18+ Best Rappers of the 90s (Hip Hop Artists) – Ultimate List

The 1990s, often referred to as the “Golden Age” of hip hop music, stands out as a remarkable era. While I don’t claim that things were better back then, it’s hard to ignore the significance of this decade when discussing the greatest period for hip hop.

Think about the multitude of incredible rappers who emerged during the ’90s: Nas, Biggie, 2Pac, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill, Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, DMX, UGK, OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Quik, Master P, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Missy Elliott, Eminem, and the list goes on. It comes as no surprise that many of the names on our list of the greatest rappers of all time hail from the ’90s.

Rappers of the 90s

Every era in music history has witnessed MCs who revolutionized the game, and the 1990s were no exception. The ’90s hold a special place in hip-hop, and its impact is undeniable.

Top Best Rappers of the 90s

1. Big Pun

In the 90s, Big Pun made a remarkable mark in the music industry with his impressive rap skills. Known for his captivating and meaningful lyrics, he quickly gained popularity and became a favorite among fans.

Initially adopting the stage name Big Moon Dawg, his career took a significant turn after connecting with Bronx rapper Fat Joe. His debut appearance came with the track “Watch Out” on the Jealous One’s Envy album. However, it was his own debut album, Capital Punishment, that truly caught everyone’s attention. The album received widespread acclaim and even earned a nomination for Best Rap Album of the Year at the 1999 Grammy Awards. Notably, it stands as the first solo Latin hip-hop album to achieve platinum status.

While subsequent decades have introduced a diverse range of exceptional rap artists, the 1990s will forever be remembered as the Golden Age of rap. Even today, younger generations continue to immerse themselves in the incredible lyrics and albums of iconic artists like 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and others. The music, lyrics, and messages from that era have stood the test of time and continue to resonate with listeners.

2. DMX

DMX officially burst onto the scene in early 1998, but his musical journey had been underway for years prior to that. In fact, he released his first single, “Born Loser,” back in 1993. However, when DMX finally emerged in the rap game, it felt like a forceful surge, with a horde of black hoodies and Timberland-clad stick-up artists breaking down the doors of the Bad Boy mansion.

With his gruff delivery and a unique blend of melody, DMX became the street hero everyone had been eagerly anticipating, while Puffy and his crew were busy reveling in high-end champagne at the clubs. If you weren’t there to experience it, it’s difficult to comprehend the magnitude, but there’s no denying that DMX was the biggest and most exhilarating artist in the rap game as we bid farewell to the ’90s.

Best DMX guest verses of the ‘90s:

  • LL Cool J – “4, 3, 2, 1”
  • Jay-Z – “Money, Cash, Hoes”
  • The LOX – “Money, Power & Respect”
  • Mase – “24 Hrs. to Live”
  • Mic Geronimo – “Time to Build”
  • Nas – “Life Is What You Make It”
  • Onyx – “Shut ’em Down”
  • DJ Clue – “It’s On”
  • Jay-Z – “Murdergram”
  • Ja Rule – “It’s Murda”
  • Eve – “Scenario 2000”

3. Ghostface Killah

This artist made his true breakthrough on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, seizing the opportunity to launch his own career. While he is widely recognized for his work with the iconic Wu-Tang Clan, he wasted no time in crafting his own distinctive sound and establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with. With his electrifying energy and masterful storytelling abilities, this rapper undoubtedly left a lasting impression on 90s rap.

Although his appearances on Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album were impressive, it was on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… where Ghostface truly shined. Credited as “Chef Raekwon guest starring Tony Starks,” the Purple Tape featured Ghostface on 12 out of 17 tracks, including one solo joint. With his high-octane delivery and captivating presence, Ghostface seized every moment to its fullest.

From the gripping opening bars of “Criminology” – considered one of the best feature verses of the 90s – to his timeless skit on “Glaciers of Ice,” Ghostface emerged as the most exhilarating rapper within the Wu-Tang Clan in 1995. Then, on his own debut album a year later, Starks further showcased his wide-eyed flow and intense delivery, while incorporating more elements of his personal experiences and storytelling prowess.

  • GZA – “4th Chamber”
  • Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane)”
  • Pete Rock – “Tha Game”
  • Raekwon – “Guillotine (Swordz)”
  • Raekwon – “Glaciers Of Ice”
  • Mobb Deep – “Right Back to You”
  • Raekwon – “Rainy Dayz”
  • GZA – “Investigative Reports”

4. Big L

Similar to Biggie and 2Pac, Big L remains one of the biggest “what-if” stories in hip hop. Enthusiasts of the genre often fantasize about scenarios where the Harlem rapper wasn’t tragically taken from us in his prime, envisioning a world where he could have signed with Roc-A-Fella Records and continued to astound us with his lyrical wizardry. However, unlike his counterparts, Big L didn’t have the opportunity to amass as extensive a body of work.

Big L holds a special place in the hearts and minds of rap fans primarily because of the impactful debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, and a handful of other standout tracks such as the brilliant “Ebonics.” Whether he was effortlessly freestyling off the top of his head, stylishly breaking down street slang, delivering one punchline after another, or expertly weaving gritty narratives into his rhymes, Big L solidified his position as one of the greatest rappers of all time, achieving this status in an incredibly short span.

Renowned for his flow and freestyle abilities, Big L secures a spot on our list solely based on his sheer skill. There’s nothing quite like cruising around while immersing oneself in the infectious cadence and flow of his microphone mastery. It’s unfortunate that he departed prematurely, as he possessed immense talent and undoubtedly would have had an even greater impact on the genre had he been granted more time.

5. LL Cool J

LL Cool J emerged as one of the pioneering rap artists of the 1990s, skillfully leveraging his talents to seize all the showbiz opportunities that came his way. While many associate him with the 90s, it’s important to note that he was already deeply immersed in the rap game, having made his debut at the young age of 16. As one of the early featured artists on Def Jam records, LL Cool J undeniably holds a legendary status in rap.

With the release of his iconic album Mama Said Knock You Out, he firmly established himself as one of rap’s first superstars. His success extended beyond music, as he ventured into the realm of movies, showcasing his versatility. Throughout the years, LL Cool J has navigated the industry intelligently, ensuring his relevance and remaining an integral part of the rap scene.

6. KRS-One

KRS-One, known as the Blastmaster, had already made waves in the rap scene during the 1980s as part of Boogie Down Productions. However, it was in the 1990s that he truly solidified his reputation as a standout artist. His solo career took flight in 1993 with the release of his album Return of the Boom Bap, and it was with his record MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know that he reached new heights.

While KRS-One had undoubtedly made game-changing contributions as part of Boogie Down Productions in the 1980s, I personally believe that he had an even more remarkable run in the following decade. After releasing the final two albums under Boogie Down Productions—Edutainment and Sex and Violence—KRS-One embarked on his solo journey. The aptly-named Return of the Boom Bap marked the beginning of this chapter.

With production from acclaimed maestros like DJ Premier, Showbiz, and Kid Capri, KRS-One exuded confidence and delivered hard-hitting street anthems like never before. A few years later, he released KRS-One, which included his most significant and exceptional track to date, “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know.”

7. Big Boi

Big Boi, the other half of the renowned duo Outkast, joined forces with another exceptionally original and talented artist, which truly set them apart. However, their collaboration didn’t diminish Big Boi’s individual brilliance. In fact, as a highly-skilled MC, he could hold his own against 95% of the rappers who emerged in the 1990s.

The only challenge was that he was paired with arguably one of the most innovative and brilliant hip-hop artists ever, which sometimes led to him being underrated. Yet, throughout their three-album journey, Big Boi stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Andre 3000 every step of the way.

While Andre 3000 delivered incredible bars, couplets, and lines, Big Boi was right there beside him, matching his talent and, at times, even surpassing him. Their collaboration showcased the perfect synergy between their styles.

8. Q-Tip

Q-Tip, originally the frontman for A Tribe Called Quest, wasted no time venturing into his solo career during the 1990s. Setting himself apart from other rap styles, he delved into jazz-inspired creations that showcased his unique musicality. His success can be attributed to his exceptional songwriting abilities and his knack for social commentary.

The 1990s witnessed the rise and eventual disbandment of A Tribe Called Quest, followed by Q-Tip’s flourishing solo journey. Throughout the decade, the Tribe frontman remained incredibly active and productive.

With his conversational and laid-back rapping style, infused with a jazzy flow, Q-Tip perfectly complemented Phife’s dynamic and high-pitched delivery, creating a chemistry rarely seen in later rap groups. Additionally, Q-Tip showcased his mastery of songwriting, skillfully weaving social commentary into his rhymes alongside catchy hooks and his signature bass-heavy production.

9. Raekwon

Raekwon, famously known for his unique husky voice, enigmatic slang, and captivating narratives of mafia-inspired crime, initially emerged as Raekwon The Chef and made his debut with the Wu-Tang Clan in 1993. Throughout his career, he dedicated himself to representing the New York rap scene year after year, leaving an indelible mark.

One notable highlight for fans was his collaboration with Outkast in 1998, which remains a cherished moment in music history. Raekwon’s distinct style, combined with the innovative artistry of Outkast, created a memorable and impactful musical experience that resonated with listeners.

10. Rakim

Rakim left an indelible mark on the rap industry by the late 1980s, with his albums Paid in Full and Follow the Leader reshaping the genre. However, he didn’t rest on his laurels. As the 1990s dawned, Rakim continued to make waves, releasing two more albums alongside Eric B. – Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em and Don’t Sweat the Technique – before embarking on his solo career. As the preeminent rapper to emerge from the 1980s, Rakim still had much to showcase and prove in the coming decade.

Unlike many of his contemporaries from the previous era, Rakim seamlessly transitioned into the 1990s, collaborating with a new generation of production greats such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Clark Kent for his debut solo album, The 18th Letter. The result was a rap masterpiece that showcased Rakim’s intricately complex lyricism over fresher, more contemporary beats. Once again, he reaffirmed his position as the unrivaled “God MC,” solidifying his status as an undeniable force in the rap game.

11. Ras Kass

Ras Kass, hailing from Carson, California, may not always be mentioned alongside other West Coast legends like Ice Cube or Snoop Dogg, but his superlative lyrical talent has never been a hindrance. In 1991, he made his debut on Wild West Corral’s “Trick or Treat,” and throughout the 1990s, he released only two solo albums while also delivering numerous standout feature appearances.

Despite the relatively modest number of solo projects, Ras Kass’s albums showcased a level of complexity in his lyricism and densely packed metaphorical wordplay that rivaled any rapper releasing twice as many records. Just listen to tracks like “Nature of the Threat” to witness the depth of his artistry. Underrated yet consistently impressive, Ras Kass unquestionably stood among the finest rappers of the 1990s.

  • Coolio – “Get Up, Get Down”
  • Chino XL – “Riiiot!”
  • Xzibit – “Plastic Surgery”
  • O.C. – “Action Guaranteed”
  • RZA – “Handwriting On the Wall”

12. E-40

In 1989, E-40 founded Sick Wid It Records, a pioneering rap label in the independent music movement. His entrepreneurial spirit and flamboyant raps helped establish him as a key figure in building up the Bay Area music scene. His undeniable slang and hustler mentality resonated with fans and inspired future moguls like Master P and Birdman.

E-40’s ability to cultivate a dedicated, independent fanbase in the region led to major label interest. In 1994, he signed a deal with Jive Records, which resulted in the release of his album In a Major Way. The album made a significant impact, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and selling 70,000 copies in its first week.

With his independent business acumen, prolific output, and innovative sound, E-40 established a blueprint that countless rappers would follow in the years to come. His influence and impact extended far beyond the 90s. E-40 was not only one of the best rappers of the era but also one of the most influential and game-changing artists in the industry.

13. Mase

Mase, who understandably dropped the “Murder” from his name, has come to symbolize the excessive commercialism, diluted samples, and nostalgia of the late ’90s Bad Boy era in the public’s perception. However, he has often faced unwarranted criticism for his role in the shiny suit era.

It is important to examine Mase’s music itself. Harlem World, his debut album, can be argued as one of the best releases from a rapper not named The Notorious B.I.G. under the Bad Boy label. Even to this day, long after his time in the spotlight, Mase continues to be referenced by A-list artists. Look no further than Pusha T’s Mase flow impersonation on “Let Me Love You,” Kanye West name-checking him on “Devil in a New Dress,” or Drake interpolating his lines on “Worst Behavior.” These references highlight Mase’s enduring influence.

It is only fair to give credit where it is due and acknowledge that Mase is undeniably one of the best rappers of the ’90s. Despite the criticisms surrounding the era in which he thrived, his impact on music and his contributions to the genre deserves recognition.

14. Bun B

At the start of the 1990s, Bun B and Pimp C emerged as two aspiring rappers from Port Arthur, Texas. They had just released their debut album, Too Hard to Swallow, which initially made only a small impact on the charts. However, by the end of the decade, they found themselves featured on the biggest rap record of the year alongside the leading hip-hop artists of the time.

In the interim, they unleashed Ridin’ Dirty, a record widely regarded as one of the top five Southern albums of all time. Within this album lies Bun B’s iconic verse on “Murder,” often hailed as one of the greatest rap verses ever crafted. While Pimp C’s syrup-drenched vocals radiated with vibrant color and character,

it was Bun B’s distinctive flow and nimble delivery that grounded the duo, enabling them to resonate as relatable superheroes for everyday listeners. The potent combination of Bun B’s technical prowess on the mic and his ability to tell unforgettable Southern tales solidified his status as one of the greatest rappers of the 1990s.

15. MC Eiht

For any West Coast hip-hop enthusiast, it should come as no surprise when MC Eiht made his presence known in the latter half of Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d City.” This Compton rapper embodies the essence of an OG.

As a member of Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht played a vital role in shaping the ’90s West Coast scene. He boasts an impressively consistent catalog of solo and group albums that have solidified his place as a staple voice from the era. Not to mention, his debut single, the timeless classic “Streiht Up Menace,” featured in the influential film Menace II Society, where Eiht also played a supporting but pivotal role.

It’s clear that MC Eiht’s influence extends beyond being one of the best West Coast rappers ever; he holds a significant position as one of the most important artists of the ’90s. His contributions to the genre have left an indelible mark and cemented his status as an integral figure in hip-hop history.

16. Eminem

It’s always astonishing to realize that Eminem is older than Nas. Despite being only a year apart in age, their music feels like it spans an entire generation.

While the Queensbridge prodigy was reshaping New York hip-hop with his influential album Illmatic, Eminem was still hustling alongside Proof, striving to make it in the rap game. After participating in the 1997 Rap Olympics, a showcase organized by Wendy Day, the Detroit rapper caught the attention of none other than Dr. Dre, who, at the time, was searching for his creative groove.

Eminem’s energy and inspiration revitalized Aftermath Entertainment, turning it into a powerhouse. In return, the legendary Compton artist provided him with a platform to become the biggest rapper of all time.

Although Eminem’s most significant impact on hip hop occurred in the 2000s, his output during the 1990s alone justifies his inclusion on this list. With scene-stealing features on tracks like “Dead Wrong,” “What’s the Difference,” “Forgot About Dre,” and “The Anthem,” as well as the groundbreaking album The Slim Shady LP, Eminem unquestionably stood among the best rappers of the 1990s.

17. Inspectah Deck

During the 1990s, as the Wu-Tang Clan was rising in the music industry, RZA’s Staten Island home studio suffered two devastating floods that destroyed over 500 beats intended for Method Man, Raekwon, GZA, Ghostface, and Inspectah Deck.

While the other members were able to reconstruct their albums, Deck’s debut project faced significant delays and underwent substantial changes from what was lost in the floods. Uncontrolled Substance, released years later, remains a strong album, especially when viewed in retrospect. However, we can’t help but wonder what it could have been if the beats hadn’t been lost and if Deck had managed to release it in 1995, as originally planned.

All of this serves to highlight that Deck’s solo output during the 1990s didn’t reach its full potential due to unfortunate circumstances. Nevertheless, the Rebel INS never allowed that setback to deter him. Whether it was on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album or on his appearances on other members’ projects, Deck consistently stood tall as a highlight reel.

Hip hop enthusiasts will forever remember the way he dominated the mic on GZA’s “Duel of the Iron Mic,” ignited the track on Raekwon’s “Guillotine (Swordz),” delivered memorable bars on Pun’s “Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy),” and stole the show from Gang Starr on “Above the Clouds.” And, of course, there’s his iconic verse on “Triumph” – a lyrical performance that every true rap fan should have etched into their memory, and one of the greatest displays of lyricism of all time.

18. Common

Witnessing Common’s journey from a Chicago b-boy to becoming one of the prominent figures in conscious rap was truly captivating. Forming a connection with fellow Chicago artist No I.D. in the early 1990s, Common started gaining attention after being featured in The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column and making his debut with the track “Take It EZ.” While the record and his album Can I Borrow a Dollar? garnered some recognition, it was his second album that truly began shaping Common’s career.

By the end of the 1990s, in addition to fearlessly engaging in a rap beef with the formidable Ice Cube, Common released One Day It’ll All Make Sense and collaborated with underground artists like The Roots and Talib Kweli. These experiences positioned him at the forefront of the conscious hip-hop movement that would later fully emerge in the early 2000s. Common’s dedication to delivering meaningful lyrics and his ability to hold his own in the rap game solidified his influential status in the genre.

19. Kurupt

Born and raised in Philly but later relocating to the West Coast as a teenager, Kurupt had all the makings to become one of the illest MCs of all time. It was practically written in the stars. Whether he was unleashing his lyrical prowess on tracks like “Stranded on Death Row” over Dr. Dre’s infectious production, collaborating with his comrades Snoop Doggy Dogg,

Nate Dogg, and Warren G on the iconic Doggystyle album, representing the West Coast as part of Tha Dogg Pound, or venturing out on his solo endeavors, Kurupt’s presence in the ’90s was undeniable. His contributions solidified his status as one of Los Angeles’ greatest of all time, leaving an indelible mark on the rap game.

20. Mos Def

Mos Def, together with his fellow Rawkus Records counterparts Talib Kweli and Company Flow, emerged as leading figures in the underground hip-hop scene of the late 1990s. Hailing from Brooklyn, Mos Def released two highly acclaimed albums during the decade – Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star and Black on Both Sides – which solidified his status as a lyrical force.

These albums, now regarded as certified classics, showcased Mos Def’s nimble flow, Afrocentric rhymes, and unwavering commitment to conscious rap. Through his artistry, Mos Def became one of the figureheads of the conscious rap movement, leaving an indelible mark on the hip-hop landscape of the ’90s.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is considered the best rapper of the 90s?

The best rappers of the 90s include notable artists such as Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Wu-Tang Clan, OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, and many others.

What made the rappers of the 90s stand out?

Rappers of the 90s stood out for their lyrical prowess, storytelling abilities, unique flows, and contributions to the evolution of hip hop culture. They often tackled social issues, expressed personal experiences, and displayed a high level of technical skill.

What were some of the most influential albums by 90s rappers?

Some influential albums by 90s rappers include “Illmatic” by Nas, “Ready to Die” by The Notorious B.I.G., “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” by Wu-Tang Clan, and “The Slim Shady LP” by Eminem, among others.

How did the 90s shape the landscape of hip hop?

The 90s were a pivotal era for hip hop, as it witnessed the rise of gangsta rap, the emergence of East Coast-West Coast rivalry, the popularity of alternative and conscious rap, and the commercialization of the genre. The 90s shaped hip hop’s sound, fashion, and cultural impact, leaving a lasting influence on future generations of artists.

Were there any female rappers who stood out in the 90s?

Yes, the 90s saw the emergence of influential female rappers such as Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill (as part of The Fugees), Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and Salt-N-Pepa, who made significant contributions to the genre and paved the way for future generations of female artists.

How did the 90s rap scene differ from previous decades?

The 90s rap scene differed from previous decades with its heightened focus on storytelling, lyrical intricacy, and exploration of social and political issues. It also saw the rise of regional sounds and sub-genres, such as West Coast gangsta rap, East Coast boom-bap, and Southern hip hop, which added diversity to the overall rap landscape.

How did technology impact rap music in the 90s?

The 90s witnessed the increasing use of sampling, drum machines, and digital production techniques, which allowed artists to experiment with new sounds and create innovative beats. Additionally, advancements in recording technology made it easier for independent artists to produce and distribute their music, contributing to the growth of the underground rap scene.

What is the legacy of 90s rap music?

The legacy of 90s rap music is profound and enduring. It laid the foundation for modern hip hop, influencing subsequent generations of artists and shaping the direction of the genre. The 90s era is often regarded as a golden age of rap, characterized by its rawness, diversity, and artistic innovation. The music from this era continues to be celebrated and appreciated by fans worldwide.


The 1990s was undoubtedly a golden age for rap music, and its impact on the genre’s evolution and cultural significance is undeniable. The decade saw the rise of iconic rappers who left an indelible mark on the industry and continue to influence artists to this day. From the raw storytelling of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. to the poetic lyricism of Nas and the groundbreaking style of artists like Snoop Dogg and Eminem, the 90s produced an extraordinary array of talent.

The era was characterized by its diversity, with distinct regional sounds emerging from the East Coast, West Coast, and the South. Each region brought its unique flavor, contributing to the richness and variety of the rap landscape. Whether it was the socially conscious lyrics of A Tribe Called Quest and Common or the gritty street narratives of Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep, the 90s showcased the depth and versatility of the genre.

Furthermore, the 90s witnessed the commercialization and globalization of rap music, as artists began achieving mainstream success and reaching audiences worldwide. The decade also saw technological advancements that transformed the production and distribution of rap music, enabling artists to experiment with new sounds and reach audiences independently.

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