Here are 10 albums that are setting the rap style at the beginning of the '90s. They are listed in order of significance.
The Jungle Brothers' "Done by the Forces of Nature" (Warner Bros.)--Last year's street sensation is this year's major-label pet project, but the New York-based JB's aren't about to let mainstream success spoil them. This second album is about as potent as rap can be.
3rd Bass' "The Cactus Album" (Def Jam)--Trends for the '90s? Black rockers, white rappers. Smart, street-wise and tight with the hip-hop in-crowd, 3rd Bass smashes the rap color barrier by becoming the first non-novelty white rappers (think Beastie Boys) and the Living Colour of hip-hop.
Young M.C.'s "Stone Cold Rhymin"' (Delicious Vinyl)--The fast-talking rhymer's "Bust a Move" single has been nominated for best rap Grammy--and no one's complaining.
Queen Latifah's "All Hail the Queen" (Tommy Boy)--The Queen's not just a great female rapper, she's a great rapper period. Combining some soul from the mean streets of New York and a riff or two from reggae rappers, the self-described Queen of Royal Badness is sweet, smug and talented.
N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton" (Ruthless)--One of last year's rap sensations, this wild and wicked collection of tales of gangsta lore remains one of the most stunning and influential rap albums ever. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always real. The question is how much the Los Angeles rappers will miss Ice Cube, who wrote many of the raps and has now gone solo.
Big Daddy Kane's "It's a Big Daddy Thing" (Cold Chillin')--Kane seems like he's been around for ages, but his ultra-fresh beats, smooth rhymes and a cool, confident attitude make the Big Daddy a father figure for a whole new generation of rappers.
Mellow Man Ace's "Escape From Havana" (Capitol)--In rap's war of words, Ace packs two pistols. One fires in English, the other Spanish. Making a smooth move into a Latin groove, the Cuban-born rhymer mixes congas, bongos and Santana samples with hard hip-hop dance beats on this barrier-busting debut album.
Redhead Kingpin & the F.B.I.'s "A Shade of Red" (Virgin)--Aside from his amber hair-do, Redhead Kingpin's got no gimmicks . . . just solid dance beats and clever rhymes delivered with style. Includes the single, "Do the Right Thing," whose title was inspired by the Spike Lee film while its beats were inspired by Soul II Soul.
MC Lyte's "Eyes on This" (First Priority)--Hard-core attitude and sparse backing beats from this femme fatale of rap gives us a sample of New York hip-hop in its purest, unadulterated form.
Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.'s "New Funky Nation" (4th & Broadway)--\o7 Boo-Yaa \f7 is the sound of a shotgun blast, roughly the effect that these six Samoan brothers and ex-L.A. street gang members have on record. The music's slinky and filled with funk.