40 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of the ’90s (COMPLETE LIST)

VH1 is celebrating hip hop’s “golden era”...check out the full list.

Whenever anyone brings up hip hop’s golden era, chances are they’re talking about the ’90s. Originating in the Bronx in the 1970s, the genre that would later become a global phenomenon grew substantially in the ’80s and, by the time the ’90s rolled around, had fully matured both artistically and commercially.

When you think about hip hop in that decade, two names hover above the rest: 2Pac (“California Love”) and The Notorious B.I.G. (“Hypnotize”). If you’ll recall, though, the ’90s was also a period in which hip hop expanded from being purely a coastal phenomenon. Southern anthems like “Back That Thang Up” by Juvenile and Fiend, Silkk, Mia-X and Mystikal-featured Master P song, “Make Em Say Uhh!,” dominated the charts. Meanwhile, the East and West Coasts held it down with their own distinctive hits, respectively, including Jay-Z’s “Can I Get A…” and Warren G ft. Nate Dogg’s “Regulate.” If any of the aforementioned songs come on right now, in any region, hip hop fans will react. And that acknowledgment likely manifests with head bobbing, rapping along, or dancing.

So, what are you waiting for? VH1 is celebrating hip hop’s “golden era” with our long-running series, The Greatest: 40 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of the ’90s, and the full list starts here! Don’t forget to listen to our collection of timeless tracks on Spotify and, while you’re at it, subscribe here to VH1′s 40 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of the ’90s playlist.

  1. “Back That Thang Up” – Juvenile

    Album: 400 Degreez

    Year: 1999

    Juve and his Hot Boyz taught mainstream America how to “walk it like a dog,” and for that, we should all be eternally grateful.

  2. “I’ll Be Missing You” – Puff Daddy ft. Faith Evans & 112

    Album: No Way Out

    Year: 1997

    Who could possibly forget when Sting joined Puff on stage at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards to mourn the loss of his friend and label signee, Biggie Smalls.

  3. “Summertime” – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

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    Album: Homebase

    Year: 1991

    Before Will hit it big with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, this friends-since-childhood duo recorded a summer anthem that eventually won a Grammy for Best Rap Single in 1991.

  4. “I Wish” – Skee-lo

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    Album: I Wish

    Year: 1991

    Whether you felt bad for him or found him deserving of ridicule, this Chicago-born rapper had a catchy song that still gets referenced today in discussions about height.

  5. “Still Not A Player” – Big Punisher ft. Joe

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    Album: Capital Punishment

    Year: 1998

    Latin’s Going Platinum! Another MC gone too soon, Pun made this still-incredible Uptown record one that we’ll dance and party to until the world ends.

  6. “Whatta Man” – Salt-N-Pepa ft. En Vogue

    Album: Very Necessary

    Year: 1993

    When two of the era’s most popular female crews collaborated, a ladies anthem for the ages was born. The icing on top? It saluted the men out there who know how to treat a woman right!

  7. “Insane In The Brain” – Cypress Hill

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    Album: Black Sunday

    Year: 1993

    With the help of an instantly recognizable DJ Muggs beat, this West Coast rap group injected hysteria into the population’s zeitgeist.

  8. “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard

    Album: Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

    Year: 1995

    Always keeping it real with the no-holds-barred verbals, O.D.B. came out the gate letting us know that condom use, to him, is frowned upon. Stay strapped, kids!

  9. “Jump Around” – House Of Pain

    Album: House of Pain

    Year: 1992

    Before the homie Everlast went solo and started singing in a different genre, he, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal gave everyone a legit reason to, you know, JUMP.

  10. “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” – DMX

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    Album: It’s Dark and Hell is Hot

    Year: 1998

    If you don’t get pumped up listening to this classic New York anthem, then you have no love for rap music. Pure Ruff Ryder magic, this track was released when DMX was in his prime and Swizzy’s beats were all over NY radio.

  11. “Tennessee” – Arrested Development

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    Album: 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in the Life Of…

    Year: 1992

    Not only did this curious and somber song win Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1993, but the video, shot in Georgia, remains iconic to this day.

  12. “Regulate” – Warren G ft. Nate Dogg

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    Album: Regulate… G Funk Era

    Year: 1994

    Sixteen in the clip and one in the hole! In this G-Funk classic, Nate Dogg came to the rescue of his boy Warren G. so that they could execute their planned night of canoodling with ladies at the East Side Motel.

  13. “911 Is A Joke” – Public Enemy

    Album: Fear of a Black Planet

    Year: 1990

    Public Enemy’s first Top 40 hit, this Bomb Squad-produced song shed light on the slow response time of emergency assistance in black neighborhoods.

  14. “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” – Digable Planets

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    Album: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)

    Year: 1992

    Another Grammy winner, this song was the trio’s only Top 40 hit. Using jazz in the song’s soundbed was still a relatively new production technique, but became an infectious trend during the time period.

  15. “Now That We Found Love” – Heavy D and The Boyz

    Album: Peaceful Journey

    Year: 1991

    Both sassy and sincere, this track had a hook that became embedded in your brain, whether you liked it or not. Not to mention, Heavy D and his brightly-colored outfits got it in in the video!

  16. “The Choice Is Yours” – Black Sheep

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    Album: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

    Year: 1991

    Members of the Native Tongues’ clique served up some options for listeners with a dance-floor instigating song that features the infamous “engine, engine, number 9″ line we all know and love.

  17. “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By” – Method Man ft. Mary J. Blige

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    Album: Tical

    Year: 1995

    Balancing gritty with heartfelt, supportive lyrics, Meth hits Mary J. with a solid assist on this hood-turned-mainstream love song.

  18. “Make Em Say Uhh!” – Master P ft. Fiend, Silkk, Mia-X & Mystikal

    Album: Ghetto D

    Year: 1998

    No Limit’s glory days; there was a tank in the video, and Mystikal wasn’t yet locked up for sexual assault.

  19. “Hypnotize” – The Notorious B.I.G

    Album: Life After Death

    Year: 1996

    Rapping about everything from Blues Clues to “sex in expensive cars,” Biggie helped Bad Boy keep momentum with this timeless record that features Total’s Pamela Long on the enchanting hook.

  20. “Can I Get A…” – Jay-Z ft. Ja Rule & Amil

    Album: Volume 2… Hard Knock Life

    Year: 1998

    Just a bit of advice: Never perform this song at a work karaoke party. It’s naughtier than we all remember, but Amil and Ja help Jigga with the heavy lifting.

  21. “O.P.P.” – Naughty By Nature

    Album: Naughty By Nature

    Year: 1991

    Hailing from New Jersey, the Naughty by Nature boys struck gold with the Jackson 5 sample of “ABC” and a contagious chorus that asked if we were down with O(ther) P(eoples’) P(roblems).

  22. “Scenario” – A Tribe Called Quest

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    Album: The Low End Theory

    Year: 1992

    Aiding in ATCQ’s transition to the mainstream listener’s ear, “Scenario” exploded with a technologically progressive video and gave Busta Rhymes his rapping debut. Rah, Rah, like a dungeon dragon!

  23. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” – Lauryn Hill

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    Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

    Year: 1998

    L-Boogie knew her audience well, and pandered to both genders in the song that earned her Grammys for the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song in 1999.

  24. “C.R.E.A.M.” – Wu-Tang Clan

    Album: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

    Year: 1994

    Produced by RZA, “C.R.E.A.M.” was the raspy second single from the Staten Island hip hop collective and is often considered the group’s most successful track.

  25. “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy Elliott

    Album: Supa Dupa Fly

    Year: 1997

    Missy and Timbaland were lethal in the ’90s, and this early Misdemeanor Top 20 hit was accompanied by a Hype Williams-directed visual. Word to the fisheye lens and the trash bag, right?

  26. “U Can’t Touch This” – MC Hammer

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    Album: Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em

    Year: 1990

    Hammer pants first made their debut on the Arsenio Hall show, and “Stop… Hammertime” was a widely used motto in the early ’90s as a result of this hip hop crossover’s “too legit to quit” power.

  27. “Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J

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    Album: Mama Said Knock You Out

    Year: 1991 Shirtless in the middle of a boxing ring is how you picture LL when you think of this endearingly tough Marly Marl-produced song that revved the engine for his career and earned him a Grammy in ’92.

  28. “So Wat’Cha Want” – Beastie Boys

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    Album: Check Your Head

    Year: 1992

    The second single from the already-established group’s third album, “So Wat’Cha Want” lit up the summer of ’92 and bestowed upon us some pretty wild photo negative visuals in the video.

  29. “Baby Got Back” – Sir Mix-A-Lot

    Album: Mack Daddy

    Year: 1992

    Not a man to mince words, Sir Mix-A-Lot got busy describing his desires in this early ’90s ode to ladies with large rear-ends.

  30. “Gangsta’s Paradise” – Coolio ft. LV

    Album: Gangsta’s Paradise

    Year: 1995

    Not only was this creepy-sounding song on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, but the video featured the film’s star, Michelle Pfeiffer, having a staring contest with the Compton rapper.

  31. “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” – Busta Rhymes

    Album: When Disaster Strikes…

    Year: 1997

    Another Hype-directed video, Busta already had his footing as an artist, and burst on the scene with a tribal themed video to support his second album’s lead single. Glow paint, y’all – buy some.

  32. “It Was A Good Day” – Ice Cube

    Album: The Predator

    Year: 1993

    Taking a break from his gangster South Central lifestyle, Cube took some time out to tell us about a liesurely day in his life where positive vibes were on full flourish.

  33. “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” – Jay-Z

    Album: Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

    Year: 1998

    A specialist at piggy-backing on pop culture iconography, Hova used music from Broadway musical Annie to help paint a picture of his experiences growing up in New York City’s concrete jungle.

  34. “My Name Is” – Eminem

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    Album: The Slim Shady LP

    Year: 1999

    “My Name Is” was Em’s rambunctious introduction to the world, and with the help of Dr. Dre and in-your-face controversial imagery in the video, it clearly accomplished everything they aimed to, plus more.

  35. “Killing Me Softly” – Fugees

    Album: The Score

    Year: 1996

    Before her Miseducation album, Lauryn Hill’s vocals spilled into radio airwaves and had little girls singing into their hair brushes and women grabbing for kleenex.

  36. “Gin & Juice” – Snoop Dogg

    Album: Doggystyle

    Year: 1994

    Yes, Snoop, you may kick something for the Gs. In addition to giving America an idea of the laid-back, West Coast lifestyle, the video captured one of the best behind-your-parents’ back house parties ever.

  37. “Mo Money Mo Problems” – The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Puff Daddy & Mase

    Album: Life After Death

    Year: 1997

    In Bad Boy’s heyday, Puffy made sure everything was over-the-top. Seeing him and Ma$e in character on a golf course for the Bad Boy World Champion PGA Tour in the video was an entertaining substitute for an already-deceased Biggie Smalls.

  38. “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” – Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg

    Album: The Chronic

    Year: 1992

    The first single off of his debut solo album, “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” is Dre’s only song in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. With a barbeque and beach volleyball-filled video, the Cali producer and rapper earned major cool points for his innovative sound early in the decade.

  39. “California Love” – Tupac ft. Dr. Dre

    Album: All Eyez On Me

    Year: 1995

    From this Dre and Pac collabo, a timeless Cali anthem emerged alongside a video of epic proportions, nodding to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

  40. “Juicy” – The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Total

    Album: Ready To Die

    Year: 1994

    Everyone knows this song, even your grandmother; spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way! Just like #2 on our list was for Dre, “Juicy” was Biggie’s first single and, in most cases, is rapped word for word by fans -hardcore and fairweather alike – within earshot.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, a Spotify playlist with the full list of the VH1′s 40 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of the ’90s awaits you after the jump. Oh, and if you didn’t subscribe already, you can do so, here.

VH1 Music Editor + Seltzer Enthusiast