It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you.
About a year ago, I ranked the best R&B had to offer for the nine-90s and the 2000s, word to Juve. Take a look at those lists here:
Since then, everyone’s been asking when I’d show love to hip-hop’s pioneers.
The wait is over.
Let’s look at 10 of hip hop’s biggest names during the peak of my rap fandom, the 1990s. For those of you new to the game, let me save you some angry emails in advance: This won’t be a list of rap’s best lyricists, nor the best selling artists — it’s not even a ranking of my personal favorites.
I used the following equation to determine the rankings:
- Activity between the years 1990-1999
- Sales figures
- Overall influence on the genre
- Lyrical skill and creativity
Also, bear in mind that this list only includes solo artists. Rappers known primarily for their group work (i.e., Andre 3000, Black Thought, etc.) won’t make this list. Stay tuned for that list another time.
In the meantime, take a look at the 10 names that made rap a cultural phenomenon.
Honorable mentions: MC Hammer, Redman, Method Man
Albums: Get Away Clean (1991); Mama’s Bad Boy (1992); The Ghetto’s Tryin to Kill Me! (1994); 99 Ways to Die (1995); Ice Cream Man (1996, platinum); Ghetto D (1997, 3x platinum); MP da Last Don (1998, 4x platinum); Only God Can Judge Me (1999, gold)
No. 1 Singles: “I Miss My Homies” (1997, rap); “I Got The Hook Up!” (1998, rap); “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” (1998, rap)
Edd said: Master P went from Southern staple in the early 90s to mainstream superstar in the second half of the decade. What he lacked in lyrics (and lord knows he definitely lacked) he made up for in star power and a stable of memorable artists.
Albums: Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991, gold); The World Is Yours (1993, gold); The Diary (1994, platinum); The Untouchable (1997, platinum); My Homies (1998, platinum)
Edd said: Uncle Face is known as hip-hop’s elder statesman these days, but in the 90s, Scarface grew into the South’s preeminent lyricist.
Albums: Doggystyle (1993, 4x platinum); The Doggfather (1996, 3x platinum); Da Game Is to be Sold, Not to be Told (1998, 2x platinum); No Limit Top Dogg (1999, platinum)
Edd said: If you weren’t around in ’93, I can’t express how anticipated Snoop’s debut album was. It surpassed the hopes of every fan, setting him on the road to superstardom he still travels today.
Albums: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998, 4x platinum); Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (1998, 3x platinum); …And Then There Was X (1999, 5x platinum)
Edd said: In 1998, hardcore heads were getting bored with rap’s obsession with flash and bling. Enter the dog. DMX brought a level of aggression and grittiness that the game sorely needed. Say what you want about X now, but he ruled end of the decade.
Albums: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990, 2x platinum); Death Certificate (1991, platinum); The Predator (1992, 5x platinum); Lethal Injection (1993, 2x platinum); War & Peace Vol 1 (The War Disc) (1998, platinum)
No. 1 Singles: “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” (1990, rap); “Wicked” (1992, rap); “It Was a Good Day” (1993, rap); “Check Yo Self” (1993, rap); “Pushin’ Weight” (1998, rap)
Edd said: Before he was a goofy character in your daughter’s favorite movie, Cube was the most feared rapper in AmeriKKKa. He dominated the early 90s, took a break, the picked up right where he left off later in the decade. His fierce, politically charged raps were the stuff of legend.
Albums: Mama Said Knock You Out (1990, 2x platinum); 14 Shots to the Dome (1993, gold); Mr. Smith (1995, 2x platinum); Phenomenon (1997, platinum)
No. 1 Singles: “The Boomin’ System” (1990, rap); “Around the Way Girl” (1990, rap); “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1991, rap); “How I’m Comin’” (1993, rap); “Hey Lover” (1995, rap); “Loungin” (1996, rap); “Father” (1998, rap)
Edd said: Throughout the 90s, LL was hip-hop’s most consistent player, alternating from radio-friendly flows to pavement-cracking bars. He authored some of the decade’s most memorable songs.
Albums: Reasonable Doubt (1996, platinum); In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997, platinum); Vol 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998, diamond); Vol 3 … Life and times of S. Carter (1999, 3x platinum)
No. 1 singles: “Jigga My N****” (1999, rap)
Edd said: When Jay quietly dropped his classic album in 1996, few noticed. But by the end of the decade, Jigga was rap’s biggest player. His charisma, wit, and skillful wordplay quickly pushed him to the top. And he was just getting started….
Albums: Illmatic (1994, platinum); It Was Written (1996, 2x platinum); I Am… (1999, 2x platinum); Nastradamus (1999, platinum)
No. 1 Singles: “Street Dreams” (1996, rap)
Edd said: Illmatic. The album that launched 1,000 careers. Illmatic is arguably the most influential record in rap history, but it was just the beginning of Nas’ legacy. Few were able to match his lyricism in the decade — or ever.
Albums: 2Pacalypse Now (1991, gold); Strictly 4 My N***** (1993, platinum); Me Against the World (1995, 3x platinum); All Eyez on Me (1996, diamond); The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996, 4x platinum); R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (1997, 4x platinum); Still I Rise (1999, platinum)
No. 1 Singles: “Dear Mama” (1995, rap); “California Love” (1995, pop, rap, R&B); “How Do U Want It” (1995, pop, rap, R&B); “Changes” (1998, rap)
Edd said: If Illmatic was the ’90s’ most influential album, Pac is easily its most influential figure. No artist simultaneously embodied social consciousness and social chaos quite like Pac. Not only did he drop classic albums, he became a poster child for the best and worst aspects of the art form — he was the total package. Still, he had a few weak spots in his vast category, opening the door for him to be eclipsed by just one MC….
Albums: Ready to Die (1994, 4x platinum); Life After Death (1997, diamond); Born Again (1999, 2x platinum)
No. 1 Singles: “Big Poppa” (1995, rap); “One More Chance/Stay With Me (Remix)” (1995, R&B and rap); “Hypnotize” (1997, pop, R&B and rap); “Mo Money Mo Problems” (1997, pop and rap); “Sky’s The Limit” (1997, rap)
Edd said: Presence. Technique. Lyricism. Biggie was the Alfred Hitchcock of hip-hop, a storyteller the likes we had never seen, or seen since. He left us while at the peak of his game so his catalog never had a chance to decline like many of his contemporaries. In fact, that has only added to BIG’s legacy. He’s not just the best rapper of the 90s, he’s the greatest of all time.
OK, here’s the part where you tell me what I got wrong. Share your thoughts in the comments.