The 90s were a golden era for rap, with iconic artists and game-changing tracks. In this article, we share the top 20 rap songs of the 90s, which fused catchy beats, storytelling, and revolutionary messages, transforming the genre into a cultural powerhouse. Explore the diverse styles and artists that defined the decade, captivating and inspiring listeners worldwide.
Join us in celebrating the illustrious origins of rap music and the iconoclastic spirit of the 90s with this carefully curated selection of unforgettable tunes. From East to West Coast, from gangsta rap to alternative hip-hop, these songs represent the innovative voices and unparalleled creativity of the generation that changed the game forever.
20. Naughty by Nature – “O.P.P.”
In our list of the top 20 best 90s rap songs, we absolutely have to include Naughty by Nature’s unforgettable track, “O.P.P.” Released back in 1991, this song became a huge hit and an instant hip-hop classic. Featuring catchy melodies and clever lyrics, it’s no wonder that this tune quickly climbed the charts and made its mark on the rap scene.
“O.P.P.” is a timeless 90s rap classic known for its energetic beats and clever lyrics. Naughty by Nature’s storytelling and rhythms have solidified their place in hip-hop history. Exploring the theme of infidelity, the song remains thought-provoking and essential in the 90s rap selection.
19. Cypress Hill – “Insane in the Brain”
When we think of quintessential ’90s hip-hop, Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” easily comes to mind. Released in 1993, this iconic track is the group’s most recognizable and enduring song. It was part of their second album, “Black Sunday,” which helped solidify their place in hip-hop history.
The track was a commercial success and a pioneering influence in hip-hop, propelling Cypress Hill into the mainstream with its unconventional sound. With a memorable chorus, lively instrumentals, and clever wordplay, “Insane in the Brain” earns its place on our list of the top ’90s rap songs, capturing the era’s creative spirit and excitement.
18. Warren G – “Regulate”
We can’t overlook Warren G’s memorable and influential track, “Regulate.” Released in 1994, this song features Warren G and Nate Dogg, two pivotal figures in the West Coast hip-hop scene. Their unique blend of storytelling and smooth delivery created an instant hit that stands the test of time. “Regulate” weaves a captivating story with Warren G and Nate Dogg facing danger in the streets, their distinct voices complementing each other.
It cleverly samples Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’,” adding nostalgia and blending rap with R&B. “Regulate” deserves its spot on our list, showcasing the ’90s rap scene’s diversity and innovation through storytelling, unique vocals, and memorable sampling by Warren G and Nate Dogg.
17. MC Hammer – “U Can’t Touch This”
When we think of the ’90s, it’s hard not to think of MC Hammer’s iconic track, “U Can’t Touch This.” Released in 1990, this song took the world by storm and solidified MC Hammer’s place in hip-hop history. As one of the best ’90s rap songs, it struck a chord with a wide audience, thanks to its infectious beat and memorable hook.
“U Can’t Touch This” embodies Hammer’s invincibility, flashy style, and iconic dance moves, epitomizing the confidence and showmanship of the era. The track earned accolades, including a Grammy for Best R&B Song and Best Solo Rap Performance, and achieved commercial success with a 22-week run on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 8. The popular music video featured Hammer’s dynamic choreography.
16. Public Enemy – “Fight the Power”
When we think of powerful and impactful ’90s rap songs, Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” immediately comes to mind. Released in 1989, it has since become a defining song of the era and an anthem for political and social activism in the hip hop scene. “Fight the Power” stands out for its powerful message of freedom and equality, delivered by Chuck D, which still resonates today.
Public Enemy, led by The Bomb Squad, experimented with a unique blend of samples, creating a sonic journey that showcases their talents. Its inclusion in Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ solidified its place in ’90s culture as it set the tone for the movie’s exploration of racial tensions. In summary, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy is a pivotal ’90s rap song addressing social issues and pushing the boundaries of hip hop sound and expression.
15. DMX – “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”
One of the iconic ’90s rap songs is DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” Released in 1998 on the album “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot,” it became an instant classic with its catchy hook and memorable lyrics. The distinctive beat by Swizz Beatz, initially not favored by DMX but later embraced, combined with his raw and aggressive style, propelled his career to new heights.
“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” became synonymous with the East Coast’s Ruff Ryders rap collective, including DMX, The LOX, Eve, and Drag-On, defining the late ’90s sound and influencing artists and fans. The iconic music video with the Ruff Ryders on motorcycles cemented its place in hip-hop history. It remains one of the most influential songs of the ’90s rap era, showcasing DMX’s artistry and legendary status.
14. The Fugees – “Ready or Not”
As we explore the top 20 best 90s rap songs, we cannot ignore The Fugees’ 1996 hit, “Ready or Not.” This standout track demonstrates the group’s unique blend of hip-hop, reggae, and soulful melodies that made them an iconic staple in the 90s music scene. Featuring Lauryn Hill’s stunning vocals and impressive rapping from Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, “Ready or Not” delivers introspective lyrics reflecting on their rise to fame and industry impact.
The clever use of Enya’s “Boadicea” sample creates a haunting backdrop to this unforgettable song. “Ready or Not” played a pivotal role in “The Score” becoming multi-platinum, solidifying The Fugees’ hip-hop legacy and influencing future artists. With its memorable lines and innovative sound, it remains a timeless classic from the golden era of rap music.
13. Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Lauryn Hill’s 1998 solo hit, “Doo Wop (That Thing),” is a ’90s rap classic that solidified her status as a major talent. With its catchy melody and fusion of hip-hop and doo-wop, the song’s message about relationships, self-respect, and materialism resonated with both young men and women, encouraging them to focus on what truly matters. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” showcases Lauryn Hill’s lyrical skill atop an infectious piano loop.
Her verses blend storytelling and wordplay while maintaining a balanced perspective on gender issues. The song’s commercial success was remarkable, propelling it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and establishing Lauryn Hill as the first female rapper with a number one hit. In the ’90s, filled with memorable rap songs, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” undoubtedly ranks among the top 20, demonstrating Hill’s mastery of both lyrics and music in this emblematic track.
12. Ice Cube – “It Was a Good Day”
As we reminisce about the golden days of 90s hip-hop, we cannot leave out one of its quintessential tracks, Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” Released in 1992 as part of his third solo album, “The Predator,” this laid-back, West Coast rap classic never fails to transport us back in time with its smooth instrumental and Ice Cube’s storytelling prowess. “It Was a Good Day” samples The Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark,” infusing a timeless, soulful groove into the track.
Ice Cube’s vivid portrayal of a day in South Central Los Angeles offers a rare glimpse of positivity amid a tough environment. He narrates everyday activities like basketball, dominoes, and romantic connections authentically, making it relatable. The song’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to connect with people of all ages, embodying the timeless spirit of the ’90s golden era of hip-hop. “It Was a Good Day” is a nostalgic classic, showcasing Ice Cube’s prowess as both a rapper and a songwriter, making it a must-listen for 90s hip-hop enthusiasts.
11. Mobb Deep – “Shook Ones, Pt. II”
Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones, Pt. II” is a quintessential 90s rap song that showcases the grit and rawness of the New York rap scene. Released in 1995, this iconic track hails from the duo’s sophomore album, The Infamous. It features the signature dark, moody production of Havoc, teamed with the vivid storytelling of both Havoc and Prodigy in their verses.
“Shook Ones, Pt. II” vividly portrays ’90s life in Queensbridge, highlighting the harsh themes of struggle and betrayal in rap. Its haunting piano sample, coupled with gritty drums and bass lines, forms a dark backdrop for Havoc and Prodigy’s storytelling. Representing the East Coast “golden era” of hip-hop, this track is a quintessential ’90s New York City rap sound. “Shook Ones, Pt. II” remains influential, with numerous samples and placements in film and television, a testament to Mobb Deep’s enduring impact and talent.
10. Jay-Z – “Can’t Knock the Hustle”
In 1996, Jay-Z released his debut album, “Reasonable Doubt,” which included the remarkable track “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” This song showcased Jay-Z’s signature style, blending intricate wordplay and a smooth flow that would become hallmarks of his career. “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” featuring Mary J. Blige’s soulful vocals, explores ambition, the struggles of the come-up, and the resilience needed in the rap industry.
Produced by Knobody and Sean Cane, it incorporates a classic boom-bap sound while sampling Meli’sa Morgan’s “Fool’s Paradise” for an R&B-hip-hop fusion. The lyrics detail Jay-Z’s rise to fame, the dedication required for success, and the importance of hustling in a challenging business. This track showcases Jay-Z’s raw talent and business acumen, defining his early career and cementing his status as a hip-hop great.
9. A Tribe Called Quest – “Scenario”
When discussing the best 90s rap songs, we cannot ignore “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. Released in 1991 as the final single from their album “The Low End Theory,” this song became a prominent piece in hip-hop history. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and guest rappers Leaders of the New School came together to create a track that showcases creative storytelling, memorable lyrics, and smooth production.
“Scenario” became an essential hip-hop anthem with its infectious and unique beat produced by Tribe member Ali Shaheed Muhammad, sampling classic James Brown and Brother Jack McDuff tracks. This fusion of old-school funk with innovative rapping foreshadowed the emerging ’90s sound. The track’s standout element is the chemistry between A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders of the New School, resulting in an enjoyable, cohesive song. Busta Rhymes’ iconic verse catapulted him into hip-hop stardom and established his influence.
8. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
When discussing iconic ’90s rap songs, it’s impossible to overlook the Beastie Boys’ 1994 hit “Sabotage.” If we rewind to the early ’90s, we’ll find the Beastie Boys at the peak of their career, and “Sabotage” played a crucial role in solidifying their place in hip-hop history. “Sabotage” might seem like a departure from the Beastie Boys’ previous work, but it retains their familiar rap-rock fusion.
The song features an unforgettable driving bassline, aggressive guitar riffs, and high-energy lyrics. Its groundbreaking music video, directed by Spike Jonze in the style of a 1970s cop drama, showcased the Beasties’ unique humor and iconic status, receiving MTV Video Music Awards nominations. “Sabotage” exemplifies the Beastie Boys’ innovation, blending rap, punk, and rock elements, highlighting their versatility as artists. It rightfully holds a place among the top 20 best ’90s rap songs and remains an essential track in their discography.
7. Snoop Dogg – “Gin and Juice”
When discussing the best 90s rap songs, we cannot ignore Snoop Dogg’s classic, “Gin and Juice.” Released in 1994 as the second single from his debut album, “Doggystyle,” this track became a defining moment in Snoop’s career and the West Coast hip-hop scene.
“Gin and Juice” captures the essence of G-Funk with Dr. Dre’s memorable beat and Snoop’s laid-back flow. The track peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100, received extensive airplay, and the music video solidified its cultural impact. Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” is a pivotal ’90s rap classic, blending storytelling, production, and lasting impact, earning its spot among the top 20 best ’90s rap songs.
6. OutKast – “Elevators (Me & You)”
As we take a trip down memory lane, one song that stands out from the 90s rap era is OutKast’s “Elevators (Me & You).” Released in 1996 as part of their second album “ATLiens,” this track showcases the duo’s unique style, blending Southern rap with complex lyricism. “Elevators (Me & You)” stands out with the unique blend of Big Boi and André 3000’s voices and flows, crafting a captivating narrative about their music industry journeys.
The production, a laid-back, funky beat by OutKast and Organized Noize, complements the song’s appeal. The hypnotic sample of Anne Gummerson’s “Waterfalls” adds depth. In the world of ’90s rap, “Elevators (Me & You)” undeniably defines the era, a timeless classic showcasing OutKast’s creativity and enduring presence in our playlists and hearts.
5. Dr. Dre – “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”
“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” is a classic rap song from 1992, created by the legendary Dr. Dre and featured in his debut album, “The Chronic.” We believe it deserves a spot in the top 20 best ’90s rap songs because of its influence on both the West Coast hip-hop scene and the rap community as a whole. “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” showcases Dr. Dre’s exceptional production skills and introduces the rising star Snoop Doggy Dogg.
The track became a West Coast anthem, influencing many others during the decade. With its infectious chorus and clever wordplay in Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s verses, it set a standard for future artists. The song’s commercial success, critical acclaim, and widespread referencing and sampling solidify its place as a ’90s rap classic, celebrated for its influential sound, memorable verses, and profound impact on the rap scene.
4. Nas – “N.Y. State of Mind”
When we think about the best 90s rap songs, it’s impossible not to mention Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind.” Released as part of his debut album Illmatic in 1994, this song played a pivotal role in putting Nas on the map as one of the most talented rappers of his generation.
The opening piano chords and DJ Premier’s iconic sample set the mood for Nas’s gritty portrayal of 90s New York City life. His lyrical prowess, with lines like “I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin of death,” establishes him as a formidable force. “N.Y. State of Mind” is an indisputable 90s rap classic, celebrated for its raw storytelling, expert lyricism, and seamless flow. Nas vividly paints a sonic portrait of his era in New York, securing its place among the best rap songs from that time.
3. Wu-Tang Clan – “C.R.E.A.M.”
When we talk about iconic 90s rap songs, we can’t ignore Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” Released in 1994 as the third single from their debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” this song quickly became a standout hit for the group and a definitive representation of their unique sound and raw lyricism. With a hypnotic piano loop, RZA’s beat forms a strong foundation for Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Inspectah Deck’s vivid storytelling.
The acronym “C.R.E.A.M.,” or “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” starkly reveals the impact of the pursuit of wealth in crime-ridden, impoverished neighborhoods. “C.R.E.A.M.” not only achieved commercial success but also became integral to ’90s hip-hop culture, shaping the East Coast rap scene and setting a standard for authentic, uncompromising lyricism. Its influence persists as subsequent generations of rappers pay homage to this classic with their unique interpretations and tributes.
2. 2Pac – “California Love”
When we think of quintessential 90s rap songs, 2Pac’s “California Love” undoubtedly comes to mind. Released in 1995 as the lead single from his album All Eyez on Me, this iconic track defined West Coast rap and quickly became a classic. Featuring Dr. Dre and produced by the legendary DJ Quik, the song brilliantly combined G-funk and hip hop elements, masterfully interpolating a sample from Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman” with its distinctive synthesizer effect, showcasing 2Pac’s talent for blending diverse sounds.
Lyrically, 2Pac immortalized the beauty, danger, and excitement of California, referencing various cities and neighborhoods that showcased his deep connection to the state. The song’s contrast between 2Pac’s fierce verses and the laid-back chorus added a unique flavor, exemplifying the duality of California life. The music video, inspired by Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, further enriched the song’s energetic vibe. “California Love” remains an anthem for the Golden State and a tribute to 2Pac’s lasting impact on the rap genre, securing its place in 90s rap history.
1. Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”
When it comes to the best 90s rap songs, one track that can’t be missed is “Juicy” by the legendary Notorious B.I.G. Released in 1994, this song was Biggie’s debut single and served as an introduction to the rapper’s incredible talent. The track is built around a sample from Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit,” which adds an infectious groove that complements Biggie’s smooth flow.
The track is an anthem of perseverance and triumph over adversity, themes that resonate strongly within the rap genre. Its production, characterized by a fusion of R&B-influenced melodies, resonant basslines, and soulful vocal samples, propelled it to instant classic status, making it stand out amidst other rap songs of its time. “Juicy” continues to be a fixture on “best of” lists and remains an essential addition to any 90s hip-hop playlist.