103 Best 90s Hip Hop Songs

Best 90s Hip Hop Songs

The 1990s is often considered the Golden Era of hip hop. While the art form began in the 70s, its popularity exploded in the 90s, introducing many new artists and styles. 

Whether you grew up in the decade or just want to know more about this famous time in music history, here's a look at the best 90s hip hop songs.

Contents

“Nuthin' but a ‘G' Thang” by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg

Song year: 1992

West Coast gangsta rap thrived in the 90s, and the popularity of that genre arguably started with this song.

“Nuthin' but a ‘G' Thang” features funky samples alongside an authentic look into the life of West Coast gang life. Plus, the song made then-21-year-old Snoop Dogg practically an overnight star.

“Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G.

Song year: 1994

“Juicy” is a fun, hopeful song about Biggie's childhood dreams to achieve rap superstardom. Interestingly, Biggie himself wasn't famous when he wrote the song, giving the lyrics a prophetic quality.

“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” by Jay-Z

Song year: 1998

While samples are common in rap music, audiences had never heard anything like “Hard Knock Life,” which features a sample from the 1982 musical Annie. Child singers aren't the most obvious choice for a rap song about the travails of ghetto life, but Jay-Z makes it work brilliantly. 

“Shook Ones Pt 2” by Mobb Deep

Song year: 1995

Mobb Deep, the New York-based duo of Prodigy and Havoc, are considered pioneers in the East Coast rap scene, known for a gritty, hardcore sound.

“Shook Ones Pt 2” is a boastful, energetic song about shootings, murder, and the New York gangsta life. It's one of Mobb Deep's most successful singles.

“Shimmy Shimmy Ya” by Ol' Dirty Bastard

Song year: 1994

ODB was one-of-a-kind, and although he wasn't nearly as prolific as his fellow Wu-Tang bandmates, his solo songs always made an impression.

“Shimmy Shimmy Ya” is the second single from Dirty's first solo effort, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. It's a freewheeling party song about life as OBD, with slightly obscene and always hilarious lyrics delivered in a way only he can.

“Gin and Juice” by Snoop Doggy Dogg

Song year: 1993

After capturing the attention of hip-hop fans with his guest appearances on The Chronic, audiences were hotly anticipating his solo debut – and The D-O-Double-G didn't disappoint.

“Gin and Juice” is the second song on Doggystyle, hitting number eight on both the Billboard 100 and VH1's list of Greatest Hip-Hop Songs. It's the ultimate party song chronicling the pleasures of drinking, smoking, and getting money.

“I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need To Get By” by Method Man and Mary J. Blige

Song year: 1994

Among all the members of Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man has found the most success as a solo artist. His debut album, Tical, dropped in 1994 and became an instant classic.

The album initially included “All I Need,” a song later remixed to include singing from Mary J. Blige. While the first version is good, nothing beats the remix with Blige's Grammy-winning performance.

“Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G.

Song year: 1997

“Hypnotize” hit the airwaves just one week before Biggie died, making it the fifth song in history to reach number one on the charts by a deceased artist. Aside from Biggie's deft wordplay, the song is also notable for its sample of 1979's “Rise” by Herb Albert.

While “Hypnotize” is widely considered one of the greatest hip hop songs of the 90s and beyond, in 1998, it lost at the Grammys to Will Smith's “Men in Black.”

“Gangsta's Paradise” by Coolio, A Popular Hip Hop Song Of The 1990s

Song year: 1995

Coolio was mainly known for rowdier, more party-focused songs until “Gangsta's Paradise,” which allowed the rapper to express more of his serious side. It's a thought-provoking, bleak song about growing up in the ghetto.

The song is based on Stevie Wonder's 1976 hit “Pastime Paradise.”

“Sound of da Police” by KRS-One

Song year: 1993

KRS-One hasn't been afraid to tackle serious subjects, including racial profiling and police brutality in his 1993 hit, “Sound of da Police.”

Even if you haven't heard this song often, you're likely familiar with the signature “whoop whoop” sound KRS-One makes throughout, meant to sound like a police siren.

“If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)”

Song year: 1996

While Nas is widely considered one of hip hop's greatest lyricists, he didn't receive as much radio play as many of his peers in the 90s.

His most mainstream hit is likely “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).” It’s a thoughtful and fanciful exploration of the world changes he'd like to make.

“Luchini (This Is It)” by Camp Lo

Song year: 1997

“Luchini (This Is It) is the biggest hit of a New York-based duo, Camp Lo. It's a fun, chill party song about drinking, smoking, and hooking up. If you listened to hip hop in the 90s, the song's horn-driven sound is instantly recognizable. 

“Passin' Me By” by The Pharcyde

Song year: 1992

South Central Los Angeles was home to 90s gangsta rap but also the funky, alternative sounds of The Pharcyde.

This four-man group debuted in 1992 with Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. “Passin' Me By” was the second single on that album, introducing the world to their deft, often-comedic lyricism and unique style.

“So What'cha Want” by the Beastie Boys

Song year: 1992

Having already established themselves as a major force in 80s hip hop, the Beastie Boys further spread their wings musically with Check Your Head. It combines hip hop and head banging with heavy riffs and samples, including “Just Rhymin' With Biz” by Big Daddy Kane and the Beastie's longtime collaborator Biz Markie. 

“Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Song year: 1992

Sir Mix-A-Lot kept his message simple: He likes girls with big butts. “Baby Got Back” features clever rhymes, a booming bass line, and lighthearted subject matter that appeals to both male and female audiences.

The song won a Grammy and the top spot on VH1's Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 90s.

“If Your Girl Only Knew” by Aaliyah

Song year: 1996

Although Aaliyah died tragically in 2001, her star shined brightly during the 90s. “If Your Girl Only Knew,” one of her most famous songs, helped redefine hip hop and R&B throughout the decade.

It's about a girl responding to a man hitting on her even though his girlfriend waits at home. Critics often remarked on how more assured and complex her vocals are on her second album compared to her first. 

“Check the Rhime” by A Tribe Called Quest

Song year: 1991

Before embarking on successful solo careers, audiences first heard Q-Tip and Phife Dawg when they were members of A Tribe Called Quest. “Check the Rhime” is from the group's second album, The Low End Theory.

The song is known for quick-witted wordplay between the two rappers, who display electric chemistry, backed by a jazzy beat from Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

“Daddy's Little Girl” by Nikki D

Song year: 1991

Although not super-famous today, Nikki D holds an important place in hip-hop history as the first female artist on the Def Jam record label.

“Daddy's Little Girl,” Nikki D's second single, showcases her impressive rapping skills while also displaying a more vulnerable side. She raps about her struggles to succeed in the industry while staying true to herself.  

“I Wish” by Skee-Lo

Song year: 1998

Skee-Lo’s most-famous song was both a hit when released and has remained popular for decades. Its longevity can be attributed to the lighthearted, relatable lyrics and a catchy beat.

Haven’t we all felt like life would be just a bit better if we were better looking, cooler, and drove a ’64 Impala?

“I Used To Love H.E.R.” by Common

Song year: 1994

As the song begins, it seems as if Common is rapping about a woman he used to love. However, as the song continues, it becomes clear the “woman” is a metaphor for hip-hop.

Common decries the current state of the art form, and the song added fuel to the West Coast / East Coast rap rivalry.

“O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature

Song year: 1991

“O.P.P” was one of the New Jersey trio's biggest hits. Released at the start of the decade, it's a raunchy song about hooking up with people who are already in relationships.

Naughty by Nature released music throughout the 90s, including the legendary song “Hip Hop Hooray,” before breaking up in the early 2000s.    

“Rosa Parks” by Outkast

Song year: 1998

“Rosa Parks” is a fun, rowdy tune from Aquemini, Outkast’s third studio album. Interestingly, the song isn't primarily about Rosa Parks but focuses on Outkast's skills behind the mic and ability to get the party started.

Parks herself filed suit against the group, claiming the song misappropriated her likeness, although many believe unscrupulous lawyers pushed the case without her support. 

“C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan

Song year: 1994

The 1990s introduced the world to the Wu-Tang Clan, and while any number of their songs belong on their list, “C.R.E.A.M” is arguably the most influential, as it first introduced the world to the group’s signature Staten Island sound.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me established the group’s entire style and membership immediately. Many fans consider it to be the definitive Wu-Tang song.

“No Diggity” by Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen

Song year: 1996

Deftly blending rap with R&B elements, “No Diggity” was an immediate hit for Blackstreet, but the group took serious convincing to even record the tune.

The song is sexy and fun, with lyrics describing women who are beautiful without any doubt. Although the group didn't coin the phrase “no diggity,” which means “no doubt,” their song popularized it worldwide. 

“Mass Appeal” by Gang Starr

Song year: 1994

The Guru and DJ Premier duo helped pioneer the sound of early hardcore East Coast rap. Though “Mass Appeal” began as a joke song, parodying the simple beats and topics necessary to win a radio play, it caught on with the audiences and became Gang Starr’s first single to chart on Billboard.

“Triumph” by the Wu-Tang Clan

Song year: 1997

“Triumph,” the first single from 1997's Wu-Tang Forever, is the only Wu-Tang song to feature all eight group members (with special guest and future member Cappadonna).

Notably, the song has no chorus. Instead, each member drops a verse with an interlude from Ol' Dirty Bastard.

“Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect

Song year: 1992

Part of the New Jack Swing style, the three-person group Wreckx-N-Effect hit superstardom with “Rump Shaker.”

The lyrics stay 100% true to the title, and their infamously raunchy video was actually banned from MTV. While not profound, it’s an undeniably influential song from the New Jack Swing sounds in 90s hip hop.

“Keep Their Heads Ringin'” by Dr. Dre

Song year: 1995

Friday, a blockbuster comedy about life in the hood written and starring Ice Cube, was accompanied by a best-selling soundtrack that features the hit song “Keep Their Heads Ringin’.”

The lyrics find Dre at his boastful best, rapping about his ability to create beats you can't forget. Aside from the song, the video is also entertaining, with cameos from the film's cast.

“Bow Down” by Westside Connection

Song year: 1996

In the early 90s, Dr. Dre's collaboration with Snoop Dogg led to wild success, which his former bandmate Ice Cube looked to replicate. The Westside Connection consisted of Cube along with rappers WC and Mac-10.

“Bow Down” is a boast-filled introduction to the supergroup. They brag about their roles in creating gangsta rap and lash out at Cypress Hill, Common, and other enemies.

“Know the Ledge” by Eric B & Rakim

Song year: 1991

During the late 1980s, Eric B & Rakim were considered the best DJ/MC duo in the game. By 1993, they broke up following a series of high-profile legal disputes. Nevertheless, their final album, Don't Sweat the Technique, is one of their best!

“Know the Ledge” was featured on the soundtrack for the 2Pac-starring film Juice. It's a hardcore song about the New York gangsta lifestyle. 

“On & On” by Erykah Badu

Song year: 1996

Erykah Badu led the way in what's referred to as the neo-soul subgenre of hip hop, a sound that included elements of funk, jazz, electronica, and more. “On & On” is one of her earliest hits, with hopeful lyrics describing Badu's desire to float above the world's troubles.

Badu's sound and style proved an enchanting alternative to Faith Evans and Mary J. Blige.

“Stakes Is High” by De La Soul

Song year: 1996

De La Soul is a New York trio known for its significant influence on alternative rap, with a style featuring comedic lyrics, unexpected samples, and an overall freewheeling vibe.

However, they achieved modest commercial success. One of their most famous songs is “Stakes Is High,” a powerful and personal statement decrying the commercialization of modern hip hop.

“We're All in the Same Gang” by the West Coast Rap All-Stars

Song year: 1990

In the 1980s and 90s, many major urban areas were plagued by gang violence, a situation that some felt was exacerbated by the popularity of gangsta rap.

In 1990, Dr. Dre produced “We're All in the Same Gang,” a star-studded, Grammy-nominated single addressing gang violence and encouraging peace in the community.

“1st of tha Month” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

Song year: 1995

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony topped the success of their first album with their second, E. 1999 Eternal, which featured “1st of tha Month” as its debut single.

The song references the date when welfare checks hit the mail. It's a smooth, celebratory song about enjoying what you have, even if you don't have much.

“Feel so Good” by Mase

Song year: 1997

“Feel So Good” by Mase is one of the all-time rap party tunes. Produced by Puffy (the “Diddy” moniker came later), it dropped in 1997 and made Mase practically an overnight sensation.

The lyrics feature lots of witty wordplay about living the good life and being on top of the world. While they're not groundbreaking, they've become legendary thanks to Mase's golden sound.

“N.Y. State of Mind” by NAS, A Top Hip Hop Song Of The 90s

Song year: 1992

Coming from widely considered one of the greatest lyricists of all time, “N.Y. State of Mind” by NAS chronicles life on the streets of N.Y. as a young black man in the ghetto.

Aside from commercial success, the song also received critical acclaim as one of the few rap songs in the Norton Anthology of African American literature.   

“Playaz Club” by Rappin' 4-Tay

Song year: 1994

Although Rappin' 4-Tay's time in the limelight was limited, he still achieved a type of hip-hop immortality with his 1994 hit “Playaz Club.” It's a cool, funky tune about living large on the West Coast.

The song is one of the most famous examples of G-funk, the West Coast sound popularized in rap songs of the 90s.

“Let's Talk About Sex” by Salt-n-Pepa

Song year: 1990

The all-female trio Salt-n-Pepa were pioneers in 90s rap music, known for both catchy hooks and socially-conscious lyrics. “Let's Talk About Sex” offer a bit of both, with a funky beat alongside lyrics about the importance of safe sex.

Almost a decade later, the group released an alternate version titled “Let's Talk About AIDS,” with new lyrics reflecting AIDS and HIV information.

“MC's Act Like They Don't Know” by KRS-One

Song year: 1995

“MC's Act Like They Don't Know” epitomizes why KRS-One is considered one of the most electric and captivating live hip hop performers.

The bombastic rapper lets the world know he's the best at putting on a show, as other rappers might win awards, but he delivers when it counts.

“Ghetto Superstar” by Pras ft. Ol' Dirty Bastard & Mya

Song year: 1998

After the Fugees broke up, each trio member recorded at least one solo album. While Pras never quite achieved the same level of solo success as the others, he still released a certified banger with 1998's “Ghetto Superstar.”

Although vague, the lyrics focus on achieving your dream even when living in dire circumstances. Mya sings the hook while ODB shows up for a freewheeling verse.

“Love's Gonna Get'cha (Material Love)”

Song year: 1990

Before launching a solo career, KRS-One performed as a part of Boogie Down Productions. The trio (later a duo) released a string of hit albums, including 1990s Edutainment.

The album features one of their biggest hits, “Love's Gonna Get'cha (Material Love)” It's not about romantic love but instead the alluring love of money and power associated with criminal life.

“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys

Song year: 1991

Houston rappers Bushwick Bill, Scarface, and Willie D wove complex and disturbing tales about the mental toll of gangster life into their lyrics.

Although this song became the first major hit for the Texas-based trio, it originally began as a Scarface solo effort, with the rapper writing three out of its four verses.

“Get Money” by Junior M.A.F.I.A.

Song year: 1994

Junior M.A.F.I.A. consists of 11 rappers who were all childhood friends of Biggie Smalls. After his success, he formed and mentored the group, which released one album with a full roster, 1995's Conspiracy. “Get Money,” a song in a traditional East Coast style, became the group's biggest hit.

“I Get Around” by 2Pac ft. Digital Underground

Song year: 1993

2Pac got his start as a member of Digital Underground, and even after finding fame as a solo artist, he never forgot the rappers who helped him get started.

“I Get Around” is a laid-back party song where 2Pac directly mentions his connection to Digital Underground. 2Pac crafted much of the song personally, including ghostwriting Shock-G's verse.

“Now That We Found Love” by Heavy D & The Boyz

Song year: 1991

Hip hop purists may argue that “Now That We Found Love” is a 90s dance track, but Heavy D's featured performance also makes the song a legend among rap songs of the 1990s.

The lyrics are fun and party-focused, with the famed “overweight lover” professing his love and prowess in the bedroom.

“Can I Get A…” by Jay-Z ft. Ja Rule and Amil

Song year: 1998

“Can I Get A…” was the first single from Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, but it had appeared earlier on the soundtrack to the movie Rush Hour.

The original lyrics are incredibly graphic, so the sanitized “Can I Get A ‘What What'?” became a hit on the radio. The song includes memorable guest rhymes from Ja Rule and Amil, Jay-Z's female protege throughout the 90s.

“Mathematics” by Mos Def

Song year: 1999

After leaving the duo Black Star in 1999, Mos Def released his debut album, “Black on Both Sides,” which is perhaps best known for the thought-provoking “Mathematics.”

The song is built around staggering statistics regarding inequalities between black and white men. Mos Def displays impressive wordplay – at times even rhyming stats in numerical order – while also crafting a powerful statement about society. 

“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”

Song year: 1997

Busta Rhymes followed up his impressive debut album with 1997's When Disaster Strikes, featuring the lead single “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.”

It finds Busta in top form, with lyrics covering parties, women, and the power of Busta's crew, all delivered in his inimitable, dizzying style.

“Back That Thang Up” by Juvenile

Song year: 1999

Juvenile's biggest hit up to that point, “Back That Thang Up,” dropped in 1999 from his third album.

While the song is far from the most obscene on this list, its popularity necessitated three edits. It caters to the broadest possible audience with its censored and uncensored versions.

“Flava in Ya Ear” by Craig Mack

Song year: 1994

Craig Mack's laid-back, slightly off-kilter style was unlike anything audiences had heard before. “Flava in Ya Ear,” the first single from Mack's debut album, was an instant smash, peaking at number nine on the Billboard 100.

The song has an album version for radio, plus a remix with verses from Biggie, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, and others.

“Jump Around” by House of Pain

Song year: 1992

Featuring bagpipes, “Jump Around” is House of Pain’s most famous hit, reaching number three in the US and top 10 in Ireland and UK.

Producer DJ Muggs created the famous beat years earlier, offering it to Cypress Hill and Ice Cube, who both rejected it. 

“U Can't Touch This” by MC Hammer

Song year: 1990

MC Hammer’s hit single “U Can't Touch This” reached number one on the Billboard charts and won numerous Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards.

The song helped usher rap into the mainstream. In a roundabout way, it also helped increase the popularity of gangsta rap, as many artists and audiences hungered for a less-commercial sound.

“Welcome to the Terrordome” by Public Enemy

Song year: 1990

The start of the decade saw the release of Public Enemy's second album, Fear of a Black Planet – an album that quickly showed the world how the group was here to stay.

While the entire album is controversial, “Welcome to the Terrordome” is often considered the most thought-provoking. The lyrics examine the media, religion, 90s black culture, and more.

50″I Ain't Mad at Cha” by 2Pac

Song year: 1996

No song is perhaps more associated with Tupac Shakur than “I Ain't Mad at Cha,” as it was released two days following his death on September 13, 1996.

The song finds 2Pac wistfully describing lost relationships with various friends, lovers, and others with whom he's lost touch.

“Crush on You” by Lil' Kim

Song year: 1997

After leaving Junior M.A.F.I.A., Lil' Kim debuted a solo album in 1997, releasing Crush on You as the second single.

The lyrics are clever, raunchy, and sexual. They're also pioneering, as earlier generations of female rappers typically avoided such “taboo” topics.

“Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys

"Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys

Song year: 1994

The Beastie Boys weren't afraid to mix up their style, and while “Sabotage” features rapping, the sound is strongly reminiscent of their early roots as a punk band. It's an aggressive, downright paranoid song that finds the Boys lashing out at unnamed enemies.

“Still Not a Player” by Big Pun

Song year: 1998

“Still Not a Player” introduced audiences to the booming sounds of the Bronx-born rapper Big Pun. The song is catchy with a smooth party vibe and raunchy, humorous lyrics about Big Pun's lavish lifestyle and ability to please the ladies.

“Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J   

Song year: 1990

Hip hop in the 90s got off to a rollicking start with LL Cool J's “Mama Said Knock You Out,” a no-holds-barred attack song heard even today on the radio, at sporting events, and more.

Even though he was only 22 years old, LL Cool J was an industry veteran with three albums under his belt, but critics said he'd lost his edge. So he released this song to prove them wrong.

“Dear Mama” by 2Pac, A 90s Hip Hop Track

Song year: 1995

“Dear Mama” describes 2Pac's tumultuous upbringing in New York and California, with the many challenging circumstances due to his mother's ongoing struggle with crack addiction.

Aside from garnering both commercial and critical success, it was also included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress due to its cultural importance.

“It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube

Song year: 1993

A celebration of life, including its many simple pleasures, “It Was a Good Day” was the second single released from Ice Cube's third album, The Predator.

Instead of focusing on the hardcore aspect of inner-city life, the song details a peaceful day of eating a great breakfast, playing basketball with friends, and “hanging out” with the ladies.

“Regulate” by Warren G

Song year: 1994

Warren G's “Regulate” is another song that helped define the G-Funk sound of 90's West Coast rap. It combines Warren G's smooth rhymes with Nate Dogg's signature singing style.

The lyrics follow the duo as they fight their enemies in the hood while winning women along the way.

“Renee” by Lost Boyz

Song year: 1996

Although the Lost Boyz were popular and well-respected among hip-hop fans, they didn't achieve much mainstream success, aside from “Renee,” which reached number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Renee” is a poignant tale about how anyone who grows up in a crime-filled area can find themselves the victim of tragedy.

“Slow Down” by Brand Nubian

Song year: 1990

The hip hop group Brand Nubian is considered an early pioneer in alternative hip hop, which combines funky beats with politically-minded lyrics.

“Slow Down,” their debut single from their first album, tells the tale of a woman who becomes addicted to crack. The lyrics were intelligent and unafraid to tackle real issues of the day.

“Take a Look Around” by Masta Ace

Song year: 1990

Considered a hip-hop veteran today, Masta Ace first rose to fame in the early 90s. He found success immediately with the first single from his debut album. “Take a Look Around” features intricate, meditative lyrics about the rapper's self-doubt and the state of the world.

“Coolie High” by Camp Lo

Song year: 1996

Before their 1997 hit “Luchini AKA This Is It,” the Bronx-based duo Camp Lo found success with “Coolie High,” a well-liked party song released in 1996.

The song appeared on the soundtrack for The Great White Hype, but its success gave the duo the opportunity for broader success with their follow-up hit.

“Concrete Schoolyard” by Jurassic 5

Song year: 1995

Jurassic 5 is a six-person group from Los Angeles known as pioneers in alternative rap, a style that focuses on funky beats and socially-conscious lyrics.

“Concrete Schoolyard” was their first hit, a thought-provoking, but fun, tune set against a catchy Ike Turner soundtrack. 

“Let's Ride” by Q-Tip

Song year: 1999

As the 90s drew to a close, A Tribe Called Quest broke up, and Q-Tip set out on his own. His solo debut, Amplified, saw a broadening of his style, with the biggest hit 1999's “Let's Ride.”

The song displays Q-Tip’s lyrical virtuosity as he emerges with a rougher and more boastful attitude as a solo artist.

“Ruff Ryders' Anthem” by DMX

Song year: 1998

DMX was originally reluctant to record “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” believing the aggressive beat was more rock-and-roll than hip-hop. He changed his mind, of course, and a hit was born.

The marching beat by Swizz Beatz perfectly accompanies DMX's lyrics. Interestingly, a key element of the song, “What!” repeatedly yelled by DMX, was ad-libbed during the recording.

“They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) by Pete Rock and CL Smooth

Song year: 1992

Pete Rock and CL Smooth were known in the 90s for their positive, socially-conscious rap that generally didn't contain profanity.

The New York duo dropped their first album, Mecca and the Soul, in 1991. It's a moving tribute to their friend Troy Dixon, a member of Heavy D & the Boyz.

“All About the Benjamins” by Puff Daddy ft/ Lil' Kim, The Lox, and The Notorious B.I.G.

Song year: 1997

In 1996, an early version of “All About the Benjamins” appeared on DJ Clue's Holiday Holdup album. While moderately successful, Puffy reworked the song to include guest vocals from Lil' Kim and The Notorious B.I.G.

The new version, a bombastic celebration of money and success, appears on Puffy's debut album, No Way Out

“Insane in the Brain”

Song year: 1993

Cypress Hill's “Insane in the Brain” is a powerful, rocking song about the gangster lifestyle. The titular phrase was originally a common term for acting crazy used by both Bloods and Crips.

Notably, many people allege it has a modified version of the beat used in another song produced by DJ Muggs, “Jump Around.”

“La Raza” by Kid Frost

Song year: 1990

In 1990, the rapper Kid Frost released his debut album, Hispanic Causing Panic, considered a milestone in what's referred to as Chicano rap.

“La Raza,” which means “the people” in English, and the song features a mix of both English and Spanish rhymes. It's a boastful, rollicking tune about gangster life and supporting your people.

“911 Is a Joke” by Public Enemy

Song year: 1990

“911 Us a Joke,” is one of Public Enemy's biggest hits, reaching number one on the Hot Rap Singles chart despite practically zero radio play.

Although it has comedic elements, it's ultimately a serious song about the slow response time for emergency services in black neighborhoods.

“Shot Callin' Big Ballin'” by the WhoRidas

Song year: 1996

The WhoRidas, two cousins from Oakland, never achieved lasting stardom, but they made an impression on 90s hip hop with 1996's “Shot Callin' Big Ballin'.” 

The lyrics – about partying, drug dealin', and livin' large – aren't groundbreaking, but they're catchy, and the G-funk beat is an excellent example of the era's sound.

“I Got 5 on It” by Luniz

Song year: 1995

Oakland-based Luniz, consisting of rapper Yukmouth and Numbskull, along with R&B singer Michael Marshall, are the trio behind this smooth, catchy tune.

The song is about the practice of pooling money to buy marijuana, as Yukmouth and Numbskull would each put $5 for a sack of weed.

“The Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

Song year: 1996

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony is a four-man hip-hop group known for combining smooth melodies with authentic lyrics about gangster and ghetto life.

The group recorded the original “Crossroads” in 1995 as a tribute to their friend, Wallace Laird. However, after the group's mentor Eazy-E died later that year, they re-recorded the song in his honor and titled it “The Crossroads.”

“Player's Ball” by Outkast

Song year: 1994

It's hard to overstate how original Outkast felt when they first appeared on the scene. The Atlanta-based duo released their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in 1994, which featured “Player's Ball.”

The lyrics discussed life and hip hop culture of the South, a novel location to many audiences who were more familiar with East and West Coast sounds.

“Make Em Say Uhh!” by Master P

Song year: 1998

The No Limit sound gained prominence throughout the 90s but was far from an overnight success. “Make Em Say Uhh” is on the Louisiana native's seventh album, Ghetto D.

The lyrics aren't complex but memorable and fun to rap along. The song's video also played a role in its appeal, introducing a broader audience to the No Limit style, as Master P and friends rapped on a basketball court complete with a gold tank.

“All That I Got Is You” by Ghostface Killah

Song year: 1996

Wu-Tang founding member Ghostface Killah released just one solo album in the 90s, 1994's Ironman. While the album featured numerous hits, arguably none is more famous than “All That I Got Is You.”

The song paints a vivid picture of Ghostface's hard childhood. It's a powerful, heartbreaking song made all the more impactful by guest vocals from Mary J. Blige. 

“Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince

Song year: 1991

“Summertime” was the first single from Homebase, the fourth album from DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.

The song describes hanging out with friends and enjoying all summer has to offer. It features a laid-back, funky beat and chill rhymes.

“Pop Goes the Weasel” by 3rd Bass

Song year: 1991

3rd Bass is noteworthy for the intricate and authentic rhymes and because the trio became one of the most successful interracial rap groups in the 90s.

Their biggest hit was “Pop Goes the Weasel,” which took lots of shots at commercially successful rappers of the time. Ironically, the song ended up as the group's most commercially successful hit.

“My Name Is” by Eminem, One Of The Best 1990s Hip Hop Songs

Song year: 1999

A young, white, Detroit-native hit the radio with the profane and witty “My Name Is” at the end of the 90s.

Eminem's shocking style is in full force here, with lyrics referencing many pop culture figures. Combined with a wild and hilarious video that saw heavy rotation on MTV, and “My Name Is” was an instant and sustained hit. 

“Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious Big ft. Puff Daddy and Mase

Song year: 1994

“Mo Money Mo Problems” dropped after Biggie's death, becoming his second posthumous number one hit. Despite the pessimistic title, it's one of the most upbeat songs on the rapper's final album, Life After Death.

Notably, Biggie was added to the music video via old footage that was slightly manipulated to make it seem like he's saying the correct lyrics.

“Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” by Digable Planets

Song year: 1993

While g-funk and East Coast hardcore dominated much of the charts throughout the 90s, alternative rap also found great success.

“Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” by Digable Planets is an excellent example of the alternative sound, with a jazzy sound and laid-back lyrical flow. The song won a Grammy in 1994. 

“Foe Life” by Mack 10

Song year: 1995

Before Mack 10 and Ice Cube formed the Westside Connection, they teamed up on “Foe Life,” a satirical take on East Coast “call and response” rap. It starts with a traditional, booming East Coast sound before suddenly shifting to a g-funk beat.

Directly mocking East Coast rap, the song played a significant role in the East Coast/West Coast feud that dominated hip hop throughout the 90s.

“The World Is Yours” by Nas

Song year: 1994

“The World is Yours” was the fourth single from the rapper's legendary album Illmatic. Inspired by the gangster epic Scarface, the song is about conquering life and celebrating success.

While perhaps an unusual choice for a song inspired by Scarface, the lyrics were featured on Sprite cans during a 2015 advertising campaign. 

“Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg

Song year: 1999

Although he started the decade strong with The Chronic, Dr. Dre disappeared from airwaves for many years, leading audiences to speculate he'd lost his touch.

In 1999, he returned with The Chronic 2001, featuring the single “Still D.R.E.” It's a personal and boastful song about how Dre is still at the top of the rap game.

“The Rain” by Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott

Song year: 1997

“The Rain” was Missy's first solo release, introducing audiences to her unique style. Produced by long-time creative partner Timbaland, the song has a cool and funky trip-hop sound.

The Hype Williams-directed video, where Missy rocks an inflated bag-like outfit, helped propel the song to success soon after its release.   

“Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature

Song year: 1992

“Hip Hop Hooray” is a legendary party song celebrating good times, great rhymes, and beautiful women. It's Naughty by Nature's second commercial success from the 90s (the other being “O.P.P.”).

The song contains five separate samples from artists including Peter Gabriel, James Brown, and the Isley Brothers.

“Ready or Not” by The Fugees

Song year: 1996

The Fugees achieved legendary status with their second album, 1996's The Score. The song was a haunting, energetic masterpiece highlighting each of the Fugees' lyrical skills.

“Ready or Not” famously features a sample from Enya's “Boadicea,” which the Fugees didn't initially have permission to use. However, after Enya heard the song and realized it wasn't gangster rap, she allowed its use.

“I'll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy ft Faith Evans

Song year: 1997

After The Notorious B.I.G.'s tragic death, artists released many tributes, but none were as famous as this emotional song from Puff Daddy and Faith Evans. It  includes the immediately-recognizable sample from Sting's “Every Breath You Take.”

Sting had a complex relationship with the song. He sued Puffy and received 100% of the royalties but also performed the song live with Puffy at the 1997 MTV Music Video awards.

“The Choice Is Yours (Revisited) by Black Sheep

Song year: 1991

Nineties-era hop hop fans might not remember the song title but likely remember the mention of Roger Miller’s “Engine Engine Number 9.” It's a catchy dance song with clever, often humorous lyrics.

Following bad sales of their second album, Non-Fiction, the New York duo of Black Sheep parted ways in 1995. However, they reunited in 2021

“Street Talkin'” by Slick Rick

Song year: 1999

Slick Rick perfected the art of storytelling rap, creating intricate and authentic songs about the criminal lifestyle.

By 1999, as he approached the end of his career, he released “Street Talkin',” a collaboration with Outkast. It's a thought-provoking tale that showcases Slick Rick's mesmerizing style.

“Around the Way Girl” by LL Cool J

Song year: 1990

“Around the Way Girl” is a smooth, romantic jam about the type of independent women LL Cool J loves to romance. It charted on both the R&B and dance charts.

The song features numerous samples, including “All Night Long” by the Mary Jane Girls and “Rising to the Top” by Keni Burke.

“This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan

Song year: 1995

“This Is How We Do It” is an excellent example of hip-hop soul, blending R&B singing with a jazzy, danceable beat. It's the first single from Jordan's self-titled debut.

The lyrics are fun-loving and party-focused, with the singer encouraging everyone to chill with their gangster posturing and enjoy the good times.

“California Love” by 2Pac ft. Dr. Dre

Song year: 1995

In 1995, 2Pac was released from prison, immediately signing with Death Row Records and releasing new music, including “California Love” with Dr. Dre.

Although maybe not the most important song in the rapper's body of work, it's one of his biggest bangers, with lyrics celebrating the state and West Coast hip hop.  

“The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground

Song year: 1990

While the song is hilarious, it also has an essential role in hip-hop history. “The Humpty Dance” is the second song to feature “Humpty Hump,” the alter-ego of Digital Underground frontman Shock G.

It's a funky song with a new-jack-swing sound. The lyrics describe the fictional Humpty's over-the-top lifestyle plus instructions for performing his crazy dance!

“How Do You Want It” by 2Pac ft. K-Ci and JoJo

Song year: 1996

“How Do You Want It” is a sexy, aggressive song packed with 2Pac's signature and often-humorous charm. It features vocals from K-Ci and JoJo, previously known for their work in the group Jodeci.

The song courted minor controversy after civil rights activist (and outspoken rap critic) C. Delores Tucker sued 2Pac for emotional distress, but the suit was thrown out.

“Tennessee” by Arrested Development

Song year: 1992

Arrested Development only had a brief period of success. Still, they left a lasting impact with thoughtful rhymes meant as a clear alternative to the gangsta rap sounds dominating the airwaves.

The group's biggest success was “Tennessee,” inspired by the passing of frontman Speech's grandmother and brother in a short period.

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill

Song year: 1998

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” was a critical and commercial smash hit and the first time since 1988 that the most popular song in the country was written and produced by a solo female artist.

The song warns men and women about pursuing material items, with musical elements heavily derived from soul and doo-wop.

“Gettin' It” by Too $hort

Song year: 1996

Too $hort first arrived on the scene in the late 80s with catchy and incredibly raunchy songs about women. He remained popular throughout the 90s with numerous hits, including 1998's

“Gettin' It” is a surprisingly positive and motivational song about achieving your dreams in life. It features guest appearances from Ice-T, Coolio, and Parliament Funkadelic.

“Shadowboxin'” by GZA ft. Method Man

Song year: 1995

Wu-Tang Clan’s founding member GZA released three albums in the 90s, with “Shadowboxin',” found on his second album, Liquid Swords. Although it's a GZA song, Method Man steals the show here, contributing two of the three verses.

It’s a gritty song set to a hardcore, repetitive beat, which allows the brilliant lyrical abilities of both rappers to shine.

“Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest

Song year: 1991

If anyone could take the spotlight away from A Tribe Called Quest on their own song, it's Busta Rhymes. Only 19 years old at the time, Busta's guest appearance on “Scenario” is considered his breakout performance.

The song is a rollicking party anthem celebrating East Coast hip hop.

Top 90s Hip Hop Songs, Final Thoughts

Hip hop songs of the 90s have a huge variety in subject matter and sound, but each song played an important role in helping the genre reach new heights both commercially and critically.  From gangsta rap to mainstream commercial hits, 90s hip hop songs had it all.

We hope the above list reminded you of some of your old favorites or perhaps introduced you to some new ones.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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