Why 1994 Was the Best Musical Year of the '90s

Notorious B.I.G., 1995.
Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn. 

After focusing on 1994 last week, now, we're wondering what the best year for music was of the '90s. We've already made a case for 199019911992 and 1993. Today, we look at 1994 and 1995.


Every human being who's lived over the last century could look back at their freshman year in high school and claim that the music from that year was the most dynamic, the most true, the most lasting pieces of art that ever existed on this wonderful planet. But unless they learned to play drums to Green Day's album Dookie, or bopped to The Notorious B.I.G.'s anthem "Juicy" at countless Bat Mitzvahs, or made out to multiple tracks off of Boyz II Men's II, then they're unequivocally mistaken. 1994 was the best year for music — definitely of the decade, and quite possibly of all time.

What separates '94 from the rest of the '90s is that there was perfect balance in the system: hip-hop (Nas' Illmatic, Biggie's Ready to Die, Outkast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik) and alternative rock (Alice in Chains, Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana) began to appeal to the masses through FM radio and MTV without selling out. And much like a school dance chaperone who turned off Boyz II Men's II, before anyone could make out, they kept pop music in check.

Authenticity was the new name of the game. Whereas 1993 could be summed up with the pairing of the Sammy Hagar-led Van Halen and Crystal Pepsi, '94 found culture catching up with the music. Seattle's grunge scene put everyone in open flannel shirts and long, messy hair. Snoop Doggy Dogg led America's youth to Penguins hockey jerseys and Tommy Hilfiger. TLC adorned girls in crop tops and baggy sweatpants. And when you were making out to Boyz II Men's II (see a trend here?), it didn't matter what you were wearing.

But proof of 1994's musical power lies in its longevity. Twenty years after the fact, Warren G's "Regulate" is eternal in its excellence. R. Kelly's "Bump N’ Grind" feels wonderfully timeless. Hootie & the Blowfish are forever tied with the heyday of David Letterman. To the extent that there's rock music on the radio, it's most likely tributes to Soundgraden, Nirvana, or Green Day. Even “Cotton-Eyed Joe” by Rednex, our good ol' fashioned American Macarena, has played in more Yankees home games than Derek Jeter. And when it comes to making out? There was only one choice.

Thank you, 1994, for turning the page past Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer and Joey Lawrence. Thank you for turning a whole generation onto real music. And thank you for turning this boy II a man.