1991 was another major year for Hip Hop, expanding further on the incredible growth the genre showed in the years previous. For this list, we have selected 40 of OUR favorite 1991 Hip Hop albums. What do YOU think? Let us know in the comments!
Also read: Top 250 Hip Hop Albums Of All Time
1. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
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
2. De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead
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 Soul actually knows 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, instead 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
3. Ice T - 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. This is a true classic.
Top tracks: Midnight | The Tower | Bitches 2 | Orginal Gangster
4. Gang Starr - 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 start of a near-flawless 4-album-run.
Top tracks: Step In The Arena | Take A Rest | Just To Get A Rep | Who’s Gonna Take The Weight
5. Ice Cube - Death Certificate
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 be 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
6. Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill
Cypress Hill’s highly original debut record. DJ Muggs’ funk-laced and bass-heavy production filled with creative sampling, combined with the typical voices of emcees Sen Dog and especially B-Real, created Cypress Hill’s instantly recognizable, signature sound. “Hand On The Pump”, “The Phuncky Feel One”, “Pigs” and especially “How I Can Just Kill A Man” are the obvious centerpieces, but the whole album is fire.
7. Main Source - Breaking Atoms
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
8. Black Sheep - A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
This album is FUN. It’s also hugely underrated and rarely mentioned when classic Hip Hop albums are considered. It should be, though. Over 70 minutes in length, but not a minute too long – it’s filled with dope, humorous, clever tracks. Mr. Lawnge’s production is tight and Dres is an excellent emcee with a unique voice and flow.
Top tracks: The Choice Is Yours | Flavor Of The Month | Pass The 40 | Butt In The Meantime
9. Public Enemy - Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black
Public Enemy‘s fourth effort continues the trend set by their previous outings: excellent, hard-hitting beats that perfectly complement Chuck D’s powerful voice and intelligent, thought-provoking messages. After the utter brilliance that was It Takes A Nation… and Fear Of A Black Planet it was always going to be hard to come with a follow-up. Overall Apocalypse 91… may lack the special spark of its two predecessors, but there are enough strokes of brilliance here as well. Public Enemy will forever be one of Hip Hop’s most important and celebrated groups and Chuck D one of Hip Hop’s most respected and eminent figures. Apocalypse 91… is a strong part of P.E.’s excellent discography and should be in any Hip Hop fan’s collection.
Top tracks: Can’t Truss It | By The Time I Get To Arizona | Night Train | Shut Em Down
10. Naughty By Nature - Naughty By Nature
Restyling themselves Naughty By Nature after a not bad but unsuccessful debut album under the name “The New Style”, NBN became a major commercial success. This album contains their well-known first hit singles and is solid through and through, no filler tracks here. Completely carried by Treach’s excellent skills as an emcee, this is an album that sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released.
Top tracks: O.P.P. | Ghetto Bastard | Yoke The Joker| Uptown Anthem
11. Organized Konfusion - Organized Konfusion
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.
Top tracks: Fudge Pudge | Walk Into The Sun | Roosevelt Franklin | Releasing Hypnotical Gasses
12. Scarface - Mr Scarface Is Back
A great start to an epic solo career by one of the game’s most respected emcees. With the experience of a few Geto Boys albums under his belt, Scarface hammers out his solid debut, much in the same vein as what he did with the Geto Boys. Dark, brooding, hardcore – this plays like a violent / horror movie (with Scarface even dying at the end).
Top tracks: Money And The Power | Diary Of A Madman | A Minute To Pray And A Second To Die | Mr. Scarface
13. Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped
We Can’t Be Stopped contains the monster track “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” – one of Hip Hop’s biggest tracks, ever. The album has more to offer, though. Besides the Geto Boys trademark psychotic (“Chuckie”) and sexual lyrics (“Quickie”, “The Other Level”), the album also offers some political and social commentaries (“F*** A War”, “Trophy”). On top of that Willie D, Bushwick Bill, and Scarface are all dope rappers, with their own, distinct voices.
Top tracks: We Can’t Be Stopped | Ain’t Down With Being Broke | Mind Playing Tricks On Me | F*** A War
14. DJ Quik - Quik Is The Name
Quik Is The Name is a West Coast classic. It established DJ Quik as one of the game’s top producers and as one of the godfathers of the P-Funk / G-Funk sound. His production work is always incredibly smooth and funky. He may not be the best emcee ever, but he more than holds his own on the mic. An important album, one of the cornerstones of the rise to dominance of West Coast Hip Hop in the early 90s.
Top tracks: Tonight | Quik Is The Name | Born And Raised In Compton | Deep
15. Del The Funky Homosapien - I Wish My Brother George Was Here
Co-produced by DJ Pooh and Del‘s cousin Ice Cube, this is not your typical West Coast album. Quirky, humorous, and fun – Del always had his own style. Much like a West Coast version of Masta Ace, he was always able to constantly reinvent himself and turn his talent into a decade-spanning career full of creative highlights. This album is a great start to that career.
Top tracks: Dr Bombay | Mistadabolina | The Wacky World of Rapid Transit | Sleepin On My Couch
16. N.W.A - Efil4ziggan
After the incredible success and impact of N.W.A‘s game-changing debut album Straight Outta Compton – and after the departure of the creative intelligence of Ice Cube – N.W.A. came back with Efil4ziggan. Efil4ziggan is hard to review. Sonically, Dr. Dre reaches near perfection on the production side of things. If only for the beats, this album could have been an all-time Hip Hop classic.
Lyrically however the album is a firm step back when compared to N.W.A’s epic debut. Gone is the authenticity and raw intelligence of Straight Outta Compton, what’s left are dumbed down and sometimes downright silly lyrics – serving more to shock and cause controversy than anything else. The album is also let down by two rather annoying Eazy E tracks and some dumb skits (“To Kill A Hooker” – really?). But even taking into account these negatives, the album still is an entertaining listen, mainly because of Dr. Dre’s stellar work behind the boards.
Top tracks: Alwayz Into Somethin’ | Real N****z | N****z For Life | The Dayz Of Wayback
17. Leaders Of The New School - A Future Without A Past
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.
Top tracks: The International Zone Coaster | Case Of The PTA | Transformers | Too Much On My Mind
18. 2Pac - 2Pacalypse Now
2Pac‘s debut is an underrated album in his catalog. It is true that his flow/voice isn’t fully developed yet and the beats on 2Pacalyps Now are not all great – but the lyrical content of the album is excellent. 2Pac presents himself as an intelligent young man and tackles subjects like poverty, police brutality, discrimination, politics, and life on the streets. The album is insightful and sensitive and at the same time aggressive and intense. His ‘thug persona’ is not dominant yet, and the album is better for it.
Top tracks: Brenda’s Got A Baby | Trapped | If My Homie Calls | Part Time Mutha
19. Ed OG & Da Bulldoggs - Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto
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 all. 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.
Top tracks: Be A Father To Your Child | I’m Different | Stop | Gotta Have Money
20. Freestyle Fellowship - To Whom It May Concern
Talk about a slept-on group. Hailing from Los Angeles, Freestyle Fellowship had more in common with groups like De La Soul than with the L.A. gangsta rap scene. A little rough around the edges production-wise – this album is all about the emcees who showcase some clever, deep, and skillful lyricism. Ahead of its time.
Top tracks: 7th Seal | Here I Am | Legal Alien | Cornbread
21. Compton Most Wanted - Straight Checkn' Em
Another solid effort from Compton’s Most Wanted. Best known for “Growing Up In The Hood” – the hit single from the classic Boyz In The Hood movie – the album is more of what we came to expect of CMW after their equally good debut album. Straight Checkn Em is another one of those albums that played a crucial part in the unstoppable rise of West Coast/gangsta rap in the early 90s.
Top tracks: Growing Up In The Hood | Straight Checkn Em | They Still Gafflin | I Don’t Dance
22. Chubb Rock - The One
Chubb Rock’s third album and probably his best. A rock-solid album filled with dope tracks and smart wordplay. Is this where Biggie got his flow from?
Top tracks: Treat Em Right | The Chubbster | What’s The Word | The One
23. Godfather Don - Hazardous
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.
Top tracks: Sleepin’ With The Enemy | Hazardous | Involuntary Excellence | On And On
24. WC And The MAAD Circle - Ain't A Damn Thing Changed
WC or Dub C is a West Coast Hip Hop veteran who did many interesting things before he started West Side Connection with Ice Cube and Mack 10. This is his second project, after the excellent debut album We’re In This Together he did in 1989 with DJ Aladdin as Low Profile. WC and The MAAD Circle s another interesting collaboration because members include the likes of Sir Jinx and Coolio. Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed is a very solid West Coast early gangsta rap album before that genre turned into a total cliche. The album is actually kind of upbeat, with some political and social commentaries worth listening to, not at all negative and stupid as most gangsta rap would later become. Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed is a West Coast classic and definitely worth adding to your collection.
Top tracks: Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed | You Don’t Work You Don’t Eat | Back To The Underground | Dress Code
25. KMD - Mr Hood
KMD was a group closely affiliated with 3rd Bass (as they made their first appearance on 3rd Bass’ Gas Face track). Production-wise this album is quite unique and creative (if not a bit messy); lyrically they infused black consciousness and comedy in an interesting way. Who knows where KMD would have gone if their second album hadn’t got shelved and if SubRoc hadn’t died tragically. As it was, SubRoc’s brother Zev Love X dropped out of the Hip Hop scene for a while, only to reemerge in 1999 with a bang as the infamous MF DOOM.
Top tracks: Peach Fuzz | Figure Of Speech | Who Me? | Nitty Gritty
26. UMC's - Fruits Of Nature
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 Soul level – but it’s a very good album nonetheless.
Top tracks: Blue Cheese | One To The Grow On | Jive Talk | Swing it To The Area
27. 3rd Bass - Derelicts Of Dialect
3rd Bass always had a unique sound and this album, 3rd Bass’second and last LP, is a solid follow-up to their classic 1989 debut The Cactus Album. Derelicts Of Dialect contains a lot of excellent songs but is a bit too long with some filler tracks and a few annoying skits too much to be considered a real classic like its predecessor.
Top tracks: Derelicts Of Dialect | Ace In The Hole | No Static At All | Word To The 3rd
28. Digital Underground - Sons Of The P
Another great Digital Underground album. As always a bit experimental and therefore a bit hit or miss at times, it still is an enjoyable and fun listen. You just can not escape D.U.’s energy and enthusiasm.
Top tracks: Same Song | No Nose Job | Kiss You Back | Tales Of The Funky
29. J Rock - Streetwize
This is a forgotten NYC Hip Hop gem. J Rock is a dope emcee with a message to convey in some songs and just straight-up braggadocious rhymes in others – all over beats produced by DJ Premier and Easy Mo Bee. Streetwize is a sadly slept-on album.
Top tracks: The Shakedown | Neighborhood Drug Dealer | The Messiah | Ghetto Law
30. Nice And Smooth - Ain't A Damn Thing Changed
The appeal of Nice & Smooth was always the chemistry between the two emcees. They complement each other perfectly, Greg Nice hyped up, Smooth B mellowed out. Together they produce another clean and fun pop-rap album, maybe a little less surprising and with a little less ‘punch’ as their self-titled 1989 debut album, but still totally enjoyable.
Top tracks: Hip Hop Junkies | Sometimes I Rhyme Slow | How To Flow | Down The Line
31. MC Lyte - Act Like You Know
MC Lyte is a true legend and one of the best (if not the best) and most important female emcees in the game, ever. Her third album is not as strong as her previous two, however. It’s a bit too long and it’s a bit of a mixed bag – some really strong tracks that do justice to MC Lyte’s lyrical skills, but also some filler tracks and not so successful attempts at ‘poppy’ songs (with the exception of Poor Georgie). All in all, a must-have for MC Lyte fans, but people who are for some reason only now discovering MC Lyte would do better to get her first two albums: Lyte As A Rock and All Eyes On This.
Top tracks: Poor Georgie | Kamikaze | Act Like You Know | Search 4 The Lyte
32. Tim Dog - Penicillin On Wax
Tim Dog became a controversial and much-ridiculed figure when he started a beef he could never win – with dissing N.W.A. and the whole of Compton / L.A. he bit off more than he could chew. Or maybe controversy and notoriety are exactly what he wanted to gain a name for himself. Whatever the case, this debut album is not bad at all. Excellent funky and hard-hitting beats provided by Ced Gee of the Ultramagnetic MCs fit Tim Dog’s rugged and rough delivery. Straight up raw boom-bap Hip Hop – you could do worse than listen to Tim Dog’s Penicillin On Wax.
Top tracks: F*** Compton | Step To Me | Dog’s Gonna Getcha | Going Wild In The Penile
33. Slick Rick - The Ruler's Back
Slick Rick‘s story is kind of sad. After making a great splash on the Hip Hop scene as a guest on Doug E Fresh’s classics “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” and after dropping his own super classic debut The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, trouble with the law prevented him to continue his path to further greatness. Faced with the already difficult task of following up his classic debut, it didn’t help this second album was clearly rushed to finish it before Slick Rick had to start a five-year prison sentence. Although it definitely has its moments, it just couldn’t reach the highs of its predecessor. But Slick Rick – with his witty rhymes, story-telling abilities, and unique delivery will always be a few notches above most other rappers, even on an album that didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Top tracks: It’s A Boy | I Shouldn’t Have Done It | Ship | Mistakes
34. Poor Righteous Teachers - Pure Poverty
More ragga infused than PRT’s debut album, their second effort is dope nevertheless. Intelligent and thoughtful, PRT always drop knowledge.
Top tracks: Shakiyla | Easy Star | Just Servin’ Justice | Hot Damn I’m Great
35. OG Style - I Know How To Play Em
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 dope and funky sound, no weak songs, and a few stand-outs.
Top tracks: Funky Payback | Catch Em Slippin’ | Power | Playing It Cool
36. Downtown Science - Downtown Science
Although this was a major label (Def Jam) release and the production was done by Sam Sever (3rd Bass), this album was not a big success. Maybe the bland cover and poor marketing have something to do with that? It deserved bigger recognition, however. The production is on point, with dope beats and creative sampling all around. Emcee Bosco Money has skills and easily carries the album with clever wordplay and a dope flow. This is a slept-on album.
Top tracks: Radioactive | Room To Breathe | Natural People | This Is A Visit
37. Schoolly D - How A Black Man Feels
Schoolly D’s fifth album. Schoolly D is mostly remembered for his first two (groundbreaking) albums, released in the mid-80s. This album is also worth checking out though. How A Black Man Feels is trademark Schoolly D, with mostly dope beats to go with his hard and bleak lyrics.
Top tracks: Run | King Of New York | Original Gangster | Where’d You Get That Funk From
38. Terminator X - Terminator X & The Valley Of Jeep Beets
Terminator X’s debut solo album starts off strong – it has that P.E./Bomb Squad sound and some really strong tracks. It has a little too much not-so-strong instrumental tracks towards the end of the album though; otherwise, it would have been higher on this list.
Top tracks: Buck Whylin’ | Homie Don’t Play Dat | The Blues | Juvenile Delinquintz
39. Stetsasonic - Blood, Sweat And No Tears
The third and last album from the first Hip Hop band may just be a little too long for its own good. It contains a few filler tracks – but it’s great when it’s on point. Some live instrumentation; some serious lyrics, some fun – there’s something for everyone here. Not their best effort (like so many 1991 releases of 80s Hip Hop artists), but still vintage Stet and worth checking out.
Top tracks: No BS Allowed | Uda Man | Speakin Of a Girl Named Suzy | Blood, Sweat And No Tears
40. D Nice - To Tha Rescue
D Nice is a respected producer, DJ (and now photographer) who’s been in the game since the late 1980s, as a member of Boogie Down Productions. As a solo artist D Nice kind of flew under the radar a bit, but he did drop two more than decent albums. To Tha Rescue does what his debut Call Me D Nice did: it gives us some dope rhymes and beats; a typical early 90s NY-flavored Hip Hop album.
Top tracks: 25 Ta Life | Time To Flow | Check Yourself | Straight From The Bronx
- Convicts – Convicts
- Who Am I? – Addictive Hip Hop Muzick
- Hi-C – Skanless
- The Genius – Word From The Genius
- AMG – Bitch Betta Have My Money
- Tuff Crew – Still Dangerous
- Professor X – Years Of The 9, On The Blackhand Side
- Master P – Get Away Clean
- 2nd II None – 2nd II None
- The Terrorists – Terror Strikes: Always Bizness, Never Personal
- Gangsta Pat – No.1 Suspect
- Royal Flush – 976 Dope
- PHD – Without Warning
- Greyson & Jasun – Sweatin Me Wet
- MC Breed & DFC – MC Breed & DFC
- Maestro Fresh Wes – Black Tie Affair
- Marley Marl – In Control 2
- Yo Yo – Make Way For The Motherlode
- Yomo & Maulkie – R U Experienced
- Two Kings In A Cipher – From Pyramids To Projects
- 2 Black 2 Strong MMG – Doin’Hard Time On Planet Earth
- Sylk Smoov – Sylk Smoov
- KMC – Three Men With The Power Of Ten
- Young Black Teenagers – Young Black Teenagers
- Tony D – Droppin Funky Verses
- Big Daddy Kane – Prince Of Darkness
- Kool Moe Dee – Funke Funke Wisdom
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Homebase
- Biz Markie – I Need A Haircut
- Heavy D & The Boyz – Peaceful Journey
- Def Jef – Soul Food
- Above The Law – Vocally Pimpin’
- Queen Latifah – Nature Of A Sista
- Son Of Bazerk – Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk