba lyrics are alternately thought-provoking and fun; and sonically the album is dope as well. Brand Nubian‘s One For All should be a mandatory part of any Hip Hop collection.
Top tracks: Slow Down | Step To The Rear | Grand Puba, Positive and L.G. | Wake Up
9. Above The Law - Livin Like Hustlers
“Now, A-B-O-V-E-L-A-W, to some people / Yo, that spells trouble / But we’re not a group promoting violence / But when it comes to speaking the real, I won’t be silent / Speak all reality when I’m on the Mic / So you don’t have to run and have a stereotype…” (Livin’ Like Hustlers)
One of the earliest N.W.A. / Dr. Dre ‘sponsored’ acts, Above The Law debuts with a straight-up (West Coast) Hip Hop classic. Slammin’ west coast gangsta funk beats, produced by ATL themselves, Laylaw and Dr Dre. One of those rare albums where you don’t have to skip a track.
Top tracks: Murder Rap | Ballin’ | The Last Song | Livin’ Like Hustlers
10. Kool G Rap - Wanted Dead Or Alive
“I’m bad to the bone with a style like Al Capone / I’ma smile while I give you the dial tone / Eating shrimp and girls I be pimpin / Walk like I’m limpin, this brother ain’t simpin / Not to mention, I’m winner of Mack Daddy conventions / I get a lot of attention…” (Bad To The Bone)
Kool G Rap sophomore album establishes G Rap as one of the top lyricists in the game. More varied than his dope Road To The Riches debut, Wanted Dead Or Alive showcases G Rap’s growth and is a classic East Coast album.
Top tracks: Bad To The Bone | Erase Racism | Money In The Bank | Streets Of New York
11. Boogie Down Productions - Edutainment
“It feels good to grab the mic and just allow yourself to chat / The master of the microphone is here and he’s black / Reciting poetry, beautifully articulated / Demonstrated by the never faded strong facial feature / Of the teacher…” (Original Lyrics)
Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody. On this album really deserves the moniker “Teacha”. Sometimes unjustly criticized as being overly ‘preachy’, Edutainment just is what KRS One is. Eloquent, intelligent, conscious – this is classic KRS and classic Hip Hop. If only there was more edutainment today.
Top tracks: Love’s Gonna Get’cha | Black Man In Effect | Ya Know The Rules | Original Lyrics
12. EPMD - Business As Usual
“Rap combat is where it’s at and I attack / Any crab MC, that’s down with the wack…” (Hardcore)
EPMD‘s Business As Usual is exactly what the title says: business as usual. And in the case of EPMD that is a very good thing. Quality Hip Hop, hardcore and funky at the same time – trademark EPMD. This is also the album that introduced Redman to the world – a landmark event in itself!
Top tracks: Rampage | Hardcore | Brothers On my Jock | Funky Piano
13. Master Ace - Take A Look Around
“As I reminisce back growing up around my way / I can’t help but think about the games we used to play…” (As I Reminisce)
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 and dropping new, inventive projects and collaborations – this debut was a fairly ‘straight forward’ Hip Hop album. Very dope though – Marley Marl’s and Mister Cee’s production is tight, lyrics are on point and there barely are any 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.
Top tracks: As I Reminisce | Brooklyn Battles | Music Man | The Other Side Of Town
14. Poor Righteous Teachers - Holy Intellect
“Trying to reach you / The knowledge of myself makes me a poor righteous teacher / Stop to flip the topic / Islamically I drop it / My duty be to teach so keep your pistol in your pocket…” (Rock Dis Funky Joint)
Poor Righteous Teachers has to be 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.
Top tracks: Rock Dis Funky Joint | Holy Intellect | Style Dropped/Lessons Taught | So Many Teachers
15. Digital Undergrond - Sex Packets
“Just act a fool, it’s okay if you drool / Cause everybody’s gonna strip, and jump in the pool / And doowhatwelike, yeah, and doowhatwelike…” (Doowutchalike)
Best known for two of Hip Hop’s most famous party jams – “The Humpty Dance” and “Doowutchyalike” – this album still sounds as fresh as it did when it came out. Funky and funny, creative and crazy, great beats and samples – Digital Underground dropped a unique album with Sex Packets.
Top tracks: The Humpty Dance | Doowutchyalike | Freaks Of The Industry | The Danger Zone
16. Too Short - Short Dog's In The House
“Even though the streets are bumpy, lights burned out / Dope fiends die with a pipe in their mouths / Old school buddies not doing it right / Every day it’s the same / And it’s the same every night…” (The Ghetto)
After dropping a few self-released tapes and two ‘official’ albums; this third Too Short album did exactly what we came to expect from Oakland’s rap pioneer. Explicit tales with some consciousness sprinkled in here and there – Too Short’s tales from the hood always hit; and this is one of his best albums.
Top tracks: The Ghetto | It’s Your Life | Ain’t Nothin’ But A Word To Me | Paula & Janet
17. Intelligent Hoodlum - Intelligent Hoodlum
“I’m slippin syllables, wiser than Solomon / So yo, pass the mic, so I can rock the Metropolitan / I write just like a novelist, no one’s as hard as this / Step from the stage, because I’m sparkin it like Spartacus” (Microphone Check)
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 start to finish – dope beats, conscious lyrics, good emceeing. This album was somewhat overlooked when it came out, but shouldn’t be forgotten. An impressive debut.
Top tracks: Intelligent Hoodlum | Back To Reality | Arrest The President | No Justice, No Peace
18. D-Nice - Call Me D Nice
“My name is D-Nice although I hate to admit it / Taking out you suckers and you don’t know how I did it / See every episode remains in this mode / Very cool, very calm, there’s no sweat in my palm…” (They Call Me D Nice)
D Nice was part of the Boogie Down Productions collective from the beginning and 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?
Top tracks: Crumbs On The Table | The TR 808 Is Coming | A Few Dollars More | Call Me D Nice
19. K-Solo - Tell The World My Name
“Hey – what I’m about to say / May hit a lot of people in a real strange way / Some – said I should’ve spelled this a long time ago / But I stayed amateur while others turned pro / P-R-O now I’mma throw – letters in my word / So I can make a Spellbound flow / Read it slow, see how it S-O-U-N-D sounds / K S-O-L-O Spellbound!” (Spellbound)
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 and a few lesser ones. K-Solo’s voice is dope and he can flow. He never had much of a career, but this is a great debut and worth having in your collection.
Top tracks: Fugitive | Tales From The Crack Side | Your Mom’s In My Business | Spellbound
20. X Clan - To The East, Blackwards
“Teaching those actors and actresses / Who write a couple of lines on what black is, really? / Then they label me a sin / When a brother just speaks what’s within” (Funkin’ Lesson)
X Clan was always more about the message than about the music. The beats are soulful and funky, but a bit unpolished. This album is all about the lyrics, however. Afrocentric, conscious, positive – they were even more expressive in their Afrocentric messages than contemporaries like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. A classic in its own right and a prime example of intelligent Hip Hop. An important album in Hip Hop history.
Top tracks: Funkin’ Lesson | Heed The Word Of The Brother | Raise The Flag | Verbs Of Power
21. Compton Most wanted - It's A Compton Thang
“Fresh off the streets from the underground / Nick-named MC Eiht, black brother gets down / Came to dazzle with the Hip Hop funk / To let em know (This is Compton) Now what’s up, punk” (This Is Compton)
An early gangsta rap album, before the gangsta theme became a full-blown cliche. CMW was clearly influenced by West Coast contemporaries like N.W.A., Ice T and King Tee; but they always had their definite own style and feel. No excessive profanity, but hard-hitting rhymes nonetheless. Dope production, a strong album start to finish – a must-have album for West Coast Hip Hop fans.
Top tracks: It’s A Compton Thang | One Time Gaffled Em Up | The Final Chapter| This Is Compton
22. Grand Daddy I.U. - Smooth Assassin
“Here it is, a world premiere / Crystal clear in your ear, so listen here / Yeah, it’s something new, but I ain’t no new kid / So don’t fool yourself with garbage that you did” (Something New)
Another forgotten and sadly out of print album. Produced entirely by Biz Markie (with Cool V), Grand Daddy I.U.’s debut album is a slept-on treasure.
Top tracks: Something New | The U Is Smooth | Mass Destruction | I Kick Ass
23. Big Daddy Kane - Taste Of Chocolade
“I crushed and crushed and stomped the comp that tried / To get fly and face the ace I put em in place / Proceed em, retreat em, defeat em, delete em, and feed em, and eat em / And all the rest of that good stuff, cause I don’t need em / Only one survivor can remain / And god damn, it’s got to be the Kane!” (It’s Hard Being The Kane)
Big Daddy Kane‘s third album was more of a mixed bag than his first two (classic) albums. Some real strong tracks, but a few weaker ones too. Kane’s skill on the mic is undeniable as always, but he is a bit let down here with some filler (R&B-ish) tracks. Production is on point though, and when everything clicks like on the stand out tracks, no one can touch the Kane.
Top tracks: It’s Hard Being The Kane | Cause I Can Do It Right | Down The Line | Put Your Weight On It
24. The Jaz - To Your Soul
“My rhymin and singin technique is applaudable / Livin in luxury, and it’s affordable / No other brother is better than me, the J, the A, the Z” (The Originators)
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 uneven, that’s why it is not higher on the list – but To Your Soul is an album worth checking out anyway.
Top tracks: A Groove (This Is What U Rap 2) | The Originators | Put The Squeeze On Em | Ease Up Jaz
25. Shazzy - Attitude: A Hip Hop Rapsody
“Look at the shadow walking behind you / Look at the past that’s trying to find you / Look at the image a mirror will give / An image of only how you ought to live” (Black Is A Nation)
Talk about slept on. Shazzy was a skilled female emcee, with a dope voice and flow. The production is on point too, dope beats and scratches – it all works. This album easily is one of the best (early) 90s releases by a female emcee. Few people picked up on it though, the album flopped – and that’s a shame.
Top tracks: Giggahoe | Black Is A Nation | Ode II A Dead Man | Heartbreaker
26. Special Ed - Legal
“Straight from the heart and a shot to the brain / To the hand on the pen and then flaunt the fame / And fortune, suckers I be schorchin and torchin…“ (Come On, Let’s Move It)
Special Ed has always been a dope emcee, with a smooth flow, great storytelling abilities, and effortless delivery. The beats are on point – overall an enjoyable album, which just lacks that little extra to make it a classic.
Top tracks: The Mission | Come On, Let’s Move It | 5 Men And a Mic | I’m Special Ed
27. King Tee - At Your Own Risk
“Some cool sh** for the King’s anthology / And when I’m done, don’t expect no apology / Stupid motherf***ers shoulda stepped when I warned ’em / I’m from the Boondocks of Compton, California” (Played Like A Piano)
Top tracks: Act A Fool | Played Like A Piano | Ruff Rhyme (Back Again) | Take You Home
28. CPO - To Hell And Black
“This is the ballad of a menace / Not to be confused with that of a grimace / I’m in this to be number one, when I step upon…” (Ballad Of A Menace)
MC Ren‘s 1990 side project. Rapper Lil Nation / CPO Boss Hogg is a real dope emcee, with a nice, smooth flow. Except for the single Ballad Of A Menace no real stand out tracks here, but a solid album overall.
Top tracks: Ballad Of A Menace | Ren’s Rhythm | The Wall | Flow To The Rhythm
29. King Sun - Righteous But Ruthless
“Now everybody’s wearin the red black and green / Here’s the point: do you know what it means? / Red for the bloodshed, black for the people / Green for the land to be utilized equal” (Be Black)
NY veteran King Sun drops another solid album with this second effort. Sun focusses on self-awareness and black unification, his bass voice is dope and his delivery is smooth. Production is OK, which makes this an all-around enjoyable album, a typical product of the early 90s. A few filler tracks are the reason the album is not higher on this list.
Top tracks: Be Black | The Gods Are Taking Heads | Universal Flag | Cold New Yorkin’
30. Boo Yaa Tribe - New Funky Nation
“MC’s smell the smoke of my mic and they fear it / I’m known to be the hanger for the MC’s I hang / I throw a riddle, it come back like a boomerang” (R.A.I.D.)
Boo Yaa Tribe brings that typical West Coast flavor: very funky, very musical – yet hardcore at the same time. It blends Hip Hop, Funk and even some Metal into a dope mix of 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!
Top tracks: R.A.I.D. | New Funky Nation | Once Upon A Drive-By | Rated R
- Salt-n-Pepa – Blacks’ Magic
- YZ – Sons Of The Father
- Esham – Boomin Words From Hell
- Poison Clan – 2 Life Muthas
- 2 Live Crew – Banned In The USA
- Run DMC – Back From Hell
- The Afro’s – Kickin’ Afrolistics
- Monie Love – Down To Earth
- Lakim Shabazz – Lost Tribe Of Shabazz
- DJ Magic Mike – Bass Is The Name Of The Game
- Movement X – Movement X
- Professor Griff – Pawns In The Game
- Rodney-O & Joe Cooley – Three The Hard Way
- MC Shan – Play It Again Shan
- Barsha – Barsha’s Explicit Lyrics
- Richie Rich – Don’t Do It
- MC Pooh – Life Of A Criminal
- Kid Frost – Hispanic Causing Panic
- Audio Two – I Don’t Care The Album
- Just-Ice – Masterpiece
- Antoinette – Burnin’ At 20 Below
- MC Trouble – Gotta Get A Grip
- Tairrie B – Power Of A Woman
- Three Times Dope – Live From Aknickulous Land
- Kwame – A Day In The Life: A Pokadelick Adventure
- London Posse – Gangster Chronicle
Not included in this top 30 are the 1990 EP releases of Ice Cube (Kill At Will) and N.W.A. (100 Miles & Running) – because these are not full-length albums; and the 1990 remix album from The Geto Boys – because it only contains two new songs.