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Hip Hop Albums of the 1990s

Music, Year-End, Reader Lists | February 3, 2010

Top 13 Hip Hop Albums of the 1990s

Check out Rapper Big Pooh's list to see how it compares with our readers' list.

Last month, Rapper Big Pooh from acclaimed North Carolina group Little Brother ranked his Top 13 Hip Hop Albums from the 1990s, which we think was the genre's best decade yet. We asked you to weigh in on the subject and, today, we publish your cumulative Top 13. Although you agreed with Big Pooh on the top three, albeit in a different order, the rest of your list looks quite different than his. Accordingly, we present our readers' Top 13 Hip Hop Albums of the 1990s.

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The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die

1

The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die

1994

Though Rapper Big Pooh ranked Biggie's debut album third, our readers voted it as the number one hip hop album of the 1990s. With its semi-autobiographical tales of life in the Brooklyn projects where Biggie grew up, Ready to Die single-handedly created the Puff Daddy/Bad Boy Records juggernaut and played a critical role in the reinvigoration of East Coast hip hop. The album has sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone, and is one of only three hip hop albums from the 1990s to make both The Source's top 100 hip hop albums of all time and Time's top 100 albums of all time.

Nas - Illmatic

2

Nas - Illmatic

1994

Another of Rapper Big Pooh's top picks, this startling debut from the Queens native is every bit as good as Ready to Die, but without the Puffy Daddy-infused flash and dynamic record sales (though Illmatic ultimately did go platinum). It features production from heavyweights such as DJ Premier and Pete Rock and lyrics so good that esteemed Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson actually put together a book reflecting on it.

Dr. Dre - The Chronic

3

Dr. Dre - The Chronic

1992

Another album on which our readers and Rapper Big Pooh agree, The Chronic was Dr. Dre's first solo album after his testy departure from N.W.A. and put his newly formed label, Death Row Records, squarely on the map. The album, which is largely credited with popularizing the G-funk sound, moved more than three million units and set the groundwork for the enormous solo success of Snoop Dogg. Almost entirely produced by Dr. Dre himself, The Chronic also featured cameos by West Coast veterans like Nate Dogg, Warren G, and Above the Law.

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

4

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

1993

Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the defining hip hop albums of the 1990s. Produced by Wu-Tang leader RZA and filled with free association lyrics and references to cult classic martial arts films, this debut album from the Wu set the stage for a number of amazing follow-up albums by members of the nine-member Staten Island based crew, one of which also made this Top 13.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

5

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

1991

The sophomore effort from Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, The Low End Theory is among the seminal albums in the alternative hip hop genre. Though Rapper Big Pooh chose Tribe's third album Midnight Marauders instead, both are legitimate classics. Q-Tip produced the entire jazz-infused album, which features the fantastic single "Scenario," on which several members of Leaders of the New School guest. The Low End Theory was the first of Tribe's three platinum albums.

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

6

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

1995

Considered by many to the very best solo release by a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was the debut from Wu all-star Raekwon the Chef. Produced in its entirety by RZA and featuring numerous guest verses from fellow Wu member Ghostface Killah, this was one of the first albums in the so-called mafioso rap genre, with constant references to the mob and gangster movies. Although critically acclaimed, the album was hardly a best seller. Still, Rae finally heeded the call for a sequel, releasing the nearly as good Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 last year.

Snoop Dogg - Doggystyle

7

Snoop Dogg - Doggystyle

1993

The second Death Row entry on the Top 13, Snoop Dogg's debut album was a smash hit from day one, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart on its way to moving more than four million units in the U.S. alone. This classic G-funk album was produced by Snoop's mentor, Dr. Dre, and like Dre's The Chronic, it features a who's who of West Coast hip hop luminaries, including Nate Dogg, The D.O.C., Kurupt, Warren G, and Above the Law.

Gang Starr - Daily Operation

8

Gang Starr - Daily Operation

1992

The third album from this legendary Brooklyn duo, Daily Operation is a perfect ode to the grittiness of New York in the early 1990s. Featuring Guru's ultra-smooth flow and DJ Premier's heavy beats, this album has been cited as a significant influence by countless MCs. For Jeru the Damaja and Lil Dap from Group Home, single guest spots on Daily Operation's "I'm the Man" created enough underground buzz to garner them record deals and launch successful careers.

Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

9

Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

1998

Prior to the release by underground New York label Rawkus Records of this album, all we had heard from Mos Def and Talib Kweli were a few verses contributed to songs off of the label's compilation albums. But Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, with its witty wordplay and emphasis on awareness, turned both MCs into household names. The album, produced mostly by frequent collaborator Hi-Tek, is regarded as an East Coast classic, and its many fans continue to clamor for a follow-up collaboration from Mos and Kweli.

2Pac - All Eyez on Me

10

2Pac - All Eyez on Me

1996

Considered by most to be 2Pac's best album, this is without question the best-selling album on the Top 13, having sold more than nine million copies. All Eyez on Me was Pac's fourth studio album, his first on Death Row Records, and his last album released during his lifetime. Featuring hit duets with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Pac began recording the album just hours after Death Row founder Suge Knight bailed him out of jail and finished it in less than two weeks. His new association with Death Row led to a shift from his earlier, more politically-minded style to an epic display of gangster rap that raised Pac's profile to new heights.

Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs

11

Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs

1999

The solo debut from this former Organized Konfusion member is the second Rawkus release on the Top 13. Internal Affairs is Monch at his complex, multisyllabic best and features guest verses from many underground hip hop legends, such as Canibus, M.O.P., Common, and Talib Kweli, not to mention a spectacular verse from Busta Rhymes on "The Next Shit." Though controversy surrounded the album's breakout hit, "Simon Says," because of its unauthorized use of the theme from Godzilla vs. Mothra, this is unquestionably a classic album.

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

12

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

1996

Though one of the worst selling albums of Jay-Z's storied career (it still went platinum), this debut release may be his most critically acclaimed work. Reasonable Doubt received a coveted "5 Mics" ranking from The Source, and pretty much every publication to rank albums (including Time, Blender, and many others) has labeled it one of the best albums of all time from any genre. The gritty, vivid picture Jay-Z painted of life in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects earned him a permanent place in all debates about who is the greatest rapper of all time.

Mobb Deep - The Infamous

13

Mobb Deep - The Infamous

1995

As Rapper Big Pooh explained in ranking The Infamous in his Top 13, this album "feels like New York City." The second release from this Queens duo is as gritty as it gets, featuring Prodigy and Havoc spitting back-and-forth verses about violence, poverty, and life in the Queensbridge Housing Projects over minimalistic production from Havoc and, on three songs, Q-Tip. Notably, The Infamous includes Mobb Deep's most well-known and best song, "Shook Ones Pt. II," which Eminem put to good use in the key battle scene in 8 Mile.

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Comments Leave a comment

Catalyst 

Wow, no Liquid Swords...

9:04 AM   Feb 03, 2010

jasun 

Best reader list yet.

9:45 AM   Feb 03, 2010

brian 

I agree with this. Was really happy to see Pharoahe Monch & Gang Starr get some much deserved credit.

9:47 AM   Feb 03, 2010

KungFuJay ★★

Great, great list. Surprised only one Wu solo album though.

11:43 AM   Feb 03, 2010

johndoeaa 

Chronic should be #1. It saved rap music, which went from urban anger and disgust to apathy with the assistance of mary jane, appealing the white suburbia and bring rap into the mainstream before it fell off the radical cliff.

12:19 PM   Mar 11, 2010

bdouble 

No way. Not even close. Dis da real list...
13.Method Man- Tical
12.Scarface- The Diary
11.Beastie Boys- Ill Communication
10.Cypress Hill- Cypress Hill
9.Bone Thugs n Harmony- E. 1999 Eternal
8.The Fugees- The Score
7.Outkast- Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
6.Jay-Z- Reasonable Doubt
5.Eminem- The Slim Shady LP (1999)
4.Wu-Tang- Enter The Wu-Tang 36 Chambers
3.Dr. Dre- The Chronic
2.The Notorious B.I.G.- Ready to Die
1.Tupac- (TIE) 2pacalypse Now & Strictly 4 My Niggaz
Honorable Mentions: Too Short-Short dawgs n the House, Eric B. & Rakim-Don't Sweat the Technique, Digable Planets-Blowout Combs, A Tribe Called Quest-The low end Theory, Mobb Deep-The Infamous.

2:27 PM   Jan 02, 2012

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