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The 1990s was a defining decade for hip hop music. The growing popularity of the genre, along with the emergence of masterful producers and talented lyricists, led to some of the greatest rap songs and albums of all time.

Just think about how many great rappers debuted in that decade. From Wu-Tang Clan to Biggie, 2Pac to Nas, A Tribe Called Quest to OutKast, the ’90s was an extraordinary time for the culture. It’s no wonder why we had such a hard time putting together our list of the best rappers of the 1990s – there was so much dope talent floating around that decade.

Whether you were rapping along with MC Hammer or Naughty By Nature, bumping Tupac’s “California Love” in your car, or rocking out to Biggie Smalls on your Walkman, here are the 50 best hip hop songs of the ’90s.

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50. Digital Underground – “The Humpty Dance”

Released: January 20, 1990

Album: Sex Packets

Producer: Digital Underground

49. Onyx – “Slam”

Released: March 30, 1993

Album: Bacdafucup

Producer: Chyskillz, Jam Master Jay

48. Eric B & Rakim – “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em”

Released: June 19, 1990

Album: Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em

Producer: Eric B & Rakim

47. O.C. – “Word…Life”

Released: October 18, 1994

Album: Word…Life

Producer: Buckwild

46. Black Star – “Definition”

Released: August 26, 1998

Album: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

Producer: Hi-Tek

45. Wu-Tang Clan – “Triumph”

Released: February 11, 1997

Album: Wu-Tang Forever

Producer: RZA

44. Public Enemy – “Shut ‘Em Down (Pe-Te Rock Mixx)”

Released: January 3, 1992

Album: Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black

Producer: Pete Rock

43. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – “Tha Crossroads”

Released: April 30, 1996

Album: E. 1999 Eternal

Producer: U-Neek, Tony-C

42. UGK – “Murder”

Released: July 30, 1996

Album: Ridin’ Dirty

Producer: N.O. Joe, Pimp C

41. LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Released: September 14, 1990

Album: Mama Said Knock You Out

Producer: Bobby “Bobcat” Erving, Marley Marl

40. Scarface – “I Seen a Man Die”

Released: September 27, 1994

Album: The Diary

Producer: N.O. Joe, Scarface, Mike Dean

39. MF Doom – “Doomsday”

Released: October 19, 1999

Album: Operation: Doomsday

Producer: MF Doom

38. Craig Mack – “Flava in Ya Ear”

Released: July 26, 1994

Album: Project Funk da World

Producer: Easy Mo Bee

37. Luniz – “I Got 5 on It”

Released: May 23, 1995

Album: Operation Stackola

Producer: Tone Capone

36. Warren G ft. Nate Dogg – “Regulate”

Released: April 28, 1994

Album: Regulate… G Funk Era

Producer: Warren G

35. Eminem – “My Name Is”

Released: January 25, 1999

Album: The Slim Shady LP

Producer: Dr. Dre

34. Souls of Mischief – “93 ’til Infinity”

Released: September 28, 1993

Album: 93 ’til Infinity

Producer: A-Plus

33. Wu-Tang Clan – “Protect Ya Neck”

Released: June 19, 1990

Album: Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em

Producer: Eric B., Rakim

32. KRS-One – “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know”

Released: August 28, 1995

Album: KRS-One

Producer: DJ Premier

31. Cypress Hill – “How I Could Just Kill a Man”

Released: July 11, 1991

Album: Cypress Hill

Producer: DJ Muggs

30. Raekwon – “Incarcerated Scarfaces”

Released: August 1, 1995

Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

Producer: RZA

29. Jay-Z – “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”

Released: September 29, 1998

Album: Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Producer: The 45 King

28. Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Doggy – “Still D.R.E.”

Released: November 2, 1999

Album: 2001

Producer: Dr. Dre, Mel-Man

27. Snoop Dogg – “Gin & Juice”

Released: November 23, 1993

Album: Doggystyle

Producer: Dr. Dre

26. N.O.R.E. – “Superthug”

Released: September 21, 1998

Album: N.O.R.E.

Producer: The Neptunes

25. Salt-N-Pepa – “Shoop”

Released: September 21, 1993

Album: Very Necessary

Producer: Mark Sparks, Salt

24. Fugees – “Fu-Gee-La”

Released: May 11, 1993

Album: Bacdafucup

Producer: Chyskillz, Jam Master Jay

23. Juvenile ft. Mannie Fresh and Lil Wayne – “Back That Azz Up”

Released: June 11, 1999

Album: 400 Degreez

Producer: Mannie Fresh

22. Jeru the Damaja – “Come Clean”

Released: October 26, 1993

Album: The Sun Rises in the East

Producer: DJ Premier

21. Common – “I Used to Love H.E.R.”

Released: September 27, 1994

Album: Resurrection

Producer: No I.D.

20. OutKast – “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”

Released: September 29, 1998

Album: Aquemini

Producer: OutKast

19. Master P – “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!”

Released: January 13, 1998

Album: Ghetto D

Producer: KLC

18. The Pharycde – “Passin’ Me By”

Released: March 18, 1993

Album: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

Producer: J-Swift

17. OutKast – “Elevators (Me & You)”

Released: July 9, 1996

Album: ATLiens

Producer: OutKast

16. Naughty by Nature – “O.P.P.”

Released: August 24, 1991

Album: Naughty by Nature

Producer: Naughty by Nature

15. Puff Daddy ft. Mase – “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”

Released: February 11, 1997

Album: No Way Out

Producer: Carlos Broady, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Stevie J, Nashiem Myrick

14. 2Pac – “Dear Mama”

Released: February 21, 1995

Album: Me Against the World

Producer: Tony Pizarro, DF Master, Tee & Moses

13. A Tribe Called Quest ft. Leaders of the New School – “Scenario”

Released: March 13, 1992

Album: The Low End Theory

Producer: A Tribe Called Quest

12. Jay-Z – “Dead Presidents” / “Dead Presidents II”

Released: February 20, 1996

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Producer: Ski

11. DMX – “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”

Released: May 5, 1998

Album: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

Producer: Swizz Beatz

10. Ice Cube – “It Was a Good Day”

Released: February 23, 1993

Album: The Predator

Producer: DJ Pooh

NWA’s lyrical guru took a break from his usual gang violence narratives for this fantasy tale of a perfect day in the hood. There are no drive-bys, no retaliation and no hassle from the cops. The irony of their absence made Ice Cube’s biggest hit also one of his most powerful.

9. Lauryn Hill – “Lost Ones”

Released: August 25, 1998

Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Producer: Lauryn Hill, Vada Nobles, Che Pope

Ms. Lauryn Hill came out of the Fugees and created a masterpiece. Though her story has been a bit convoluted since its release, the multi-grammy winning The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill remains a classic. On the single “Lost Ones” she drops a scathing diss-track aimed at former band member Wyclef Jean.

8. Method Man ft. Mary J. Blige – “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By”

Released: April 25, 1995

Album: Tical

Producer: RZA / Sean “Puffy” Combs, Trackmasters

Producer P. Diddy worked his magic on this Grammy-winning crossover hit. The track is still considered one of the greatest hip-hop love songs of all time. Queen Mary teamed up with Wu-Tang’s Method Man for this mashup of his song “All I Need” and a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic.

7. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”

Released: August 9, 1994

Album: Ready to Die

Producer: Poke, Sean “Puffy” Combs

Biggie’s first single from his debut album Ready to Die propelled him to superstar status. “Juicy” rides an old-school hip-hop beat and a classic funk bass line for a storytelling rap about Poppa’s own rise to fame and the birth of hip-hop itself, complete with shout-outs to pioneers like Salt N Pepa and the late great Heavy D.

6. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”

Released: April 2, 1992

Album: Mecca and the Soul Brother

Producer: Pete Rock

With their debut album Mecca And The Soul Brother, Pete Rock & CL Smooth dropped an Afrocentric message of positivity at a time when violent gangsta rap was king. On the record’s classic single “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” the duo recalls childhood memories and shoutout to their lost friend Trouble T. Roy of Heavy D & The Boyz. Iconic, moving and absolutely one of the best 90s rap songs of all time.

5. Wu-Tang Clan – “C.R.E.A.M.”

Released: November 9, 1993

Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Producer: RZA

The game changed when Wu-Tang Clan dropped their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The record helped define the sound of the 90s. Its biggest hit stands to this day as a downbeat East Coast underground classic. Over 70s soul samples and a raw boom-bap beat the crew makes their priorities clear in this ode to the almighty dollar. You can’t talk about the top 90s rap songs with talking about “C.R.E.A.M.”

4. Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”

Released: November 19, 1992

Album: The Chronic

Producer: Dr. Dre

The impact that Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic and its lead-off single had on hip-hop is immeasurable. The song, in concert with its iconic Dre-directed house-party video, helped define the West Coast sound of the 90s and it turned a skinny rapper from the LBC into an international superstar.

3. Nas – “N.Y. State of Mind”

Released: April 19, 1994

Album: Illmatic

Producer: DJ Premier

“N.Y. State of Mind” is the second track and biggest hit from Nas’ now legendary debut album Illmatic. On the track the hip-hop icon paints a lyrical portrait of the city that never sleeps, over sparse piano chords, a rock & roll bass riff and a hard breakbeat rhythm. According to DJ Premier, the young Queensbridge prodigy rapped the first verse all in one take.

2. Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

Released: July 1, 1991

Album: We Can’t Be Stopped

Producer: Scarface

With the release of their third album We Can’t Be Stopped in 1991, Houston’s Geto Boys helped establish the South as a major force in hip-hop. The album’s huge crossover hit single “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” is an honest and emotionally complex soliloquy of a gangster worried about his own survival. Not only did Scarface produce this iconic track, he also penned most of the lyrics, drawing upon this life for the morbid tales and shocking twists.

1. Mobb Deep – “Shook Ones (Part II)”

Released: February 7, 1995

Album: The Infamous

Producer: Havoc

There will never be a sound more unsettling or iconic as the siren that kicks off “Shook Ones (Part II).” Though technically sequel to the original single, this classic stands on its own as a hip hop masterpiece. Still teenagers when they released their debut album The Infamous, Prodigy and Havoc drop killer freestyles over a dark and ominous downtempo boom-bap beat, haunting electric guitar arpeggios and a simple bass line on this genre-defining classic. Not only is this Mobb Deep anthem the best 90s rap song of all time, it’s one of the greatest hip hop tracks ever.

3 comments
  1. HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY LEAVE “PUT IT ON” by BIG L OFF THIS LIST? HONESTLY….I Realize he only put out 1 Album because he was Murdered however that 1 Album is an Absolute Classic and In my honest Opinion influenced a Plethora of East Coast specifically New York Rappers to really UP THEIR GAME…..Take NAS for instance who after going to a BIG L show at the Apollo I believe said something to the effect of: If I have to go up Against this Guy I might as well quit now!

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