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Top 50 Best ’90s Rappers

The 1990s, hip-hop’s golden age, exploded with talent. The West Coast had G-funk, the East Coast its boom-bap, and the South found its voice. Lauryn Hill fused rap with soul, Jay-Z hustled his way to lyrical legend, and OutKast’s Andre 3000 brought surreal Southern brilliance. Snoop Dogg embodied laid-back G-funk, Redman championed gritty East Coast wit, while Scarface and Ice Cube told street tales from their regions. Nas emerged a lyrical prodigy with Illmatic. And then, the tragic ascent of The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, whose immense talent and rivalries would shape hip-hop for decades to come.

Compiling a list like this is no easy task, but let’s get into it, here’s our pick of the top fifty best 90s rappers for you to enjoy.

The Lady of Rage

Albums: Necessary Roughness (1997)

Representing for the ladies in the testosterone-heavy landscape of ’90s hip-hop, The Lady of Rage came through with bars that were as fierce as they were unforgettable. From Virginia to the West Coast, Rage cut her teeth with the Death Row Records crew and arguably became one of the greatest female MCs of all time.


Albums: Being Myself (1995), Solja Rags (1997), 400 Degreez (1998), Tha G-Code (1999)

A titan of the Dirty South, Juvenile was instrumental in propelling Cash Money Records into the mainstream during the ’90s. The Magnolia Projects-raised rapper’s down South drawl and kinetic flow delivered an unfiltered view of New Orleans street life. His 1998 breakout album, 400 Degreez, boasted hits like “Ha” and “Back That Azz Up,” where his captivating delivery and distinct New Orleans bounce influence truly shone. This album didn’t just go quadruple platinum; it put Southern rap on a new trajectory and solidified Juvenile’s position in the rap hierarchy of the decade.

Spice 1

Albums: Spice 1 (1992), 187 He Wrote (1993), AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare (1994), 1990-Sick (1995), The Black Bossalini (1997), Immortalized (1999)

If you were seeking a raw, unfiltered depiction of life on the West Coast during the ’90s, then Spice 1 was your lyricist of choice. The Bay Area rapper’s evocative narratives of street life were a stark departure from the party anthems of his peers.


Albums: Harlem World (1997), The Movement (with Harlem World) (1999), Double Up (1999)

If there was ever a rapper who has come to represent the excess commercialism, watered down samples and nostalgia of late 90s Bad Boy golden age of rap music era in the public’s mind, it’s Mase (who understandably dropped the Murder from his name).

Phife Dawg

Albums: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), The Love Movement (1998)

Arguably the soul of A Tribe Called Quest, the Five-Footer’s playful, sport-referencing rhymes were the perfect foil to Q-Tip’s smooth, introspective bars. Phife was the heart of the Tribe, bringing an everyman charm to the group’s jazz-infused sound.

Queen Latifah

Albums: Nature of a Sista’ (1991), Black Reign (1993), Order in the Court (1998)

Representing Newark, New Jersey, with an unmatchable swagger and grace, Queen Latifah reigned supreme in the 90s rap scene. Combining elements of rap, R&B, and soul, Latifah carved out a lane for herself and other women in the music industry.

Ras Kass

Albums: Soul on Ice (1996), Rasassination (1998)

Ras Kass may not be mentioned in the same breath as other 90s great West Coast rappers like Tupac, Ice Cube or Snoop Dogg, but that’s never been a problem for the super lyrical talent hailing from Carson, California.


Albums: Down and Dirty (with the Click) (1992), Federal (1993), In a Major Way (1995), Game Related (with the Click) (1995), Tha Hall of Game (1996), The Element of Surprise (1998), Charlie Hustle: The Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire (1999)

Founded by E-40 in 1989, Sick Wid It Records was a pioneer rap label for the independent movement, inspiring both future moguls like Master P and Birdman. Using his independent record label as a platform for his music, the Bay Area hustler wasn’t just one of the best 90s rappers, he was one of the most influential and impactful.

Bun B

Albums: The Southern Way (1992), Banned (1992), Too Hard to Swallow (1992), Super Tight (1994), Ridin’ Dirty (1996)

At the beginning the ’90s, Bun B and Pimp C were two up-and-coming rappers from Port Arthur, Texas who had just released their debut album, Too Hard to Swallow, which had barely made a dent on the charts. By the end of the decade, they were featured on the biggest rap record of the year alongside the biggest hip hop at the time. In between, they dropped Ridin’ Dirty, arguably a top five Southern album of all time, which features Bun B’s verse on “Murder,” one of the greatest rap verses of all time.

MC Eiht

Albums: It’s a Compton Thang (as Compton’s Most Wanted) (1990), Straight Checkn ‘Em (as Compton’s Most Wanted) (1991), Music to Driveby (as Compton’s Most Wanted) (1992), We Come Strapped (1994), Death Threatz (1996), Last Man Standing (1997), Section 8 (1999)

If you’re a West Coast rap hip hop head, then it shouldn’t have been a surprise to you when you heard MC Eiht’s make his entrance on the second half of Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d City.” The Compton rapper is the very definition of an OG. Coming up as part of Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht was a staple voice of the ’90s West Coast scene with a ridiculously consistent catalogue of solo and group albums.

8Ball & MJG

Albums: Lyrics Of A Pimp (1991), Comin’ Out Hard (1993), On the Outside Looking In (1994), On Top of the World (1995), In Our Lifetime (1999)

Down South, 8Ball & MJG emerged as pioneers of the dirty South sound. Their ’90s releases played a significant role in shaping Southern hip-hop, putting Memphis on the map. The duo’s storytelling skills, revolving around the grit and grind of Southern life, were unparalleled. Their grimy, laid-back delivery on tracks like “Space Age Pimpin'” and “Pimps” provided the blueprint for Southern lyricism.

DJ Quik

Albums: Quik Is the Name (1991), Way 2 Fonky (1992), Safe + Sound (1995), Rhythm-al-ism (1998)

When it comes to West Coast G-Funk of the ’90s, DJ Quik stands as an unsung maestro. Born David Marvin Blake, Quik’s Compton-bred narratives painted a vivid picture of life in the streets, while his infectious funk-based beats had heads nodding from South Central to beyond.


Albums: Infinite (1996), Slim Shady EP (1997, The Slim Shady LP (1999)

It always blows my mind when I remember that Eminem is older than Nas. Both rappers are only a year apart, but it seems like their music is an entire generation apart. While the Queensbridge prodigy was busy redefining New York hip hop with his seminal Illmatic, the Detroit rapper was still grinding away with Proof to make it in the rap game. After competing in the 1997 Rap Olympics (put on by Wendy Day as a showcase for him), the Detroit rapper would garner the attention of one Dr. Dre, who at the time was struggling to find his groove. Em would provide Dre with the energy and inspiration he needed to transform Aftermath Entertainment into a juggernaut, and in return, the Compton legend would give him a platform to become the biggest rapper of all time. While it was in the 2000s that Eminem would make his most significant impact on hip hop, his output during the ’90s was enough to warrant his placement on this list. In between scene-stealing features (“Dead Wrong”, “What’s the Difference”, “Forgot About Dre”, “The Anthem”) and the ground-breaking The Slim Shady LP, Eminem was undoubtedly one of the best rappers of the 1990s.


Albums: No More Mr. Nice Guy (as Gang Starr) (1989), Step in the Arena (as Gang Starr) (1991), Daily Operation (as Gang Starr) (1992), Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 (1993), Hard to Earn (as Gang Starr) (1994), Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality (1995), Moment of Truth (as Gang Starr) (1998)

Gang Starr’s work during the ’90s was enough to cement their position as one of the greatest rap duos of all time. From the incredibly raw but promising No More Mr. Nice Guy to their magnum opus Moment of Truth, the duo always worked to push the boundaries of 90s hip hop, with Premo digging deep into the crates for the dopest samples while Guru continued to spout old soul wisdom with his timeless voice.


Albums: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1993), 6 Feet Deep (with Gravediggaz) (1994), Wu-Tang Forever (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1997), The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel (with Gravediggaz) (1997) Bobby Digital in Stereo (1998)

Nestled deep in the heart of New York, in the golden age of rap music, the 90s rap scene saw the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, with RZA as the collective’s mastermind. The Abott wasn’t just the sonic architect behind the Wu’s revolutionary sound; he was also one of its strongest lyrical assets.

De La Soul

Albums: De La Soul Is Dead (1991), Buhloone Mindstate (1993), Stakes Is High (1996)

Meanwhile, in a different corner of the ’90s hip-hop universe, De La Soul was pushing the boundaries of what rap could be. As part of the Native Tongues collective, the trio of Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo were pioneers of a jazz-infused, Afrocentric style that bucked the braggadocious trends of the era.


Albums: Dogg Food (as Tha Dogg Pound) (1995), Kuruption! (1998), Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha (1999)

Philly born, West Coast raised – Kurupt was destined for greatness. From tearing up Dre’s beats to shining on Doggystyle, Tha Dogg Pound, or his solo work, Kurupt’s 90s rap music run was undeniable. His versatility and lyrical skill solidified him as an L.A. legend.

Black Thought

Albums: Organix (1993), Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995), Illadelph Halflife (1996), Things Fall Apart (1999)

To understand the true brilliance of The Roots’ lead MC, you need to immerse yourself in the group’s second album. As one of the best Philly rappers to ever touch a mic, Thought is forever timeless.

Inspectah Deck

Albums: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1993), Wu-Tang Forever (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1997), Uncontrolled Substance (1999)

While Wu-Tang Clan dominated the ’90s, floods destroyed RZA’s beats for Inspectah Deck’s debut. This delayed the album for years, forcing changes. Uncontrolled Substance is still strong, but we’ll always wonder what could have been with those original beats. Bad luck hindered Deck’s ’90s solo impact.

Pharoahe Monch

Albums: Organized Konfusion (as Organized Konfusion) (1991), Stress: The Extinction Agenda (as Organized Konfusion), The Equinox (as Organized Konfusion), Internal Affairs (1999)

Kool Moe Dee perfectly described Pharoahe Monchas an “eloquent linguistics professor” moonlighting as a killer MC, daring listeners to keep up. Even before his hit “Simon Says,” Monch’s work with Organized Konfusion showcased his complex wordplay and built a cult following for his technical brilliance.

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

Albums: Faces of Death (1993), Creepin on ah Come Up (1994), E. 1999 Eternal (1995), The Art of War (1997)

Cleveland’s Bone Thugs-n-Harmony etched their names into the ’90s hip-hop pantheon with a unique style that was as melodic as it was quick-spitting. Krayzie, Layzie, Wish, Bizzy, and Flesh-n-Bone fused harmonious elements of R&B with the ruggedness of rap, often oscillating between introspective verses and tales of street survival.


Albums: Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992), Resurrection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997)

Common’s evolution from Chicago b-boy to conscious rap leader was incredible. Partnering with No I.D., early albums like Can I Borrow a Dollar? showed promise, but his sophomore album launched his career. His Ice Cube beef aside, One Day It’ll All Make Sense and collaborations with The Roots and Talib Kweli solidified his status. By the late 90s, he was positioned perfectly to lead the conscious hip-hop wave of the 2000s.


Albums: Doe or Die (1995), The Firm: The Album (with The Firm) (1997), Pieces of a Man (1998)

When Nas was on his murderous feature run during the mid-90s, destroying every guest verse he could get his hands on, his partner-in-rhyme was one of the few rappers who managed to keep up with him every step of the way. Which is quite a feat in itself; keeping up with Nas lyrically in 1995 was like keeping up with Lil Wayne in 2006 or Kendrick in 2013, almost impossible.

Mos Def

Albums: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (with Talib Kweli, as Black Star) (1998), Black on Both Sides (1999)

Emerging on the late ’90s hip-hop scene as half of the duo Black Star alongside Talib Kweli, Mos Def quickly carved out a defining role in the underground rap movement. The Brooklyn rapper’s thoughtful lyricism and nimble flow teamed up with Talib on their debut Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, dropping conscious, Afrocentric rhymes that echoed through the scene.

Big L

Albums: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous (1995)

Like Biggie and 2Pac, Big L was one of the biggest what-ifs in hip hop. Hip hop heads dream of scenarios where the Harlem rapper wasn’t gunned down in his prime and lived to sign with Roc-A-Fella Records to drop more lyrical wizardry. Whether it was coming up with incredible freestyles off the dome, explaining street slang with style, dropping punchline after punchline or weaving gritty stories into his rhymes, L cemented his position as one of the greatest rappers of all time, in an incredibly short amount of time.

Busta Rhymes

Albums: A Future Without a Past (with Leaders of the New School) (1991), T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind’s Eye) (with Leaders of the New School) (1993), The Coming (1996), When Disaster Strikes… (1997), The Imperial with Flipmode Squad (1998), Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front (1998)

Busta Rhymes came into the rap game as part of four-man group, Leaders of the New School, alongside Charlie Brown, Cut Monitor Milo and Dinco D, but it was clear from the outset that there one member who was emerging as a clear superstar. This fact was made all the more clear when the group jumped on A Tribe Called Quest‘s 1991 posse cut “Scenario” and Busta left the mic smoking once he was done with the final verse.


Albums: Words from the Genius (1991), Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1993), Liquid Swords (1995), Wu-Tang Forever (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1997), Beneath the Surface (1999)

At the end of “Can It Be All So Simple” on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the Wu begin discussing the members and their various roles. When it comes to GZA, Raekwon explains “the G is just the Genius”, with his deliberate flow and endless metaphors, the Genius was always able to conjure up evocative imagery with the fewest words. Not to mention, Liquid Swords remains in competition as the greatest Wu-Tang solo album of all time.

Kool G Rap

Albums: Wanted: Dead or Alive (with DJ Polo) (1990), Live and Let Die (with DJ Polo) (1992), 4,5,6 (1995), Roots of Evil (1998)

The Corona, Queens legend is a product of the ’80s – coming up with the likes of rap gods like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One – but his best work was created in the ’90s. It’s the decade where the legend of Kool G Rap, the alliteration master, the mafioso don, the street god began. After debuting in ’89 with Road to the Riches, G Rap followed up with two more DJ Polo-featured albums – Wanted: Dead or Alive and Live and Let Die – each one building on the gritty New York world that he had created in his raps. G Rap’s solo work – 4,5,6 and Roots of Evil – featured an even darker, gritty sound that would cement him as one of the influential rappers that New York street kings like Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and about a dozen other rappers coming up in the ’90s. You can trace a direct lineage from Kool G Rap to rap classics like Reasonable Doubt, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Life After Death and It Was Written.


Albums: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), The Love Movement (1998), Amplified (1999)

The rise and fall of A Tribe Called Quest, and the subsequent of Q-Tip’s solo career all happened within the span of the 1990s. That’s how busy the Tribe frontman was during the decade. With his conversational, low-key rapping style and jazzy-inspired flow, Q-Tip bounced off perfectly against Phife’s more energetic, high-pitched delivery with a chemistry that has been rarely seen again in later rap groups.


Albums: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998), Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (1998), …And Then There Was X (1999)

DMX made his official debut at the beginning of 1998, but truthfully, he had been grinding away at his music for years before that – his first single “Born Loser” dropped in 1993. But when X finally hit the rap game, it was like a tidal wave of black hoodies and Timberland-rocking stick-up artists kicking down the door to the Bad Boy mansion.

Ghostface Killah

Albums: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1993), Ironman (1996), Wu-Tang Forever (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1997)

As dope as his appearances were on Wu-Tang’s debut album, it was on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that Ghostface had his coming out party. Billed as “Chef Raekwon guest starring Tony Starks,” the Purple Tape featured Ghost on 12 of the 17 tracks, including one solo joint, and the high energy rapper made sure to capitalise on every single moment.


Albums: Naughty by Nature (1991), 19 Naughty III (1993), Poverty’s Paradise (1995), Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature’s Fury (1999)

It’s easy these for rap fans to look back at Naughty by Nature and think of only their biggest hits like “O.P.P.” and “Hip Hop Hooray.” After all, those two singles were huge global smashes and transformed the New Jersey rap group into a household name. But aside from the pop hits, Naughty by Nature, and more particularly, Treach, contributed to perfecting the rap album blueprint.

Big Pun

Albums: Capital Punishment (1998)

When it comes to pure technical skills, there were very few rappers in the ’90s who could touch Big Pun’s prowess on the mic. I mean, every rap fan worth their weight can recite Pun’s famous lines off “Twinz (Deep Cover ’98)” – “Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know / That we riddled some middlemen who didn’t do diddly” (just for those of you who don’t know it.


Albums: Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (as Eric B. & Rakim) (1990), Don’t Sweat the Technique (as Eric B. & Rakim) (1992), The 18th Letter (1997), The Master (1999)

Rakim had already changed the entire rap landscape in the latter half of the ’80s when he dropped the genre-defining Paid in Full and the equally impressive (if not better) Follow the Leader, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. Coming into the ’90s, the Ra released two more albums with Eric B. – Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em and Don’t Sweat the Technique – before going solo. As the greatest rapper to emerge from the ’80s, Rakim still had a lot to show and prove in the next decade and certainly did, reaffirming, once again, that he was the one and only God MC.

Big Boi

Albums: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994), ATLiens (1996), Aquemini (1998)

A hugely talented MC on his own, Big Boi could damn near out-spit 95% of all the rappers who came out in the ’90s. It just so happened that he was paired with quite possibly the most original and brilliant hip hop artist ever, so he was always a little underrated. For every incredible bar, couplet or line that Stacks spit, Big Boi was standing next to him, and at some points, got the better of his OutKast counterpart.

LL Cool J

Albums: Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), 14 Shots to the Dome (1993), Mr. Smith (1995), Phenomenon (1997)

LL Cool J was a seasoned rap veteran by the early ’90s, but faced rising competition from innovative rappers like Rakim and KRS-One. His previous album, “Walking with a Panther,” was commercially successful but critically underwhelming. This fueled LL’s legendary comeback with “Mama Said Knock You Out,” considered one of the greatest comeback album in hip-hop. This renewed energy kept him relevant throughout the ’90s as he collaborated with hot new talent like Keith Murray, Prodigy, Canibus, and DMX.


Albums: Edutainment (with Boogie Down Productions) (1990), Sex and Violence (with Boogie Down Productions) (1992), Return of the Boom Bap (1993), KRS-One (1995), I Got Next (1997)

KRS-One was unstoppable in the ’90s. After his legendary run with Boogie Down Productions, he launched a powerful solo career with 1993’s Return of the Boom Bap. Collaborating with top producers like DJ Premier, Showbiz, and Kid Capri, KRS-One delivered his rhymes over hard-hitting beats. His 1995 album, KRS-One, proved even more impactful, featuring the iconic anthem “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know.”


Albums: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1993), Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995), Wu-Tang Forever (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1997), Immobilarity (1999)

Raekwon the Chef’s gritty voice, streetwise slang, and vivid crime narratives made him a force in ’90s hip hop. From Wu-Tang Clan’s ’93 debut to his iconic ’95 solo album “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…”, Raekwon consistently delivered standout verses. He collaborated with Ghostface Killah (’96), OutKast (’98) and released his sophomore album “Immobilarity” (’99). Raekwon remains a legend of the era.


Albums: Juvenile Hell (1993), The Infamous (1995), Hell on Earth (1996), Murda Muzik (1999)

Prodigy’s killer rhymes, icy delivery, and instantly recognizable voice made him a ’90s rap scene legend. His cold, menacing wordplay shaped iconic New York tracks like “Shook Ones (Part II)” and “Survival of the Fittest.” Mobb Deep’s classic run, alongside Prodigy’s guest spots with Nas, LL Cool J, and Big Pun, cemented his status as one of the most influential MCs of the era.

Method Man

Albums: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1993), Tical (1994), Wu-Tang Forever (with Wu-Tang Clan) (1997), Tical 2000: Judgement Day (1998), Blackout! (with Redman) (1999)

Method Man deserves serious consideration as the ’90s top feature rapper. Though his solo debut didn’t match the heights of fellow Wu-Tang members like Raekwon or GZA, his iconic flow, charisma, and presence on Wu albums and guest verses are unmatched. His work on tracks like “Shadowboxin'”, “The What”, and “Wu-Gambinos” showcase such raw talent that he could easily be argued as the era’s greatest rapper.

Lauryn Hill

Albums: Blunted on Reality (with Fugees) (1994), The Score (with Fugees) (1996), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

There’s no denying that Lauryn Hill was simply one of the greatest and most iconic hip hop artists of the ’90s. The Fugees rapper-singer may have only dropped three albums, including one solo project, during the decade, but she made a bigger impact than 90% of the rappers on this list. Propelled by the singles “Killing Me Softly”, “Fu-Gee-La”, and “Ready or Not”, The Score was a one of the most successful albums of 1996 and became only the second rap album in history to be nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. But all that would pale in comparison to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a milestone record in the hip hop, neo-soul and R&B genres, whose impact is still rippling out to this day. A certified triple threat, Lauryn Hill was an incredible MC, gifted singer, and dynamic producer, making her one of the top 10 best rappers of the 1990s and arguably best female rapper ever.


Albums: Reasonable Doubt (1996), In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997), Streets Is Watching (1998), Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998), Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

Starting out in the ’90s as an underdog amidst rap juggernauts like Nas and Biggie, Jay-Z, the hustler from Marcy Projects, was not initially counted among hip-hop’s royal ranks. But with brilliant rhyming talent and sharp business acumen, Hov painted his ascent in the vivid strokes of his lyricism. When Reasonable Doubt hit the scene in 1996, it was more than an album; it was a manifesto, a testament to the hustler’s spirit. Jay wove intricate narratives of street life and ambition with a poetic flair that few could rival, all while flaunting his lyrical dexterity and complex rhyme schemes. Tracks like “Dead Presidents II” and “Can’t Knock the Hustle” brought cinematic scope to the trials and tribulations of the street hustle, laying the groundwork for the mafioso rap sub-genre. By the close of the ’90s, Jay-Z — with his landmark, multiplatinum Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life — had ascended to the top of the rap game and cemented his claim to the King of New York throne.

Andre 3000

Albums: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994), ATLiens (1996), Aquemini (1998)

Andre 3000’s evolution from OutKast’s debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, to their last release in the ‘90s, Aquemini, would provide the blueprint for later greats like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, rappers who weren’t content to settle for just one particular sound or look. Like the skit on Aquemini said – “Man, first they was some pimps, man. Then they was some aliens, or some genies, or some shit. Then they be talkin’ about that black righteous space, man, whatever, man.” But through his transformation over the decade, Stacks never lost a step in his rhyming ability. Whether he was keeping it funky on “Git Up, Git Out”, dropping endless quotables on “Elevators (Me & You)” or sparring with Wu’s Raekwon on “Skew It on the Bar-B,” Andre proved that he was one of the dopest MCs to ever touch a mic.

Snoop Dogg

Albums: Doggystyle (1993), Tha Doggfather (1996), Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told (1998), No Limit Top Dogg (1999)

Before artists like Tupac, before DMX, before Eminem, before 50 Cent, it was Snoop Dogg. Using his star-making performances on The Chronic as rocket fuel on his launch pad, the Long Beach MC’s debut Doggystyle sold over 800,000 copies in its first week, which was the record for a debuting artist and the fastest-selling hip hop album ever at the time. Snoop was the West Coast version of Slick Rick rapping over the funkiest production in rap history — how could he not be the biggest thing in the world? To truly understand the magic of the lanky Death Row rapper, just revisit the opening lines of “Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang” — “One, two, three and to the four / Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door.” As a rap line, it doesn’t get any more simple than that, but in the hands of Snoop Dogg — with his laid-back flow and distinctive voice oozing with personality, it became one of the most iconic lines ever.


Albums: Whut? Thee Album (1992), Dare Iz a Darkside (1994), Muddy Waters (1996), El Niño (with Def Squad) (1998), Doc’s da Name 2000 (1998), Blackout! (with Method Man) (1999)

There wasn’t a rapper alive in the ‘90s who was as ridiculously consistent as Reggie Noble. The funky New Jersey MC stayed putting out flamers the entire decade. From his debut on EPMD’s 1990 album Business as Usual — “Hardcore” and “Brothers on My Jock” — to his 1991 debut to his group album with Def Squad, all the way to his collaboration with Method Man at the end of the decade, every verse that Redman spit was incredibly memorable. Reggie had one of the best three-album runs of the decade with his first three projects, and if you pair that with all the dope features he also dropped in the ‘90s, there’s no doubt that he was one of the best rappers to come out. 


Albums: We Can’t Be Stopped (with Geto Boys) (1991), Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991), Till Death Do Us Part (with Geto Boys) (1993), The World Is Yours (1993), The Diary (1994), The Resurrection (with Geto Boys) (1996), The Untouchable (1997), My Homies (1998), Da Good da Bad & da Ugly (with Geto Boys) (1998)

One of the most important rappers to come out of the South, Scarface was a busy artist during the ’90s. Coming into the decade as part of the infamous Geto Boys, Scarface was responsible for the group’s biggest hit and best rap song of 1991 when he penned “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” As a solo artist, Face found even greater success as he perfected his world-weary storytelling rap style across albums Mr. Scarface Is Back and The World Is Yours, dropped his best album to date with The Diary and reached the top of the pop charts with The Untouchable. From his output alone in the ’90s, Scarface cemented his position as one of the greatest rappers of all time, and certainly a top five ’90s rapper.

Ice Cube

Albums: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990), Kill at Will (1990), Death Certificate (1991), The Predator (1992), Lethal Injection (1993), Bow Down (with Westside Connection), War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) (1998)

It’s actually so ridiculous when you think about it. Between 1990 and 1992, Ice Cube really managed to drop three certified classic albums – AmeriKKKa’s Most WantedDeath Certificate  and The Predator – and a classic EP (Kill at Will was also the first rap EP to go platinum). It really is the greatest run by a rapper of all time, smashing down pedestals of other gangsta rappers like Public Enemy. In addition to all that, in the battle of gangsta rap, Cube also managed to find time to singlehandedly shut down N.W.A. with the legendary “No Vaseline,” form his own side group with Westside Connection, get into it with Cypress Hill and Common, drop five platinum albums as well as co-write and star in his own comedy film. One of the best and most prolific rappers of the 1990s? No doubt about it. 


Albums: Illmatic (1994), It Was Written (1996), The Album (with the Firm) (1997), I Am… (1999), Nastradamus (1999)

When an 18-year old Nas first showed up on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbeque” talking about going to hell for snuffin’ Jesus and kidnapping the president’s wife without a plan, no-one could have foreseen the heights that he would reach in the coming years. Of course, he displayed a talent with words far beyond his age and a technical rap ability that suggested he pored over the records of Rakim, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane. But to say that rap fans expected something as great, as thought-provoking and deep as Illmatic a few years after “Live At The Barbeque,” would just be insanity. There’s been enough written about Nas’ seminal 1994 release that we don’t need to rehash it here — we previously named it the best rap debut album as well as the best rap album of the ‘90s. No, Nas’ greatness goes beyond Illmatic. Boosted by the Lauryn Hill-featured “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” and bouncy “Street Dreams,” Nas followed up his debut by becoming one of the biggest rappers on the planet with the triple platinum It Was Written, all while lining up a murderers row of guest verses. While Nas’ trajectory admittedly hit a downward spiral towards the end of the ‘90s with the (deservedly) maligned Nastradamus, his output during the decade alone cemented him forever as one of the greatest of all time.

The Notorious B.I.G.

Albums: Ready to Die (1994), Conspiracy (with Junior M.A.F.I.A.) (1995), Life After Death (1997), Born Again (1999)

The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album was a monumental release of New York hip hop and positioned him as a future great. With Puff Daddy as his executive producer, the Bed–Stuy showcased his cinematic storytelling and pinpoint delivery over West Coast-inspired production, which helped appeal to Big’s hardcore street fanbase, as well as the top 40 charts and clubs. But Ready to Die wasn’t Biggie’s magnum opus. That may sound like blasphemy but it’s the truth. Big’s debut wasn’t even the best rap album of 1994, that honour goes to Illmatic as we’ve already established earlier. It was actually on his second album, Life After Death, that rap fans had the opportunity to witness the true greatness of The Notorious B.I.G. Like he told The Source in 1997 leading up to the album’s release:

Big: I want people to buy [my new] album and just straight up say, ‘Yo, he’s the best. He’s the best ever. He’s the best that ever did it.’ That’s what I’m looking for. I want my props. ’Cause they slept on me. I read [what people write and say] and they give me my props as being that solo emcee that blew up from the East Coast: But they don’t give me my props like, ‘Yo, Big be straight dicin’ niggas on the mic! On the rhyme side, he’s nice!’ They don’t really look at me like that.

The Source Magazine | 1997

Over a 2-hour runtime and 24 tracks, Big put forth, defended and won the argument that he was the best to ever do it. Whether it was radio hits (“Mo Money Mo Problems”), club bangers (“Hypnotize”), storytelling joints (“Somebody’s Gotta Die”, “Niggas Bleed”, “I Got a Story to Tell”), or concept tracks (“Ten Crack Commandments”), Big could do it all, and he could do it better than all his competition. He went at Nas and Raekwon, he flossed with Jigga, he traded bars with The LOX, and he flowed like Bone Thugs. The fact that we all talk about Big and his position on the GOAT list on a regular basis nearly 30 years after he passed and based off of just two albums should speak volumes of why he was absolutely one of the greatest rappers of the ’90s.


Albums: 2Pacalypse Now (1991), Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… (1993), Thug Life: Volume 1 (with Thug Life) (1994), Me Against the World (1995), All Eyez on Me (1996), The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996) (as Makaveli), Still I Rise (with Outlawz) (1999)

You know what the craziest thing about 2Pac’s rap career was? His debut album 2Pacalypse Now, dropped November 12, 1991, and his first posthumous release, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, which came out on November 5, 1996, were almost exactly five years apart. Within those five years, Pac accomplished more than what most rappers could have hoped to achieve over the course of their entire career. Within those five years, Pac created enough music to last a lifetime, with the most memorable songs of all time. Within those five years, he ran through the entire spectrum of emotions – love, anger, paranoia, nostalgia, rage, jealousy, fear, joy, and more. Pac represented all the sides of a human being – he was an angry, sensitive, tough, vulnerable, caring, vindictive person and he bared it all in his music. The criticism that 2Pac usually receives from traditionalist rap fans is that he wasn’t “lyrical.” Which, in their mind, usually means from a complex, multisyllabic rhyming standpoint. So he couldn’t deliver punchlines that made you screw up your face like Big L, spit tongue-twisting alliteration like Kool G Rap, flow as masterfully as Big, spit effortless wordplay like Hov, or weave intricate stories like Nas. That’s correct. But what Pac was able to do better than any other rapper in history was completely pour himself into his words and get the emotion of his raps through to the listener that helped them connect with him on a much deeper level. And it’s for that reason, amongst many, many others, that Tupac Shakur is the greatest rapper of the 1990s.

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