This is part of Complex's The 1996 Project: Looking Back at the Year Hip-Hop Embraced Success.

In 1996, a thousand flowers bloomed. All across the U.S., rap crews assembled, flourished, and vied for prominence at the center of hip-hop culture. 2Pac and Too $hort held it down for California. The Geto Boys and UGK repped Texas. Bone Thugs held it down for Cleveland. Do or Die and Common established Chicago's rep. OutKast broke out of Atlanta. No Limit put New Orleans on the map. Redman and the Fugees both repped Jersey. TribeJeru, Busta, Jay ZNas, AkinyeleMobb Deep, and CNN all repped New York.

 No longer a provincial concern of just five boroughs, or a turf war between just two coasts, or a stalwart opponent of R&B, hip-hop hosted an unprecedented variety of styles, signatures, and influences. Rappers innovated like never before, with timeless results.

The year was prolific enough that picking just the 50 best rap songs of 1996 feels like settling on a puny fraction. So think of it this way: If we were to fill a modestly sized chest with music to cast down the Nile, these are the songs we'd most desperately want to preserve for later generations, and for our own sake. Here we present the 50 best rap songs of 1996.