Dark Light

The 1990s was the greatest decade in hip hop history, there’s no doubt about it. Wedged in between the innovative ’80s and the over-commercialised ’00s, the ’90s was the best of both worlds.

Yes, there were albums dropped that went on to become huge sellers, but it seemed like there was still a big focus on making the best music possible while pursuing sales. Between 1990 and 1999, hip hop experienced its biggest transformation to date, with a number of legendary artists making their debut, many of them still active to this day.

From Illmatic, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Aquemini to Midnight Marauders, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Ready to Die, here are the 50 best hip hop albums of the 1990s.

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Honourable mentions:

OutKast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Released: April 26, 1994

Label: LaFace, Arista

Singles: “Player’s Ball”, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”, “Git Up, Git Out”

Nas – It Was Written

Released: July 2, 1996

Label: Columbia

Singles: “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)”, “Street Dreams”, “The Message”

Mobb Deep – Hell on Earth

Released: November 19, 1996

Label: Loud, RCA

Singles: “Still Shinin'”, “Drop a Gem on ‘Em”, “Front Lines (Hell on Earth)”, “G.O.D. Pt. III”

Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Released: September 29, 1998

Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam

Singles: “Can I Get A…”, “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, “Money, Cash, Hoes”, “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)”

Compton’s Most Wanted – Music to Driveby

Released: September 29, 1992

Label: Orpheus Records, Epic, Sony

Singles: “Hood Took Me Under”, “Def Wish II”

A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

Released: April 10, 1990

Label: Jive, RCA Records

Singles: “Description of a Fool”, “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”, “Bonita Applebum”, “Can I Kick It?”

Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

Released: March 28, 1995

Label: Columbia

Singles: “Put It On”, “M.V.P.”, “No Endz, No Skinz”

2Pac – Me Against the World

Released: March 14, 1995

Label: Interscope, Jive

Singles: “Dear Mama”, “So Many Tears”, “Temptations”

Master P – MP da Last Don

Released: June 2, 1998

Label: No Limit, Priority, EMI

Singles: “Thinkin’ Bout U”, “Hot Boys and Girls”, “Make ‘Em Say Uhh! #2”, “Goodbye to My Homies”, “Thug Girl”

Lil Kim – Hard Core

Released: November 12, 1996

Label: Undeas, Big Beat, Atlantic

Singles: “No Time”, “Crush on You (Remix)”, “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)”

Eightball & MJG – Comin’ Out Hard

Released: August 17, 1993

Label: Suave House

Singles: N/A

Ghostface Killah – Ironman

Released: October 29, 1996

Label: Epic, Razor Sharp

Singles: “All That I Got Is You”, “Daytona 500”, “Motherless Child”

Mase – Harlem World

Released: October 28, 1997

Label: Bad Boy, Arista

Singles: “Feel So Good”, “What You Want”, “24 Hrs. to Live”, “Lookin’ at Me”

Digital Underground – Sex Packets

Released: March 20, 1990

Label: Tommy Boy, Warner Bros.

Singles: “Doowutchyalike”, “The Humpty Dance”

E-40 – In a Major Way

Released: March 14, 1995

Label: Jive Records, Sick Wid It

Singles: “1-Luv”, “Sprinkle Me”

Scarface – Mr. Scarface Is Back

Released: October 8, 1991

Label: Rap-A-Lot, Priority, EMI

Singles: “Scarface”, “A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die”

Common – Resurrection

Released: October 4, 1994

Label: Relativity

Singles: “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, “Resurrection”

Black Sheep – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Released: October 22, 1991

Label: Mercury

Singles: “Flavor of the Month”, “The Choice Is Yours”, “Strobelite Honey”, “Similak Child”

N.W.A. – Efil4zaggin

Released: May 28, 1991

Label: Ruthless, Priority

Singles: “Alwayz into Somethin'”, “Appetite for Destruction”, “The Dayz of Wayback”

Capone-N-Noreaga – The War Report

Released: June 17, 1997

Label: Penalty, Tommy Boy, Warner Bros.

Singles: “Illegal Life”, “L.A., L.A.”, “T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)”, “Closer”

Smif-N-Wessun – Dah Shinin’

Released: January 10, 1995

Label: Wreck, Nervous

Singles: “Bucktown”/”Let’s Git It On”, “Wontime”/”Stand Strong”, “Wrekonize”/”Sound Bwoy Bureill”

Redman – Muddy Waters

Released: December 10, 1996

Label: Def Jam

Singles: “It’s Like That (My Big Brother)”, “Whateva Man”, “Pick It Up”

Brand Nubian – One for All

Released: December 4, 1990

Label: Elektra

Singles: “Brand Nubian”, “Feel So Good”, “Wake Up”, “Slow Down”, “All for One”

Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

Released: April 21, 1992

Label: Capitol

Singles: “Pass the Mic”, “So What’cha Want”, “Jimmy James”, “Gratitude”, “Professor Booty”

The Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia

Released: November 14, 1995

Label: Delicious Vinyl

Singles: “Drop”, “Runnin'”, “She Said”

The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!

Released: January 17, 1995

Label: DGC, Geffen

Singles: “Distortion to Static”, “Proceed”, “Silent Treatment”

EPMD – Business As Usual

Released: December 18, 1990

Label: Def Jam, Rush, Columbia

Singles: “Gold Digger”, “Rampage”, “Give the People”

DJ Quik – Quik Is the Name

Released: January 15, 1991

Label: Profile

Singles: “Born and Raised in Compton”, “Tonite”, “Quik Is The Name”

50. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – E. 1999 Eternal

Released: July 25, 1995

Label: Ruthless, Relativity

Singles: “1st of tha Month”, “East 1999”, “Tha Crossroads”

49. Main Source – Breaking Atoms

Released: July 23, 1991

Label: Wild Pitch, EMI

Singles: “Looking at the Front Door”, “Watch Roger Do His Thing”, “Just Hangin’ Out”, “Peace Is Not the Word to Play”

48. Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly

Released: July 15, 1997

Label: The Goldmind, Elektra

Singles: “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, “Sock It 2 Me”, “Beep Me 911”, “Hit Em wit da Hee”

47. The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

Released: November 24, 1992

Label: Delicious Vinyl, EastWest

Singles: “Ya Mama”, “Passin’ Me By”, “4 Better or 4 Worse”, “Otha Fish”

46. O.C. – Word…Life

Released: October 18, 1994

Label: Wild Pitch

Singles: “Time’s Up”

45. Souls of Mischief – 93 ‘Til Infinity

Released: September 28, 1993

Label: Jive

Singles: “93 ’til Infinity”, “That’s When Ya Lost”, “Never No More”

44. KRS-One – Return of the Boom Bap

Released: September 28, 1993

Label: Jive

Singles: “Outta Here”, “Sound of da Police”

43. Juvenile – 400 Degreez

Released: November 3, 1998

Label: Cash Money, Universal

Singles: “Follow Me Now”, “Ha”, “Back That Thang Up”

42. Eminem – The Slim Shady LP

Released: February 23, 1999

Label: Aftermath, Interscope

Singles: “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”, “My Name Is”, “Role Model”, “Guilty Conscience”

41. DMX – It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

Released: May 19, 1998

Label: PolyGram, Def Jam, Ruff Ryders

Singles: “Get at Me Dog”, “Stop Being Greedy”, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”, “How’s It Goin’ Down”

40. Big Pun – Capital Punishment

Released: April 28, 1998

Label: BMG, RCA, Loud, Terror Squad

Singles: “I’m Not a Player”, “Still Not a Player”, “Twinz (Deep Cover 98)”, “You Came Up”

39. Gang Starr – Hard to Earn

Released: March 8, 1994

Label: Chrysali, EMI Records

Singles: “Dwyck”, “Mass Appeal”, “Code of the Streets”, “Suckas Need Bodyguards”

38. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Released: March 28, 1995

Label: Elektra, WMG

Singles: “Brooklyn Zoo”, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”

37. Black Moon – Enta da Stage

Released: October 19, 1993

Label: Nervous

Singles: “Who Got da Props”, “How Many MC’s…”, “I Got Cha Opin (remix)”, “Buck Em Down (remix)”

36. Goodie Mob – Soul Food

Released: November 7, 1995

Label: LaFace

Singles: “Cell Therapy”

35. The Roots – Things Fall Apart

Released: February 23, 1999

Label: MCA

Singles: “You Got Me”, “The Next Movement”

34. Naughty by Nature – Naughty by Nature

Released: September 3, 1991

Label: Tommy Boy

Singles: “O.P.P.”, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, “Uptown Anthem”

33. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth – Funky Technician

Released: February 6, 1990

Label: Wild Pitch, EMI Records

Singles: N/A

32. UGK – Ridin’ Dirty

Released: July 30, 1996

Label: Jive

Singles: “One Day”

31. Geto Boys – We Can’t Be Stopped

Released: July 9, 1991

Label: Rap-A-Lot Records

Singles: “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

30. Mos Def – Black on Both Sides

Released: October 12, 1999

Label: Rawkus, Priority

Singles: “Ms. Fat Booty” / “Mathematics”, “Umi Says”

29. MF Doom – Operation: Doomsday

Released: October 19, 1999

Label: Fondle ‘Em

Singles: “Dead Bent” / “Gas Drawls” / “Hey!”, “Greenbacks” / “Go with the Flow”, “The M.I.C.” / “Red & Gold”, “I Hear Voices Pt. 1”, “Tick, Tick…”

28. Dr. Dre – 2001

Released: November 16, 1999

Label: Aftermath, Interscope

Singles: “Still D.R.E.”, “Forgot About Dre”, “The Next Episode”, “The Watcher”

27. Fugees – The Score

Released: February 13, 1996

Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia

Singles: “Fu-Gee-La”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Ready or Not”, “No Woman, No Cry”

26. GZA – Liquid Swords

Released: November 7, 1995

Label: Geffen

Singles: “I Gotcha Back”, “Liquid Swords”, “Cold World”, “Shadowboxin'”

25. Scarface – The Diary

Released: October 18, 1994

Label: Rap-A-Lot, Noo Trybe

Singles: “I Seen a Man Die”, “Hand of the Dead Body”

24. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Released: August 25, 1998

Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia

Singles: “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, “Ex-Factor”, “Everything Is Everything”

23. Redman – Whut? Thee Album

Released: September 22, 1992

Label: Rush, Chaos

Singles: “Blow Your Mind”, “Time 4 Sum Aksion”, “Tonight’s da Night”

22. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – Mecca and the Soul Brother

Released: June 9, 1992

Label: Elektra

Singles: “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”, “Straighten It Out”, “Lots of Lovin'”

21. Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle

Released: November 23, 1993

Label: Death Row, Interscope

Singles: “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)”, “Gin & Juice”, “Doggy Dogg World”

20. Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill

Released: August 13, 1991

Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia

Singles: “The Phuncky Feel One / How I Could Just Kill a Man”, “Hand on the Pump / Real Estate”, “Pigs”, “Latin Lingo”

19. OutKast – ATLiens

Released: August 27, 1996

Label: LaFace, Arista

Singles: “Elevators (Me & You)”, “ATLiens”, “Jazzy Belle”

18. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet

Released: April 10, 1990

Label: Def Jam, Columbia

Singles: “Fight the Power”, “Welcome to the Terrordome”, “911 Is a Joke”, “Brothers Gonna Work it Out”, “Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man”

17. 2Pac – All Eyez on Me

Released: February 13, 1996

Label: Death Row, Interscope

Singles: “California Love”, “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted”, “How Do U Want It”, “I Ain’t Mad at Cha”

16. De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate

Released: September 21, 1993

Label: Tommy Boy, Warner Bros.

Singles: “Breakadawn”, “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)”

15. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die

Released: September 13, 1994

Label: Bad Boy, Arista

Singles: “Juicy”, “Big Poppa / Warning”, “One More Chance”

14. LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out

Released: September 14, 1990

Label: Def Jam, Columbia

Singles: “To da Break of Dawn”, “The Boomin’ System”, “Around the Way Girl”, “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “6 Minutes of Pleasure”

13. Ice Cube – Death Certificate

Released: October 31, 1991

Label: Lench Mob, Priority

Singles: “Steady Mobbin'”, “True to the Game”

12. Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

Released: June 25, 1996

Label: Roc-A-Fella, Priority

Singles: “Dead Presidents”, “Ain’t No Nigga”, “Can’t Knock the Hustle”, “Feelin’ It”

11. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory

Released: September 24, 1991

Label: Jive

Singles: “Check the Rhime”, “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, “Scenario”

10. 2Pac – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

Released: November 5, 1996

Label: Death Row, Interscope

Singles: “Toss It Up”, “To Live & Die in L.A.”, “Hail Mary”

9. Mobb Deep – The Infamous

Released: April 25, 1995

Label: Loud, RCA

Singles: “Shook Ones (Part II)”, “Survival of the Fittest”, “Temperature’s Rising”, “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)”

8. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death

Released: March 25, 1997

Label: Bad Boy, Arista

Singles: “Hypnotize”, “Mo Money Mo Problems”, “Sky’s the Limit”

7. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

Released: August 1, 1995

Label: Loud, RCA

Singles: “Heaven & Hell”, “Criminology”, “Ice Cream”, “Rainy Dayz”

6. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

Released: November 9, 1993

Label: Jive

Singles: “Electric Relaxation”, “Award Tour”, “Oh My God”

5. OutKast – Aquemini

Released: September 29, 1998

Label: LaFace, Arista

Singles: “Skew It on the Bar-B”, “Rosa Parks”, “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1)”

4. Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted

Released: May 16, 1990

Label: Lench Mob, Priority

Singles: “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”, “Who’s the Mack?

3. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Released: November 9, 1993

Label: Loud

Singles: “Protect Ya Neck”, “Method Man”, “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Can It Be All So Simple”

2. Dr. Dre – The Chronic

Released: December 15, 1992

Label: Death Row, Interscope

Singles: “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”, “Dre Day”, “Let Me Ride”

1. Nas – Illmatic

Released: April 19, 1994

Label: Columbia

Singles: “Halftime”, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, “Life’s a Bitch”, “The World Is Yours”, “One Love”

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