It is never easy to write something about the top ten hip hop albums of the 90s, because 90s was the year when hip hop was its top form and a lot of genuises have entered and dominated the scene. But let us give our own humble approximations of the representative recordings that have shaped hip hop history. Without further delay, let’s get to the list and get going!
10. ATLiens by Outkast
This record is perhaps the oddball, since it is the only album that was released outside the dominant scenes of the West Coast and the East Coast, but it definitely deserves a spot in our list. In Outkast’s ATLiens, space hip hop was born out of the funky outer rims. Not only Outkast’s most popular albums but also their most definite record that garnered them respect from the centers of hip hop music.
9. The Slim Shady by Eminem
Eminem was considered a freak in the scene when he entered it, but with The Slim Shady, he proved that white people can indeed make hip hop music that is not overly romanticized or cheesy. The Slim Shady immortalized Eminem’s brand of hip hop, together with his fictional character Stan, which remained in the collective consciousnesses of listeners for years to come. The Slim Shady is the perfect closer for the nineties and a fitting glimpse of the next decade.
8. Doggystyle by Snoop Doggy Dogg
Perhaps best known for its provocative title, Snoop Dogg’s most popular album also introduced his unique style of rapping to the world. Doggystyle shaped the freakier side of hip hop music and culture with its unrestrained aesthetic, sexy innuendos and cheeky gangsterisms. The album also popularized G- Funk which connected audiences to the roots of hip hop. Gritty but also a piece of witty humor, Doggystyle is a landmark album by its own right.
7. Reasonable Doubt by Jay Z
Jay Z’s blistering rhymes laid on top of swingy, Mafia-themed beats is bound to capture the attention of even the pickiest of listeners. Reasonable Doubt is Jay Z’s footprint in the nineties, a vulnerable yet still nasty record that seems to anticipate the glory of The Blueprint and cast a shadow to the lesser gods.
6. The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
One of the first records to enter the 90s is A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. While hip hop was born in the 80s, A Tribe Called Quest introduced a new type of vibe to the sound, one that was never heard of before. Listen to the laidback rapping of Q-Tip and the gang with nostalgic jazzy beats serenading the listener, or probably just goofing around. Notable records with similar vibe is De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead.
5. Enter the Wu-Tang by Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers)
So you want to be hardcore? You can never go more hardcore than the Wu Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers), a strangely philosophical, nasty and dirty record which samples kung gu films and grainy noises. Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers) single-handedly created the hardcore hip hop genre and have shifted the world’s attention from the East Coast back to the West Coast.
4. The Chronic by Dr. Dre
Perhaps one of the most beautifully produced albums of all time, The Chronic etched Dr. Dre’s name in the annals of the hip hop alley of fame. This album introduced a new aesthetic to hip hop music which deviated from the jazz-based tunes of the past. The Chronic is pure genius in systematic chaos with Dr. Dre, Snoop and other members of the crew telling us the OG life.
3. All Eyez on Me by 2Pac
All Eyez on Me, without a doubt, is 2Pac’s most popular album, and it is not for purely random reasons. In this album, 2Pac introduced his nasty and nasal style of rapping. While the hip hop was scene was hounded by wannabees with their facile rhymes, this album became an instant textbook. Singles such as “California Love,” “I Ain’t Mad At Ya,” and “How Do You Want It” are included in this record.
2. Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie probably has one of the crispiest and explosive rapping technique in the 90s, and his album Ready to Die is a testament to this. This album is a gem in almost every aspect: storytelling, production (care of legends Puffy Combs, Easy Mo Bee, Chucky Thompson and DJ Premier, among others), rhymes, and general attitude. The album is so much highly revered specially for the fact that this is the only record Biggie has recorded before being killed in a gang crime.
1. Illmatic by Nas
At a time when 19-year olds were goofing around with their girlfriends, stealing stuff or even nursing a pimple or two, 19 year-old Nas was busy dominating the world. Together with DJ Premier, Nas delivered one of the most quoted albums of time, the record that established his path to kingly status. Illmatic is the definition of East Coast hip hop and will remain at its pedestal for years to come.
As said earlier, it is very difficult to make a list about the best record of the 90s, but I hope our list is inclined to inspire a discussion. Hit the comments section and let us know what you want to include or to discard. Make some noise!