The term “underground” can be deceptive when looking at the best underground rappers of the '90s. While many of these artists went on to have mainstream careers, their original sound is a lot more hardcore than the mainstream typically presents. Therefore, we have decided to ground our list of the best underground rappers of the '90s in the non-commercial sound of underground rap, rather than the success level attained by the various artists that comprise it.
- Ol’ Dirty Bastard Ol’ Dirty Bastard produced some of the decade’s most insane hip-hop music, both solo (his album "Nigga Please" is classic) and with the Wu Tang Clan. For this reason, he tops our list of the best underground rappers of the '90s.
- Big L Big L was one of the decade’s biggest up and coming stars before he was tragically gunned down before his second album was released in 1999. Check out his debut album, "Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous."
- Jay-Z While he would later go on to become a millionaire, Jay-Z started out in the mid-'90s on the streets and his earliest albums definitely position him as one of the most original and best underground rappers of the '90s. His debut album, "Reasonable Doubt," is considered by many to be a hip-hop classic.
- The Notorious B.I.G. Also known as Biggie Smalls, he was one of the most important hip-hop artists in history before being gunned down in a driveby shooting in Los Angeles in 1997. He'll always be remembered for such fresh tracks as "Victory" off his third album, "No Way Out."
- Nas The son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Nas released a number of impressive underground albums throughout the 1990s. Our personal favorite is "Illmatic."
- Andre Nickatina This west coast hip-hop artist extraordinaire released his first album, “The New Jim Jones,” under the name Dre Dog in 1993. It featured such songs as "Most Hated Man in Frisco" and "Let's Get High."
- Jedi Mind Tricks Jedi Mind Tricks is an underground hip-hop trio hailing from Philadelphia. Their 1999 album, “Violent By Design,” is still regarded by many as a classic.
- Del Tha Funkee Homosapien Del Tha Funkee Homosapien is the cousin of Ice Cube and a talented MC in his own right. Check out his album "No Need For Alarm."
- Atmosphere Commonly cited as the Next Eminem, rapper Slug of Atmosphere never quite got there, but is still one of the best underground rappers of the '90s. For proof, you need look no further than their 1997 debut, "Overcast!"
- R.A. The Rugged Man He put out one of our favorite rap songs of the decade, "Till My Heart Stops." R.A. the Rugged Man thus rounds out our list of the best underground rappers of the '90s.
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