With each era comes a new sound and a wave of exciting artists. However, some decades have proven to be more critical than others, and the 1990s was undeniably one of the most impactful decades hip-hop ever saw. The ’80s saw the emergence of various subgenres. However, they remained very localised and failed to spread nationwide. On the contrary, the ’90s introduced a vast array of fresh and compelling sounds that perked the ears of hip-hop fans worldwide. However, music often comes hand in hand with not only fashion but film, and that’s where music videos surface.
Music videos are more than just whimsical recordings. They are visual extensions of songs that are designed to translate the emotions and meaning of the audio they represent into interesting and enthralling short motion pictures. Some artists like Kanye West treat their music videos like art and whether they’re conceptual such as his visuals for ‘Famous’ or literal, like Public Enemy’s ‘When I Get To Arizona’, they are integral parts of the music-making process.
With the advancement of technology, so much more is possible now than even a decade ago. However, 30 years ago, during the ’90s, when computer-generated images barely existed, performers still managed to make highly impressive and riveting music videos that live on to this day. In fact, some may argue that the technological restrictions made creativity even more potent. However, irrespective of the technology, a high-quality, iconic video is hard to make.
Concerning visuals, specific directors have always played a huge part in achieving a particular style of video. From Hype Williams to Benny Boom and Cole Bennet, entertainers will always call upon the necessary directors to get the results they require. For this article, we have looked back three decades to compile a list of the top five music videos from the 1990s. Take a look at our picks below.
The five best hip-hop music videos of the 1990s:
5. ‘California Love’ – 2Pac ft Dr Dre, All Eyez On Me, (1996)
A classic song known worldwide, 2Pac’s ‘California Love’ is arguably one of the best hip-hop tracks released in the 1990s. Produced by Dr Dre, the track is based around a sample of the 1972 Joe Cocker, ‘Woman to Woman’, featuring funky talk box vocals from the legendary Roger Troutman. The chorus interpolates the 1982 song ‘West Coast Poplock’ by Ronnie Hudson & The Street People. However, it will, most likely, forever be associated with this 1996 track from 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me album. The video for the track is also epic.
The visuals of ‘California Love’ are said to have been inspired by the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and according to various sources, was an idea of Shakur’s old friend and lover Jada Pinkett-Smith. The sand dune video was directed by Hype Williams and filmed in the deserts of in El Mirage, California. The video won a MOBO Award in 1996 and was included in the deluxe version of All Eyez On Me.
4. ‘Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Pt. 2)’ – Snoop Dogg, Tha Last Meal, (1999)
A legendary single, ‘Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Pt. 2)’ was the lead single of Snoop’s 1999 album, Tha Last Meal. Released through Master P’s Louisiana-based label No Limit, the track was put out as a follow-up to the emcee’s 1993 debut single ‘Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)’. Produced by Timbaland, the track fared better in the UK than it did in the US, where it peaked below the top 50. It peaked at 13 on the UK Singles Charts. However, the song’s video is amazing.
In an interview with MTV, Snoop revealed it was one of his favourite videos, explaining, “We shot the music video in Vancouver, Canada, and it was an idea I had in my head for about four years where I wanted to have a big ass shoe…like the little old lady that lived in a shoe, but I wanted it to be a big ass Chuck Taylor Converse, and I wanted it to be a party inside of it. I wanted the window to be where the Chuck sign was at so I could look out of the window.” He continued: “I was playing like three people in that video where I was able to tap into my comedic side, which I was able to.”
3. ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’ – Busta Rhymes, When Disaster Strikes, (1997)
Brooklyn rapper Busta Rhymes is well-known for his tongue-twisting verses, lyrical skill and rapid-fire delivery that leaves his listeners speechless. With rhyme schemes that could blow your mind, Busta is undeniably talented. However, he is also aesthetically creative and flamboyant, and nothing showcases his outlandish and off-the-wall style more than his 1997 video for ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’.
Busta’s unique rapid rhyming style, with his dreadlocks and eccentric rap persona, was not common in New York hip-hop during the 1990s, and his video reflects this. The African-inspired video was partly influenced by the 1988 film Coming To America. The movie-like visuals see Busta play an African prince residing in a grand castle. Featuring tribal clothing, dancing and an abundance of safari animals. The renowned director Hype Williams directed the video and was partially filmed in the Surrogate’s Courthouse in Manhattan.
2. ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ – Missy Elliot, Supa Dupa Fly, (1997)
The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) was the lead single of Missy Elliott’s 1997 debut album, Supa Dupa Fly. Produced by Timbaland, the track contains a sample of Ann Peebles’ 1973 single ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’, whose lyrics serve as the chorus. The single is widely considered a classic and still sounds fresh to this day. The track is undeniably amazing. However, its visuals are exceptional.
The music video of ‘The Rain’ is instantly recognisable and considered a hip-hop classic. It features cameos from the likes of Diddy, Lil Kim, TLC, YoYo, 702 and others, Missy has always been a star willing to bring others into her realm. Directed by the legendary Hype WIlliams, the visual designer Ron Norsworthy curated the outlandish and creative looks Missy rocks. This 1997 has attempted to be recreated numerous times. However, nothing can trump the original.
1. ‘My Name Is’ – Eminem, Slim Shady LP, (1999)
The Slim Shady LP was the first Eminem project that hit the charts in a significant way. The Detroit rapper had released various albums before the LP, including his 1996 debut body of work Infinite and his 1997 Slim Shady EP. However, his 1999 LP was his first major label release and with the help of moguls Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine at Aftermath Entertainment, it shot Eminem into stardom at lightning speed. The track’s Dre-produced lead single ‘My Name Is’ was the world’s first introduction to the lyricist, and hip-hop immediately fell in love with Mathers’ raw energy, dark humour and aggression.
The music video for ‘My Name Is’ was unlike any video that had come before it. It was a parody and a quasi-comedy sketch. Its unique nature made the performer stand out. Mathers soon became unstoppable and, for a decade, was one of hip-hop’s best-selling artists. The video was an extended visual skit and made fun of various figures and cultural entities such as the Spice Girls, Pamela Anderson and the TV programme ‘The Brady Bunch.’