The 25 Best Albums of The 90s

I was happily scrolling through social media when I stumbled on someone asserting that there was no good music in the 1990s. Instantly, I was outraged! “You cannot say that about the music of my youth,” I shouted. I may have shaken my fist at the screen.

Alas, the screen was not intimidated. Also, my wife looked at me oddly. So I wrote this list. The moral here is that you get off social media. And listen to 90s music!

Maxinquaye was a sensation on its release in 1995. Tricky’s mellowed-out hip hop, in which beats drift and trip off into psychedelic smears was a completely new pop wrinkle. And Martina Topley-Bird’s vocals were transcendently chill.

25. Maxinquaye: Tricky (1995)

24. Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz 1969-1974: Mulatu Astatke (1998)

The Paris-based world music label Buda Musique began releasing compilations of popular Ethiopian in 1997. No Ethiopique volume has been as important as one of the first, dedicated to the fusion jazz of composer and vibes and conga player Mulatu Astatke.

This may be avant-garde punk jazz weirdo guitarist Marc Ribot’s most accessible album. Y Los Cubanos Postizos is a tribute to the classic Cuban son compositions of bandleader Arsenio Rodrigues.

23. Y los Cubanos Postizos: Marc Ribot (1998)

22. All Work No Play: DJ Screw (1999)

Embedded in the cough-syrup-sipping Houston underground, Robert Earl Davis Jr, aka DJ Screw invented the chopped-and-screwed style. He slowed records down to a paralyzed drag and then rearranged them into sluggish chunks.

Kaleidoscope may be the Neptunes’ greatest moment. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo provide hard-hitting electro-funk that burps and thumps somewhere between a video game and a disco dance floor. But the album is still really Kelis’ triumph.

21 Kaleidoscope: Kelis (1999)

20. American Recordings: Johnny Cash (1994)

Producer Rick Rubin recorded Johnny Cash alone with his guitar for this late-career masterpiece. Cash’s rough voice is even more ravaged than in his prime, but the quaver only adds gravitas to a wonderful set of songs.

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