1991 was another major year for Hip Hop, expanding further on the incredible growth the genre showed in the years previous. As was the case in 1990, there was no shortage of great albums and great singles in 1991 – so choosing just 40 tracks to represent one of Hip Hop’s greatest years is nearly impossible.
For this list, we have selected 40 of OUR favorite 1991 Hip Hop songs. What do YOU think? Let us know in the comments!
1. Geto Boys - Mind Playing Tricks On Me
Could there be another choice for the top spot on this 1991 singles list? Of course not. This is not only Geto Boys’ signature and very best track but one the very best tracks in Hip Hop EVER.
Check Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies for the story behind ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’.
2. A Tribe Called Quest - Check The Rhime
The lead song of The Low End Theory – one of Hip Hop’s most celebrated albums ever – shines because of the back-and-forth synergy between Q-Tip and Phife, who bounce their lines off each other effortlessly and to perfection. The ultimate ATCQ track?
3. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - Summertime
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince‘s biggest hit and a track impossible to dislike. A feel good summertime anthem if there ever was one.
4. Naughty By Nature - O.P.P.
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. “O.P.P.” is probably their best-known track in a long string of hits.
5. Ice T - Original Gangster
This DJ Aladdin produced title track of Ice T’s magnum opus is just one of the excellent tracks from that brilliant album. Over a dope beat, Ice tells us why he makes the music that he does. Classic material.
6. Black Sheep - The Choice Is Yours
7. Cypress Hill - How I Could Just Kill A Man
Arguably the best track from Cypress Hill’s highly original debut album. 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.
8. A Tribe Called Quest - Scenario ft Leaders Of The New School
Probably one of the best known and most popular posse cuts in the history of Hip Hop. With his legendary bars on this track, Busta Rhymes pretty much laid the foundation for his solo career and stardom (and the end of The Leaders Of The New School).
Infectious and catchy, this song closes out the already perfect Low End Theory album on a high note.
9. Main Source - Live At The BBQ ft Nas, Akinyele & Joe Fatal
The official debut on wax from young Queensbridge emcee Nasty Nas, with a brilliant opening verse to Main Source’s now classic posse cut “Live At The BBQ”.
10. De La Soul - Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa
A chilling story about child abuse and its possible tragic consequences, this dark track is one of the highlights of the all around brilliant De La Soul Is Dead album.
11. Public Enemy - Can't Truss It
12. Gang Starr - Just To Get A Rep
“Just To Get A Rep” is a powerful cautionary tale about a kid getting caught up and ultimately falling victim to crime. Similar to BDP’s Love’s Gonna Getcha the song tries to show that the all-out pursuit of money and material things may ultimately lead to your downfall. A poignant message over a great beat – this is what Hip Hop is all about.
13. Ice Cube - Color Blind ft Threat, Kam, J-Dee, King T, Coolio & WC
14. 2Pac - Brenda's Gotta Baby
A hard-hitting social commentary on teen pregnancy, (domestic) abuse and lacking social structures in the ghetto. Brenda’s Got A Baby was 2Pac’s debut single and a perfect introduction to what he was capable of.
15. Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs - Be A Father To Your Child
Before his collaboration projects/albums/LP’s with Masta Ace, DJ Premier and Pete Rock, Ed O.G./Edo G had numerous projects out but this song off is one of his album with ‘Da Bulldogs’ most memorable songs was this one. A positive song with a message reminding us about the importance of being a father, with meaningful lyrics addressing many issues to do with fatherhood.
16. Kool Moe Dee - Rise N Shine ft Chuck D & KRS One
This single of Kool Moe Dee’s otherwise somewhat disappointing fourth album Funke Funke Wisdom is a classic. With guest spots from Chuck D and KRS One at the height of their powers, this is a perfect example of a song from back when rappers educated their fans.
17. Lifer's Group - Belly Of The Beast
While other artists have written songs about prison that did not necessarily relate their own, real-life experiences about being incarcerated – this was a group formed in prison, by real inmates who were all serving sentences of 25 years to double life.
Recorded At East Jersey State Prison, New Jersey – this is a powerful message from the inside, telling listeners to wisen up and stay out. “This record ain’t no joke – learn at the expense of our sorrows and don’t end up in the belly of the beast.” This is the real deal.
18. Freshco & Miz - We Don't Play
Freshco & Miz, two talented young guys from Brooklyn and Philly respectively, who won the World Rap and DJ contests in the same year, joined forces to create this dope track. Freshco’s bars combined with some real Hip Hop turntablism by DJ Miz make this a Golden Age banger to be remembered.
19. N.W.A - Alwayz Into Somethin
The substance of N.W.A‘s lyrical content suffered a serious loss with Ice Cube’s departure, but Dr Dre’s excellent production still made Efil4zaggin a classic album. “Alwayz Into Somethin'” is one of the album’s big tracks, with the sound Dre would perfect on The Chronic a year later.
20. Main Source - Lookin At The Front Door
21. Nice & Smooth - Hip Hop Junkies
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. “Hip Hop Junkies” is the best track of their second album, and arguably their best-known song.
22. De La Soul - A Roller Skating Jam Named "Saturdays"
23. Gang Starr - Step In The Arena
Laidback and rough at the same time, the title track of Gang Starr’s second album is the perfect opening song. It confidently sets the tone for the rest of the album, and the rest of Gang Starr’s career – with Premier’s trademark brilliance on the boards and Guru taking on inferior emcees, visualizing emcee battles as gladiator fights.
24. MC Lyte - Poor Georgie
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 Act Like You Know 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”, a real powerful song and of Lyte’s biggest hits.
25. Ice Cube - Steady Mobbin'
The first single from Death Certificate is another one of Ice Cube’s stories about his life in South Central L.A. Great beat, great vibe.
26. Public Enemy - Shut Em Down
The fourth single from P.E.’s underrated fourth album Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black. Although not as groundbreakingly classic as it’s two predecessors, this album was solid Public Enemy. Shut Em Down is one of the highlights. The beat goes hard, as does Chuck D’s message to corporate America.
27. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Go With The Flow
All Souled Out offered us a perfect introduction to Pete Rock‘s signature sound as a producer, complemented by CL Smooth’s smooth rhyming. One of the most underrated duos in Hip Hop ever.
28. Scarface - A Minute To Pray And A Second To Die
The atmospheric lead single from Scarface’s debut album Mr. Scarface Is Back features a brilliant interpolation of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”, and is a perfect example of how an instrumental can serve to enhance the potency of the lyrics. Classic.
29. A Tribe Called Quest - Jazz (We've Got) / Buggin' Out
Yes, this is cheating. The double header video version provides the opportunity to sneak in the dope Buggin’ Out song (with a classic Phife verse) in this list as well.
Jazz (We’ve Got) is just another example of ATCQ’s ability to perfectly incorporate jazz influences in smooth and laidback Hip Hop.
30. Ice T - Midnight
One of the centerpieces of the awesome O.G. Original Gangster album. The sampling of Black Sabbath and the use of the drumbeat from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” gives a special atmosphere to this track that adds to the cinematic feel of the story told. It’s a prequel of sorts to Ice T’s break out classic “6 N The Morning”, as the story of “Midnight” ends right where “6 N The Morning” starts. Brilliant!
31. H.E.A.L. - Heal Yourself
KRS-One‘s Human Education Against Lies project (or H.E.A.L. for short
“Human Education Against Lies tries / To open the eyes of humanity before it dies / Black and white ain’t the real fight / That’s the only thing the media hypes / The real fight are these major corporations / Holding back on real education / Before you’re a color, first you’re human / Teaching humanity is what we’re doing…”
KRS’ words are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago.
32. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien - Mistadabolina
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. His debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here was a great start to that career and the catchy and clever “Mistadabolina” one of the stand-out tracks.
33. UMC's - Blue Cheese
Fruits Of Nature is a fun, positive and clean debut album from a forgotten group, full of clever lyrics and dope beats.
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. They just missed that little ‘extra’ to take them to the ATCQ and De La level – but they made some nice music, the singles “One To Grow On” and this one perfectly exemplify that fact.
34. Compton's Most Wanted - Growin' Up In The Hood
“Growing Up In The Hood” is the hit single from the classic Boyz In The Hood movie and the lead track for Straight Checkn Em, the second solid album from MC Eiht‘s Compton’s Most Wanted.
35. Organized Konfusion - Walk Into The Sun
Consciousness, politically juiced tracks, party anthems, story-telling – Prince Poetry and Pharoahe Monch pull off a perfect display of clever lyricism and dope wordplay on their self-titled debut album.
The album is a forgotten cult classic full of gems and a must-have for anyone who likes clever, layered Hip Hop. This song is just one of the many excellent tracks on the album.
36. DJ Quik - Born And Raised In Compton
DJ Quik’s debut album Quik Is The Name is a West Coast classic. It establishes DJ Quik as one of the game’s top producers and as one the godfathers of the P-Funk / G-Funk sound. His production work is always incredible 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.
“Born And Raised In Compton” is just one of the dope tracks from Quik’s debut.
37. Tim Dog - F*** Compton
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 that controversy and notoriety is exactly what he wanted to gain a name for himself.
Whatever the case, his debut album is not bad at all. Excellent funky and hard-hitting beats provided by Ced Gee of the Ultramagnetic MCs complement Tim Dog’s rugged and rough delivery. Straight up raw boom bap Hip Hop – and this lead track of the album is a classic, whether you like it or not.
38. Heavy D & The Boyz - Don't Curse ft Kool G Rap, Grand Puba, CL Smooth, Big Daddy Kane, Pete Rock, Q-Tip
From Heavy D‘s Peaceful Journey album, this is a star-studded track with a refreshing message: don’t curse.
39. Leaders Of The New School - The International Zone Coaster
One of the lead tracks from Leaders Of The New School supremely underrated debut album Future Without A Past. Great energy!
40. Son Of Bazerk - The Band Gets Swivey On The Wheels
Soulful and funky, this genre-bending Bombsquad-produced and Chuck D-sponsored act was so ahead of its time nobody really knew what to think about it. “Change The Style” and this track are stand-outs from an all around interesting album.
- A Tribe Called Quest – Butter
- A Tribe Called Quest – Excursions
- A Tribe Called Quest – Verses From The Abstract
- De La Soul – Keepin’ The Faith
- De La Soul – Bitties In The BK Lounge
- De La Soul – Afro Connections At A Hi 5
- De La Soul – Ring Ring Ring
- Ice T – The Tower
- Ice T – Bitches 2
- Ice T – New Jack Hustler
- Ice T – Mind Over Matter
- Gang Starr – Take A Rest
- Gang Starr – Who’s Gonna Take The Weight
- Gang Starr – Execution Of A Chump
- Ice Cube – No Vaseline
- Ice Cube – The Wrong Nigga To F*** With
- Ice Cube – True To The Game
- Pete Rock & CL Smooth – The Creator
- Black Sheep – Flavor Of The Month
- Black Sheep – Pass The 40
- Black Sheep – Similak Child
- Black Sheep – Butt In The Meantime
- Public Enemy – By The Time I Get To Arizona
- Public Enemy – Night Train
- N.W.A – Real N***z
- N.W.A – N****z For Life
- N.W.A – The Dayz Of Wayback
- N.W.A – Appetite For Destruction
- 3rd Bass – Ace In The Hole
- 3rd Bass – Derelicts Of Dialect
- 3rd Bass – Pop Goes The Weasel
- Main Source – Peace Is Not The Word To Play
- Main Source – A Friendly Game Of Baseball
- Main Source – Just Hangin’ Out
- Digital Underground – No Nose Job
- Digital Underground – Same Song
- Naughty By Nature – Ghetto Bastard
- Naughty By Nature – 1,2,3
- Naughty By Nature – Yoke The Joker
- Naughty By Nature – Uptown Anthem
- Cypress Hill – The Phuncky Feel One
- Cypress Hill – Pigs
- Cypress Hill – Hand On The Pump
- 2Pac – If My Homie Calls
- 2Pac – Trapped
- DJ Quik – Tonite
- DJ Quik – Quik Is The Name
- Scarface – Money And The Power
- Scarface – Diary Of A Madman
- Geto Boys – We Can’t Be Stopped
- Compton’s Most Wanted – Straight Checkn Em
- WC And The MAAD Circle – Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed
- Leaders Of The New School – Transformers
- Nice And Smooth – Sometimes I Rhyme Slow
- Stetsasonic – No BS Allowed
- MC Breed & DFC – Ain’t No Future in Your Frontin
- Organized Konfusion – Fudge Pudge
- Biz Markie – Alone Again
- Yo-Yo – Make Way For The Motherlode
- Queen Latifah – Latifah’s Had It Up To Here
- MC Lyte – Act Like You Know
- Tim Dog – Step To Me
- Schoolly D – Run
- Schoolly D – King Of New York
- Poor Righteous Teachers – Shakiyla
- Poor Righteous Teachers – Easy Star
- Slick Rick – It’s A Boy
- Slick Rick – I Shouldn’t Have Done It
- KMD – Peach Fuzz
- KMD – Figure Of Speech
- UMCs – One To Grow On
- Godfather Don – Hazardous
- Terminator X – Buck Whylin’
- Terminator X – Homie Don’t Play That
- Chubb Rock – The Chubbster
- Chubb Rock – The One
- D-Nice – 25 Ta Life
- D-Nice – Time To Flow
- Del – The Wacky World of Rapid Transit
- Freestyle Fellowship – Sunshine Men
- Freestyle Fellowship – The 7th Seal
- Alphabet Soup – Sunny Day In Harlem
- Lifer’s Group – The Real Deal