1995 was another monumental year for Hip Hop, and a pivotal one as well. Because of infamous speeches by Deathrow representatives Suge Knight and Snoop Dogg on the 1995 Source awards in New York City, animosity between East- and West Coast Hip Hop reached a boiling point – more specifically between Deathrow Records and Bad Boy Records – which would have tragic consequences in the years to come. It would also not be long before the big money people would really step in to create generic, mindless rap that would become a bane to the genre. But in ’95 the Golden Age still was in full swing, with a bunch of all-time classic albums being released.
For this list, we have selected 40 of the best 1995 Hip Hop albums, plus honorable mentions. Agree? Disagree? Discus!
1. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
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.
With artists like 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.
Top tracks: Incarcerated Scarfaces | Verbal Intercourse | Ice Cream | Wu Gambinos
2. GZA - Liquid Swords
Liquid Swords is another highlight in the Wu-Tang (solo) catalog. The album may have topped this list if GZA hadn’t overdone it a bit on the skits/intro’s, but the actual songs on this one are true bangers. Elite production by the RZA as usual in that era, and the trademark dope Wu-Tang lyricism.
Top tracks: Liquid Swords | Shadowboxin’ | 4th Chamber | Cold World
3. The Pharcyde - Lacabincalifornia
With their 1992 debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde this 4-men crew dropped a left-field West Coast classic. This follow-up is more mature and possibly even better (J Dilla was involved on the production side, so there you go).
Top tracks: Runnin | Drop | Moment In Time | Hey You
4. Mobb Deep - The Infamous
An album that will always polarize opinions. Considered an absolute classic and an all-time top 10 album by many, there are also those who find it inaccessible because of the overly gritty and dark nature of the album. 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)
5. 2Pac - Me Against The World
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 he would become 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.
Top tracks: Dear Mama | So Many Tears | Me Against The World | Old School
6. Goodie Mob - Soul Food (1995)
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. This is one of those albums that age like fine wine and only get better as time goes by. Cee-Lo, T-Mo, Big Gipp, and Khujo dropped a timeless gem with this album.
Top tracks: Soul Food | Cell Therapy | Dirty South | Thought Process
7. Big L - Lifestyles Ov Da Poor & Dangerous
The classic debut of one of the most naturally gifted and best punch-line emcees ever. production could have been better in places, but lyrically Big L is untouchable. Big L, rest in peace.
Top tracks: Let Em Have It L | Put It On | I Don’t Understand It | Street Struck
8. Ol’ Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers
One of the 4 classic Wu-Tang solo-albums following the crew’s monumental 1993 debut Enter The Wu-Tang. Ol’ Dirty Bastard: there’s no father to his style.
Top tracks: Shimmy Shimmy Ya | Brooklyn Zoo | Raw Hide | Goin’ Down
9. Bone Thugs N Harmony - E.1999 Eternal
The debut full-length album from this Cleveland crew under the name Bone Thugs N Harmony. This group of talented Eazy E protegees pioneered their own style of harmonized sing-song rapping, and with this album, they really delivered on the promise made by the BNTH’s EP of the year previous. Because of their unique style, their undeniable chemistry, and the eery vibe of the album, E.1999 Eternal has been universally recognized as a Hip Hop classic.
Top tracks: East 1999 | Tha Crossroads | First of the Month | Mo Murda
10. Smif N Wessun - Dah Shinin
Classic mid-90s NYC Hip Hop. This album was an important part of the mid-90s NYC hip hop renaissance, with albums Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage (1993) and Mobb Deep’s The Infamous.
Top tracks: Wrekonize | Stand Strong | Cession At Da Doghillee | Bucktown
11. KRS One - KRS One
KRS-One (originally meant to be titled Hip-Hop Vs. Rap) is a great album, and very underappreciated. It may lack the spark and fun-factor of its predecessor Return Of The Boom Bap, but it holds at least as many awesome tracks. The banging album opener “Rappaz R N Dainja”, the other DJ Premier-produced classic “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know”, the clever “Hold”, the controversial “The Truth” and tracks like “Represent The Real Hip Hop” and “Ah Yeah” – this album has plenty of treasures. In a year when mafioso rap was on the rise and the south was taking over, KRS-One was overlooked a bit – even if it was one of KRS One’s better-selling albums. KRS-One is one of the best albums in KRS One’s catalog – and that says a lot.
Top tracks: Rappaz R N Dainja | MCs Act Like They Don’t Know | Hold | Represent The Real Hip Hop
12. DJ Quik - Safe + Sound
West Coast legend DJ Quik drops another G-funk / P-funk gem with Safe + Sound, arguably his best album.
Top tracks: Safe + Sound | Dollarz + Sense | Keep Tha P in It | Somethin 4 the Mood
13. Aceyalone - All Balls Don't Bounce
Aceyalone had already made a name for himself as the lead emcee of the Freestyle Fellowship crew before this solo debut. Even though they are from Los Angeles, like the rest of Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone is all about lyricism and not about gangster posturing. Like all of his albums, All Balls Don’t Bounce is supremely underrated, except by the real Hip Hop connoisseur. Aceyalone is a master of different styles, but consistent are his dope flow, intelligent lyrics, and supreme creativity. If you slept on Aceyalone, now’s the time to catch up.
Top tracks: All Balls Don’t Bounce | Mic Check | Mr. Outsider | Arhythmaticulas
14. AZ - Doe Or Die
Why AZ never made it bigger than he did will forever be one of Hip Hop’s biggest mysteries. Universally recognized as one of the best emcees (and somewhat paradoxically one of the most underrated emcees) in the game, AZ has released a series of good to excellent albums. Doe Or Die, his debut, is one of his best. Short and tight, it pioneers the mafioso subgenre, together with releases from Raekwon and Kool G Rap this year.
Top tracks: Uncut Raw | Gimme Your’s | Doe Or Die | Sugar Hill
15. Tha Dogg Pound - Dogg Food
The duo of Kurupt and Daz Dillinger dropped a G-funk gem with this dope album. Kurupt is a great rapper, who’s smooth style combined with Daz’s excellent production make this album a timeless classic. If there’s a problem with this album it’s its length. Like a lot of albums of this era, it would have been better if they had made it a little shorter and tighter. Nevertheless, Dogg Food is a West Coast classic and a fan favorite to this day.
Top tracks: Dogg Pound Gangstaz | Respect | New York New York | Smooth
16. The Roots - Do You Want More?!!!??!
The Roots’ second album showed the true promise of what this crew would be able to do. Their independently released was still a little rough around the edges, this one was as smooth and assured as the rest of their catalog would be. The start of an incredibly consistent catalog.
Top tracks: Proceed | Distortion To Static | Mellow My Man | The Lesson, Pt. I
17. Show & AG - Goodfellas
After their critically acclaimed debut album Runaway Slave in 1992, DITC members Show & AG came back strong with this sophomore effort. Sorely 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.
Top tracks: Next Level | Check It Out | Got The Flava | Medicine
16. E-40 - In A Major Way
Bay Area pioneer and legend E-40 released A LOT of albums in his 30-year career, this one may just be his very best. Smooth and funky, and with a load a star guest rappers – like 2Pac and Spice 1 – guarantee a great listening experience. Not everybody digs E-40 rapping style, but there’s no denying the ‘classicness’ of this particular album.
Top tracks: The Bumble | Dusted ‘n’ Disgusted | Sprinkle Me | Spittin’
19. Eightball & MJG - On Top Of The World
Another early Dirty South classic – with a distinct West Coast/Bay Area feel – from Memphis duo Eightball & MJG. Pimp and crime stories over smooth bass-heavy beats, that’s what you expect and that’s what you get. One of their best albums, if not their very best.
Top tracks: Top Of The World | Friend Or Foe | Pimp in My Own Rhyme | All In My Mind
20. WC & The MAAD Circle - Curb Servin
Everything WC did up to this point in his career was consistently dope. As part of Low Profile and now with his second album with The MAAD Circle, it’s all good. Curb Servin’ is not often mentioned when West Coast classics are lauded, but it should be. The production by Crazy Toons – who uses a lot of old school funk samples – is excellent, and WC is a powerful emcee who can easily carry the album. One of the best of the west.
Top tracks: West Up! | The Creator | Put On Tha Set | Curb Servin
21. Kool G Rap - 4,5,6
Kool G Rap‘s lyrical abilities are second to none. Some might say it’s a shame G Rap’s subject matter is too often violence and crime-related because his skills are so suited for battle rhymes. Whatever the subject matter though, Kool G Rap always displays his superior lyrical skills. The beats could have been better here and there, but nevertheless, 4,5,6 is a solid album by a legendary emcee.
Top tracks: Fast Life | Blowin’ Up In The World | 4,5,6 | Executioner Style
22. LL Cool J - Mr Smith
It is often said LL Cool J hasn’t made a decent album after his first four classics. That’s wrong. Although not perfect, Mr Smith – LL’s 6th album – is a more than solid effort. At times hardcore and at times crossover, LL always had something from everybody. It can make an album like this feel a little inconsistent, but this is a quality album nonetheless.
Top tracks: I Shot Ya | Mr. Smith | Doin’ It | Hip Hop
23. Cypress Hill - III
Cypress Hill’s best album? Maybe not as surprising and groundbreaking as their first, but Muggs’ production work has never been better – dark and psychedelic, but funky throughout. Cypress Hill has always been an act with one leg firmly in the crossover/alternative music camp and one for Hip Hop fans with an acquired taste, but there’s no denying their iconic status.
Top tracks: Spark Another Owl | Illusions | Boom Biddy Bye Bye | Killafornia
24. Tha Alkoholiks - Coast II Coast
Classic West Coast underground Hip Hop. No gangsta rap or G-funk, but fun, boom bap, party rap. Much like their equally excellent debut 21 & Over, Coast II Coast is an album to be remembered. Also notable for the early production work of Madlib (together with E-Swift and Diamond D).
Top tracks: Daaam! | All the Way Live | Flashback | The Next Level
25. Masta Ace - Sittin' On Chrome
On his third album, Masta Ace once again reinvents his style. On this one, he merges elements from the east and west coast sounds. Top production and excellent lyrics – the album is just a bit too long for a higher position on this list.
Top tracks: Sittin’ On Chrome | Born To Role | What’s Going On | Turn It Up
26. King Tee - IV Life
Underrated L.A. veteran King Tee once again comes correct with another dope album.
Top tracks: Dippin’ | Check The Flow | Way Out There | Free Style Ghetto
27. K-Rino - Danger Zone
The second in a long string of albums from Houston legend K-Rino may not be as good as his debut but features the same lyrical prowess. K-Rino always was a way above average emcee, with extravagant wordplay and an extensive vocabulary. Punchlines and thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics as always, K-Rino deserves his props as a top emcee. He could have benefitted from better cover art for his albums though…
Top tracks: Danger Zone | Illusions | Raise Up | Verbal Execution
28. Group Home - Livin' Proof
If only this album had dope emcees and tight lyrics – then it probably would have landed in this year’s Top 10. As it is, DJ Premier’s superb work on the boards is somewhat undone by the subpar lyricism of the Group Home rappers. Still: an enjoyable album, but it could have been so much better…
Top tracks: Livin’ Proof | Suspended in Time | Supa Star | The Realness
29. Mic Geronimo - The Natural
A perfect example of a mid-90s New York Hip Hop album. Mic Geronimo is a great emcee from Queens, who dropped this excellent album before Puff Daddy got his hands on him and turned him into a shiny suit rapper. Mic Geronimo got the skills on the mic to carry an album and this brilliantly produced album is consistently dope, it just misses that special spark to rank it higher still.
Top tracks: The Natural | Time To Build | Men Vs. Many | It’s Real
30. Count Bass-D - Pre-Life Crisis
Different from the work Count Bass-D would do later on in his career, this is a straight-up feel-good, fun Hip Hop album, where Count uses real instruments and holds his own – rapping and singing – on the mic too. Slept on and forgotten, this experimental album definitely is worth checking out.
Top tracks: The Dozens | Carmex | T-Boz Tried To Talk To Me! | Broke Thursday
31. Too $hort - Cocktails
“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” Never this was more true than in the case of Oakland legend Too Short. Another album, another banger. Smooth and funky beats and Short Dog’s pimp stories – with guest spots by 2Pac and Mc Breed among others – you know you get consistent quality with a Too Short joint.
Top tracks: Cocktales | Ain’t Nothin Like Pimping | Paystyle | Top Down
32. Fat Joe - Jealous One's Envy
One of Fat Joe‘s better albums, before he went ‘pop’. This is a dope album, and with guest spots from emcees like KRS One, Big Pun, and Raekwon, Fat Joe enlisted the best help out there. A few filler tracks do not undermine the fact that this album definitely holds its own.
Top tracks: Bronx Tale | Respect Mine | Watch Out | Bronx Keeps Creatin It
33. Miilkbone - Da Miilkrate
After groups like Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass gave white rappers Hip Hop credibility, along came Vanilla Ice who pretty much destroyed it. Long before Eminem would restore it by becoming one the best emcees ever, there was Miilkbone. The time just wasn’t right for him, because there is not much wrong with this album.
Top tracks: Keep It Real | Kids On The Ave | How Ya Like It | Check Me Out
34. Erick Sermon - Double Or Nothing
Erick Sermon may not be the very best emcee out there, but he sure is one of the best producers. Competent enough on the mic though to carry an album, and smart enough to recruit class A help from friends like Redman and Keith Murray. A must-have for EPMD and Def Squad fans.
Top tracks: Open Fire | Welcome | Bomdigi | Freak Out
35. The Nonce - World Ultimate
This West Coast group (with a very unfortunate name – look up what ‘Nonce’ means in the U.K.) dropped an atypical album for West Coast standards with World Ultimate. Sounding like a kind of West Coast Native Tongues act, they dropped a criminally slept-on album with World Ultimate.
Top tracks: World Ultimate | Mix Tapes | Keep It On | Eighty-Five
36. Onyx - All We Got Iz Us
An essential album for those who dig the grimy, ‘screaming’ style of rap that Onyx pioneered. On their second album they come just as hard as they did on their classic debut Bacdafucup. Consistent from beginning to end, just maybe missing that spark that made their debut their most recognizable album to date.
Top tracks: Last Dayz | Purse Snatchaz | All We Got Iz Us | Punkmotherf*kaz
37. The Grouch - Don't Talk to Me
The debut album from Living Legends member The Grouch immediately sets the tone for a respected career in the L.A. underground. A true emcee and storyteller, on this album The Grouch gives us Hip Hop with substance. No gangsta cliches, but intelligence and emotion – that’s what’s on display here. Don’t sleep on The Grouch and the rest of the Living Legends.
Top tracks: Car Troubles | Invisible Man | Oh | Disappointments
38. Nine - Nine Livez
Dark and dirty beats, with Nine’s grimy delivery and dope flow, make this an album to take note of. Not perfect, but an entertaining record for those who dig gruff-voiced emcees like DMX.
Top tracks: Whut’cha Want | Redrum | Any Emcee | Tha Cypha
39. Channel Live - Station Identification
Best known for the classic single Mad Izm featuring KRS-One, this is a straight boom-bap album, no gimmicks. Hakim and Tuffy, considered proteges of KRS-One, come with dope rhymes over dark and heavy beats. You can’t go wrong with this album if you are a fan of that mid-nineties NYC roughneck Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Mad Izm | Who U Represent | Down Goes The Devil | Reprogram
40. Souls of Mischief - No Man's Land
Not on the same level as their debut 93 Til Infinity, but not as bad as some critics wanted us to believe. It may feel a little less inspired and energetic than the classic predecessor and it may contain a few misses, but there are still plenty of dope tracks with SOM’s lyrical brilliance and creativity on full display to make for an enjoyable album. Don’t front on the Souls Of Mischief / Hieroglyphics crew.
Top tracks: No Man’s Land | Freshdopedope | Time’s Ain’t Fair | Come Anew
- Guru – Jazzmatazz Volume II: The New Reality
- Brotha Lynch Hung – Season Of Da Siccness
- Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise
- Naughty by Nature – Poverty’s Paradise
- Grand Puba – 2000
- Das EFX – Hold It Down
- Special Ed – Revelations
- Doug E Fresh – Play
- Schoolly D – Reservoir Dog
- Mack 10 – Mack 10
- Luniz – Operation Stackola
- Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Conspiracy
- Kam – Made in America
- B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta – Real Brothas
- Spice 1 – 1990-Sick
- Tru – True
- Master P – 99 Ways to Die
- Bushwick Bill – Phantom of the Rapra
- Ray Luv – Forever Hustlin’
- Three-6 Mafia – Mystic Stylez
- Rappin’ Ron & Ant Diddley Dog – Bad N Fluenz
- 11/5 – Fiendin 4 Tha Funk
- Ant Banks – Do Or Die
- Young D Boyz – Straight Game
- Key-Kool & Rhettmatic – Kozmonautz
- Funkdoobiest – Brothas Doobie
- Main One – Birth Of The Ghetto Child
- Cold World Hustlers – Iceland
- Dre Dog – I Hate You With a Passion
- Double XX Posse – Ruff, Rugged & Raw
- Mystidious Misfitss – A Who Datt
- Questionmark – Asylum The Album
- Red Hot Lover Tone – #1 Player
- Sham & The Professor – Split Personalities
- Da Nayborhoodz – Afta Dark… Illa Than Expected
- The B.U.M.S (Brothas Unda Madness) – Lyfe ‘n’ Tym
- Various Artists – Return Of The DJ
- DJ Krush – Meiso
- Tales From The Hood – Soundtrack
- Friday – Soundtrack
- The Show – Soundtrack