The Pinnacle of Rap: The 20 Best 90s Hip-Hop Songs
The 90s era is often hailed as the pinnacle of hip-hop. The genre was at its zenith and expanding rapidly into the mainstream. Rap artists expressing social and political issues with unapologetically raw and real lyrics characterized this Golden Era of Hip-Hop. Join us as we explore the best 90s hip-hop songs.
Explore Further: the best 90s R&B songs.
The Unforgettable Anthems: A List of 90s Hip-Hop Songs
The 90s gave birth to many classic hip-hop songs, making it a Herculean task to narrow them down to just ten. However, the following tracks resonate with fans even today, standing the test of time. Here are 20 classic hip-hop songs:
The Sweet Taste of Success: “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G.
“Juicy” is one of the top 90s hip-hop songs that catapulted The Notorious B.I.G. to fame. This 90s hip-hop anthem is a rags-to-riches chronicle with Biggie’s vivid storytelling depicting his journey from hardship to success. The song’s sample of Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” provides a soulful backdrop to the rapper’s gritty yet hopeful lyricism.
Watch the official music video here.
Ultimate Collaboration: “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg
“Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” a standout track from Dr. Dre’s groundbreaking album “The Chronic,” is a defining moment in the history of West Coast hip-hop. Released in 1992, the song introduced the world to Snoop Dogg’s laid-back flow and Dre’s innovative G-funk sound, a blend of funk, soul, and hip-hop defining a generation.
The track’s smooth, melodic beats, catchy hooks, and vivid depiction of life in South Central Los Angeles make “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” a timeless classic. It’s a testament to Dr. Dre’s production prowess and Snoop Dogg’s lyrical genius, a combination that would shape the sound of hip-hop songs for years to come.
Check out the classic music video.
The Concrete Jungle: “N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas
“N.Y. State of Mind,” a standout track from Nas’s critically acclaimed debut album “Illmatic,” is a lyrical tour that captures life’s essence in New York City’s urban landscape. Released in 1994, the song is a gritty, unflinching portrayal of the struggles and triumphs of city life, delivered with Nas’s signature poetic precision and vivid storytelling.
The track’s haunting piano loop and hard-hitting beats, courtesy of legendary producer DJ Premier, provide the perfect backdrop for Nas’s intricate rhymes.
G-Funk Masterpiece”: “California Love” by 2Pac ft. Dr. Dre & Roger Troutman
“California Love” is a West Coast anthem that encapsulates the spirit of California’s hip-hop scene. Released in 1996, the song features a memorable hook by Roger Troutman and a verse from Dr. Dre, with 2Pac’s energetic delivery driving the track. The song’s G-funk sound, characterized by synthesizer-based melodies and heavy bass, is a testament to Dr. Dre’s production prowess.
A Haunting Hip-Hop Classic: “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys
“Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” explores paranoia and mental health, a subject rarely touched upon in hip-hop at its release in 1991. The song’s narrative, delivered with raw honesty by Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill, is underscored by a melancholic guitar sample from Isaac Hayes’s “Hung Up on My Baby,” creating a chilling atmosphere long after the track ends.
The Geto Boys’ unflinching portrayal of inner-city life and its psychological toll, combined with their distinctive Southern sound, make “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” a groundbreaking hip-hop track. It proves the group’s willingness to push boundaries and explore themes that were, and still are, often overlooked in the genre.
A Ghetto Anthem off Broadway: “Hard Knock Life” by Jay-Z
Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” cleverly samples a tune from the Broadway musical Annie, creating a unique blend of street-hardened lyrics with a catchy, sing-along chorus. This juxtaposition makes it one of the most memorable 90s hip-hop songs.
The Anthem of Resilience: “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” by DMX
“Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” by DMX is a powerful track that became the rallying cry for a generation of hip-hop fans. The defiant lyrics and aggressive beat make it stand out in the list of 90s hip-hop songs.
The Innovative Visual: “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” is known for its innovative sound and groundbreaking music video. The track’s unique blend of R&B and hip-hop makes it one of the best 90s hip-hop songs.
The Philosophical Query: “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest
“Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest is a laid-back track that poses a simple yet profound question. The jazzy beat and philosophical lyrics make it one of the most thought-provoking 90s hip-hop songs.
The Explicit Narrative: “Freaky Tales” by Too Short
“Freaky Tales” by Too Short is known for its explicit lyrics and storytelling prowess. The track’s unapologetic approach to adult themes makes it a standout in the list of 90s hip-hop songs. Check out more of Too Short’s best songs in Best of Too Short Songs: Nostalgia at Its Finest
And explore the very best Too Short features.
The Existential Question: “Who Am I? (What’s My Name)” by Snoop Dogg
“Who Am I?” by Snoop Dogg, also known as “What’s My Name?” is a track that showcases Snoop’s smooth flow and unique persona. The catchy hook and existential query make it one of the most memorable 90s hip-hop songs.
Listen to more of Snoop’s best songs here.
The Chef and The ATLiens Cook: “Skew It on the Bar-B” by Outkast ft. Raekwon
“Skew It on the Bar-B,” a seminal track from Outkast’s third studio album, “Aquemini,” is a testament to the duo’s innovative spirit and ability to bridge the gap between the Southern hip-hop scene and the broader rap landscape. Released in 1998, the song features a guest verse from Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, a groundbreaking collaboration at the time, as it represented a fusion of the Dirty South sound with East Coast lyricism.
Musically, “Skew It on the Bar-B” is a masterclass in the art of beat-making, with its jazz-infused instrumentation and off-kilter rhythm patterns challenging the listener’s expectations. Andre 3000 and Big Boi deliver their verses with a rhythmic precision that complements the track’s unconventional structure, while Raekwon’s gritty, streetwise lyricism adds a contrasting texture.
The three rappers collaborated again on the excellent “Royal Flush.”
The Casual Triple-Double: “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube
“It Was a Good Day,” a track from Ice Cube’s third studio album The Predator, is a laid-back, sunny-side-up slice of West Coast hip-hop. Released in 1993, the song is a rare moment of respite in Cube’s discography, a day-in-the-life narrative where everything goes right for once. No drama, no trouble, just a good day in South Central LA. It’s like finding a perfectly ripe avocado in your fridge when you least expect it – a small miracle.
The track’s smooth, soulful beats and Cube’s relaxed delivery make “It Was a Good Day” a lazy Sunday afternoon in song form. Furthermore, it’s a reminder that there are good days to be had amidst the hustle and bustle, the struggles and strife. So kick back, press play, and let Cube’s good day become yours.
Find out which Ice Cube song made it on our list of the best diss tracks ever.
Queensbridge to Classic: “Shook Ones Pt. II” by Mobb Deep
“Shook Ones Pt. II” compares to a gritty, unfiltered espresso shot of East Coast hip-hop. Released in 1995, the song is a raw portrayal of life in Queensbridge, New York, delivered with a level of intensity that could make a caffeinated squirrel seem chill in comparison. It’s the kind of track that makes you want to walk down the street in slow motion, even if you’re going to pick up your dry cleaning.
The track’s haunting piano loop and hard-hitting beats, combined with Prodigy and Havoc’s razor-sharp lyricism, make “Shook Ones Pt. II” a hip-hop classic that’s as potent today as it was over two decades ago. It’s a reminder that Mobb Deep were not just rappers, but poets of the street, turning their experiences into a soundtrack for the ages.
More Valuable Than Your 401k: “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan
“C.R.E.A.M.” is a financial advice seminar delivered as a hip-hop track. Released in 1993, the song’s title, an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” is a mantra that’s as relevant today as it was back then. It’s the kind of wisdom you’d expect from a wise old sage if that sage was a group of nine rappers from Staten Island.
Related: For an in-depth look at the group that reshaped hip-hop, explore the stories of each Wu-Tang Clan member.
The track’s soulful piano loop and gritty beats provide the perfect backdrop for the Clan’s tales of struggle and ambition. “C.R.E.A.M.” is a reminder that Wu-Tang Clan weren’t just rappers. Even still, they were philosophers of the street, turning their experiences into a timeless anthem for the hustle.
The Memphis Club Anthem: “Tear the Club Up” by Three 6 Mafia
“Tear the Club Up” is the auditory equivalent of a wrecking ball. Released in 1995, the song stands as a high-energy anthem that could make even the most reserved listener feel a surge of adrenaline. Indeed, the track purports rebellious energy.
Further enhancing the song’s appeal, the track’s pulsating beats and infectious hook, combined with Three 6 Mafia’s hyped-up delivery, transform “Tear the Club Up” into a classic hip-hop anthem. Moreover, it’s a testament to the group’s ability to create music that is meant to be heard and felt. So, without further ado, crank up the volume, clear some space, and let Three 6 Mafia’s raw energy permeate your surroundings. Experience the power of Juicy J’s music by checking out his top songs.
Learn more about Three 6 Mafia’s discography.
The Southern Narrative: “One Day” by UGK
“One Day” is a Southern-fried meditation on life, death, and everything in between. Released in 1996, the song serves as a poignant reflection on the fragility of life. It’s delivered with the kind of wisdom you’d expect from a pair of seasoned philosophers, assuming those philosophers happened to be rappers from Port Arthur, Texas.
Adding to the song’s depth, the track’s soulful hook, courtesy of Ronnie Spencer, and UGK’s introspective verses transform “One Day” into a hip-hop track that hits you right in the feels. Furthermore, it’s a potent reminder that UGK weren’t just rappers. In fact, they were poets of the Dirty South, adeptly turning their experiences into a timeless anthem for life’s ups and downs.
Juvenile – “Back That Thang Up” ft. Mannie Fresh, Lil Wayne: New Bounce
America’s introduction to twerking, featuring Lil Wayne, the rapper who coined the term “bling-bling.” Truly a legendary song with an equally awe-inspiring music video. This unique blend of hip-hop New Orleans Bounce, and dancing makes it one of the most memorable 90s hip-hop songs. Behold the music video.
The Heartfelt Tribute: “Dear Mama” by 2Pac
“Dear Mama” is a heartfelt tribute to 2Pac’s mother.
The Smooth Operator: Warren G – “Regulate” ft. Nate Dogg
“Regulate” is a smooth track that showcases Warren G’s storytelling prowess, making it one of the top 90s hip-hop songs.
For a deeper understanding of hip-hop artists and their top tracks, explore our featured article page.
The Lasting Legacy: Impact of 90s Hip-Hop Songs
The 90s hip-hop era influenced generations of hip-hop artists and shaped the genre as we know it today. This period, often called the “Golden Age” of hip-hop, saw artists unafraid to push boundaries and challenge the status quo.
Artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Nas emerged during this time. They used music to tell their stories. Their lyrics, both raw and real, resonated deeply with listeners.
Simultaneously, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” became a timeless anthem. On the other hand, 2Pac’s “California Love” celebrated West Coast life, making it one of the top 90s hip-hop songs.
Furthermore, “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys offered introspective lyrics. Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I?” posed philosophical questions. Other songs, like “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, showcased the depth of hip-hop.
The 90s also saw the rise of groundbreaking female artists like Missy Elliott. Her innovative music video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” was a game-changer.
Even today, these 90s hip-hop songs continue to impact the music scene. They influence new artists and their legacy proves the enduring appeal of 90s hip-hop.