Hip hop has drastically evolved as a genre over the years. It rose to mainstream prominence during the 1990s, an era that many people consider hip hop’s golden age. Here is a list of the top 10 most important hip hop releases of the 1990s, in no particular order.
10. Outkast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik: Outkast’s debut album put southern hip hop on the map. At the time, the American east and west coasts were the most prominent scenes for the genre, but rappers Andre 3000 and Big Boi let the world know that the south was not to be ignored. The dynamic duo mixed intricate rhyme schemes with a laid back ‘70s southern funk and gave birth to a classic.
9. Dr. Dre – The Chronic: Dr. Dre’s debut album, The Chronic, is a household name in hip hop. It established Dre as one of hip hop’s most important producers and paved the way for other, now legendary MCs, such as Snoop Dogg and Kurupt. The Doctor’s combination of funky bass lines and heavy synth revolutionized rap and created a staple sound for west coast hip hop.
8. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers): No list would be complete without this album. 36 Chambers served as a launching pad for Wu-Tang’s members, many of whom went on to record platinum-selling solo albums. RZA’s unparalleled beat-making skills, mixed with standout performances from all of Wu-Tang’s nine rapping members, make this record a tour de force.
7. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory: ATCQ are known for their jazzy hip-hop sounds. The Low End Theory provides listeners with mellow, progressive sounds and street-conscious lyricism. The album merged two forms of revolutionary black music and created a timeless record.
6. El-P – Fantastic Damage: Brooklyn-born rapper and producer El-P redefined alternative hip hop with his debut album. Fantastic Damage is filled with esoteric lyrics over spacey, psychedelic beats. With song titles like “Dr. Hell No vs. the Praying Mantus,” El-P gained recognition as one of the first white rappers, and proved his worth on both the beats and microphone.
5. Nas – Illmatic: Considered by many as the “Hip-Hop Bible,” Nas produced in one album what most rappers try to achieve in a lifetime. The album includes production by legendary beat makers DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Large Professor, lending every song a completely different feel. Nas’ masterful lyricism made his debut album a force to be reckoned with.
4. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die: Regarded as one of the best to ever hold the microphone, Biggie Smalls’ debut album was an instant classic. His unique ability to merge comedy with serious, real-life experiences on the street made him a favourite among fans. Standout tracks include “Juicy,” “ Big Poppa” and “Who Shot Ya?”
3. Tupac Shakur – All Eyez on Me: Along with Biggie Smalls, Tupac is considered one of the most influential MCs of all time. His fourth studio album All Eyez on Me is thick with collaboration, but Tupac’s vicious, militant flow and lyricism stand out as usual. An absolute must have for any hip-hop head.
2. The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!: The Roots are one of the most diverse acts in hip hop. Rapper Black Thought demonstrates some of the most impeccable flows on this record. The use of live instruments from drummer Questlove and now former Roots bassist Leonard Hubbard produced a completely new hip-hop sound.
1. Rakim – The 18th Letter: Back in ‘87, Eric B. & Rakim released Paid In Full. Rakim’s lyrical mastery set the standard for hip hop at the time, leading many critics and fans to crown Rakim as one of the best. When the duo broke up, Rakim released his first solo album The 18th Letter, which was a sprawling, brilliant comeback that affirmed his ability to hold the crown.