Best Albums of the 1990s

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Archie Barnes

A compiled display of the album covers featured in this article.

Even with today’s power of the internet and music streaming, the 90s were an infinitely more revolutionary time for the music industry. With time and respect lacking from music, it’s clear that nothing new has come out of the music industry in the past 20 years. In celebration of the new decade, and to give readers a breath of fresh air from all the “best albums of the decade” I compiled a list of my personal favorite albums from a much humbler time, the 1990s. 

MF Doom – Operation: Doomsday (1999) 

An adventure of an album, the hard smacking drums of Operation: Doomsday contribute to one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Featuring samples from Sade and Quincy Jones, Madlib completely outdoes himself with the production, providing a perfect compliment to Doom’s funky and eccentric vocals. 

Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

The enduring brilliance of this album is today, beyond dispute. The influence that Nirvana had on punk and rock all around is overwhelming, an almost scary feeling to see how much change they’ve made for music today. Nevermind exposed the emotion and rage within the band and shakes your bones to their very tips. A great album to listen to in plaid shirts. 

Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 chambers (1993)

Enter The Wu-Tang, with all its nasty and abrasive tones, marks the humble beginnings of rap. Going up against the G-funk of westside legends Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, this album was the first stage of worldwide dominance for the Clan. The RZA-masterminded instrumentals effortlessly match the melody of funk and the explosiveness of rock, sprinkling both genres with razor-sharp vocals.

The Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia (1995) 

Going up against groups at the time like the Wu-Tang Clan, NWA, and Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde instead took side with their East-Coast counterparts; De La Soul and a Tribe Called Quest. Labcabincalifornia encompasses the jazz-rap mindset of following love and acceptance acting as a complete parallel to albums like Straight outta Compton and Enter the Wu-Tang. Lucious standout tracks like “Drop” and “Runnin’” leave you wanting more, bringing you to hit that repeat button faster than you can process what you just heard. 

Digable Planets – Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)

As one of the pillars of the wave of jazz-rap, Digable Planets changed the course of hip hop, influencing the culture for many years to come. The Grammy award-winning rap trio wraps you in a cozy blanket of silky verses and glowing jazz samples, bringing influence from the art and philosophy of the black panthers, and taking samples from legends such as Herbie Hancock, Grant Green, and Lonnie Liston Smith. 

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991) 

A strange yet wonderful album, My Bloody Valentine drops hints and lets you know that if they wanted to, they could be just another mainstream rock band. However, they continue to choose their own path instead, leaning towards tidal waves of reverberation and distortion. They take you on a winding ride of dusty vocals and gorgeous chords, leaving you wondering where this album has been your whole life! On songs like Soon and the popular demanding intro, Only Shallow, the band demonstrates their exponential talent and bravery in music. 

Bjork – Debut (1993)

Björk Guðmundsdóttir, a singer, songwriter, producer, and DJ, hails from Iceland with an angelic album as soft as feathers and as glistening as jewels. Debut opens the floor beneath your feet, pulling you in a slow-motion free fall through pillows, swans, and wedding dresses. You eventually hit hard ground though, and it only gets better from there. Hard dance beats on songs like “crying” and “There’s more to life than this” hone in your brain, sharpening your senses. Both moods accentuate the other, resulting in an album more majestic and confident than almost any other Bjork album. 

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992) 

Selected Ambient Works 85–92 is the debut studio album by Aphex Twin, the pseudonym of British electronic musician Richard D. James. Aphex Twin’s unique electronic style didn’t fully integrate itself into rap until the late 90’s early 2000’s, but by then, producers like Pharrell and Kanye were beginning to synthesize hip hop with electronic music. The use of computers and more electronic sounds proved to be a more popular production method above samplers, all of which are due to this album. Aphex Twin pioneered sounds such as the 808 and the hi-hat, showing his prowess and musical intelligence through this trip of an album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders (1993)

Midnight Marauders was Tribe’s third– and in my opinion– best album. It’s gloomy, with a topcoat of humorous and bouncy lyrics, keeping you entertained and intrigued for a full 51 minutes. Lo-fi, fluffy drums synthesize themselves with soul, jazz, and RnB samples, creating an album perfect for making you smile, dance, and groove. Certified platinum in 1995, Midnight Marauders holds some of their most popular songs such as ‘award tour’ and ‘electric relaxation’. Similar to albums like De La Soul’s ‘Three Feet High and Rising’ and The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II’ the album is pure fun, poking fun at rap groups at the time that may have been taking it a bit too seriously. 

The Roots – Things Fall Apart (1999)

Unlike other hip hop groups at the time, The Roots were true jazz musicians. Inhabited by the ghosts of artists seemed drawn from the 1930s, The Roots were incredibly intellectual– so far ahead of their time, in fact, that their music wasn’t seen as ‘cool’ until Things Fall Apart was released. This heavy jazz-based rap album cemented the roots as a classic hip-hop group, and flaunted everything from the vocal talents of the features, to Quest Love’s outstanding drumming ability. 

 

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