Old School rap is multifaceted. It not only has witty lyrics and poetic stories, but it also holds creative samples and heavy beats. It’s built off pain and suffering. All over the United States and a bit in Canada, rap broke through in the 90s, becoming a staple in the music industry and paving the way for rappers today.
Down South, Goodie Mob spat political protests over chopped up beats while Dr. Dre and Snoop took over the West Coast. Out East, Mobb Deep and Nas turned the drug game into albums, and Kardinall Offishall repped Canada up North.
Without further ado, here are seven of the best albums that came out of the 90s.
Hard to Earn by Gang Starr (1994)
DJ Premier and Guru were one of the first groups that served as a trailblazer for my own dive into the genre of Old Rap, free from my dad’s influence. Before, I’d look to what he was listening to and didn’t stray much from that.
In grade seven, I stumbled across Gang Starr’s single “Words I Manifest” off their debut album and instantly fell in love. I bought five of their albums and couldn’t stop listening. On this album, the pair are legends, and they know it.
The best track in the album is without a doubt “Mass Appeal.” With a line like “Lyrically deaf and connecting complete mic wrecking/No double-checking vocals kill like weapons,” it’s not even a competition.
The War Report by Capone N’ Noreaga (1997)
New York rap has always been the subgenre I gravitate towards. Most rap fans know of Nas and Biggie as two of Hip Hops biggest names hailing from New York. Capone N’ Noreage (CNN), although lesser known, pulls no punches in their efforts to be the best.
CNN’s samples from Illegal Life incorporates Middle Eastern influences and prolonged scene setting intros to bring you into the song. If there’s a song that could convince you to add this album to your nighttime listening playlist, it’s “Stick You.”
The Chronic by Dr. Dre (1992)
I’ve always been an East Coast listener, but this album is legendary. I’m always blown away when an artist produces and raps. Enter Dr. Dre, the king of the West Coast. His beats are full of unique shakers and soft hi-hats, paired with whiney synths that are infectiously funky.
A young Snoop Dogg also appears on this album quite frequently, his voice going perfectly with Dre’s cooked up instrumentals. Once you hear “One, two, three and to the fo’, Snoop Doggy Dog and Dr. Dre is at the do’” in “Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang,” you don’t go back.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star by Black Star (1998)
Mos and Talib are both conscious rappers who use their global intelligence to spin extremely smart and witty tales about their people’s struggles. When put together, the result is insane.
This debut album is a cry for help, a wakeup call, a deep dive into the ignorance and prejudice of America. Each song holds its own story, its own lesson, its own vibe. This is one of the few albums I can listen to start to finish without ever getting antsy.
Illmatic by Nas (1994)
While there are some who will say this should be number one—and I would normally agree—there are two albums I hold closer to my heart. With that said, Illmatic is legendary.
Nas’ rhyming and wordplay is sublime, his storytelling unmatched. With three iconic producers he created this instant hit, and I can say I’ll never be sick of this album. “Life’s a b***h and then you die, that’s why we get high/Cuz you never know when you’re gonna go”—what else is there to say?
Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan
Kung Fu?! 10 rappers?! Wild beats?! Immaculate.
Each rapper carries his own style and flow, and when I was younger sneaking into iTunes to queue “Bring Da Ruckus” I knew I loved hip hop. The best track on the album has to be “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” but you can never really go wrong with Wu-Tang Clan.
The Infamous by Mobb Deep (1995)
This steals the first spot by a long shot for me. I’ve listened to it in every possible setting, every time of day, every mood. The songs are sad, dark, deep, and full of hidden messages. The beats contain unknown samples that each create their own unique vibe.
The lyrics are true, they delve deep into the conscience of the Mobb, and their stories shock, but also shed light on what’s wrong with America.
Plus, Prodigy and Havoc were only eighteen when they made this! I genuinely don’t have a single criticism of this album.
These albums are only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other artists and songs to discover in this dope genre that is old school rap. Hopefully this article has given you an idea of what the 90s had to offer and has given you an inkling of curiosity to explore.
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