3 Eternal 1990s Rap Songs that Have Stood the Test of Time

The genre of hip-hop was kicked off in the 1970s in the public parks in New York City. There, DJs would plug their setups into public light fixtures and supply the neighborhood with party music, splicing dance song breaks on turntables back and forth to keep the most liveliest part of the record going into the night.

Videos by American Songwriter

Since then, the genre has grown to be the dominant musical style on the globe, influencing everything from world music to country. But it was in the 1990s that the sound had perhaps its most golden of eras. Here below, we wanted to explore three songs from that decade that have since stood the test of time. Indeed, these are three eternal hip-hop songs from the 1990s.

[RELATED: The Top 15 Jay Z Songs]

“Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest from People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)

Helping to usher in both a new decade and a new sound of hip-hop, this classic track from the New York City-born rap trio A Tribe Called Quest featured a sample of “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed. But Tribe was also known during its time as a group that would feature live instrumentation, including bass lines from legendary upright player Ron Carter. On this song, lyricists Phife Dawg and Q-Tip bring to life a positive, grinning style of performance. And the track is all about hanging together, but more specifically it’s also about joining a rap cypher where rappers spit their latest verses. On the track, Q-Tip raps,

Can I kick it?
To all the people who can Quest like A Tribe does
Before this, did you really know what live was?
Comprehend to the track, for it’s why ’cause
Getting measures on the tip of the vibers
Rock and roll to the beat of the funk fuzz
Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug
If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug

“It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube from The Predator (1992)

On the West Coast in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so-called “gangsta rap” was all the rage. And albums from N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube were permeating cities and towns throughout the country. Here in this 1992 track, Cube takes the harsh, acerbic style he’d come to be known for and flips it, rapping about positive moments in his life, from his hometown L.A. Lakers beating the Seattle SuperSonics to having a filling breakfast. That lyrical and tonal juxtaposition has kept the song alive decades after its release. On the track, he raps,

Just wakin’ up in the mornin’, gotta thank God
I don’t know, but today seems kinda odd
No barkin’ from the dog, no smog
And mama cooked the breakfast with no hog
I got my grub on, but didn’t pig out
Finally got a call from a girl I wanna dig out
Hooked it up for later as I hit the door
Thinkin’, “Will I live another 24?”

“N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas from Illmatic (1994)

The 1994 album Illmatic from Long Island City, New York, rapper Nas is considered to be perhaps the greatest rap album of all time. And this track, which was produced by DJ Premier and highlights Nas’ life in the Big Apple, is perhaps the best song on the LP. Featuring fat piano notes and bright piano chords, Nas raps about his life as a young emcee, offering,

Rappers, I monkey flip ’em with the funky rhythm
I be kicking, musician, inflictin’ composition
Of pain, I’m like Scarface sniffin’ c—–e
Holding an M-16, see with the pen I’m extreme, now
Bullet holes left in my peepholes, I’m suited up in street clothes
Hand me a nine and I’ll defeat foes
Y’all know my steelo, with or without the airplay
I keep some E&J, sitting bent up in the stairway

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Anniversary Album: 20 Years of ‘A Ghost Is Born’ by Wilco

Ex-Styx Member Dennis DeYoung Shares What He Feels Is “the Most Hurtful Part” of His Former Bandmates’ Rift with Him

Dennis DeYoung Shares What He Feels Is “the Most Hurtful Part” of His Rift with His Ex-Styx Bandmates