The Best 90s Music: 200+ Songs From Alternative, Hip-Hop, And More

The best 90s songs reflect music in transition: From alternative to hip-hop to electronic and beyond, we count down the best from a wild musical decade.

Published on

Picture of Woodstock 99, a festival of 90s music and songs
Photo: David Lefranc/Kipa/Sygma via Getty Images

The best 90s songs reveal a simple fact: The decade was a Golden Age for many types of music. Rap and R&B dominated the charts, bringing Black American culture around the world thanks to the prevalence of MTV. Alternative music saw a number of genres proliferate outwards from it in the 90s, like indie rock and emo. Country music took a bold step into the mainstream, and became a defining music of America thanks to a plethora of new stars.

Music from around the world, too, was becoming more popular in America. Jamaican dub and reggae were prevalent in ska and punk music, and Afropop found its way into a variety of genres. Electronic music hit the mainstream with force, as both underground and mainstream acts helped define the dance culture we now see at festivals worldwide. Jazz saw an experimental renaissance after a tough decade, and Latin music started its long ascent to becoming pop music in the United States. The 1990s represented a grab bag of unimaginable wealth for music fans. Here are just a few starting places for you to explore the decade.

Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT
Holiday Sale - uDiscover Store
ADVERTISEMENT

Can’t get enough 90s music? Listen to our 90s Music playlist as you read our list of the best songs of the 90s below.

Alternative/Rock

The 90s saw an influx of alternative artists shape the sound of rock music. Gone were the days of hair metal and arena rock. In its stead came artists willing and insistent on changing the rules of the game in favor of something weirder, edgier, and rule-breaking. Female stars like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette proved that women not only had a seat at the rock table, they were sitting at the head. Elliott Smith appeared to be the second coming of Bob Dylan, infusing his folk-inspired 90s songs with tales of heartbreak and depression. Jimmy Eat World helped usher in emo music’s ascension within mainstream rock, and Pavement brought slacker cool to campuses across the country. Bands like Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers, though, continued to make sure that mainstream rock would continue to be a dominant force in the music industry into the 21st century. For more alternative music, check out our list of the 100 best alternative songs of the 90s.

4 Non Blondes – What’s Up?

Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know

Beck – Loser

Blur – Song 2

Chumbawumba – Tubthumping

Elliott Smith – Between the Bars

Fastball – The Way

Fiona Apple – Criminal

Foo Fighters – Everlong

Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)

Jimmy Eat World – Lucky Denver Mint

Mazzy Star – Fade into You

Meredith Brooks – Bitch

Oasis – Wonderwall

Pavement – Cut Your Hair

PJ Harvey – Down by the Water

R.E.M. – Losing My Religion

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under the Bridge

Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do

Smash Mouth – All-Star

Sublime – What I Got

Stone Temple Pilots – Interstate Love Song

The Breeders – Cannonball

The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony

Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life

Weezer – Say It Ain’t So

Country music in the 90s

If country music in the 1980s was adrift, not quite sure of what it was supposed to be, it emerged full force in the following decade as a behemoth, signaling to industry insiders everywhere that the genre was once again on the rise. It foreshadowed the explosion of country in the coming decades, as stars like Garth Brooks and George Strait released some of their best songs in the 90s and newcomers such as Tim McGraw skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Women continued to innovate, too, as acts like The Dixie Chicks and solo stars such as Lucinda Williams and Shania Twain began chiseling the genre in their image.

Alan Jackson – Chattahoochee

Brooks & Dunn – Boot Scootin’ Boogie

Deana Carter – Strawberry Wine

Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces

Dwight Yoakam – Fast as You

Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball

Faith Hill – This Kiss

Garth Brooks – The Dance

George Strait – Blue Clear Sky

LeAnn Rimes – How Do I Live

Lucinda Williams – Drunken Angel

Martina McBride – Independence Day

Reba McEntire – Fancy

Shania Twain – You’re Still the One

Tim McGraw – I Like It, I Love It

Travis Tritt – Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)

Electronic

A number of electronic and electronic-leaning acts changed the course of music in the 90s. Aphex Twin brought a unique perspective that captivated hip audiences previously hesitant to listen to “electronic music.” Plenty of other acts broke through to the mainstream thanks to their pop and rock-leaning styles as well. Moby blended lush, catchy samples with hazy downtempo electronics, and Nine Inch Nails found a middle ground between electronic and acoustic instruments. Stereolab combined French pop with Krautrock to create one of the most unique sounds of the decade, and Portishead used the aesthetics of hip-hop to help introduce trip-hop. Unlike many of the genres in this list, these are songs that could have only been made in the 90s.

Air feat. Beth Hirsch – All I Need

Aphex Twin – Windowlicker

Autechre – Slip

Bjork – Joga

Boards of Canada – Roygbiv

C&C Music Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat

Daft Punk – Around the World

DJ Shadow – Midnight in a Perfect World

Goldie – Timeless

Le Tigre – Deceptacon

Massive Attack – Teardrop

Moby – Porcelain

Nine Inch Nails – Closer

Orbital – Halcyon On + On

Photek – The Hidden Camera

Portishead – Glory Box

Stereolab – French Disko

The Chemical Brothers – Hey Boy Hey Girl

The Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats

The Orb – Little Fluffy Clouds

The Prodigy – Firestarter

Underworld – Born Slippy (Nuxx)

Grunge

The rock kids sat in one corner, the alternative in another, and the grunge kids all alone, conjuring ways to highlight the best of both worlds without sacrificing a modicum of originality or artistic license. Grunge was born in Seattle, and bands from the city like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden brought the heavy guitars prevalent in rock music but blended them with breathtaking vocal performances and a whole lot of flannel. These songs became 90s phenomenons. And the style traveled across the globe, too: Though Radiohead were by no means a grunge band, songs like “Creep” helped popularize the genre in the UK.

Garbage – Stupid Girl

Hole – Doll Parts

Marcy Playground – Sex and Candy

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Pearl Jam – Alive

Radiohead – Creep

Semisonic – Closing Time

Smashing Pumpkins – 1979

Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun

The Cranberries – Linger

The Smashing Pumpkins – 1979

Hip-Hop/Rap

The 90s were the Golden Age of hip-hop music for many, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the greatest rap albums in the history of the genre, and many of the best albums, period, of all time, were created during that decade. The list of artists who dropped all-time albums during the 90s is pretty staggering, and it wasn’t limited to a particular coast, either. 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre were changing the sound of the West Coast, while a little duo called OutKast were proving that the South had something to say. But the East Coast, particularly New York, was the Mecca of rap in the 90s, headlined by stars like Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Gang Starr, Wu-Tang Clan, and more. For more hip-hop, check out our list of the 100 best hip-hop songs of the 90s.

2Pac – California Love

A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario

Beastie Boys – Sabotage

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg – Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang

Gang Starr – Full Clip

GZA – Shadowboxin’

Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – Good Vibrations

Missy Elliott – The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

Mobb Deep – Shook Ones, Pt II

Nas – N.Y. State of Mind

Neneh Cherry – Woman

Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, and Mase – Mo Money Mo Problems

Outkast – Rosa Parks

Salt-N-Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex

Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back

Snoop Doggy Dogg – Gin & Juice

US3 – Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

Warren G – Regulate

Will Smith – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M.

Jazz

Jazz music in the 90s was…weird. The classic heyday of the genre was long gone, and that era was far enough removed from the last traces of jazz’s peak for any nostalgia to remain. But a crop of innovative players helped revive the scene, and pave the way for 21st-century stars like Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington. John Zorn was an avant-garde mastermind, Matthew Shipp was a fresh-faced innovator, and artists like Henry Threadgill began their ascent to the top of jazz’s peak.

Brad Mehldau – Exit Music

Cassandra Wilson – Harvest Moon

Charlie Haden & Hank Jones – It’s Me, O Lord (Standin’ In The Need Of Prayer)

Diana Krall – Peel Me A Grape

Dianne Reeves – Better Days

Don Byron – Tuskegee Strutter’s Ball

Henry Threadgill – Try Some Ammonia

John Scofield / Pat Metheny – The Red One

John Zorn – Lonely Woman

Joshua Redman Quartet – Chill

Kurt Elling – Nature Boy

Matthew Shipp – The C Jam Blues

Medeski, Martin, and Wood – Sugar Craft

Mose Allison – Blues

Shirley Horne – Here’s To Life

Stan Getz and Kenny Barron – Soul Eyes

Latin music in the 90s

Latin music in the 1990s was highlighted by an American mainstream acceptance of (some) Spanish language music in mainstream pop radio. Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Jennifer Lopez became stars thanks to their authentic and passionate representations of Latin music’s rich history. They helped interpolate the rich history of the genre with pop music, moving their way to the top of the charts as a result. But America wasn’t the entire story regarding Latin music’s ascent. Cidinho & Doca helped showcase a burgeoning Brazilian rap scene, while Spanish pop duo Los Del Rio dominated parties across the world with their hit “Macarena.”

C+C Music Factory – Robi-Rob’s Boriqua Anthem

Cafe Tacvba – La Ingrata

Cidinho & Doca – Rap das Armas

Control Machete – ¿Comprendes Mendes?

Elvis Crespo – Suavemente

Enrique Iglesias – Bailamos

Ivy Queen – Muchos Quieren Tumbarme

Jennifer Lopez – Waiting For Tonight

La Atrevida/Rude Girl – Aventura y Romance

La Ley – El Duelo

Los Del Rio – Macarena

Marc Anthony – I Need to Know

OV7 – Te Quiero Tanto Tanto

Ricky Martin – Livin’ La Vida Loca

Selena – Amor Prohibido

Shakira – Antologia

Thalia – Mujer Latina

Metal/Hard Rock

As rock was veering down a number of different paths in the 90s, metal and hard rock music continued to evolve to incorporate genres like hip-hop into heavier leaning rock. Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Rage Against the Machine walked this line effortlessly. Old friends like Ozzy Osbourne continued to build on his illustrious career, and hardcore acts such as Dillinger Escape Plan proved that there was room for something even more challenging.

Death – Voice of the Soul

Deftones – My Own Summer (Shove It)

Dillinger Escape Plan – 43% Burnt

Guns N’ Roses – November Rain

Korn – Freak on a Leash

Limp Bizkit – Break Stuff

Megadeth – Symphony of Destruction

Metallica – Enter Sandman

Ozzy Osbourne – Mama, I’m Coming Home

Pantera – Walk

Rage Against The Machine – Killing in the Name

Rammstein – Du Hast

Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots

Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss

System of a Down – Sugar

Tool – Sober

White Zombie – More Human Than Human

Music from (and inspired by) Jamaica

As reggae continued to grow in the United States in the 1990s, different iterations of music from Jamaica made its way stateside as well. Dub and dancehall became celebrated subgenres, and the first hints of reggaeton began to appear as well. Mr. Vegas promoted his style of dancehall music as Filthy Riddim, and Cutty Ranks equated his pre-music career as a butcher to chopping up his enemies lyrically. And one of the best songs of the 90s, full stop, emerged with Chaka Demus & Pliers’ anthem, “Murder She Wrote.” Elsewhere in the scene, Beres Hammond infused his style of reggae with the feel of romantic ballads.

Beenie Man – Who Am I

Beres Hammond – Tempted to Touch

Bounty Killer feat. Barrington Levy – Living Dangerously

Buju Banton – Champion

Chaka Demus & Pliers – Murder She Wrote

Cutty Ranks – Limb by Limb

Dawn Penn – You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)

Ini Kamoze – Here Comes The Hotstepper

Lady Saw – Hardcore

Mr. Vegas – Heads High

Nadine Sutherland & Terror Fabulous – Action

Shabba Ranks – Ting-A-Ling

Super Cat – Ghetto Red Hot

Songs from (and inspired by) Africa

African music continued to become a power player in the worldwide ecosystem in the 1990s, with superstars like Ali Farka Toure working with legendary American polymath Ry Cooder. Angelique Kidjo, meanwhile, became a sensation in her home country in Benin and around the world thanks to her thrilling blend of Afropop with R&B and soul music. Elsewhere, Baaba Maal brought Senegalese folk music to a wide, adoring audience.

Ali Farka Toure feat. Ry Cooder – Ai Du

Angelique Kidjo – Agolo

Baaba Maal – African Woman

Cesaria Evora – Sodade

Khaled – Didi

Papa Wemba – Yolele

Rachid Taha – Ya Rayah

Salif Keita – Africa

The Master Musicians Of Jajouka – Gabahay

Toumani Diabate & Ballake Sissoko – Bi Lambam

Youssou N’Dour feat. Neneh Cherry – 7 Seconds

Songs from Japan

While music from Japan was growing in influence in the 1980s, it took a massive leap forward in the 1990s as artist such as Cornelius began finding audiences outside of the country. FISHMANS brought an incredible blend of Japanese pop music with Jamaican-inspired dub, while ORIGINAL LOVE helped establish J-pop as a force to be reckoned with.

Bonnie Pink – It’s Gonna Rain

Cherry – Spitz

Cornelius – Mic Check

FISHMANS – Long Season

Hide with Spread Beaver – Pink Spider

Hikaru Utada – Automatic

Hikaru Utada – First Love

LUNA SEA – ROSIER

Maki Imai – PRIDE

Matsuko Mawatari – Hohoemi no Bakudan

ORIGINAL LOVE – Seppun

Ozawa Kenji feat. Schadaraparr – Konya Wa Boogie Back (nice vocal)

Pizzicato Five – Sweet Soul Revue

Sheena Ringo – Marunouchi Sadistic

Shonen Knife – Top of the World

Yoko Takahashi – A Cruel Angel’s Thesis

Pop music in the 90s

Though genres like indie rock and grunge became mainstays during the 1990s, the behemoth that is pop music still dominated the charts and the cultural zeitgeist during the decade. Britney Spears was arguably the biggest star on the planet when she first emerged, and Spice Girls were doing something similar across the pond. Madonna was still churning out hit after hit, and inspiring a new generation of stars such as Christina Aguilera. Celine Dion turned a soundtrack cut from Titanic into one of the biggest songs in the history of film music, and Backstreet Boys dominated the boy band circuit, helping to pave the way for groups like One Direction and BTS.

Aqua – Barbie Girl

Backstreet Boys – I Want It That Way

Britney Spears – Hit Me Baby One More Time

Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On

Christina Aguilera – Genie in a Bottle

Hanson – MMMBop

Hootie & The Blowfish – Hold My Hand

Jennifer Paige – Crush

LEN – Steal My Sunshine

Madonna – Vogue

Sinead O’Conner – Nothing Compares 2 U

Spice Girls – Wannabe

The Cardigans – Lovefool

Punk/Hardcore/Ska

The triumvirate of punk, hardcore, and ska helped to provide an alternative to mainstream rock and metal during the 1990s. Blink-182 masterfully blended pop hooks with playful, sneering lyrics and fast punk grooves, while Sublime married their obsessions with punk and Jamaican music. Swedish hardcore band Refused helped shape the future of punk, blending hardcore rhythms with unforgettable melodies. No Doubt proved that punk could still have pop sensibilities, and NOFX merged the parallel paths of punk music and skate culture.

Bad Religion – American Jesus

Blink 182 – What’s My Age Again?

Goldfinger – Superman

Jawbreaker – Accident Prone

No Doubt – Just a Girl

NOFX – Linoleum

Rancid – Time Bomb

Reel Big Fish – Sell Out

Refused – New Noise

Snapcase – Caboose

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Impression That I Get

The Offspring – The Kids Aren’t Alright

R&B music in the 90s

Just like its hip-hop sibling genre, R&B had a bounty of great songs during the 90s. The list of superstars emerging in the R&B lane are too many to name, but Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, and Mary J. Blige blended pop ballads with lush, R&B-inspired instrumentals, bringing a groundbreaking style to the genre. TLC mashed up lush vocals with stellar bars, giving R&B a rap edge it had previously lacked. Blackstreet helped revive New Jack Swing late in the decade, while D’Angelo was among those pioneering neo-soul along with many others.

Aaliyah – Are You That Somebody

Bell Biv Devoe – Poison

Blackstreet – No Diggity

Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

Boyz II Men – End of the Road

Brandy and Monica – The Boy Is Mine

Brandy – I Wanna Be Down

D’Angelo – Brown Sugar

En Vogue – My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)

Erykah Badu – On & On

Faith Evans – Soon As I Get Home

Ginuwine – Pony

Guy – Groove Me

Janet Jackson – That’s The Way Love Goes

Jodeci – Freek’n You

Johnny Kemp – Just Got Paid

Keith Sweat – I Want Her

Mariah Carey – One Sweet Day

Mary J. Blige – Real Love

New Edition – If It Isn’t Love

Seal – Kiss From a Rose

TLC – Waterfalls

TLC – No Scrubs

Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart

Tony! Toni! Tone! – Feels Good

Usher – You Make Me Wanna

Think we missed some of the best songs of the 90s? Let us know in the comments below. Listen to our 90s Music playlist here.

uDiscover Music Christmas Competition
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Christmas Competition
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Christmas Competition
ADVERTISEMENT
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don't Miss
uDiscover Music - Back To Top