The 125 Best Rap Singles of 1993

The year 1993 reflected the music industry's “see if it sticks” approach to rap, resulting in a boundless variety of peaks and valleys.

Yes, 1993 had plenty of peaks…and valleys, too. Kiddie acts modeled after the quadruple-platinum duo Kris Kross abounded, some better (Mobb Deep and Illegal) than others (The Whooliganz and Raven Symoné). Too many Das EFX and Naughty by Nature knockoffs turned video shows like Rap City, Yo! MTV Raps, and Video Music Box into a blur of “wickety-wickety” Timberland-wearing knuckleheads. It was an age of marketing gimmicks, whether it was a martial-arts themed crew like Wu-Tang Clan, a quartet of baldheads like Onyx or, less notably, an all-fatigues wearing group like Street Military. Major labels gave everyone a development deal, put out a 12-inch or two by them, and waited for the results. The sheer number of shelved albums made during the mid-90s spawned a cottage industry of bootlegs and, later, limited-edition vinyl aimed at collectors and nostalgists that lasts to this day.

Too many great albums got caught up the churn. Would De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate have broken out of the college alternative ghetto if it didn’t have to compete with so much product? Four years on from their platinum debut 3 Feet High and Rising, the trio’s music had grown emotionally complex and, in the case of the late Dave Jolicoeur’s lyrics, abstract and difficult to parse. They appealed to an audience increasingly alienated from the hardcore, gat-toting mainstream. Without a strong, attention-grabbing single like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour,” a thoughtful album could easily falter despite fervent acclaim. Then there were groups like New Kingdom and Jungle Brothers that pushed the genre in strange and abrasive directions. The indie/mainstream divide hadn’t begun yet, but there was already a sense of how far left industry bibles like The Source would go. As New Kingdom’s Nosaj told CMJ New Music Report, “All we can do is throw it into the wind and hope it lands somewhere nice.”

Still, this was a year before a platinum-or-bust edict and a mainstream emphasis on ballers and thugs made it nearly impossible for the likes of West Coast iconoclasts like Del the Funky Homosapien and Freestyle Fellowship to thrive on a major. As the first “hardcore” album to go multiplatinum, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic changed the landscape forever. Released in December of 1992, it would dominate most of 1993 until the arrival of the Dre-produced Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle — arguably the most anticipated rap debut of all time until 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ a decade later — supplanted it. But the West Coast’s transition to funky worm-fueled G-funk didn’t happen overnight. You can hear the transition on albums like 2Pac’s Strictly for My N.I.G.G.A.Z., which cleaved between bouncy funk grooves like “I Get Around” and noisy, Bomb Squad-inspired maelstroms like “Holler If You Hear Me.”

The South was evolving, too. While still in thrall to the West Coast funk vibe as well as homegrown bass, acts like UGK crafted a sound inspired by Southern gospel and blues, and filled with regional accents. U.N.L.V., Juicy J and DJ Paul (who later formed Three 6 Mafia), and DJ Screw refined their grimy compositions for a growing number of local listeners. In cities across the US, tape-trading collectives such as Rhymesayers honed their craft, seemingly unconcerned with whether the majors noticed. And in the Bay Area, labels such as In-a-Minute and No Limit Records presented street rap as an art form deeply connected to community, a contradiction at odds with how carelessly aggressive their music could be.

The specter of rap as a brutal, gang-ridden genre remained its biggest threat to mainstream viability. Even fans who didn’t agree with C. Delores Tucker’s broadsides against the genre attended too many concerts disrupted by fisticuffs or, worse, gun shots. 1993 may not only be “hip-hop’s greatest year,” but also its most artistically violent ever. So many guns abounded in videos that MTV and BET began censoring images of firearms. The Beatnuts and Black Moon glorified gunplay as a metaphor for testing masculine will. Meanwhile, the hit movie soundtrack for Menace II Society offered MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace” and Spice 1’s “Trigga Gots No Heart,” laments that chronicled the deadly consequences of the gangsta lifestyle.

Women thrived, too. There was space for both hardcore B-girls like MC Lyte, Bo$$, and Queen Latifah as well as lovelorn acts like Salt-n-Pepa. Clean-cut pop-rap continued to find favor with the likes of Kris Kross, who surprisingly avoided one-album wonder status with the dancehall-inflected, Super Cat-assisted “Alright.” This was partly due to radio programmers that, in a pre-streaming era, dictated which singles got heavy R&B and pop airplay, and which 12-inches stayed in the mix show ghetto. But audience sensibilities were different back then, too. Rap fans appreciated variety, and made room for upbeat jams that fans of all ages could groove to as well as the explicit hardcore cuts that heads respected the most. However, a narrowing of that spectrum to a consistently foul-mouthed archetype loomed in the distance.

Despite the overall goodwill, lyrical protests over gangsta rap began to emerge, including Jeru the Damaja’s innovative “Come Clean,” Doug E. Fresh’s popular albeit dogmatic “I-Ight,” and Masta Ace Incorporated’s viciously satirical “Slaughtahouse.” Coupled with KRS-One’s Return of the Boom Bap, Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and Black Moon’s Enta da Stage, these were the seeds of an East Coast-centric renaissance based around grimy sampling techniques and punchy, street-savvy lyricism. It was also an implicit rebuke of the slick G-funk sound overtaking America. The boom-bap style not only grew in popularity in the years to come, but also helped foment a heated and sometimes violent rivalry over what rap music should be.

But in 1993, the music industry took a “see if it sticks” approach, a philosophy Big Daddy Kane satirized in his 1993 single, “How U Get a Record Deal.” Since it seemed inevitable that major labels and fans alike would soon begin picking winners and losers, everyone tried to enjoy the boundless variety while it lasted.

The 125 Best Rap Singles of 1993

  • Above the Law, “Call It What You Want” (Ruthless Records)
  • Afrika Bambaataa Presents Time Zone, “Zulu War Chant” (Profile)
  • Akinyele, “The Bomb” (Interscope / Atlantic)
  • Tha Alkaholiks, “Make Room” / “Last Call” (Loud / RCA)
  • Asia Born / DJ Shadow & the Groove Robbers, “Send Them” / “Entropy” (Solesides)
  • The Beatnuts, “Reign of the Tec” (Relativity / Violator)
  • Beck, “Loser” (Bong Load Records)
  • BIG, “Party and Bullshit” (Uptown Records / MCA Records)
  • Big L, “Devil’s Son” (Columbia)
  • Biz Markie, “Let Me Turn You On” (Cold Chillin’ / Warner Bros. Records)

  • Black Moon, “How Many Emcee’s (Must Get Dissed)” (Wreck Records)
  • Blood of Abraham, “Stabbed by the Steeple” (Ruthless Records)
  • Bloods & Crips, “Piru Love” (Dangerous Records / Pump Records / Warlock Records)
  • Bo$$, “Deeper” (DJ West / Columbia)
  • Boogie Down Productions, “Black Cop” (MCA Records)
  • Brotha Lynch Hung, “24 Deep” (Black Market Records)
  • C-Bo, “Liquor Sto” / “4-Deep” (Awol Records / SMG)
  • Casual, “That’s How It Is” (Jive)
  • Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf, “Red Light, Green Light” (Hollywood BASIC)
  • Class A Felony, “I’m Not the Herb You’re Lookin’ 4” (Mercury)

  • The Click, “Tired of Being Stepped On” (video)
  • The Conscious Daughters, “Somethin’ to Ride To (Fonky Expedition)” (Scarface Records)
  • Coolio, “County Line” (Tommy Boy)
  • The Coup, “Not Yet Free” (Wild Pitch Records)
  • Cypress Hill, “Insane in the Brain” / “When the Shit Goes Down” (Ruffhouse Records / Columbia)
  • Cypress Hill, “We Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” (Ruffhouse Records / Columbia)
  • D-Shot, “Call Me on the Under” (Shot Records / Sick Wid’ It Records / Solar Music Group)
  • Da King & I, “Krak Da Weazel” (Rowdy Records)
  • Da Youngsta’s, “Crewz Pop” (EastWest Records America)
  • De La Soul, “Breakadawn” (Tommy Boy)

  • De La Soul, “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)” (Tommy Boy)
  • Del the Funkyhomosapien, “Catch a Bad One” (Elektra)
  • Diamond & the Psychotic Neurotics, “Sally Got a One Track Mind” (Chemistry Records Ltd / Mercury)
  • Digable Planets, “Where I’m From (Aural G. Ride Mix)” (Pendulum / Elektra)
  • D.J. Jimi, “Bounce (For the Juvenille)” (Soulin’ Records / Avenue Distribution)
  • D.J. Jubilee, “Jubilee All” (Take Fo’ Records)
  • DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers, “In/Flux” / “Hindsight” (Mo Wax)
  • Domino, “Getto Jam” (Outburst Records)
  • Doug E. Fresh, “I-ight (Alright)” / “I-Ight (Alright) (Remix)” (Gee Street)
  • Dr. Dre, “Dre Day” (Death Row Records / Priority Records / Interscope)

  • Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride” (Death Row Records / Priority Records / Interscope)
  • Dred Scott, “Nutin’ Ta Lose” (Tuff Break Records)
  • E-40, “I Practice Lookin’ Hard” (Sick Wid’ It Records / SMG)
  • Eazy-E, “Real Muthaphuckkin G’s” (Ruthless Records)
  • Eightball & MJG, “Comin’ Out Hard” (Suave Records)
  • Erick Sermon, “Stay Real” (Rush Associated Labels / Def Jam Recordings / Chaos)
  • Fat Joe, “Flow Joe (12-inch Version)” (Violator Records / Relativity)
  • Frankie Cutlass, “Puerto Rico” (Hoody Records)
  • Freestyle Fellowship, “Inner City Boundaries” (video)
  • Funkdoobiest, “Bow Wow Wow” (Immortal Records)

  • Geto Boys, “Crooked Officer (Club Remix)” (Rap-A-Lot Records / Priority Records)
  • The Grimm Reaper, “So Whatcha Want Nigga!” (Underground Records)
  • Guru & Donald Byrd, “Loungin’” (Chrysalis)
  • Hard 2 Obtain, “L.I. Groove” (Atlantic)
  • Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day” (Priority Records)
  • Ice Cube Featuring Das EFX, “Check Yo Self (Remix)” (Lench Mob Records / Priority Records)
  • Ice Cube, “Really Doe” (Lench Mob Records / Priority Records)
  • Illegal, “Head or Gut” / “We Getz Buzy” (Rowdy Records)
  • Intelligent Hoodlum, “Grand Groove Part II” / “At Large” (Tuff Break Records)
  • Jeru the Damaja, “Come Clean” (Payday / ffrr / London Records)

  • Jungle Brothers, “40 Below Trooper” (Warner Bros. Records)
  • Kam, “Peace Treaty” (Street Knowledge / EastWest Records America)
  • Kam, “Still Got Love 4 Um” (Street Knowledge / EastWest Records America)
  • Kool G. Rap & D.J. Polo, “On the Run (Dirty Untouchable Version)” (Cold Chillin’)
  • Kris Kross, “Alright” (Ruffhouse Records / Columbia)
  • KRS-One, “Outta Here” (Jive)
  • KRS-One, “Sound of Da Police” / “Hip-Hop vs. Rap” (Jive)
  • Kwest Tha Madd Lad, “Lubrication” (Gub-Ment Cheese Records / Ill Labels)
  • Leaders of the New School, “What’s Next” (Elektra)
  • The Legion, “Jingle Jangle” (Mercury)

  • LeShaun, “Ready or Not” / “Wild Thang” (Tommy Boy)
  • LL Cool J, “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings (Remix)” / “Back Seat (of My Jeep)” (Def Jam Recordings / Columbia)
  • Lord Aaqil, Check It Out EP (To Beat Records)
  • Lords of the Underground, “Funky Child” (Pendulum / Elektra)
  • Lords of the Underground, “Chief Rocka” (Pendulum / Elektra)
  • Luke, “Cowards in Compton” (Luke Records)
  • Mad Kap, “Da Whole Kit and Kaboodle” (Loud Records / RCA)
  • Masta Ace Incorporated, “Slaughtahouse” / “Born to Roll (‘Jeep Ass…’ Remix)” (Delicious Vinyl)
  • MC Breed with 2Pac, “Gotta Get Mine” (Wrap Records)
  • MC Eiht, “Streiht Up Menace” / “Streiht Up Menace (Remix)” (Jive)

  • MC Lyte, “Ruffneck” (First Priority Music / Atlantic Street)
  • Mia X, “Da Payback” / “For the Niggaz” (Rap Dis! / Lamina Records)
  • Mic Geronimo, “Shit’s Real” (Mic Geronimo)
  • Mista Grimm, “Indo Smoke” (New Deal Music / Epic / Epic Soundtrax)
  • M.O.P., “How About Some Hardcore” (Select Records)
  • Motion Man, “Mo’ Like Flows On” (All City / StepSun Music Entertainment)
  • Naughty by Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray” (Tommy Boy)
  • New Kingdom, “Good Times” (Gee Street / 4th & B’Way)
  • 95 South, “Whoot! There It Is (Ultimix)” (Wrap Records)
  • The Nonce, “Mix Tapes” (Wild West Records)

  • Onyx, “Slam” (JMJ Records / Rush Associated Labels / Chaos)
  • Original Flavor, “Can I Get Open” (Atlantic)
  • Outkast, “Player’s Ball” (LaFace Records)
  • The Pharcyde, “Passin’ Me By” (Delicious Vinyl)
  • The Pharcyde, “Otha Fish” / “Passin’ Me By (Fly as Pie Remix)” (Delicious Vinyl)
  • Pimp Daddy, “Got to Be Real” (Pack Records)
  • Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y.” (Motown)
  • R.B.L. Posse, “Don’t Give Me No Bammer” (In-A-Minute Records)
  • Redman, “Time 4 Sum Aksion” (Rush Associated Labels / Def Jam Recordings / Chaos)
  • Redman, “Tonight’s Da Night” (Rush Associated Labels / Def Jam Recordings / Chaos)

  • Run-D.M.C., “Down with the King” (Profile)
  • Salt-N-Pepa, “Shoop” (Next Plateau Records Inc / London Records)
  • Salt ’N’ Pepa with En Vogue, “Whatta Man” (Next Plateau Records Inc / London Records)
  • Scarface, “Let Me Roll” (Rap-A-Lot Records)
  • Shyheim, “On and On” (Virgin)
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg, “What’s My Name?” (Death Row Records / Interscope)
  • Souls of Mischief, “That’s When Ya Lost” (Jive)
  • Souls of Mischief, “93 ’Til Infinity” (Jive)
  • Spice 1, “Trigga Gots No Heart” (Jive)
  • Tag Team, “Whoomp! There It Is” (Life Records)

  • Too $hort, “I’m a Player” (Dangerous Music / Jive)
  • A Tribe Called Quest, “Award Tour” (Jive)
  • 2Pac, “I Get Around” (Interscope / Atlantic)
  • 2Pac, “Keep Ya Head Up” (TNT Recordings / Interscope / Atlantic)
  • UGK, “Use Me Up” (Bigtyme Recordz / Jive)
  • U.G.K. (Underground Kingz), “Pocket Full of Stones” (Bigtyme Recordz / Jive)
  • Ultramagnetic MC’s, “Two Brothers with Checks (San Francisco, Harvey)” (Wild Pitch Records)
  • Ultramagnetic MC’s, “Raise It Up” (Wild Pitch Records)
  • UNLV, “6th & Baronne” (Cash Money Records)
  • US3 Featuring Rahsaan & Gerrard Prescencer, “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” (Capitol)

  • Volume 10, “Pistolgrip-Pump” (Immortal Records / RCA)
  • Wu-Tang Clan, “Method Man” (Wu-Tang Records / Loud Records / The RCA Records Label)
  • Yaggfu Front, “Busted Loop” / “Slappin’ Suckas Silly Remix” (Mercury)
  • Yall So Stupid, “Van Full of Pakistanis” (Rowdy Records)
  • Yo Yo, “IBWin’ with My CREWin” / “The Bonnie and Clyde Theme” (EastWest Records America)

This post has been updated.


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