23 Best Hip-Hop & R&B Songs From The '90s

 

Many consider the '90s to have been the golden era of hip-hop and R&B, a time of remarkable lyrical and sonic innovation. It was the decade that brought us rap legends like Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, and Outkast. On the R&B front, TLC was empowering women to recognize their beauty and worth, Destiny's Child was just beginning to fulfill its golden destiny, and Lauryn Hill was challenging us to awaken our consciousness. As hip-hop and R&B gained mainstream acceptance, the genre began taking over radio waves and dance party playlists.

From Montell Jordan's "This Is How De Do It" to Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop," we were guaranteed to let loose on the dance floor as soon as we heard these hip-hop and R&B jams.

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  • "No Diggity" by Backstreet feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen

    1


    Featuring a beat created by Dr. Dre, who also guest raps on the cut, Blackstreet's 1996 hit "No Diggity" was an instant classic. The "Mmhmm" sound, sampled from Bill Withers's "Grandma's Hands," added to the funk vibe of the New Jack Swing hit, which is an ode to "playettes." 


  • "No Scrubs" by TLC

    2

    Disrespectful, unmotivated, ambition-less men with giant egos got the ultimate kiss-off in TLC's 1999 hit "No Scrubs." T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye created the ultimate girlfriend song, one that encouraged ladies not to settle for co-dependent losers.

  • "Poison" by Bell Biv Devoe

    3

    Created in the New Jack Swing style pioneered by Teddy Riley, which combined slick R&B harmonies with hard hip-hop beats, Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" featured an unstoppable rat-a-tap beat, a jazz-throb bass line, Latin jazz-inspired horns, coot cat harmonies, and slick vocal solos. It also gifted the world with such quotable lines as, "Never trust a big butt and a smile."

  • "Gettin' Jiggy With It" by Will Smith

    4

    Featuring a sample of Sister Sledge's "He's The Greatest Dancer," Will Smith's 1998 hit "Gettin' Jiggy With It" was all about tapping into your most silly self and letting it free. Will Smith's rhymes were sometimes downright goofy ("In the middle of the club/with the rubber duck"), but he was having fun — and it was contagious. Also, even the rhythm-challenged could master the dance introduced in the video and get down at the club.

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  • "I Get Around" by Tupac feat. Digital Underground

    5

    Tupac Shakur was the ultimate ladies' man, and he owned it. "I Get Around" was the ultimate playa's anthem, as 'Pac playfully bragged about his many conquests and made it clear he was a hit-it-and-quit-it kinda guy. The track's summery California vibe and irreverent lyrics made this a coast-to-coast favorite. All that attention? Just another hazard of a fly guy.

  • "No, No, No Pt. 2" by Destiny's Child feat. Wyclef Jean

    6

    Who could ever say "no, no, no, no" to Destiny's Child? After this 1998 jam, we were all saying "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" to the Beyoncé-led girl group. 

  • "This Is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan

    7

    Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" was the ultimate summertime T.G.I.F. anthem, a song about partying with your neighborhood friends, dancing the night away, and getting a little buzzed (but remembering to give the designated driver the keys to your truck!). 

  • "Doo-Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill

    8

    "Baby girl, respect is just the minimum," Lauryn Hill rhymed in "Doo-Wop (That Thing)," advising female listeners to make smarter choices in love and to know their own worth. Like a wiser older sister, Lauryn offered us counsel and empowered us with words like,  "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem." Somehow, she managed to get her point across without sounding judgmental or preachy, and she had us swaying to a doo-wop harmony.

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  • "Pony" by Ginuwine

    9

    If there's something Magic Mike XL proved about Ginuwine's 1996 hit "Pony," it's that the track is still sexy as hell — and perfect for a good striptease. With its start-and-stop rhythm and blatantly sexual lyrics ("My saddle's waiting/come and jump on it"), "Pony" provided the soundtrack for some serious bumpin' and grindin' on the dance floor.

  • "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa

    10

    Salt-N-Pepa produced many songs that celebrated female sexual empowerment (remember "Let's Talk About Sex"), but perhaps none was as fun and mischievous as 1993's "Shoop." The song felt like a gossip-y chit-chat between boy-crazy friends but, when these female rappers flipped the script on the fellas with their coy and brazen come-on and cat-call lyrics, that's when female listeners really cheered.

  • "Jump" by Kris Kross

    11

    Under the tutelage of Jermaine Dupri, rap duo Kris Kross became a sensation in 1992 thanks to the high-energy breakout hit "Jump," featuring a call-and-response format that beckoned for audience participation. In the process, the rapping kids also started a major fashion trend: wearing your clothing backwards. 

     

  • "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer

    12

    The braggadocio overtones of MC Hammer's 1990 hit "U Can't Touch This" made for a playful and irreverent party anthem, but it was the "Hammer dance" introduced in the music video, especially the rapid side-to-side shuffle step, that turned this song into a pop culture phenomenon. A decade later, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu would be breakin' out their Hammer-inspired moves for the Charlie's Angels movie.

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  • "Crush On You" by Lil Kim ft. Lil Cease & Notorious B.I.G.

    13

    Think rainbow-colored hair is a new thing? Puh-leese! Lil' Kim showed off a Skittles' bag worth of colored wigs in her "Crush On You" music video, all the while spittin' rhymes about her unparalleled skills in the bedroom and declaring, "The only one thing I wanna do is freak you." Shall she proceed? Yes indeed! 

     

  • "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice

    14

    In October 1990, Vanilla Ice made history with "Ice Ice Baby," the first rap song to top the Billboard charts. Sure, Ice wasn't the G.O.A.T., but the song featured a memorable bass line (plucked from Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure") and some catchy lines like, "Stop, collaborate and listen." Moreover, Vanilla Ice proved to the world that rap was more than a seminal fad — if anything, his rise, however brief, signaled the genre's impending crossover into the mainstream. 

  • "Are You That Somebody?" by Aaliyah

    15

    The Timbaland-produced Aaliyah single "Are You That Somebody?" featured an odd mash-up of sounds that somehow worked perfectly — from the beat that starts and stops abruptly to the staccato guitars and the sample of a baby cooing in the background. These elements, combined with Aaliyah's breath-y vocals and her lyrics about a secret tryst, made this one of 1998's biggest bangers.

  • "Rosa Parks" by Outkast

    16

    On their hit "Rosa Parks," Outkast experimented with fusing together rap and country elements — an unheard of idea back in 1999. The song starts with a mellow boom-bap beat and acoustic guitar, then shifts s gears as a hoedown harmonica kicks in, along with foot-stomping, hand-clapping, and hollering. Just like that, country-laced rap had arrived.

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  • "Whooomp! (There It Is)" by Tag Team

    17

    In the 1990s, the Miami Bass sound experienced a brief resurgence thanks to hits like 1993's "Whooomp (There It Is)." The phrase referenced in the song's title was inspired by an expression used by strippers at Atlanta's Magic City strip club. The duo's chant-like chorus made the phrase part of the pop culture lexicon. The song, meanwhile, has lived well beyond the '90s: Will Ferrell danced to it in Elf, animated sea creatures swam to it in Shark Tale, and it's popped up in recent AT&T and Gain commercials. 

  • "Mo Money Mo Problems" by Notorious B.I.G. feat. Kelly Price, Puff Daddy & Mase

    18

    Opening with a sample of Diana Ross's disco classic "I'm Comin' Out'" and featuring Kelly Price's soaring vocals, the Notorious B.I.G's "Mo Money Mo Problems" couldn't have been mo' fun. When juxtaposed over such a sunny track, Biggie's baritone voice and seamless flow stood out even more prominently. And who could forget the music video with Puffy and Mase dancing in a wind tunnel?

  • "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot

    19

    Before Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé made being bootylicious a #bodygoal, Sir Mix-a-Lot was celebrating ample behinds with "Baby Got Back." In a light-hearted way, the rapper poked fun at the narrow beauty ideals perpetrated by the media — which, at the time, did not include juicy derrieres — and celebrated the voluptuous figures of his "thick soul sistas," compelling them to "do side-bends or sit-ups, but please don't lose that butt!"

  • "Fantasy"(Remix)" by Mariah Carey feat. O.D.B.

    20

    However unexpected, the contrast between Mariah Carey's syrupy-sweet vocals and O.D.B.'s gruff lyrical delivery made for a perfect combination. When the Wu-Tang Clan member snarled, "Me and Mariah go back like babies and pacifiers," you couldn't help but snicker. Also, it doesn't get more '90s than Mariah on Rollerblades in the music video!

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  • "Can I Get A" by Jay-Z feat. Amil & Ja Rule

    21

    By the time Jay-Z dropped 1998's Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life, he'd largely left behind the Mafioso lyrics and gritty vibe that distinguished his breakout album, Reasonable Doubt, and instead adopted a more commercial sound. The bounce-heavy beat of "Can I Get A" was irresistible, and Jay-Z's confident flow was the epitome of #swag.

  • "Good Vibrations" by Mary Mark and The Funky Bunch

    22

    Before he was a film star, Mark Wahlberg was an aspiring rapper from Boston's Dorchester neighborhood who loved showing off his ripped abs, rocking low-slung pants, and dropping trow to reveal his undies. As Marky Mark, the leader of the Funky Bunch, he released the chart-topping"Good Vibrations," which, despite its elementary rhymes (example: "Vibrations good like Sunkist/Many wanna know who done this"), really did exude upbeat, positive energy.

  • "Insane In The Brain" by Cypress Hill

    23

    Everybody went loco when Cypress Hill's "Insane In The Brain" boomed through the speakers. The song sampled Sly & The Family Stone's "Life," Mel & Tim's "Good Guys Only Win In The Movies," and James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud," then blended those with an eerie sampling of a horse screech and sped up the BPM to create a skittish vibe that captured the sound of insanity.

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