Hip-hop from the 1990s is commonly referred to as the golden age of rap music. After the music genre emerged in the ghettos of New York in the early 1970s, it took barely two decades for hip-hop to assert itself against established music genres such as pop, rock, dance, country, and tech.
At the beginning of the ’90s, Hip-Hop had reached the center of society and countless rappers formed and developed the music genre further. This gave rise to some very successful sub-genres such as pop-rap (LL Cool J, OutKast, Vanilla Ice), gangsta rap (Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Nas, The Notorious B), and rap music (Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G. and Warren G) or Political Rap (Public Enemy).
Gangsta rap in particular was very popular at the time. At that time a real war broke out in the USA between the Westcoast and the Eastcoast. The climax culminated in the murder of 2Pac (Tupac Shakur) and Notorious B.I.G.
The 1990s produced not superstars, but legends! Our list of the best rap songs from the 1990s includes 105 tracks.
(At the end of the article, we’ve created a Spotify playlist for you with all the songs listed here.)
1st place: Wu-Tang Clan – Triumph
The six-minute track was released on the album “Wu-Tang Forever” in 1997. The album immediately reached number one on the charts.
In the first week, with over 600.000 units sold, the album went four times platinum. The song features verses from all members of the Wu-Tang Clan and, despite its long-running time, does not feature a hook at all. “Triumph” is often referred to as the group’s magnum opus, which is fitting, as it features all of the members at their best. Wu-Tang Clan’s best song earned the number one spot for a best rap song in the 1990s.
2nd place: 2Pac – Dear Mama
In 1995 “Dear Mama” was released on the album “Me Against The World”. It is most notable for its soulful and thoughtful lyrics, which represent a stark change in 2Pac’s style.
The album sold almost 250 copies in its first week.000 copies sold, remained at the top of the album charts for four weeks, and secured double platinum. “Dear Mama,” where 2Pac thanks his mother in particular for her care, reached number nine on the singles chart.
3rd place: Nas – NY State Of Mind
The very personal song of the native New Yorker is one of his best songs. It was released on the album “Illmatic”, which reached #12 on the album charts in the U.S. in 1994 and spent a total of 19 weeks there.
The album was the cornerstone of Nas’ career, then in 2001, the album went platinum after he became better known through his later albums. Nevertheless, this song about his youth on the tough streets of New York remains his masterpiece.
4th place: Notorious BIG – Juicy
“Juicy” was released on Biggie’s debut album “Ready To Die” in 1994 and is one of the best hip-hop tracks of the 1990s. It sold over six million copies and therefore went six times platinum. “Juicy” itself made it to number 27 on the singles chart. Here the Brooklyn rapper talks about his life before and after success.
Especially the challenges he had to overcome and the loyalty of his friends are important themes.
5th place: Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
The most famous solo track of the member of NWA is “It Was A Good Day”, which was released in 1992 on the album “The Predator”. The album reached number one in the charts, the hit reached number 15 in the singles charts. In the song, Ice Cube talks about a good day in the LA neighborhood of Compton, rapping about many topics such as friendship, sex, family, and police brutality.
Although the hip-hop song conveys good vibes, the many dangers of life for blacks in America’s cities are evident in the lyrics.
6th place: Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg – Nuthin’ But A G Thang
Legendary producer Dr. Dre brought Snoop Dogg on board to record one of the most legendary rap tracks of all time. It appeared on Dre’s first solo album “The Cronic” in 1992.
The album went triple platinum within a year. The rap song is one of the most influential rap tracks of all time. Dre and Snoop Dogg describe their life as rappers, marked by women, violence, and music.
The hip-hop song is also a declaration of love to their home in Compton, where they both grew up.
7th place: Nas – The World Is Yours
“The World Is Yours” was released by Nas a month after the release of his “Illmatic” album. Whether this track or “NY State Of Mind” is the New York rapper’s biggest hit is often hotly debated. One thing is for sure, though: “The World Is Yours” is one of the best rap songs of all time.
The song reached its highest chart position at number 14 on the Hot Rap Singles chart. While many songs in “Illmatic” describe the poor living conditions of his youth, “The World Is Yours” provides a comparatively optimistic outlook on Nas’ future. He also uses the track to mention personal idols like Indian resistance fighters and later president Gandhi.
8th place: Warren G ft. Nate Dogg – Regulate
“Regulate” was released in 1994 on “Regulate…G Funk Era”. It is the first album by Warren G, who is now considered one of the pioneers of West Coast hip-hop. Nate Dogg, the cousin of Snoop Dogg, is featured on the track. The album was able to reach number two on the charts, while “Regulate”, as the most famous song from the album, was also able to reach position two on the singles charts.
The album went triple platinum. The hit song tells about a night in Long Beach, California when a lot of things go wrong. According to Warren G, the track is based on true events.
9th place: 2Pac – California Love
“California Love” is 2Pac’s most successful single, and with his impressive discography, that fact alone should put the track on countless best-of lists. But not only that. The rap song is one of the best party songs of all time and perfectly captures the feeling of the west coast and especially southern California.
Dr. Dre is also featured on “California Love,” delivering one of the best verses of his entire career. This track marked 2Pac’s comeback after he was released from prison just before the record was made.
10th place: Wu-Tang Clan – CREAM
“CREAM,” or “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” is probably the best-known hit by the Staten Island, New York-based group Wu-Tang Clan. On the album “Entering The Wu-Tang”, where the track appeared, you can also find other masterpieces like “Protect Ya Neck” or “Method Man”. The album made it to number 41 on the charts.
The album went platinum in 1995 after its release in 1993, “CREAM” went gold. Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, and Method Man are the members featured on this track. The hip-hop song chronicles the lives of the group’s members in Staten Island, who were affected by Drugs and violence were marked.
11th place: Notorious BIG – Big Poppa
From one greatness of New York hip-hop to another: The Notorious BIG is one of the best rappers of all time, and Big Poppa is one of his biggest hits. The track was released as a single for Biggie’s first studio album “Ready To Die”.
The hip-hop song hit like a bomb and ranked number six on the Billboard Hot 100. Over 800.000 copies were sold, the single went platinum with it. The legendary flow of the New Yorker makes each of his tracks a pleasure to listen to, “Big Poppa” is one of the best examples. In “Big Poppa” Biggie raps about his success, his talent, and about his romantic conquests.
12th place: OutKast – ATLiens
The track from the album of the same name “ATLiens” was released as a single in 1996. On the US album charts OutKast reached number two, the hit “ATLiens” made it to number 35 of the Billboard Hot 100. The album went platinum twice.
The title is a reference to the rappers’ birthplace, Atlanta, and the word alien, which describes a feeling of strangeness. The beats throughout the album are very futuristic with partial gospel influences. The lyrics of the song are about the lives of the members of OutKast, which is always mixed with sci-fi elements to emphasize the feeling of otherness.
13th place: Gang Starr – Mass Appeal
The rap duo from Brooklyn released one of their biggest and most successful hits in 1994 with “Mass Appeal. The 90s hip-hop song was released on the album “Hard To Earn” which was critically acclaimed and reached number 25 on the album charts, “Mass Appeal” was the most praised song on the album. The track’s title should actually be seen as critical for music that is commercialized for success and no longer comes from the heart.
Ironically, “Mass Appeal” became Gang Starr’s first big hit; the beat, which was actually recorded as a parody of a standard beat, helped the track achieve its success. Nevertheless, the duo has not allowed itself to be commercialized.
14th place: Pete Rock & CL Smooth – They Reminisce Over You
The long collaboration of Pete Rock and CL Smooth reached a spectacular climax with “TROY- They Reminisce Over You”. Their first studio album together, “Mecca And The Soul Brother”, featured the rap song as a single.
While the album reached № 43 on the Billboard 200 album chart, “They Reminisce Over You” made it to № 58 on the U.S. singles chart and as high as № 1 on the hot rap singles chart. The content of the track is very personal, Pete Rock processes in it the death of his friend Trouble Roy. The first two verses are shared by Rock and Smooth, both of which are about their childhood and the importance of a happy childhood.
15th place: Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me
“Mind Playing Tricks On Me” is from the album “We Can’t Be Stopped,” released in 1992. The Houston, Texas group released the track as a single, having the biggest success of their career to that point. “We Can’t Be Stopped” made it to #25 on the album charts, with the song itself climbing to #23 on the singles chart. The track deals with post-traumatic behavioral disorders, as they can occur for example after war missions.
The song offers a glimpse into the mind of someone with these issues and their difficulties in daily life.
16th place: Mos Def – Mathematics
“Black On Both Sides” was the name of Mos Def’s first album, and here you can also find one of his best songs. “Mathematics” didn’t make the singles chart itself, but played a significant role in the album making it to #25 on the album chart and going gold a short time later. In “Mathematics,” Mos Def raps about the many injustices and hardships black people endure in the U.S. He supports these statements with statistics that he includes in the lyrics, which is where the name of the song comes from.
17th place: Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen – No Diggity
“No Diggity” by Blackstreet was one of the biggest hits in the rap genre of the late 1990s. The popularity of Dr. Dre, who is featured on the rap song, was instrumental in the success of the single. The hit was a worldwide success and made it number one on the singles charts in the USA, New Zealand, and Canada.
The track also went platinum in the USA, New Zealand, and the UK. The song is about a man who falls in love with a woman.
18th place: OutKast – Player’s Ball
“Player’s Ball” was the first single by Outkast, released in 1993. The 90s hip-hop song was released two weeks before their first album “Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik”. The rap song is about a gathering of pimps in Atlanta.
It describes the wild parties that are celebrated there.
19th place: Mobb Deep – Shook Ones, Part II
In 1995 the album “The Infamous”, the second studio album of Mobb Deep, was released. The two rappers from Queens, New York, thus brought one of the most important Rap albums of the 90s, and “Shook Ones, Part II” is the best track on the album. It also reached number 59 on the singles chart, the best ranking of any song on the album, which itself went gold.
The track is about the hard life of teenagers in the inner cities of the USA. Street fighting by gangs, poverty, and drug use are dealt with in “Shook Ones, Part II”.
Number 20: Mobb Deep – Survival Of The Fittest
“Survival Of The Fittest” is a single from the album “The Infamous” released in 1995. Besides the success of the album, it was “Survival Of The Fittest” that made the duo famous in the worldwide hip-hop scene. In the Billboard Hot 100, the hip-hop song made it to number 69, a remarkable success for a hip-hop track at that time. As the title suggests, the rap song is about the Darwinian conditions in New York’s poor neighborhoods.
Many personal experiences of the two rappers flowed into the lyrics, which is why it seems so authentic and real. Many critics consider this hit the pinnacle of New York hip-hop.
The ranks 21-105 of the best rap songs from the 1990s:
Each song is linked via the title with the corresponding music video.
|22.||The World Is Yours||Nas||1994|
|23.||Hypnotize||The Notorious BIG||1997|
|24.||Gin & Juice||Snoop Dogg||1994|
|25.||Jump Around||House of Pain||1992|
|26.||The Humpty Dance||Digital Underground||1990|
|27.||My Name Is||Eminem||1999|
|28.||Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)||Jay Z||1998|
|29.||Killing Me Softly with His Song||Fugees||1996|
|30.||911 Is A Joke||Public Enemy||1990|
|31.||Let’s Talk About Sex||Salt-N-Pepa||1990|
|32.||Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See||Busta Rhymes||—||1997|
|33.||Concrete Schoolyard||Jurassic 5||1998|
|34.||Gangsta’s Paradise||Coolio ft. LV||1995|
|35.||U Can’t Touch This||MC Hammer||1990|
|36.||Can I Get A…||Jay-Z feat. Amil (of Major Coins) & Ja Rule||—||1998|
|37.||Scenario||A Tribe Called Quest||1992|
|38.||The Choice Is Yours||Black Sheep||1991|
|39.||Still Not A Player||Big Pun feat. Joe||1998|
|40.||Shimmy Shimmy Ya||Ol’ Dirty Bastard||1995|
|41.||Insane In The Brain||Cypress Hill||1993|
|42.||The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)||Missy Elliott||1997|
|43.||So What’cha Want||Beastie Boys||1992|
|44.||Now That We Found Love||Heavy D and The Boyz||1991|
|45.||Whatta Man||Salt-N-Pepa ft. En Vogue||1993|
|46.||Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)||Digable Planets||1993|
|48.||Summertime||DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince||1991|
|49.||I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By||Method Man||1995|
|51.||Baby Got Back||Sir Mix-A-Lot||1992|
|52.||O.P.P.||Naughty By Nature||1991|
|53.||Mama Said Knock You Out||LL Cool J||1990|
|54.||I’ll Be Missing You||Puff Daddy ft. Faith Evans & 112||1997|
|55.||Ruff Ryders’ Anthem||DMX||1998|
|56.||Back That Thang Up||Juvenile||1999|
|57.||Mo Money Mo Problems||The Notorious B.I.G.||1997|
|58.||I Used to Love H.E.R.||Common||1994|
|59.||Hip Hop Hooray||Naughty By Nature||1993|
|62.||Hit ‘Em Up||2Pac||1996|
|63.||Flava in Ya Ear||Craig Mack||1994|
|64.||It’s All About the Benjamins||Puff Daddy||1997|
|65.||N.Y. State of Mind||Nas||1994|
|66.||Know The Ledge||Eric B & Rakim||1992|
|68.||Take It Personal||Gang Starr||1992|
|69.||Electric Relaxation||A Tribe Called Quest||1993|
|70.||I Ain’t Mad At Cha||2Pac||1996|
|71.||Elevators (Me & You)||OutKast||1996|
|72.||Make em Say Uhhh||Master P||—||1997|
|73.||Above The Clouds||Gang Starr||1998|
|74.||Welcome to the Terrordome||Public Enemy||1990|
|75.||Sound Of The Police||KRS One||1993|
|76.||Protect Ya Neck||Wu-Tang Clan||1993|
|77.||Burn Hollywood Burn||Public Enemy||1990|
|78.||Doo Wop (That Thing)||Lauryn Hill||1998|
|80.||Nas is Like||Nas||1999|
|82.||If I Ruled The World||Nas||1996|
|84.||Afro Puffs||The Lady of Rage||1994|
|85.||What They Do||The Roots||1996|
|86.||Step Into A World||KRS One||1997|
|87.||Bonita Applebum||A Tribe Called Quest||1990|
|88.||All That I Got Is You||Ghostface Killah||1996|
|89.||When I B On Tha Mic||Rakim||1999|
|90.||Keep Ya Head Up||2Pac||1993|
|91.||I Seen a Man Die||Scarface||1994|
|92.||93 ‘Til Infinity||Souls Of Mischief||1993|
|93.||Check The Rhyme||A Tribe Called Quest||1991|
|94.||Respiration ft Common||Black Star||—||1998|
|95.||Sky’s The Limit||Notorious B.I.G.||1997|
|96.||Dead Presidents II||Jay Z||1996|
|98.||Passin’ Me By||The Pharcyde||1992|
|101.||Original Gangster||Ice T||1991|
|102.||I Got 5 On It||Luniz||1995|
|104.||Slow Down||Brand Nubian||1990|