The 1990s were a pivotal time in the rap world.
Hip hop had started to become mainstream by the mid 1980s, with the hip hop artists of the day serving as inspirations for the rising stars to come.
The 1990s shaped the genre again, with the rise of gangsta rap and the emergence of many feuds between the East Coast and West Coast factions.
The 1990s saw the rise and fall of some of the legends of the genre, like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
We hope you enjoy this list of the best 90s rappers.
Table of Contents
- 1. 2Pac
- 2. Lauryn Hill
- 3. Snoop Dogg
- 4. Ice Cube
- 5. Andre 3000
- 6. Jay-Z
- 7. Nas
- 8. The Notorious B.I.G.
- 9. Big Boi
- 10. Rakim
- 11. 50 Cent
- 12. Scarface
- 13. LL Cool J
- 14. Beastie Boys
- 15. KRS-One
- 16. Missy Elliott
- 17. Ice-T
- 18. Slick Rick
- 19. Common
- 20. De La Soul
- 21. Q-Tip
- 22. Prodigy
- 23. Big Daddy Kane
- 24. Queen Latifah
- 25. Will Smith
- 26. Busta Rhymes
- 27. Method Man
- 28. Gang Starr
- 30. Salt-N-Pepa
- 31. Lil’ Kim
- 32. Public Enemy
- 33. Dr Dre
- 34. Eminem
- 35. MC Hammer
- 36. Biz Markie
- 37. Eazy-E
- 38. Kool G Rap
- 39. Raekwon
- 40. Big Pun
- 41. MF Doom
- 42. Redman
- 43. DMX
- 44. Fugees
- 45. Blackalicious
- 46. Mos Def
- 47. Talib Kweli
- 48. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
- 49. WC
- 50. DJ Quik
- Best 90s Rappers – Final Thoughts
Tupac Shakur, also known as 2Pac, was an American rapper known for his influence on the 90s hip hop genre.
He is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time.
He has sold more than 75 million records worldwide.
He has often been praised for addressing social issues in his music, but has also served time in prison on sexual abuse charges, making him a controversial character.
Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by shooting by an unidentified assailant, and passed away six days later.
He has had five albums released posthumously.
2. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill is an American rapper, singer and record producer.
She is known as one of the greatest rappers of all time, breaking down barriers for women in the hip hop genre.
She was born in 1975 and raised in New Jersey, to an English teacher mother and management consultant father.
She began creating music in high school, forming an early version of the Fugees with Prakazrel Michel and Wyclef Jean.
In 1997, the group split and Hill went on to record one of the most beloved hip hop albums in history, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
3. Snoop Dogg
Calvin Cordozar Broadus Junior, better known as Snoop Dogg, is an American rapper.
He first gained recognition when he featured on Dr Dre’s debut solo single, “Deep Cover”.
He has now sold over 23 million albums.
He released his debut studio album Doggystyle in 1993 with Death Row Records and it debuted at number one.
In 2012 he converted to Rastafari and released a reggae album called Reincarnated, under the alias Snoop Lion.
He released his seventeenth solo album I Wanna Thank Me in 2019.
4. Ice Cube
O’Shea Jackson Senior, better known as Ice Cube, is an American rapper, actor and filmmaker.
He was lead rapper for the infamous hip hop group N.W.A, who rose to fame in the 1980s.
The album was hugely influential within the hip hop genre, changing the face of West Coast rap.
Throughout the 90s, Ice Cube embarked on his solo career.
In 1990, he recorded his debut solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.
While his first album was considered controversial, his second album Death Certificate was considered even more so.
It was accused of being anti-white, antisemitic and misogynist.
Ice Cube has also had an active acting career since the 1990s.
5. Andre 3000
Andre 3000, whose real name is Andre Lauren Benjamin, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor.
He is best known for being part of the hip hop duo Outkast, alongside Big Boi.
He has also appeared in a number of films and TV series.
He was born in 1975 in Atlanta and was raised by his single mother.
He met Big Boi in high school and they formed Outkast.
Outkast produced many songs throughout the 1990s, releasing their debut album Southernplayalisticacadillacmuzik in 1994.
Shawn Corey Carter, better known by his stage name Jay Z, is an American rapper, record producer and entrepreneur.
He was the CEO of Def Jam Recordings.
He was born in 1969 in New York, beginning his musical career in the late 80s.
His debut album Reasonable Doubt was released in 1996.
He is also known for his high profile marriage to world famous pop star Beyonce.
He is one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 140 million records.
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known by his stage name Nas, is an American rapper, known for his influence on East Coast hip hop.
His musical career began in 1989, when he adopted the name “Nasty Nas”.
His debut album Illmatic was released in 1994, and is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
In 2021, the album was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
Between the years 2001 and 2005, Nas was engaged in a public feud with fellow rapper Jay-Z.
This feud spurred on the careers of both artists, and after squashing the feud, Nas signed to Jay-Z’s record label.
8. The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher Wallace, better known by his stage names Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls or Biggie, was an American rapper.
He was hugely influential within East Coast hip hop, particular in the gangsta rap subgenre.
He made use of a distinctive laid-back lyrical delivery.
He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and signed to Bad Boy Records when it launched in 1993.
He released his debut album Ready to Die in 1994, and it was met with widespread critical acclaim.
Wallace played a role in the feud between the East Coast and West Coast factions within the hip hop genre, before he was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, September 1996.
9. Big Boi
Antwan Andre Patton, better known by his stage name Big Boi, is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor.
He was part of the southern hip hop duo Outkast, alongside Andre 3000.
He was born in Savannah, Georgia and spent the first half of his childhood there before moving to Atlanta.
Here, in high school, he met Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000) and the pair began collaborating.
After creating four albums together, they decided to each create an album individually and release them together as a double album.
In 2007, Big Boi announced plans to release a completely solo album.
Rakim is an American rapper and record producer.
He frequently worked as part of a hip hop duo alongside Eric B., forming ‘Eric B. & Rakim’.
He is considered one of the greatest MCs of all time, pioneering the use of internal rhymes and multisyllabic rhymes.
Kool Moe Dee dubbed him the ‘inventor of flow’.
He grew up in Long Island, New York and wrote his first rhyme at seven years old about Mickey Mouse.
He first met with Eric B. in 1985 and they released four studio albums together before separating in 1992.
11. 50 Cent
Curtis Jackson III, better known by his professional name 50 Cent, is an American rapper, actor and businessman.
He was born in the South Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, New York.
He began his career in 1996, when a friend introduced him to Jay Master Jay of Run-DMC.
His first appearance was on “React” with Onyx, for their 1998 album Shut ‘Em Down.
Jay produced Jackson’s first (unreleased) album.
Jackson was shot and hospitalized and the album was not released.
Bradley Terrence Jordan, better known by his stage name Scarface, is an American rapper and record producer.
He is best known for being a member of the Houston-based hip group Geto Boys.
Jordan was born in 1970 and attended high school in Houston, before dropping out to work as a drug dealer.
He began his career as DJ Akshen, recording and DJing for a record label in Houston.
In 1992 he appeared on the Kool G Rap & DJ Polo album Live and Let Die.
13. LL Cool J
James Todd Smith, known professionally as LL Cool J, is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor.
He is one of the earliest rappers to achieve commercial success, achieving fame and recognition throughout the 80s.
He signed to Def Jam Recordings in 1984 and released his debut album Radio in 1985.
It was considered a landmark album in the hip hop genre.
He has also appeared in various films as an actor.
His 1995 album Mr Smith went on to sell over two million copies.
14. Beastie Boys
Beastie Boys were an American rap rock group from New York City that gained recognition in the 1980s.
They released a comedy hip hop single called “Cooky Puss” in 1983, achieving local success.
They then toured Madonna, which brought them widespread recognition.
They have sold 20 million records in the US and have had seven platinum-selling albums from 1986 to 2004.
They are the biggest-selling rap group since Billboard began recording sales in 1991.
Sadly, one of the group members Adam Yauch passed away from cancer in 2012 and the group disbanded.
Lawrence Parker, better known by his stage name KRS-One (an abbreviation of “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”), is an American rapper, lyricist and producer.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1965 to an American mother and Jamaican father.
He left home at sixteen to become an MC, living in a homeless shelter in the South Bronx.
He began recording as part of the hip hop group Boogie Down Productions, alongside DJ Scott La Rock and Derrick “D-Nice” Jones.
He embarked on his solo career throughout the 90s, releasing his first solo album Return of the Boom Bap in 1993.
16. Missy Elliott
Melissa Elliott, better known by her stage name Missy Elliott, is an American rapper, singer and record producer.
She began her career in the early-mid 1990s with girl group Sista.
She later became a member of the Swing Mob collective, alongside her childhood friend Timothy Mosley, better known as Timbaland.
She released her debut solo album in 1997, called Supa Dupa Fly.
The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200.
She has been hugely influential in the hip hop world, breaking down barriers for female rappers in the industry.
She has often been dubbed the “Queen of Rap”.
Tracy Marrow, better known as Ice-T, is an American rapper, songwriter, actor and producer.
He was signed to Sire Records in 1987 and released his debut album Rhyme Pays.
In 1988, he founded his own record label called Rhyme Syndicate Records.
He also co-founded Body Count, a heavy metal band.
They released their self-titled debut album in 1992.
He caused controversy with the song “Cop Killer”, as the lyrics discuss killing police officers.
18. Slick Rick
Slick Rick is an English-American rapper and record producer.
He first gained recognition in the mid-80s with Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew.
Their song “La Di Da Di” is considered a hip hop classic and is one of the most sampled songs in history.
In 1986, he signed to Def Jam Recordings.
He released his first solo album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick in 1988, releasing three more albums throughout the 1990s.
His music has been sampled over 1000 times, by artists like Eminem, Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and The Notorious B.I.G.
Lonnie Rashid Lynn, better known by his stage name Common, is an American rapper and actor, born in 1972.
He was born in Chicago, to high school principal Mahalia Hines and former ABA basketball player turned youth counselor Lonnie Lynn.
He began rapping in the late 1980s, while attending Luther High School.
He formed C.D.R. with two of his friends, and they opened for acts like N.W.A and Big Daddy Kane.
The group dissolved in 1991 and Common began a solo career under his stage name.
He released his debut album Can I Borrow a Dollar? in 1992.
20. De La Soul
De La Soul is an American hip hop trio from Long Island, New York.
They were pioneers within the hip hop community, known for their eclectic sampling and jazz rap style.
The group was made up of Posdnuos, Trugoy and Maseo.
The groups debut album 3 Feet High and Rising was released in 1989 and is considered a hip hop classic, becoming their biggest commercial success to date.
They are part of the Native Tongues group, alongside Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest.
Q-Tip, whose real name is Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, is an American rapper, record producer, singer and DJ.
He is known for his jazz-influenced style of hip hop production.
He began his career in the late 1980s, featuring on a Jungle Brothers’ song “The Promo”.
In 1988, he formed A Tribe Called Quest, and they were signed to Jive Records the following year, after being rejected by several labels.
They released their first album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990.
By 1993, Q-Tip was more known for his production work.
Albert Johnson, better known by his stage name Prodigy, was an American rapper.
He was one half of the hip hop duo Mobb Deep, with Havoc making up the other half.
He was born in Long Island, New York and was raised in LeFrak City in Queens.
He met Havoc while attending the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
In 1993, the duo released their debut album Juvenile Hell.
23. Big Daddy Kane
Antonio Hardy, better known as Big Daddy Kane, is an American rapper who began his career in 1986 with the Juice Crew.
He was a pioneer MC within the hip hop community.
In 1984, Kane became friends with Biz Markie, co-writing some of his best-known lyrics.
They both went on to join the Juice Crew.
Kane is known for his ability to syncopate over faster hip hop beats.
In 1991, Kane won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for his performance on the Quincy Jones collaborative track “Back on the Block”.
24. Queen Latifah
Dana Elaine Owens, better known as Queen Latifah, is an American rapper, actress and singer.
Born in New Jersey in 1970, she was raised in the Baptist faith and attended a Catholic school.
She signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989.
She released her debut album All Hail the Queen that same year.
She went on to release many albums throughout the 90s, including the single “U.N.I.T.Y.”, which is now one of her signature songs.
She has earned a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two NAACP Image Awards and has been nominated for an Academy Award.
25. Will Smith
Will Smith, also known as The Fresh Price, is an American actor and rapper.
He rose to fame by starring as a fictionalized version of himself on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which first aired in 1990.
He first gained recognition as part of a hip hop duo with DJ Jazzy Jeff.
The duo released five studio albums together from 1984 to 1994.
He released solo albums in 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2005 and received four Grammy Awards for his rap performances.
He went on to achieve wide fame through his acting accomplishments.
26. Busta Rhymes
Trevor Smith Jr, also known as Busta Rhymes, is an American rapper and actor.
He was a member of Leaders of the New School, a hip hop group based in Long Island, New York.
He first gained recognition for his guest appearance on “Scenario”, a song by A Tribe Called Quest, released in 1992.
He has released nine solo albums in total.
He also founded the record label Conglomerate and production crew The Conglomerate.
27. Method Man
Method Man, whose real name is Clifford Smith Jr, is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor from Long Island.
He is best known for being part of the East-Coast hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
He is half of the hip hop duo Method Man & Redman.
He took his stage name from the 1979 film Method Man.
He appeared in numerous films in the late 90s and 2000s.
28. Gang Starr
Gang Starr was an American hip hop duo, consisting of Texas record producer DJ Premier and Massachusetts rapper Guru.
They rose to fame throughout the 1990s and are now recognized within the jazz rap subgenre.
Gang Starr originally began with Guru and three other friends, in Boston, before the group split and Guru continued working under the name with DJ Premier.
The two relocated to Brooklyn and released their first single “Words I Manifest” in 1989.
They signed to the Chrysalis record label in 1990.
In February 2010, Guru suffered a heart attack and went into a coma, dying a few months later.
Guru and DJ Premier had fallen out many years previously and no longer wanted to be associated with each other.
Salt-N-Pepa is an American hip hop group formed in New York in 1985.
They rose to fame in the late 80s and continued to find success throughout the 90s.
The group is made up of Cheryl James, Sandra Benton and Deidra Roper.
They released their debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious in 1986 and it went on to sell 1 million copies in the US.
In the 90s, they released Blacks’ Magic (1990), Very Necessary (1993) and Brand New (1997).
31. Lil’ Kim
Kimberly Jones, better known as Lil’ Kim, is an American rapper and television personality, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.
She spent many of her younger years living on the streets after she was kicked out of her home.
In 1994, she was discovered by The Notorious B.I.G., who invited her to join his group Junior M.A.F.I.A.
Their debut album Conspiracy was certified gold by the RIAA.
Her debut solo album Hard Core was released in 1996 and was certified double platinum, selling more than six million copies worldwide.
It had the highest debut in the US for a female rap album at the time.
32. Public Enemy
Public Enemy is an American hip hop group made up of Chick D and Flavor Flav.
The group originated in New York in 1985.
They were known for making political comments with their music, covering subjects like American racism and the American media.
The group achieved mainstream success in the late 80s and early 90s, having released their debut album in 1987.
Their most successful album was Fear of a Black Planet, released in 1990.
33. Dr Dre
Andre Romelle Young, better known as Dr Dre, is an American rapper and record producer.
He is also the co-founder of Beats Electronics.
He also co-formed and owned Death Row Records before becoming the founder and CEO of Aftermath Entertainment.
He began his career as a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru in 1985, later joining West Coast gangsta rap group N.W.A.
After N.W.A. disbanded, he released his solo album The Chronic in 1992, which made him one of the best-selling American artists of 1993.
He took a seven year hiatus and released his second album 2001 in 1999.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III, known professionally as Eminem, is an American rapper and record producer.
He was particularly popular in middle America, popularizing the genre in this region.
He is widely regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
He was particularly influential in encouraging the acceptance of white rappers in the hip hop community.
Much of his musical content was transgressive and controversial, but this was part of what made him so popular.
He was thought to be a representation of the angst of the American underclass.
He released his debut album Infinite in 1996 and then signed with Dr Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, subsequently achieving mainstream popularity.
35. MC Hammer
Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known as MC Hammer, is an American rapper, dancer, record producer and entrepreneur.
He was born in 1962 in California, and has spoken openly about how he and his five siblings were crammed into a three-bedroom housing project apartment.
He is best known for his song “U Can’t Touch This”, which was released in 1990.
He made use of flashy dance movements and extravagant choreography.
He is considered a pioneer of pop rap.
36. Biz Markie
Marcel Hall, better known as Biz Markie, was an American rapper and DJ.
Often regarded as a one-hit wonder, he is famous for his song “Just a Friend”, which became a Top 40 hit in several countries.
He is dubbed the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop”.
He was born in Harlem, Manhattan in 1964.
He began his career in New York nightclubs, gaining regional recognition by performing at colleges.
In 2020, Markie was hospitalized due to severe complications from type 2 diabetes.
In 2021, he was reported dead at the age of 57.
Eazy-E, whose real name is Eric Lynn Wright, was an American rapper.
He was known for being a key figure in West Coast rap and gangsta rap, leading the group N.W.A and its label Ruthless Records.
He was one of many hip hop artists that was born and raised in Compton, California.
After a short solo career, he began collaborating with Ice Cube and Dr Dre in the late 80s.
They released their iconic album Straight Outta Compton in 1988.
It is now considered a landmark album in hip hop.
The group disbanded and he embarked on a solo career throughout the 90s.
38. Kool G Rap
Nathaniel Thomas Wilson, better known as Kool G Rap, was an American rapper from Queens, New York.
He began his career in the mid 80s alongside DJ Polo, and as a member of the Juice Crew.
He is considered to be one of the most influential MCs of all time.
He has been cited as an influence by artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Eminem and Jay-Z.
In 1995, Wilson started his solo career with the album 4, 5, 6.
Corey Woods, better known by his stage name Raekwon The Chef or Raekwon, is an American rapper.
He was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn and was raised by his mother, as his father was an addict.
He has said that he witnessed his mother being hit and abused a lot as he grew up, which affected him greatly.
He rose to prominence as a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan, achieving mainstream success following the release of their debut album in 1993.
He went on to pursue a solo career, releasing his first solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx in 1995.
It is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, and is a landmark album of 1990s rap.
40. Big Pun
Christopher Lee Rios, better known by his stage name Big Pun (which is short for Big Punisher), was an American rapper and songwriter.
He was raised in The South Bronx in New York, to Peutro Rican parents.
He moved out of his mother’s house when he was fifteen and was homeless for a period during the late 1980s.
He emerged from the underground hip hop scene in the Bronx borough of New York City in the early 1990s.
He was discovered by Fat Joe, making an appearance on his album Jealous One’s Envy.
41. MF Doom
Daniel Dumile, better known as MF Doom, was a British-American rapper and record producer.
He was distinctly recognisable as he wore a signature metal mask.
He became a major figure of underground hip hop and alternative hip hop.
He was born in London but moved to Long Island at a young age.
He began his career in 1988 as a member of KMD, but the group disbanded in 1993.
He took a hiatus and reemerged in the late 90s, performing at open mic events.
He released his debut solo album Operation: Doomsday in 1999.
Reginald Noble, better known as Redman, is an American rapper, DJ, record producer and actor.
He was raised in New Jersey and was kicked out of his home by his mother for selling cocaine at sixteen.
He rose to fame in the early 1990s when he signed to Def Jam Records.
He is known for his frequent collaborations with close friend Method Man.
They formed a duo, Method Man & Redman, and even starred in a sitcom together.
He was a member of the Def Squad in the 1990s.
Earl Simmons, known as DMX, was an American rapper and actor.
He was born in 1970, and there are accounts of him being born in either Baltimore, Maryland or Mount Vernon, New York.
His parents were nineteen and eighteen, and his father was an artist who painted watercolor paintings.
His father left when he was young, and his mother and her various boyfriends were abusive to him.
He began living on the streets at fourteen to escape his mother’s abuse.
He began his career in the early 1990s, releasing his debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot in 1998.
The Fugees is an American hip hop group formed in the early 1990s.
It consists of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.
They signed to Ruffhouse in 1993, releasing their debut album Blunted on Reality in 1994.
The group rose to fame with its second album, The Score (1996), which peaked at number one on the Billboard 200.
It is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
The group reunited in 2004 and 2021 for reunion tours.
In 2007, MTV ranked the group the ninth greatest hip hop group of all time.
Blackalicious was an American hip hop duo from Sacramento, California.
The duo is made up of rapper Gift of Gab and DJ/Producer Chief XCel.
They released their debut EP Melodica in 1995.
They released their debut album Nia in 1999.
In 2000, they signed a major label deal with MCA Records.
46. Mos Def
Yasiin Bey, known by his stage name Mos Def, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter and actor.
He began his career in 1994, alongside his siblings in a rap group called Urban Thermo Dynamics.
He formed the duo Black Star alongside fellow Brooklyn-based rapper Talib Kewli.
He released his solo debut album Black on Both Sides in 1999.
47. Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli Greene is an American rapper.
He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York by an English professor mother and administrator father.
He has said that he was drawn to Afrocentric rappers like De La Soul and other members of the Native Tongues collective.
He gained recognition through his collaboration with fellow Brooklyn rapper Mos Def in 1997, when they formed the group Black Star.
He has gone on to work with the likes of Kanye West, Just Blaze and Pharell Williams.
He founded his own record label Javotti Media in 2011.
48. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony is an American hip hop group composed of rappers Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone and Flesh-n-Bone.
The group signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records in 1993.
They released their debut album Creepin on ah Come Up.
Their song “Tha Crossroads” was released in 1996 as a tribute to the then-recently deceased Eazy-E, and they won a Grammy Award in 1997.
William LaShawn Calhour Jr, better known by his stage name WC (pronounced “dub-c”), is an American rapper and actor.
He was born in Houston, Texas in 1970.
He was originally part of the group Low Profile, then formed a group called WC and the Maad Circle, before embarking on a solo career.
He has released four solo albums.
He is well known for being part of the rap supergroup Westside Connection with fellow West Coast rappers like Ice Cube and Mack 10.
50. DJ Quik
David Marvin Blake, better known as DJ Quik, is an American rapper, songwriter, DJ and record producer.
He was born in Compton, California in 1970.
He is known for his G-funk style and his role in West Coast hip hop.
He has collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Tupac, R. Kelly and Shaquille O’Neal.
Best 90s Rappers – Final Thoughts
As we can see from this list, the 1990s provided us with some of the greatest hip hop music of all time.
Many of the artists that emerged in that decade remain icons and inspirations for the rappers that are currently dominating the genre.
The 1990s took the already-popular genre to new heights, creating many of the biggest music artists of the decade.