Continuing with our monograph on the history of rap, which we invite you to read and listen to after reading this entry (with links available at the end), this time it’s time to talk about the best 90s hip-hop songs and the most influential rappers of this decade. For this occasion, as in the previous ones, we have created a Spotify playlist that includes 100 songs organized in chronological and alphabetical order, in that order.
In this way, as we almost always try to achieve, we can see the evolution of the genre in the 10-year period we are observing, also proving why some 90s rap artists are considered key figures of overall success worldwide. Among them, as you can imagine, are the prominent names of 90s Afro-american rappers, mainly from the East Coast and the West Coast, specializing in gangsta rap, but there is also room for jazz rap, neosoul, known as conscious rap, and other subgenres that many other famous 90s rappers explored.
As always, we hope you enjoy our list of 90s hip-hop songs, and we hope the limitation of 100 tracks won’t prevent you from digging deeper for other hidden gems, like some of the ones included here. Because we believe in variety, despite highlighting, as you will see, many of those you would expect to be among the best. So, we trust that you will want to experience our playlist and also subscribe to it.
Selection of the Best 90s Hip-Hop Songs
Among some of these ’90s rap songs, we find Digital Underground with The Humpty Dance, from a time when the genre was not as monopolized by tough guys and the “thug life” motto, although a young 2Pac also collaborated with this group. There are also commercial hits like U Can’t Touch This (by MC Hammer) or The Power (by SNAP!), which also give us a glimpse of the power that hip-hop had over house and other subgenres of electronic and dance music. And, of course, many ’90s hip-hop groups that have become timeless by uniting their personalities to deliver masterpieces to their audience, like Wu-Tang Clan.
That being said, it is worth remembering that we haven’t placed any limits on ’90s rap here, as long as they are good, how real they are depends on you, as well as their flow and level compared to others. We didn’t hold back; we just opened our hands to one of the genres we love the most. Like Will Smith (although not for holding back, but for including him in the list as the most commercial one), Kris Kross’s Jump, or white artists like Eminem, Beastie Boys, appreciated in the community, or what Vanilla Ice did with Ice Ice Baby, for example.
Can I Kick It? by A Tribe Called Quest (1990)
It is impossible to talk about American rap of the ’90s without first mentioning two of its main strongholds. One is A Tribe Called Quest, and the other group comes right after.
Originally formed by Q-Tip, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi, and Phife Dawg, this group emerged in the late ’80s in Queens, the famous neighborhood in New York, where it emerged as part of the Native Tongues Posse, sharing the stage with Queen Latifah and Jungle Brothers, although its current name was received through Afrika Bambaataa.
The song “Can I Kick It?”, besides being notable for using the sample of Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” (although you can also hear Sly And The Family Stone’s “Spinning Wheel,” “Sunshower,” or “Fun”), is their biggest commercial success, taking Conscious and Jazzy Hip-Hop subgenres to another level in the early ’90s.
Fight the Power by Public Enemy (1990)
Rappers of the ’90s with the most remembered aesthetic of all time, possibly, and not just because of the huge clock necklace that MC Flavor Flav almost always wears, symbolizing time as the most important element in our lives.
In Fight the Power, a song that appeared on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing,” we are undoubtedly facing one of the best hip-hop songs of the ’90s and of all time, with conscious lyrics that speak about society’s problems with government and power, inviting to fight against all the injustices it exerts through some of its institutions. The renewed protest song from the ’60s to the ’90s.
Nuthin but a G’Thang by Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg (1992)
’90s and 2000s hip-hop would not have been what it is without Dr. Dre on the production controls and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s (as he was known early in his career) rap style. Besides, of course, elevating the concept of gangsta rap to the altars, renewing precepts, ways of understanding collaborations, and productions.
Both The Chronic album and the single Nuthin but a G’Thang served the rapper to maintain the respect of other rappers and fans after leaving N.W.A and the initial bad vibes he had with Ice Cube (being the first one to leave the lineup). Of course, turning this song into an American gangsta rap hit in 1992 made many today think of it as conventional, despite being a total rap classic.
It Was A Good Day by Ice Cube (1992)
It Was A Good Day is one of the many hits in Ice Cube’s career, considered by many, including this blog, as his best song. In short, we are undoubtedly facing another ’90s rap classic, showing that despite not continuing with the rest of the Compton group, the split allowed us not to miss out on these materials.
Behind the mixer, producer DJ Pooh was sketching a sample of The Isley Brothers’ 1978 song “Footsteps In The Dark.” Lyrically, Ice Cube is at his best as a storyteller, here with a cold satire about the impossibility of having a good day in the neighborhood. It further solidifies Ice Cube as one of the best rappers in America, making his album The Predator a classic that confirmed the aforementioned DJ Pooh as a master in finding perfect samples for his peers’ flow.
Sound of da Police by KRS-One (1993)
KRS-One, the stage name of rapper and producer Lawrence Krisna Parker (which stands for “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”), gave us in 1993 a song that mixed three styles into one, almost unique: gangsta, conscious, but also ragga hip-hop.
‘Sound Of Da Police’ was a huge and explosive hit for a good reason. KRS-One skillfully blends and builds the song with great wisdom and understanding of the effect it has to generate. It serves as a reminder of his talents beyond rap.
Hip Hop Hooray by Naughty By Nature (1993)
Although released as a single in ’92, the album “19 Naughty III” by the trio Naughty By Nature is so iconic (from the cover to the songs) that we wanted to include it here in this order. Moreover, we are facing a song that had a huge impact on American society, making this Hip Hop Hooray a massive hit at discos, clubs, and parties all over the states.
Who Am I (What’s My Name)? by Snoop Dogg (1993)
The “Doggystyle” album remains one of the most important rap albums, making Snoop Doggy Dogg in 1993 the rapper who sold the most records with his debut work. His very own style, mixing gangsta rap with that particular G-Funk, especially stands out in Who Am I (What’s My Name?), a ’90s rap classic with one of the names that seems to have withstood the test of time and remains in the spotlight and respected.
Big Poppa by The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
Of course, we can’t highlight all the ’90s rap songs, but we couldn’t leave out at least one from The Notorious B.I.G., another one of the great names of the decade, despite his short career due to his tragic death.
Big Poppa belongs to “Ready to Die,” his debut album, which was produced and released by Bad Boy Records, owned by his friend Sean “Puffy” Combs (Puff Daddy), Easy Mo Bee, Chucky Thompson, DJ Premier, and Lord Finesse, among others. The album featured partially autobiographical lyrics recounting Biggie’s experiences as a young criminal.
The saddest thing is that “Ready to Die” is his only studio album released while he was still alive, as he was killed a few days before the release of his second album, “Life After Death” (in 1997).
Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio (1995)
One of the coolest things about ’90s hip-hop, among all the cool things about it, is the part of production that takes the best out of other songs. In this sense, Gangsta’s Paradise is no exception, here with a variation of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” although slightly altering the refrain lyrics.
Aside from this detail, Coolio’s song is remembered for appearing in the movie Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, where a white teacher taught in a problematic neighborhood institute (in general).
Changes by 2Pac (1998)
We conclude our selection of the best ’90s rap with 2Pac, logically. Although, here, with a song that was released after his death, which occurred in September 1996.
This song, which would be another sample of everything 2Pac would have recorded before being murdered, was part of his Greatest Hits album released in 1998. A compilation that includes most of the singles released from 2Pacalypse to the Don Killuminati album, but where Changes is unreleased. It also had Hit ’em Up, an almost cult song, for the reasons that led him to record and release it as a single, but also because it was not on any other full-length work.
Finally, note that the base of Changes is taken from Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is,” besides having the song “Set It Off” by Strafe as a drum sample.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.