First thing’s first: despite what heated message board debates will make you think, “overrated” and “wack” aren’t the same thing. All of the albums in this list are good, or even great. But when we say that these are overrated, we mean that the Hip Hop head consensus of them is higher than what the music actually delivered. The mid-90s has earned its status as arguably rap’s Golden Era (aside from 1988), but that lens makes some fans see artists and albums as better than they already are. For all the flawless five-mic classics from that time period, there were plenty of four-mic albums and three and a half-mic albums, too—records that are solid and satisfying, but fall short of the hall of fame status they’re associated with.
Don’t let 90s romanticism or 2010s resentment cloud your fan meter: an album dropping in the 90s doesn’t mean it’s a classic. Read below for our most overrated rap albums of the 1990s.
Method Man, Tical (1994)
During his rise to stardom in the early 90s, Method Man seemed to have every piece of the puzzle: sharp flows, a distinctive voice, rhymes that always stood out, and some of the most palpable star power that the genre had ever seen. His debut Tical didn’t fully capitalize on all he had promised with his verses on Enter the 36 Chambers or Biggie’s “The What.” Even with its hit records (“You’re All I Need,” “Bring The Pain”), Tical doesn’t hang with indisputable 90s classics like Ready To Die or The Chronic, and it isn’t even as great as the classic Wu debuts by Ghostface, Raekwon, and GZA. To be fair, this likely isn’t his fault: much of the original album was lost after a flood of RZA’s 36 Chambers studios. The album still stands Method Man’s best work; it just didn’t capture his moment in rap history.
Twista, Adrenaline Rush (1997)
Twista has earned his spot as Midwestern rap royalty, but Adrenaline Rush isn’t the classic that it’s hailed as. Yes, he delivers the rapid-fire flow than just about anyone else to consistently use it, but that’s where it ends: the lyrics themselves don’t stand out from anything else, and the production is uneven. The importance of Adrenaline Rush is undeniable for Twista’s city, region, and career, but it doesn’t have the songs to stand the test of time in the complete context of rap.
Big L, Lifestyles Ov da Poor & Dangerous (1995)
Big L will always be remembered as one of the most tragically-slain emcees to ever pick up a microphone—before his tragic shooting in 1999, he had the potential to truly go down as one of the greats. But his ’95 debut Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous is remembered more for what Big L could’ve been than what the album actually amounted to. Despite gems like “MVP” and “Put It On,” the album is mostly raw talent—it didn’t have the polish that his contemporaries like Nas, Biggie, Raekwon and others had already established around then. The Big Picture showed an upward trajectory, but sadly, his chance to fulfill that potential were cut short.
Busta Rhymes, The Coming (1996)
The Coming is an illustration of a truth that isn’t acknowledged enough in rap: a legendary rapper’s first album isn’t automatically a classic. Busta Rhymes is unquestionably a rap icon, and his debut established him as one of the genre’s most distinctive voices that would become a consistent hit-maker for years to come. But the album’s production didn’t measure up with the vibrancy that Busta brought to the mic—again, it didn’t measure up to the east coast standards that were being set during that era.
Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever (1997)
Between Enter The 36 Chambers and huge solo albums like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ironman, and Tical (which also has a place on this list), Wu-Tang Clan had taken over the rap world with their one-of-a-kind mix of gritty rhymes and martial arts. But Wu-Tang Forever has too much to sift through, and there’s no way around it. While 36 Chambers maximized each of its 13 songs, Forever uses 27 songs to brazenly show that their formula worked. There are plenty of great beats and rhymes here, and it even holds up better than other double-disc rap albums; but much of it is unnecessary, especially when you consider that many of the songs on the classic solo albums were group efforts anyway.
Common, Resurrection (1994)
“I Used To Love H.E.R.” is one of the best rap songs ever recorded, and Resurrection represented a complete shift in direction for Common to become the conscious rap spokesman we associate him with being today. But those two factors and mid-90s nostalgia have steered Resurrection into perception as Common’s five-star magnum opus, instead of what it really is: a very good album that only cracks at the potential that he would unlock years later. The criminally-underrated One Day It’ll All Make Sense has better No I.D. beats and more dexterous rhymes, and Like Water For Chocolate finally saw Common’s maturity and rhymes catching up to each other to meet at the same pinnacle.
Master P – Ghetto D (1997)
Master P’s dominance in the 1990s can never be discredited: his entrepreneurial and marketing brilliance led to No Limit Records having one of the best runs rap has ever seen. But years later, the iconography—the tanks, the camo gear, the flooded release schedules, and even the memories from that era—have more ground than the music itself. Ghetto D is an example of that. Beats By The Pound’s workmanship behind the boards was commendable, but the rhymes just don’t hold up. Besides, no album with 11 appearances by Silkk The Shocker can be that good.
Mos Def, Black On Both Sides (1999)
Writing this is painful: Black On Both Sides is the most formative album period for this writer’s musical tastes and personal growth, and it rightfully earned Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) a place in hip-hop’s hall of fame. When BOBS is focused, it’s unstoppable: the concepts of “Mathematics,” “New World Water,” “Habitat” and “Mr. Nigga” are masterfully executed, and songs like Ms. Fat Booty and UMI Says are truly magical moments. But there are also songs that either fall victim to their bravery (“Rock N Roll”), interrupt the album’s cohesion despite being good (“Climb”), or settle on a plateau that sits a level beneath the album’s peaks (“Speed Law,” “Do It Now”). The pros obviously outweigh its flaws, so it’s still a phenomenal album. But Yasiin also benefited from charisma and marketing—a memorable album cover, his individual star power, and a brilliant Air Jordan campaign—that evaded other Rawkus masterpieces like Pharaohe Monch’s Internal Affairs and Hi-Tek’s Hi-Teknology that were arguably just as good.
Eminem, The Slim Shady LP (1999)
Eminem blew the rap world open with The Slim Shady LP, using his mix of humor, self-deprecation, and demented storytelling to become one of rap’s instant stars. The rhymes still hold up, and it’s easy to see what made Dr. Dre so confident in making Em his new franchise player. But the lyrical brilliance and shock value overshadow a weakness that juts out even years later: the production. The beats by the Bass Brothers, who produced 11 of the album’s 14 songs, are bland and forgettable compared to the electricity Eminem brought to the mic. Dr. Dre’s legendary ear was clearer on Em’s future albums—whether producing half of the songs himself like on Marshall Mathers LP, picking better beats from Bass Brothers, or showing Eminem the ropes to produce his own work on The Eminem Show. But despite its flaws, Slim Shady LP’s role in rap and pop culture is indisputable.