Hip-hop was booming in 1991.

Riding the mainstream wave that had begun in the mid-80s with Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, but not quite at the uber-crossover level it would achieve a few years later; hip-hop acts had risen in notoriety and were among the most significant artists in all of music by the early 1990s. Hit songs by artists like Naughty By Nature were inescapable radio smashes and female rappers like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah had become genre stars as the new decade continued to progress.

With rappers like Ice Cube and Ice T dominating the national conversation, artists of both the gangsta and political variety were enjoying an unprecedented amount of visibility without making very many concessions to the pop world. Artsy hip-hop acts also suddenly became hyper-visible on the strength of high-profile releases from Native Tonguers; and even pop rap matured a bit musically and lyrically as DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince bounced back from the novelty misfire of "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson" to deliver rap music's most indelible summer anthem.

And three soon-to-be superstars emerged on noteworthy albums in 1991: Nas, 2Pac and Busta Rhymes.

Looking back twenty-five years later, 1991 was undeniably one of the genre's greatest years. So here's our take on 25 of the best albums that dropped in what could be 90s hip-hop's greatest year.


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