(I just want to point out that, from the very beginning, I did say that I'm using the term "group" in the most hip hop way possible.)
11. Salt n Pepa
10. Invisibl Skratch Piklz
9. Gang Starr
"I got so much trouble on my mind, refuse to lose/ Here's your ticket, hear the drummer get wicked."
-"Welcome to the Terrordome
Hip hop's coming of age was signified with Public Enemy
's introduction to the world, especially with the release of their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
. While most rap stars were barely out of high school and were a discussing relatively trivial matters, the men of Public Enemy were in their late 20s and rapped about social issues important to the black community. Almost immediately after their debut, rap groups realized that if they wanted to remain relevant they would have to start discussing much more serious issues. This mindset even ran beyond the borders of hip hop, as Public Enemy was one of the biggest influences on Rage Against the Machine
, who in turn was one of the most influential rock bands of the 90s. While the group's political influence is well-documented, often overlooked is its artistic contribution. They were the first American hip hop group to make extensive international tours, helping to spread the culture worldwide. Public Enemy's production team, The Bomb Squad took beat making to an entirely new level; instead of the sparse drumbeats with samples sprinkled sporadically over them, sonic landscapes were created for Chuck D to rap over. And, of course, it was through Public Enemy that the world was introduced to Flava Flav, the world's first hype man.
My favorite Public Enemy moment: "Fight the Power
In terms of actual participation, bboying is probably the most popular element of hip hop. While there's no way to actually prove this, the typical bboy battle will draw more contestants than its emceeing or DJing counterparts. This wasn't always the case. While "breakdancing" was very popular in the mid-80s, it was seen by the world at large as a fad and could have quickly died out. It most likely would have had it not been for Richard Colon, better known to the world as Crazy Legs. After the adoration of the art had cooled in the eye of the public, Crazy Legs strove to keep his group, the Rock Steady Crew, alive by searching for bboys and bgirls who wanted to dance for the love of it. Thanks to his dedication, the RSC once again became the preeminent bboy crew. However, instead of being the best known crew in New York, they were now seen as the pioneers of the worldwide bboy resurgence. Furthermore, by keeping bboying alive, the Rock Steady Crew helped to secure a place in hip hop for Latinos, the co-creators of the culture.
"We're from the family tree of old school hip hop, kick off your shoes and relax your socks."
Throughout the 20th century, black music never gained popular acceptance until a white artist decided to do it and hip hop is no different. Rap's popularity spread out from the black community in the mid-80s when three guys who were actually a punk band decided to give rapping a try. To this day, it remains unknown whether or not the Beastie Boys
first album was meant to be a joke or not. Regardless, despite their skin color and drunk frat boy image, they became hugely successful. Their second album, Paul's Boutique
, is the pinnacle achievement of what can be accomplished when sampling is properly utilized (thanks to current sampling laws, it is virtually guaranteed that such an album can never be made again). While no one would ever accuse them of being overly gifted emcees, they are fantastic musicians. The Beastie Boys helped spread hip hop into the suburbs and are integral in exploring the parallels between the cultures of hip hop and punk rock.
My favorite Beastie Boys moment: "So what cha want
"Now where in the hell did the hip hop go? Where in the hell did the hip hop go? Where in the hell did the hip hop go? Yo, Aceyalone
, do you know, do you know?"
Once upon time hip hop was hip hop and rap music was rap music. But as record labels discovered its financial benefits, hip hop became more and more focused on monetary gain rather than on artistic development. Eventually, in the early 90s, several hip hop artists in Los Angeles chose to eschew the pursuit of getting signed to labels and focus on maintaining creativity with a dedicated Do It Yourself work ethic. They would meet at the Good Life Cafe to hold open mic nights where emphasis was placed on artistry and improvisation. Thus was born the underground hip hop movement. Leading this movement was the Freestyle Fellowship
. While the group is by far the least commercially successful group on this list, their influence is palpable. Their approach to song structure was something completely new. Hooks were nearly as long as verses and were rapped/sung simultaneously by every member of the crew. The rapid-fire rhyme patterns used in the verses were almost always completely freestyled off the top of the dome. They embraced the use of live instrumentation. Freestyle Fellowship would be notable just for their influence on the Los Angeles artists who followed in their wake: The Pharcyde
, Jurassic 5
, Dilated Peoples
, the Visionaries
, LA Symphony
, the Tunnel Rats
, Black Eyed Peas
. But their influence also spread north to the Bay Area (Hieroglyphics
), out to the Midwest (most notably on Minnesota's Rhymesayers
crew and in Cleveland where some young thugs got the idea to match rapid fire raps with harmonic vocals) and all the way back to the East Coast.
My favorite Freestyle Fellowship moment: "Hot Potato
"This side niggas dustin', that side niggas lacin', but in the middle we stay calm, we just drop bombs."
-"Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac)
was the first group to prove that a regional sound could be nationally successful. Their first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
, went platinum with virtually no support from either of the established hip hop centers on the East or West coast. The group's sound was newly distinct; citing influences ranging from A Tribe Called Quest
to 2 Live Crew
, their southern dialects were on full display. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that their production team, Organized Noize used absolutely no samples or interpolations in their beats, which was completely unheard of at the time. Instead, they were among the first artists to use entirely originally composed hip hop music. OutKast has gone on to be arguably the most experimental mainstream act in hip hop history. Every album has found them stretching the boundaries of their creativity further and further.
My favorite OutKast moment: "ATLiens
"When something happens in South Central Los Angeles, nothing happens. It's just another nigga dead..."
-"Straight Outta Compton
Those words kickstarted one of the most notorious albums in the history of 20th century music. While politicians and soccer moms alike used the group as the poster children for everything evil in rap music, Nwa
was simply following the instructions of Howard Beale in Network
: they were as mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore. Straight Outta Compton
is four centuries worth of black anger recorded onto an album. While Schoolly D
were the pioneers of hardcore rap, NWA was something new. The first indication was their name, Niggaz With Attitude. By appropriating the word "nigger" they removed any power that it may have held against them. They were also unafraid to point their anger at precisely the people responsible for it: the Los Angeles Police Department. The members of the group were tired of the double standard that was afflicted upon them by law officials simply because of where they lived. This didn't sit too well with said lawmakers. Their First Amendment rights were quite possibly encroached upon when the FBI tried to hit them with a cease-and-desist order to stop sales of the album. However, the feds lost face when, just two years after the release of Straight Outta Compton
, the accusations of NWA were proven completely true via videotape evidence of Rodney King being severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers. NWA's personality was best captured by their most dynamic member, a snarling, growling young rapper named Ice Cube
. But they were also a collection of unique talents. MC Ren
was probably the most technically proficient emcee; Eazy E
was the uniquely high pitched rapper who made you want to laugh despite his profanity; Dr. Dre
and the criminally underrated DJ Yella
provided the catchy beats.
My favorite NWA moment: "Straight Outta Compton"
When hip hop was threatening to turn into a testosterone-fueled show of machismo, the Native Tongues
emerged as the counter movement to this trend. They emerged to show that it was ok to be middle class and from the suburbs, to be articulate, to be into other types of music and to speak about things other than bragging. The list of artists who have been associated with the Native Tongues is long: Common
, Gang Starr, Leaders of the New School
, Black Sheep
, Brand Nubian
, Mos Def
and Talib Kweli
, Poor Righteous Teachers
, the Beatnuts
; but the core of the group were the ones who would guest on each others' albums: the Jungle Brothers
, De La Soul
, A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love
and Queen Latifah
. Their mindset was drawn from the concepts of the Universal Zulu Nation and as such they preached unity, harmony and love. But while some may have seen them as eccentric, they were never labeled soft. They may not have been as political as Public Enemy or as angry as NWA but they were very much conscious of themselves as black people. They helped identify the relationship between hip hop and jazz, they were open about their influences by other musical styles and they were positive. In doing all of this, they laid the groundwork for later movements such as the underground revolution, the conscious rap movement and even neo-soul.
has stated that when he was searching for emcees to fill the roster of the Wu Tang Clan
, one of his main goals was to pattern the group after the Juice Crew
. The Juice Crew is arguably the greatest collection of talent in the history of hip hop. They are also one of the greatest pioneers in hip hop. Marley Marl
was hip hop's first superproducer. Before him, nobody paid attention to producers, so he set the stage for those who came after him: Dr. Dre, DJ Premier
, RZA, Pete Rock
, Kanye West
...all of them, to a certain extent, owe their celebrity status to Marl. At a time when most producers used a clean, poppy, disco-based style, he invented a method that was distinct for it's more dusty sound. It sounded more authentic and became the new standard for the hip hop sound. Perhaps his greatest contribution was the use of sampled drums, which has become a staple of the sound. Marley Marl gathered an impressive list of talent on his Cold Chillin' Records. While most crews were made up of people from the same neighborhoods, he went out of his way to find talent from all over NYC. He was from Queens but recruited the already mentioned Big Daddy Kane
and Masta Ace
from Brooklyn, Harlem's Biz Markie
(hip hop's first class clown), as well as Roxanne Shante
(one of the first female emcees on record), Craig G
(one of the greatest freestylers of all time), Kool G. Rap
(who deserves mention alongside Rakim
and Big Daddy Kane for reinventing rhyme techniques) and MC Shan
from Queens. However, it wasn't enough to just have this collection of talent. They lifted themselves to the status of immortality with just one track, "The Symphony
." This was the first posse cut in hip hop's history and set the stage for all the guest rappers, collaborations, albums released by whole crews and posse cuts that came afterwards.