Top 5 Hip Hop Songs from Each Year in the 90s

A Black man with dreadlocks and sunglasses exhales smoke while sitting in front of a mural depicted hip hop legend Tupac.

Piggy-backing off the global phenomenon in the eighties, rappers in the nineties ushered in a decade widely considered “the golden age” of hip hop.

Once the hip hop genre was firmly established and recognized, young guns firing some of the sickest poetic lines ever formed in songs came out of the woodwork. Groups evolved into mainstream acts, the east versus west rivalry was ignited, and iconic party anthems rose to prominence.

With each year, ’90s hip hop took another evolutionary step towards becoming what fans know and love today. Here are the five greatest hip hop songs from each year in the ’90s.

 

 

1990

Let the Rhythm Hit Em

Artist: Eric B. and Rakim

Album: Let The Rhythm Hit Em

“Let the Rhythm Hit Em” was the most commercially successful single on what is considered the duo’s most coherent album.

 

Welcome to the Terrordome

Artist: Public Enemy

Album: Fear of a Black Planet

Considered “One of Chuck D.’s best rapping performances ever” by AllMusic’s John Bush, this track was
also included in the book This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco.

 

Bonita Applebum

Artist: A Tribe Called Quest

Album: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

Bonita Applebum was made initially in 1985. Inspired by Miles Davis, Q-Tip decided to use a conversational delivery for the song.

 

It’s Hard Being the Kane

Artist: Big Daddy Kane

Album: Taste of Chocolate

The song was produced by Prince Paul. It features samples from “Loose Booty” by Sly & The Family Stone, as well as “Roadblock” by Stock Aitken Waterman.

 

Mama Said Knock You Out

Artist: LL Cool J

Album: Mama said knock you out

The song was inspired by LL Cool J’s grandmother, who told her grandson to “knock out” all his critics.  It reached Number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 List, and was also certified gold by the RIAA.

 

 

1991

How I Could Just Kill a Man

Artist: Cypress Hill

Album: Cypress Hill

How I Could Just Kill a Man was Cypress Hill’s first hit single. The music video featured cameos by Ice Cube and Q-Tip.

 

The Choice is Yours

Artist: Black Sheep

Album: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

In 2008, “The Choice is Yours” came in at Number 73 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs.
It’s one of the most featured hip hop songs in television and film history.

 

O.P.P.

Artist: Naughty by Nature

Album: Naughty by Nature

“O.P.P.” reached Number 6 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List.  Spin magazine named it one of the most outstanding singles of the 1990s.

 

Check The Rhime

Artist: A Tribe Called Quest

Album: The Low-End Theory

“Check The Rhime” was used as bumper music for The Scott Van Pelt Show.  And, fun fact: the cleaners featured in the track’s music video are still at the corner of 192nd Street and Linden Boulevard in St. Albans.

 

Mind Playing Tricks on Me

Artist: Geto Boys

Album: We Can’t Be Stopped

“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” was initially produced as a single for group member Scarface to sing solo, but their label decided that it would be better for the group. Additionally, Scarface’s grandmother was the inspiration for the song.

 

 

1992

Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta

Artist: Geto Boys

Album: Geto Boys

“Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” became truly popular in 1999, when it was featured in the cult favorite Office Space.

On the album’s four-track promo, two different versions of the song were released.

 

It Was a Good Day

Artist: Ice Cube

Album: The Predator

“It Was a Good Day” peaked at Number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 List. It also came in at Number 36 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time.

 

Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang

Artist: Dr. Dre (F.T. Snoop Dogg)

Album: The Chronic

XXL magazine named this track the decade’s top song.  Dr. Dre himself directed the music video.

 

Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)

Artist: Digable Planets

Album: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)

“Rebirth of Slick” earned Digable Planets a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
What’s more, the song was featured in the film Freedom Writers.

 

They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)

Artist: Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Album: Mecca and the Soul Brother

This ’90s hip hop track was inspired by the death of the duo’s friend, Troy Dixon.  T.R.O.Y. features a saxophone and bass sample of Tom Scott’s cover of “Today.”

 

 

1993

93 Til’ Infinity

Artist: Souls of Mischief

Album: 93 Til’ Infinity

This debut album and its featured song have been critically acclaimed for their genre-defying subject matter.

 

Chief Rocka

Artist: The Lords of the Underground

Album: Here Come the Lords

Produced by legendary DJ K-Def, the track peaked at Number 55 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List.

 

Keep Ya Head Up

Artist: Tupac

Album: Strictly 4 My N******

Tupac dedicated “Keep Ya Head Up” to his godson, Elijah. The track peaked at Number 12 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List.

 

Gin and Juice

Artist: Snoop Dogg

Album: Doggystyle

Dr. Dre produced “Gin and Juice,” and also makes a cameo in the video—along with Lil Bow Wow, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Daz Dillinger.

 

C.R.E.A.M.

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan

Album: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Despite its lack of commercial success, “C.R.E.A.M.” is widely considered by critics as one of the greatest rap tracks of all time. It was released as the third single on their album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

 

 

1994

Put It On

Artist: Big L

Album: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

Produced by Buckwild, “Put It On” was one of Big L’s only radio-friendly tracks.

 

Flava in Ya Ear

Artist: Craig Mack

Album: Funk Da World

“Flava in Ya Ear” was Craig Mack’s debut single. It peaked at Number 9 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List.

 

Regulate

Artist: Nate Dogg & Warren G

Album: Regulate…G Funk Era

“Regulate” reached Number 2 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List. The song heavily samples Michael McDonald’s song “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).”

 

Mass Appeal

Artist: Gang Starr

Album: Hard to Earn

Legendary producer D.J. Premier produced this track. According to him, the song pokes fun at radio hip-hop.  “Mass Appeal” was featured in the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.

 

Juicy

Artist: Notorious B.I.G.

Album: Ready to Die

“Juicy” came in at Number 7 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs Ever. The track most prominently contains a sample from the song “Juicy Fruit” by the R&B group Mtume.

 

 

1995

Feel Me Flow

Artist: Naughty by Nature

Album: Poverty’s Paradise

The song peaked at Number 17 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List. Despite Naughty by Nature being a rap group, the song solely features one member: Treach.

 

Shimmy Shimmy Ya

Artist: Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Album: Return to the 36 Chambers: Dirty Version

“Shimmy Shimmy Ya” was the second hit single by Ol’ Dirty Bastard as a solo artist. The song was ranked number fifty-nine on the VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop.

 

Gangsta’s Paradise

Artist: Coolio

Album: Gangsta’s Paradise

The track reached Number 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List and stayed there for a record fourteen weeks. “Gangsta’s Paradise” samples the chorus of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 track, “Pastime Paradise.”

 

MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know

Artist: KRS-One

Album: KRS-One

“MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” was produced by legendary producer D.J. Premier. The track is a call-out against commercially successful rappers that can’t hold their weight during live performances.

 

Shook Ones P.T. II

Artist: Mobb Deep

Album: The Infamous

Rolling Stone placed “Shook Ones P.T. II” at Number 35 on their 50 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time list.  The song’s beat is famously featured in the film 8 Mile.

 

 

1996

If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)

Artist: Nas (F.T. Lauryn Hill)

Album: It Was Written

“If I Ruled The World” scored Nas a Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance. The track was ranked Number 88 on XXL‘s Best Songs of the 1990s.

 

California Love

Artist: Tupac (F.T. Dr. Dre)

Album: All Eyez on Me

“California Love” was Tupac’s comeback track after his release from prison.  It’s his most commercially successful song in his illustrious career, and reached Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 List.

 

Ready or Not

Artist: The Fugees

Album: The Score

“Ready or Not” features a sample of the song “Boadicea” by Irish singer Enya.  The track was most successful in Europe, as it topped charts in the United Kingdom.

 

Tha Crossroads

Artist: Bone Thugz n-Harmony

Album: E. 1999 Eternal

“Tha Crossroads” is dedicated to the late Eazy-E. It reached Number 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 List and stayed there for eight straight weeks.

 

Renee

Artist: Lost Boyz

Album: Legal Drug Money

This song is a dedication to the hardship and (seemingly inevitable) tragedy of falling in love in the ghetto.  “Renee” was featured in the popular comedy film Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.

 

 

 

1997

The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

Artist: Missy Elliot

Album: Supa Dupa Fly

“The Rain: was Missy Elliot’s debut single as a solo artist.  Her revolutionary music video, featuring Missy’s trademark eccentric style, was directed by Hype Williams.

 

Deadly Melody

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan (F.T. Streetlife)

Album: Wu-Tang Forever

“Deadly Melody” was the most critically acclaimed track on Wu-Tang Forever.

 

Caved In

Artist: Atmosphere

Album: Overcast!

“Caved In” is a heartbreaking love letter to Spawn’s late father, and is critically acclaimed as one of the more raw and emotional tracks in hip hop history.

 

Future Development

Artist: Del the Funky Homosapien

Album: Future Development

“Future Development” was the most successful track of Del’s third album, and greatly acclaimed.

 

10 Crack Commandments

Artist: Notorious B.I.G.

Album: Life After Death

“10 Crack Commandments” is a step-by-step breakdown on how to be successful as a drug dealer in the projects.  The track was inspired by an article in infamous hip-hop magazine, The Source.

 

1998

Terra n Ya Era

Artist: Big Daddy Kane

Album: Veterans Day

Though the album itself saw little critical acclaim and commercial success, “Terra in Ya Era” is widely beloved in the rap community.

 

Respiration

Artist: Black Star (F.T. Common)

Album: Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star

The track reached Number 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 List. “Respiration” also features the guitar stylings of Detroit guitarist DeChown Jenkins.

 

Twinz (Remix)

Artist: Big Pun (F.T. Fat Joe)

Album: Captial Punishment

Dr. Dre produced “Twinz.”  The song’s goal was to appeal to both east coast and west coast rap enthusiasts.

 

Ruff Ryder’s Anthem

Artist: DMX

Album: It’s Dark, and Hell is Hot

“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” ranked at Number 79 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs. It was initially rejected by DMX, who claimed the beat wasn’t “hard enough.”

 

Moment of Truth

Artist: Gang Starr

Album: Moment of Truth

The rap duo’s title track from their fifth album is widely considered their magnum opus.
Additionally, it was featured in the video game Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2.

 

 

1999

When I B on the Mic

Artist: Rakim

Album: The Master

“When I B on the Mic” was produced by D.J. Premier, who co-wrote the track as well.

 

My Name Is

Artist: Eminem

Album: The Slim Shady LP

Produced by Dr. Dre, the track ranked Number 6 on Q Magazine‘s 1001 Best Songs Ever.

 

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)

Artist: Jay-Z

Album: Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life

At the time of its release, “Hard Knock Life” was Jay-Z’s most commercially successful single.
It received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance.

 

Still D.R.E.

Artist: Dr. Dre (F.T. Snoop Dogg)

Album: 2001

“Still D.R.E.” was Dr. Dre’s return to the top of the ranks in hip hop. The track was famously featured in the film Training Day.

 

Changes

Artist: Tupac

Album: Greatest Hits

Although “Changes” was officially recorded in 1992, it was finally mixed and released in 1999.  It is the only posthumous song to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance.

 

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If you enjoyed these ’90s hip hop tracks, check out the complete discographies of Lil Wayne or Eminem, or refresh your rap history with this comprehensive guide to the east and west coast rap feud.