The 1990s was a golden era for hip hop. From Nas to Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, there was undeniably a lot of talent in the culture. However, talent does not always lead to sales, as some artists know all too well. More often than not, it is about marketing, creating a brand and sometimes just your basic likeability. In this article, we’re going to explore the artists of 1990s hip hop and see who, on average, sold the most albums.
During the 1980s, New York was undoubtedly the city holding the torch for hip hop, but during the 1990s, most would agree that, although New York still had good artists, the sound of G-funk was ruling the charts, and the majority of people were looking to Los Angeles for their hip hop. With albums such as The Chronic, Doggystyle and Dogg Food topping the Billboard 200 chart regularly.
When we’re looking at 1990s hip hop, we’re looking (for the most part) at two feuding record labels, Death Row Records on the West Coast and Badboy Entertainment on the East Coast. Both companies had their own stars, with Tupac signed to Death Row, and Biggie Smalls signed to Bad Boy. Respectively, these two artists, with their affiliates i.e. Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Lil Kim and Diddy, were ruling the rap charts and selling unfathomable amounts of records with their feud actually fuelling sales.
Roc-a-Fella was just getting started in the 90s, and although Jay-Z was around in Brooklyn and doing fairly well, he was nowhere near as popular as The Notorious BIG. The same thing can be said for a lot of New York City artists, including Nas, Big Pun and many more, although they were popular, no one could reach the heights of The Notorious BIG with Bad Boy. In California, Death Row was the go-to for your hip hop. And not too dissimilar to New York, although there were other artists such as E-40 and Too $hort with heavy West Coast followings, none was bigger than that of Tupac with Death Row.
By straight-up album sales, 2pac was the second best-selling rapper of the 1990s. As an established solo artist, Shakur released six albums: 2Pacalypse Now (1991), Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993), Me Against the World (1995), All Eyez On Me (1996) and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996). Except for his debut album, which he released before signing with Death Row Records, all of Pac’s albums are certified Platinum or Diamond.
All Eyez On Me is certified Diamond, meaning it has surpassed 11 times platinum. ‘I Get Around’ featuring the Digital Underground is one of 2pac’s less aggressive songs. It peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 but was still certified gold. However, his most well-known song ‘California Love’ featuring Dr Dre. ‘California Love’ sat at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, going two time Platinum. It has been streamed over 435million times and is still considered a classic to this day. 2pac has sold an estimated 58 million albums worldwide.
However, coming out on top in what was a toxic rivalry is The Notorious BIG, who in all of 1990s hip hop was the highest selling. With only three albums: Ready to Die (1994), Life After Death (1997), Born Again (1999) and one group album with Junior MAFIA entitled Conspiracy (1995).
Notorious BIG’s most well-known song is ‘Big Poppa’, which, released in 1994, has been certified six times platinum and is one of the rapper’s most renowned tracks alongside ‘Juicy’. Biggie has sold an estimated 75 million albums worldwide.