The 90s are often referred to as the “Golden Age” of hip hop music. Although there’s no doubt that each decade has brought its own special sound and memorable artists, there is just no denying that the 90s were special.
Here we present the top 20 greatest rappers of the 90s.
1. The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album was considered a monumental release on the New York hip hop scene. People knew straight up that he was bound for greatness. Produced by Puff Daddy, cinematic storytelling quickly became the backbone of The Notorious B.I.G.’s success. He only put out two albums before his death, but he only needed two.
His greatest was Life After Death, hauntingly named, which was the showcase of his talent and has gone on to be honored for decades as one of the best rap albums of all time.
Few people realize that 2Pac’s career only lasted five short years. His debut album was 2Pacalypse Now, which was released in 1991, and his posthumously released final album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was released almost exactly five years later.
The short career doesn’t matter, though, because he was able to accomplish more in those short years than most rap artists can accomplish in decades of their careers. Even with a life cut short far too soon, 2Pac has remained the greatest rapper of all time.
Nas came on the scene in the 90s and quickly showed people that his talent should not be judged by his age. The artist quickly made a name for himself with his deep, provocative album Illmatic.
Scarface is considered one of the pioneers of rap in the South, and he certainly paid his dues in the 90s by staying busy. We first saw him as part of the Geto Boys, and he was personally responsible for the group’s biggest hit, “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” He truly found success as a solo artist with his storytelling rap style.
5. Ice Cube
Not only is Ice Cube crazy talented, but the dude just wouldn’t stop putting out amazing music in the 90s. Between 1990 and 1992 he released three albums. That is already impressive, but when you consider that each one went on to become a classic hip hop staple, you can easily see why he is considered a rap legend. Not to mention he also went on to enjoy a relatively successful acting career as well.
Reginald Noble, better known as Redman, can attribute his rap success in the 90s to his crazy consistency. Not a year passed by in the 90s that he was not bringing out something new to his fans. Some say that he had the best three-album run of any rap artist and has endured as a great among 90s rappers.
7. Snoop Dogg
Long before other big names even made their debut, Snoop Dogg was already on the scene. He launched his career with his star potential performance on The Chronic. His debut album Doggystyle sold over 800,000 copies within the first week after release. This was considered the record at the time for a debut artist in the hip hop industry.
What has truly created an enduring success for the rapper, though, is his iconic personality that people just can’t get enough of.
Only emerging in the 90s, Jay-Z was definitely considered an underdog at first on the New York rap scene. It only took him three short years from his debut to quickly be considered one of the kings of rap.
His huge success is due in part to his ability to combine street rap with a commercial sound that sells across demographics. This has helped him dominate the charts for years.
9. André 3000
André 3000 made his splash in the music industry with his band Outkast. The evolution of the band over the years has been an inspiration for future artists such as Kanye West. Outkast showed the world that a rapper doesn’t need to be satisfied with just one type of sound, story, or look. The foundation of that evolutionary success though remains his ability to deliver lyrics that rap fans love.
10. Lauryn Hill
The talented Lauryn Hill doesn’t need a long list of releases to take a spot on this list. In fact, the artist has only ever released three albums during the 90s, and only one of those was a solo project, but no one is denying the impact she has had on the rap scene. The Score holds the respect of being the second rap album in history to be nominated for a Grammy Album of the Year Award.
She truly shined in The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, though, which has remained an iconic hip hop mainstay that crosses genre lines with neo-soul and R&B. She is respected not only as a rapper but as a singer and producer as well.
11. Method Man
Although often overlooked due to his lack of solo creations, Method Man deserves a spot on this list thanks to his guest verses. Getting his start with Wu-Tang Clan, he quickly became in demand for guest verses alongside many huge rap names.
By the late 80s, Rakim had already had a huge impact on the rap industry. His album Paid In Full was considered to be genre-defining. He was able to make a smooth transition into 90s hip hop by teaming up with younger production professionals like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and others.
Raekwon is known for his distinctive husky voice, mysterious slang, and tales of mafia-like crime. Originally known as Raekwon The Chef, he made his debut with Wu-Tang Clan in 1993. He worked hard to ensure that every year he represented the New York rap scene. His collaboration with Outkast in 1998 was a memorable moment for fans.
Originally the front man for A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip wasted no time launching his solo career in the 90s. His jazz-inspired creations were a departure from other styles of rap. His success is attributed to his songwriting abilities and social commentary.
15. Big Boi
Big Boi is the other half of the duo Outkast. Teaming up with another original and talented artist, though, made them truly special. Eventually, the two decide to release solo albums as well.
KRS-One was part of the rap scene in the 80s with his work at Boogie Down Productions, but it wasn’t until the 90s that the artist truly started making a name for himself. His solo career was launched in 1993 with the release of the Return Of The Boom Bap album. His album MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know is hailed as his best record.
17. LL Cool J
LL Cool J is one of the first rap artists of the 90s to truly take advantage of all the show biz opportunities that his talents could afford. Few people realize that he was already deep in the rap game by the time the 90s rolled around as his debut was at the age of 16. He was one of the first featured artists of Def Jam records, which truly makes him a rap legend.
By the time his classic Mama Said Knock You Out was released, he was well on his way to becoming one of rap’s first superstars. The success continued with movie appearances. LL Cool J has played it smart over the years by staying relevant and part of the rap scene.
18. Big L
Notorious for his flow and freestyle abilities, Big L makes it onto our list out of sheer skill alone. There’s nothing quite like cruising around and listening to his infectious cadence and flow on the microphone. It’s too bad he died early, as he was a great talent that we’re sure would have an even larger impact on the genre than he had in his time.
19. Ghostface Killah
Making his true debut on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, this artist took the opportunity to launch his career. He is most known for his work with Wu-Tang Clan but wasted no time creating his own signature sound and career. Exciting fans with his high energy and storytelling capabilities, this rapper definitely made his mark on 90s rap.
Debuting toward the end of the 90s, DMX certainly made a mark with his debut. Blending gruff lyrics and delivery with undeniable talented melody. This artist brought a fresh wave of new talent to the rap industry in 1998.
21. Big Pun
Big Pun created an amazing career in the 90s through his technical skills as a rapper. He is known for throwing down catchy lyrics that are meaningful and fun to sing along to.
Early in his career, he took up the stage name Big Moon Dawg, but that all changed after meeting Bronx rapper Fat Joe. His debut came out as “Watch Out” on the Jealous One’s Envy album. His own debut album, however, was Capital Punishment. This album attracted the attention of everyone and was nominated for Best Rap Album of the Year at the 1999 Grammy Awards. He is hailed as having the first solo Latin hip hop album to ever go platinum.
Subsequent decades have brought a collection of incredible rap artists, but the 90s will always remain the Golden Age of rap. Today, younger generations still dive back into the incredible lyrics and albums of 2Pac, Notorious BIG, Nas, and others since the music, lyrics, and message remain timeless.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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