This feature was originally published in 2013.
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. Lest y'all forget, for every Doggystyle, there's a 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. Artists like Ice Cube, Method Man, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Busta Rhymes, and De La Soul were shaping 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 best rappers of the '90s.