The fifty greatest rap groups of all time: 50-26
The mighty men of Little Brother.
There's something great about a hip-hop group. From the beginning, it was never intended to be a solo endeavor; rap began in cyphers at block parties, and the first established rappers were components of a collective centered around the more important DJ. Even now that the rapper is the star, it's nice to have that change in voice, tone and perspective to give songs and albums depth of character that one MC simply can't provide. Keep reading for the first 25 of the 50 greatest rap groups of all time.
50. Odd Future
Love 'em or hate 'em, Odd Future has reignited the independent hip-hop world in a way not seen in quite a while. Their fans are rabid, possibly literally, so they wont be going anywhere any time soon, either. Tyler, the Creator, though a mediocre rapper and producer, is a cult-type leader and one of the best visual artists hip-hop has seen since Hype Williams. Musically, Earl is one of the best rhymers today, while Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats are also solid, Frank Ocean exploded last year with Channel Orange and Left Brain is an apt producer.
49. People Under the Stairs
People Under the Stairs are the only group I've found thus far where I can put the entire discography on shuffle and be content not to skip any songs all the way through. Both Thes One and Double K each have a consistent, old-school flow that never really amazes but never disappoints either. Thes One handles all of the duo's production, and that, too, has reached a high level of consistency, never seeming forced and dependably communicating the laid-back vibe that PUTS fans know so well.
48. Black Moon
Stylistically, Black Moon doesn't stand out much from the other acts coming out of New York in the mid-'90s, particularly the Wu-Tang Clan, but that be interpreted as a compliment because, lyrically and sonically, at their best as on Enta da Stage, they can go toe-to-toe with the Wu. They haven't been as consistent as the Wu, though, nor do they have a comparably immense catalog. Still, their contribution with that one album is enough.
47. Binary Star
Binary Star began with a budget of $500, and though they only ended up releasing one full-length original album, Waterworld, which was remixed and remastered to create Masters of the Universe, a critically acclaimed and essential piece of the Midwest underground. The duo reunited to release an EP less than a month ago to celebrate their 15th anniversary.
46. Souls of Mischief
Souls of Mischief was eventually subsumed into the larger collective, Heiroglyphics, and though the two crews are similar in sound and style, Souls should be remembered both for its innovation, without which Heiro could not have existed, and debut album 93 'til Infinity, whose title track is one of the best produced in hip-hop history.
Seeing a Heiro show is kind of like seeing a cypher on a street corner: Their style is free-associative and off-the-cuff like an off-the-dome freestyle session, but without the inevitable occasional wack line. Though Del tha Funkee Homosapien is the only artist out of Heiro to be successful by himself, the whole group is solid together, having constructed an aesthetic that they can all be successful in.
44. Das EFX
Das EFX has only recently been discovered by the younger generation thanks in part to numerous references by Dave Chappelle and a great sample of "They Want EFX" by Beautiful Lou for A$AP Rocky's Live Love A$AP mixtape. To the older generation, Das EFX is well known for their unique stiggidy style, which, at one point, everybody in the game tried and failed to duplicate.
43. The LOX
Comprised of Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Lounge, the LOX is one of the more talented ensembles in recent memory. Before they each launched solo degrees to varying success, they were a renowned group known for their cutting realism. They were originally signed to Bad Boy but made waves by launching a widespread "Free the LOX" protest for their release, which eventually worked and allowed them to move to Ruff Ryders before later starting their own label, D-Block.
42. Three 6 Mafia
Perhaps more descriptively known as Triple 6 Mafia, this Memphis group is notorious for their amoral themes and dark atmospheres in their early music. Eventually, they lightened up, sacrificing their blatant wantonness for a more friendly lewdness. The group has seen several rotations in their lineup, but founding member Juicy J remains influential as a producer, hypeman and occasional rapper.
41. Black Star
People often forget that before Mos Def and Talib Kweli existed as solo artists, they were together as Black Star, whose self titled debut was one of the best albums of the year and included the powerful "Thieves in the Night" track which borrowed themes from Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. They would almost certainly be higher on the list had they remained together, but their second project, for whatever reason, remains in limbo.
40. Slum Village
Slum Village has seen many permutations, and, unfortunately, its two most talented members, the late, great J Dilla and Elzhi, never got the chance to work with each other. As a beatmaker, J Dilla is one of the most influential ever. He had a talent for taking samples way out of context, even fragments of unrecognizable words, stripping them down to their barest emotional state, and building an atmosphere around them. Slum Village released its best work, Fantastic, Vol. 2, while Dilla was still known as Jay Dee and before they recruited Elzhi.
39. Jurassic 5
Taking cues from the Cold Crush Brothers, a group from way back, Jurassic 5 are almost like the barbershop quintet of the rap world, the way their distinct voices blend together to form a textured sound that's oh-so-pleasant to listen to. The rappers are also skilled individually, lyrically, but especially rhythmically, anchored by Chali 2na's smooth baritone.
D.I.T.C. -- which stands for Diggin' in the Crates, the practice of unearthing uncommon or unconventional records for sampling -- never got exposure in accordance with their level of talent, but their lineup is a veritable All-Star team of '90s talent: Big L, Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, Buckwild, Diamond D. Unfortunately, Big L, arguably their most talented lyricist, died before their self-titled debut release, which probably explains how this group didn't absolutely explode.
Blackalicious's best known track is rightfully "Alphabet Aerobics," a massively alliterative exercise whose demonstration of breath control is exceeded in impressiveness only by its literary ambition. But Blackalicious is no one-trick pony; thanks to rich and distinctive production by Chief Xcel and technically impressive lyrics by Gift of Gab, Blackalicious has released three equally impressive albums.
On one of their skits off of their landmark To The Death album, an interviewer asks the duo if their music promotes positive outlooks among their listeners to which they laugh hysterically and say shortly, "Next question." To M.O.P., limiting the scope of their music to simple positivity would betray the dark, unforgiving world they not only experience, but relish. Their violent tendencies come out not only in their very explicit lyrics, but in their assuming, kinetic voices.
35. Brand Nubian
Brand Nubian was one of the first groups to bring the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths to prominence in rap music and have since been credited as one of the trailblazers in the "conscious" rap category. Indeed, the group's music focused on gaining a better understanding of self in the face of life's corrupting influences. The controversial teachings of the Nation perhaps limited Brand Nubian's commercial success, but on the other hand, their refusal to compromise their beliefs was one of the things that made them so influential.
34. Fat Boys
One of Jay-Z's favorite groups (he bemoans their breakup in his hit "The Heart of the City"), the Fat Boys were one of the first rap groups to achieve considerable mainstream success. Their 1987 album Crushin' was one of the earliest rap albums to go platinum, but their commercial success was long and sustained. They also helped popularize the art of beatboxing thanks to Big Buff Love, the Human Beatbox.
Whether you're aware of it or not, you've likely heard some of Whodini's music, even if you haven't heard it directly from the group itself. Whodini is a favorite sample choice by artists from 2Pac to MF DOOM, an appropriate role to play in modern music considering that they were one of the pioneering forces in sampling themselves. Their album Escape is cherished as one of the period's best, including standout tracks "Five Minutes of Funk" and "Freaks Come Out at Night."
32. Ultramagnetic MCs
Led by the criminally underrated MC Kool Keith and the hyper-influential producer Ced Gee, the Ultramagnetic MCs released Critical Beatdown, one of the best, most forward-thinking hip-hop albums of the '80s. Still making music well into the 21st Century, the Ultramagnetic MCs are one of the longest running groups in hip-hop, and one of the most well-respected.
31. Camp Lo
Camp Lo escapes effective categorization. There was nothing else that sounded very much like their 1997 debut, Uptown Saturday Night. They took cues from A Tribe Called Quest, but they were more flamboyant and had a definite California edge to them, as well. But they never really got their due commercially. They were likely too smart for their own good.
30. Goodie Mob
I'm hesitant to say Goodie Mob was one of the first self-aware artists that came out of the Dirty South (a term which they coined) because even hardcore artists like Scarface were intensely self-aware. But along with OutKast, Goodie Mob was one of the first to bring a more introspective self-awareness to the area, as indicated by their full name, "Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit." Their debut, Soul Food, is regarded as a southern classic.
29. The Sugar Hill Gang
Ah, the Sugar Hill Gang, the best and worst thing to happen to hip-hop. On the one hand, the act commercialized hip-hop and brought it to a wider audience. On the other hand, the group commercialized hip-hop and brought it to a wider audience. Either way you look at it, the group was massively influential with the single, "Rapper's Delight," as well as "Apache," which employed what would become one of the most used samples in hip-hop, and "Eighth Wonder."
28. Mobb Deep
Mobb Deep has had an illustrious career that spanned seven albums and more than a decade, but, really, they'll be forever remembered for a single, legendary song, "Shook Ones, Pt. II," which took an unlikely Herbie Hancock sample and transformed it into a nihilistic anthem. With tracks like "Survival of the Fittest" and "Quiet Storm," Mobb Deep is far from a one-hit wonder, but, at the end of the day, Havoc and Prodigy will remain the arbiters of who is and who is not shook.
27. The Cold Crush Brothers
One of the better known crews before hip-hop's golden age, when the form became widely popular, the Cold Crush Brothers were masters of synchronized flow much in the same vein of Jurassic 5, who are undoubtedly influenced by this unheralded group. While many of the earliest hip-hop artists were sloppy rhymers, the Cold Crush Brothers were one of the first groups to take flow seriously, constructing incredibly tight bars that don't sound nearly as dated as they are.
26. Little Brother
Little Brother is widely recognized for introducing 9th Wonder, one of the best producers of his generation, but Little Brother's lyrical prowess, especially that of Phonte, must also be recognized. The group first gained mainstream attention for its controversial album, The Minstrel Show, whose single "Lovin' It" could not be played on BET because it was, according to the network, "too intelligent." Not a bad criticism to face.
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