Playlist: 90’s Hip-Hop Essentials

Category:  Music
Wednesday, November 10th, 2021 at 9:01 AM
Playlist: 90’s Hip-Hop Essentials  by Julia Carden
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Over the past few years, the hip-hop genre has flourished. New artists have emerged and evolved adding new sounds to the rap game. While the genre has come a long way since its birth in the 1970s, the original sound rooted in hip-hop can still be heard in what is released today. So, let’s go back in time and highlight some of the essentials of 90’s hip-hop that have had a lasting impact on the industry we know today.  

F*** tha Police – NWA (1988) 

NWA is easily one of the most unapologetic and influential rap groups in the history of hip-hop. Although “F*** tha Police” was released in ‘88, it cannot be left out of the discussion of early rap essentials. NWA, formed in 1987, consisted of members Arabian Prince, MC Ren, Ice Cube, Eazy E, DJ Yella, and Dr. Dre. The group originated in Compton, California, where rates of police brutality and violence against African Americans were off the charts. The group was famously threatened by the Los Angelos Police Department to not release or play this song live, as it is a song protesting the racial injustice in the city of Compton. Despite legal threats from the LAPD, the group released the song anyway in 1988 on their breakout album, “Straight Outta Compton.”  

It Was a Good Day – Ice Cube (1992) 

“It Was a Good Day” was released in 1992 on Ice Cube’s solo album, “The Predator.” Like a few other members of NWA, Ice Cube went on to have a successful solo career after the group split in 1992. “It Was a Good Day” was featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is where I first heard it. While this song was a success, it’s not Ice Cube’s usual sound. Rather, the song features an upbeat, optimistic tune where the rapper describes a fictional day free of stress, “smog,” and police. He described it in an interview with Entertainment Weekly as his “interpretation of what a great day would be.” The rapper also noted that many of his songs are violent and give off negative energy to his fans during his performances. He explained further that “It Was a Good Day” is a positive song to incorporate in his shows.  

“CREAM” – Wu-Tang Clang (1994) 

Everyone has heard this classic, whether they know it or not. ‘CREAM,’ an acronym heard in the chorus which famously stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” This is one of my personal favorites. The beat is simple so we can focus on the lyrics and rhymes. Wu-Tang Clang is another one of the extremely successful and influential groups of the early rap genre. Formed in 1992, the group’s name also has a deeper meaning, standing for “Witty, Unpredictable, Talent, and Natural Game.” Those five words perfectly encapsulate the group and their unforgettable music. “CREAM” has since been labeled one of the greatest songs in rap history. The tune was certified Gold in the United States back in 2009. 

“Ready or Not” – Fugees (1996) 

“Ready or Not,” released in 1996, was one of the Fugees' greatest hits. It combined elements of both hip hop and soul that paved the way for the song's success. Members Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean sing the chorus and verses together perfectly. According to Genius, the two members were having an affair when they recorded and released this tune, while Jean was married. He noted that their “romantic affair” influenced their performance on the song. The music video for “Ready or Not” was also notable as one of the first and most influential movie-like videos. What critics described as a waste of money, The Fugees and their fans viewed as a cinematic work of art.  

“Hypnotize” – Notorious BIG (1997) 

“Hypnotize” was the first single on The Notorious BIG’s album, “Life After Death.” The album was released in 1997, just few a weeks before he was killed in a drive-by shooting while he was promoting the album in California. This song was the rapper’s first number one hit. The chorus, sung by Pamela Long, is extremely catchy and upbeat. The Notorious BIG was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He was a major player in the New York rap scene and a contributor to East Coast hip-hop. “Hypnotize” sat at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for three weeks after its initial release. The hit single was and remains one of the rapper’s greatest hits. I think this song comes to most people’s minds when discussing the early essentials of hip-hop. This tune is extremely well-known and remains popular today, representing the legacy that The Notorious BIG, born name Christopher Wallace, left behind.  

Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” – Will Smith (1997) 

While it wasn’t Will Smith that coined the slang term, “jiggy” this song took the term to another level. This song has been covered and remixed by multiple artists since its initial release back in 1997. There are many connections in pop culture, especially in the early 2000s, to this song and the word, “jiggy.” Ty Dolla Sign, Jack Harlow, and 24kGoldn most recently made reference to Smith’s original song in a recent release, “I Won.” “Fresh Prince, I get jiggy with it,” can be heard in a verse on the rap song. Even without the term going viral after this song was released, it was a new sound for the hip-hop world, with a catchy, pop sound to it. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” was an important step in Smith’s newfound music career after he made the transition from an actor to a rapper in the late 90s.  

Julia Carden is the music editor and social media director for The Spectator. She can be reached at

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