Hip Hop’s 90s List

In the 90s, hip hop was influenced by three main areas. On the East Coast, breakbeats and jazz samples became a mainstay, while West Coast rappers like Rakim delivered complex lyrics.

The South had its own distinct sound: from Florida’s bass-heavy dance floor beats by Low Profile to 8Ball & MJG and their trademark syrupy crawl, as well as Atlanta crews who turned DIY hustle into uncompromising sensations.

Boom Bap

The 90s saw hip hop expand beyond rap music to become a cultural movement. Artists from across the world collaborated and intertwined their art forms into what would later become boom bap culture – yet other subgenres continued to emerge alongside it.

Boom bap may sound like an offensive insult, but its essence lies at the core of contemporary hip-hop artists’ sound and appeal. Artists such as Joey Badass, Tyler, the Creator, Isaiah Rashad Pusha T and Denzel Curry all incorporate elements of traditional boom bap into their work to introduce newcomers to its sound while offering experienced ones an opportunity to experiment and find their own sound.

Boom bap music is defined by its use of samples from classic soul, funk or jazz records to produce slower-paced beats that allow emcees to focus more on lyrics and delivery than on the beat itself. Additionally, boom bap often incorporates organic drum samples instead of 808s for an authentic hip-hop production experience.

Boom bap producers typically pair acoustic drums with an analog bass synthesizer to produce a deeper and resonant sound, unlike hardcore rap of the early 1990s which used aggressive snaps and claps with lyrics depicting anger, confrontation, and unfiltered reflections of street life.

Boom bap was used by some of the finest producers during the 90s to produce classic albums for groups and individuals such as The Black Moon, Nas, Smif-n-Wessun, Gang Starr, Wu Tang Clan and Mobb Deep – DJ Premier was one of them, alongside Large Professor, Easy Mo Bee Pete Rock Da Beatminerz The Alchemist Statik Selektah J Dilla 9th Wonder Khrysis as well.

West Coast

Hip hop had emerged as an international phenomenon by the 1990s from its origins in New York. Regional sounds started surfacing – from E-40’s slick mobb music (in the Bay Area) to 8Ball & MJG in Memphis and Atlanta’s UGK for example – all providing unique sounds. At this point Outkast became popular alongside New York rappers Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Nas. Each brought unique storytelling techniques.

In the 1990s, hip hop expanded beyond its street roots into an established musical genre and the West Coast began its reign. Californian artists quickly took over gangsta rap from New York artists by adding blunted grooves and G-funk samples into its signature boom bap beats. Thanks to Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and N.W.A, West Coast artists took gangsta rap to another level, using lyrics that directly addressed real-life issues such as drug addiction and violence in society.

“Gin N Juice,” an iconic song of the 1990s, showcases the relaxed style that was synonymous with West Coast sound. Sung by David Ruffin Jr. of Temptations fame, its smooth chorus makes it easy to forget this is actually a gangsta anthem about drugs, alcohol and violence; while its production (with an awesome piano sample from Herbie Hancock’s “Jessica”) stands up well against any rival.

As the 1990s progressed, East and West Coast rivalries between rap’s two most dominant regions — East Coast for East Coast rappers and West Coast for West Coast rappers — reached an all-time peak. Mobb Deep’s tribute to Queensbridge by Mobb Deep truly set the standard in terms of lyrical precision, ferocity and menacing delivery; Prodigy’s threat bars to Havoc sampling Herbie Hancock’s “Mind Rain” and Donald Byrd’s “Flight Time”, this track truly made history!

As the 1990s came to a close, independent labels like Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy empire dominated charts while No Limit and Cash Money made DIY hustle into uncompromising sensations. Meanwhile on the West Coast, Dre’s 1992 solo debut The Chronic redefined hip-hop by swapping out traditional drum loops for lush low-rider funk; an influence which still influences contemporary rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and YG today.

East Coast

Rap’s roots lie in New York City, with Grandmaster Flash, the Furious Five, and LL Cool J being pioneers of this art form. However, the east coast provided more elements to rap music such as jazz influences, hardcore gangsta rap and complex rhyme with multiple syllables. East coast MCs were widely recognized for their lyrical mastery – their songs could speak volumes about issues like poverty and crime through music.

Hip hop evolved from elementary breakbeats into an international cultural movement during its journey from elementary breakbeats to cultural and ethnic dissidence, becoming a global phenomenon. Hip hop was unstoppable during this decade of its prominence – the 90s being no different! Here is our list of some of the best 90s hip hop songs that defined generations without regard to race or geography boundaries.

Wu-Tang Clan’s groundbreaking debut ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ included this classic track as its lead-off single from their legendary debut, featuring some of gangsta rap’s most influential producers and an unparalleled roster of MCs. The production blends classic loops and funk samples with an eerie synth that echoes throughout, while Q-Tip and Phife Dawg deliver memorable performances that made this tune one of its most unforgettable songs of its era.

DMX was one of the biggest names in rap music and this track showcases his unstoppable swagger. A combination of an enjoyable chorus sung by David Ruffin (son of Temptations lead singer Otis Williams) with powerful lyricism makes this an unmissable 90s hip hop classic.

Black Star was the breakout track from Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s 1998 eponymous LP, marking a pivotal point in hip hop’s development. Coming at a time when materialism and mindless factory rap had taken root in hip hop culture, its subversive social commentary resonated deeply and revived it all over again.

Joey Bada$$ is an ambitious young MC known for his boisterous and aggressive delivery style. His startling lyricism and ability to pack lines with syllables has drawn comparisons with 2Pac’s rhyme barrages and Cormega’s mystique; both can be heard on his mixtape Nehruvia as well as his debut album due out this summer.


In the ’90s, R&B began evolving to encompass elements from various genres and styles, evolving beyond its basic breakbeat roots into an expressive outlet for storytelling, political dissent, cultural expression, etc. As this new synthesis of sounds took hold among artists they explored their musical talents to form subgenres still heard today.

Hip-hop music has long been a favorite of younger audiences, but as its popularity surged during the ’90s, many established R&B artists started incorporating elements of hip hop into their productions – giving rise to what has come to be known as a unique sound associated with 90s R&B: new jack swing. This combination of jazz, funk, pop and hip-hop created a distinctive sound which still sounds modern today.

One of the most significant developments in rap during the ’90s was the rise of female artists. As male rappers were marginalized from rap music production, female rappers gained ground within it due to their skills and unique voices; leading them to establish powerful and influential careers of their own. This trend resulted in numerous powerful female MCs being developed.

Yolanda Whitaker, better known by her stage name Boss, was one of the premier female rappers of the 1990s, known for her hard spitting lyrics that would even impress Shakespeare himself. Boss had plenty of swagger and power when it came to female MCing and rivaled some of the most prominent MCs like Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls as she battled them both with ease.

Boss was an expert at both flow and rhyme schemes, as well as sample culture referencing Herbie Hancock piano samples in her tracks. Boss’ 1995 hit ‘Cold Rock A Party’ showcases this talent brilliantly while perfectly representing West Coast party spirit.

As you create your playlist from R&B of the 90’s hits, be sure to include songs about infidelity as well as those challenging the boundaries of R&B genre. Plus don’t forget those currently pushing its boundaries like Bryson Tiller who continue pushing forward this genre!