What’s your favorite 1990s year for rap? Is it 1993, which brought us Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, Doggystyle, and Tribe Called Quest’s best album, the jazzy Midnight Marauders? Or was it ’95, where we first heard Raekwon’s Cuban Linx, Mobb Deep came out with “Shook Ones”–one of the most beloved rap songs of any year–and 2Pac put out the best record of his career? Or maybe you like the later ’90s stuff, like MF DOOM and Eminem?
No matter where you fall, the ’90s are indisputably the most consistently great period for hip hop. And most modern rappers know it, too.
Here’s the top 6 rap albums that pay tribute to the era of the ’90s…
6. No Sleep ‘Til NYC by K. Dot and Jay Rock (2007). Genius idea for a mixtape from young Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock: Two up-and-coming West Coast emcees spit over some of the biggest beats from the East Coast. Not purely a ’90s tribute, but there are plenty of beats from that era on this album. For me, it’s the best album recorded under the name K. Dot.
5. 1994 and 1995 by 38 Spesh (2019 and 2020). Spesh adapts music from classic ’90s hip hop songs to create new compositions. Sure, there are some expected sources from big hits (Muniz’s “I Got 5 On It”), but there are deeper cuts as well. The two EPs are truly for hip hop heads.
4. 1992 by The Game (2016). I know critics dismissed this album as fluff, but I love it. Game pays tribute to the Gods of rap who came before him, for an entire album.
3. Covers the Classics by Joell Ortiz (2009). Every song on this mixtape isn’t rapping over ’90s beats but a lot of them are. And frankly he picks some great ’80s songs to bite on also. One of my favorite mixtapes of all time from an artist who has been vastly underrated.
2. 1999 by Joey Bada$$ (2012). Joey has never made a better album. Each song is brilliant.
1. Elmatic by Elzhi (2011). A song-for-song tribute to one of the best–if not the absolute best–rap albums of all time, Nas’ Illmatic. I actually like Elzhi’s album even more than the original. If you only seek out one album off this list, make sure it’s this one.