I have this theory that the Golden Age of Rap is a decade book-ended by two tragedies — the death of DJ Scott La Rock on August 27, 1987 and then the death of Biggie Smalls on March 9, 1997.
There are important tracks, albums and artists before (Run DMC) and after (Jay-Z) those dates but (in my opinion) there has never been a more consistently creative time in the culture.
During this period we had the birth of West Coast gangster rap, boom bap rap, conscious rap, pop rap and * rap emerged as a dominant music style on the charts world wide.
Apparently there is evidence that on average men solidify their musical taste at the age of 14 — given that even today Spotify suggests that the music I listen to is almost 80% ‘hip hop’ I think that seems fair for me — I imagine the rest is a categorisation problem! I do think I was a little older when my specific taste within hip hop crystallised — the lyricism and storytelling I love really became a factor with Rakim and the types of beat I trend towards (either that NYC boom/bap or the sample heavy wall of sound style) emerged in the early 90s when I was 18/19.
Here is my evidence of the genius of those years — now there are other, perhaps better, songs and albums but these reflect the brilliant breadth of work in this period and each and every song makes me smile→
 Eric B & Rakim — Paid In Full (runner up BDP — Criminal Minded)
Single: LL Cool J — I’m Bad
 Public Enemy — It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (runner up N.W.A. — Straight Outta Compton)
Single: Stetsasonic — Talkin’ All That Jazz
 De La Soul — 3 Feet High And Rising (runner up Young MC — Stone Cold Rhymin’)
Single: Queen Latifah ft Monie Love — Ladies First
 A Tribe Called Quest — Peoples Instinctive Travels On The Paths Of Rhythm (runner up LL Cool J — Mama Said Knock You Out)
Single: Brand Nubian — Slow Down
 Gang Starr — Step In The Arena (runner up Ice T — Original Gangster)
Single: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince — Summertime
 Dr Dre — The Chronic (runner up The Pharcyde — Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde)
Single: Pete Rock & CL Smooth — They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)
 Wu Tang Clan — Enter The Wu Tang (runner up Snoop Doggy Dogg — Doggystyle)
Single: Naughty By Nature — Hip Hop Hooray
 The Notorious B.I.G. — Ready To Die (runner up Nas — Illmatic)
Single: Beastie Boys — Sabotage
 2Pac — Me Against The World(runner up Masta Ace Inc — Sittin’ on Chrome)
Single: Method Man — I’ll Be There for You / You’re All I Need to Get By ft Mary J Blige
 The Fugees “The Score” (runner up The Roots — Illadelph Halflife)
Single: Ghostface Killah — All That I Got Is You
[1997*] The Notorious B.I.G. — Life After Death
Single: Missy Elliot — The Rain
*both obviously recorded before Biggie’s death!