Honorable Mentions: Cypress Hill “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” Geto Boys “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” Naughty by Nature “Uptown Anthem”

In the year of Cypress Hill and Geto Boys and the Low End Theory, Native Tongues affiliates Dres and Mista Lawnge hired a stand-up bass player to lay down heavy jazz beats while Black Sheep went riding “Engine engine number nine, on the New York Transit Line….” That nine-second break alone has made this track one of the most often played in every DJ’s crate.

Playing off the duality of the group’s name—“Who’s a black sheep? What’s a black sheep?”—the song’s lyrics presented life as a series of crucial decisions, a premise so powerful that it even works as a Kia commercial starring hamsters instead of rappers. No wonder the video for this song became a staple of MTV rap programming and the tune remains the most enduring moment of Black Sheep’s above-average debut album, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. While Tribe was more abstract poetic, Black Sheep constructed a banger on this one.

Dres raps with just enough intensity cut with a too-cool-for-school sense of humor:

“Can I hear a hey? (Hey)
Can I get a yo? (Yo)
You got a hat? (Huh)
It’s for the hoes, (Oh)”

Above all, he displays a higher-than-requisite level of energy and skills on the mic, even as he inevitably leads listeners to the obvious conclusion: that THIS is where it’s AT, and definitely not THAT. —RK