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Hip hop is relatively new in music terms, only beginning in the late 70s and remaining a niche genre until the late 1980s, but it blew up because of the best 90s hip hop albums. These albums are responsible for shaping hip hop music, and indeed all music, to this day and will continue to do so long into the future. The rise of hip hop has introduced a number of musical and cultural elements to our lives that many of us would not otherwise experience. Join us now to see the albums that started it all with this guide to the best 90s hip hop albums.
Black on Both Sides by Mos Def
This iconic album from Mos Def was a revolutionary production when it came out in 1999. The album featured tracks like “Mathematics” which explored important social and political considerations, along with fun songs like “Ms Fat Booty,” which gave the disc a fun feel. Mos Def would go on to fame, both in the recording studio as well as on the big screen. His collaborations with artists like Talib Kweli helped to spark a whole new generation of socially and politically active hip hop artists as well as hip hop fans, and movies like “The Italian Job” ensure that Mos Def will remain a cultural force for a long time to come.
Return to 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version by Ol' Dirty Bastard
Ol’ Dirty Bastard is no longer with us, but thankfully we have his voluminous work with the Wu Tang Clan, as well as this legendary solo disc. ODB had a knack for having unique and innovative songs that didn’t fit the standard profile of a hit song but were still better than anything else you played. His unusual antics, stilted speaking style, and overly emphatic lines helped to make this album the soundtrack to many people’s 90s. ODB may be gone, but this album will see that his memory and art live on for generations. As a result it is easy to see why it is among the best 90s hip hop albums.
Hard Core by Lil Kim
1996 marked one of the first times that women had a chance to show off their hip hop skills when Lil Kim dropped this album. There were other female rappers at the time, but Lil Kim showed that the girls can do what the boys do just as well as the boys do it. The album marked one of the first times a woman was able to take control of her sexuality, wants, needs, and desires, and do so in an unabashed manner. Her tracks feature her telling her man exactly what she wants and exactly how she wants it. This was unheard of in hip hop, and indeed most music and culture, at the time. As a result this album paved the way for more female hip hop artists to get involved with and shape the game, earning Lil Kim a coveted place on our list.
Aquemini by Outkast
One of the most groundbreaking albums ever created in any genre, Aquemini helped launch Outkast into the national spotlight, receiving five mics from The Source magazine. It would still sound innovative and fresh if it were released today. Andre 3000 and Big Boi created a unique combination of Southern Soul, Hip Hop, Funk, Gospel, and techno music that is unmatched to this day. Featuring tracks like “Rosa Parks” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” this album showed how flexible the hip hop genre really was. It incorporated a wide array of musical instruments and technologies to produce a classic that easily stands up to the test of time. All of these reasons help make it on of the best 90s hip hop albums.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
Often touted as an essential album for any young girl, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill broke barriers all over with its unique production style, taking place in the context of a conversation that Lauryn was having with a group of young black girls about what it was like to be young, black, and girls. The song Doo Wap(That Thing) served as a guideline for how young people can understand the difficult process of being introduced to the world of sex and physical intimacy, arguing for the need for emotional protection as well as full control of enjoyment of yourself. There are few albums that received as much praise as The Miseducation and a simple listen will show you why it changed so many lives around the world in the 90s, and continues to do so to this day.
Life After Death by Notorious BIG
Posthumously released, Life After Death has some of the best known Notorious BIG tracks. “Hypnotize,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and “I Got a Story to Tell.” The list goes on and on. The album clearly demonstrates why BIG was considered by many to be the King of New York. It is full of the Bad Boy influence, with slick rhymes and highly produced beats. With these qualities it is easy to understand how it was able to dominate the radio in the years following its release. The album was finished before his untimely death, so Biggie knew what he had lined up, making it even more unfortunate that he didn’t live to see it.
Doggystyle by Snoop Dogg
One of the albums that helped fuel the rise of West Coast gangsta rap, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle was chock full of hits lined up one after the other. A look at the track list makes it easy to see why it is one of the best 90s hip hop albums. “Nutin’ but a G Thang,” “Gin and Juice,” and “Lodi Dodi” all helped shape the way that West Coast Rap sounded for decades to come. Snoop himself has gone on to even bigger things over the years, touring as a successful musician, getting a reality TV show of his own, and generally just being Snoop.
All Eyez on Me by Tupac
One of the best hip hop albums ever, not only the 1990s, All Eyez on Me by Tupac had a pile of hit singles and helped shape the way that the world understands hip hop. The title track, “How do U Want It,” “Body Heat,” and “Gangsta Party,” all were on the radio all the time. You seriously couldn’t escape from it coming from ever car up and down the West Coast. Sadly, Tupac isn’t around for us to thank him for his contributions to our lives as well as to music and culture as a whole, but we should still recognize the important role he has played in our society.
Ready to Die by Notorious BIG
Ready to Die is one of the albums that has made the notorious BIG a household name for decades. It explored the way that the rap and drug games were related, seeking to give its audiences a real life look at a much misunderstood phenomenon. The goal was to paint the people who were being vilified in congressional testimony and news broadcasts in a more sympathetic light, demonstrating how the crimes they were so reviled for were forced upon them by series of uncontrollable circumstances. As a result it gave insight into many of the problems facing black youth and resoundingly belongs on any list of the best 90s hip hop albums.
Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
Last, but certainly not least, is Low End Theory from A Tribe Called Quest. Similar to De La Soul, but more into the music. The album had no dead air time, and, as a result, was a constant barrage of awesome sound going from your car’s cassette deck to the speakers. A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most famous hip hop groups in history, noted for their innovative incorporation of jazz techniques into their songs as well as their laid back and chill lyrics that still managed to express an acute social awareness.