It’s fashionable to say that the ‘90s were better, especially when it comes to rap. Here at Complex, we often go out of our way to catalog and defend the contemporary era because hey, we got now and we don’t care who got next. There’s no denying that the '90s yielded a huge amount of top-shelf rap music. But there’s nothing more dangerous than being blinded by nostalgia.
This sentiment was best explained in Woody Allen’s 2011 comedy Midnight In Paris when one character said, “Nostalgia is denial—denial of the painful present...the name for this denial is 'golden age thinking'—the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in. It's a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
Maybe that’s why many millennials fetishize the '90s, pretending as if Saved By The Bell and Full House were actually good shows. (Try watching them today, they’re downright awful.) That same logic applies to rap listeners who are quick to point to classics like Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle but forget clunkers like its follow-up, Doggfather.
Still, the '90s really were a golden age for rap. In the early part of the decade, the genre was ushering in its platinum era. By the end of the decade, it was a full-on commercial monster, a dominant force, the dominant force, in pop music, in all of youth culture worldwide. Maybe '90s rappers weren’t as revolutionary as their '80s counterparts—the forefathers who laid the groundwork for hip-hop. But the '90s rappers matured the form, modernizing rap to the style that’s still prevalent today. Though the era was marred by controversy, violence, arrests, coastal rivalries, and finally tragedy, the '90s stand as the heyday of the greatest, most impactful, influential artists rap has ever produced.
With that in mind, we took a look back at The 10 Best Rappers of the '90s.