The 11 Best Rap Groups Of All Time
Wu-Tang Clan tops our list of the greatest rap crews ever.
The ladies of Sisterhood of Hip Hop, premiering July 12 at 9/8c, know the importance of sticking together. Rap is a competitive game and there's strength in numbers. These rap crews found fame and fortune with a little help from their friends. Here are the 11 best rap groups of all time.
1. Wu-Tang Clan
What happens when you take 10 guys and put them in a rap group? What theoretically sounds like a disaster has made for one of rap's most successful groups of all time. The Wu-Tang Clan’s debut, 36 Chambers, is considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time, incorporating gritty tales from Staten Island over RZA’s immaculate beats. The group has sold more than 40 million albums and launched successful solo careers for several members. Naming all 10 members is also required knowledge for any hip-hop head: RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, Ol' Dirty Bastard and Cappadonna. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Once upon a time, East Coast ruled hip-hop but a little group named OutKast helped change that. What started as a high school group in their native Atlanta, Andre 3000 and Big Boi took over the globe with their clever rhymes, funky melodies and eye-catching visuals. The group’s debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik gained popularity with the single "Player's Ball.” They would go on to experiment with sounds, pushing genre limits on hits like “Hey Ya!” and “B.O.B.” OutKast took a hiatus in 2007. While Andre tried his hand at acting, Big Boi continued with a successful solo career. The two reunited at Coachella in 2014 and fans keep waiting eagerly for a new album. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
3. Beastie Boys
Whoever thought three nerdy New York Jewish kids could become legends in the hip-hop world? It's easy to underestimate the supreme influence of these party boys' work on the contemporary musical landscape: blending the sounds of the electronic and punk underground into the aggressive political stylings of rap music, the Beastie Boys' visionary prowess is only matched by their positive attitude and energy. Starting as an alt-rock band and slowly morphing into a rap group with heady big beat influences, this gang's songs range from jokey novelty tracks to powerful progressive pronouncements to sci-fi inflected silliness. It was easy to criticize the crew for their casual misogyny back in the day, but later in life the trio would go on to announce themselves as ardent feminists and anti-racists. Shortly after becoming one of the only rap groups to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, founding member Adam Yauch passed away, leading to the group's disbandment out of respect for their fallen friend. — Eric Shorey
"F*ck Tha Police." Before N.W.A., there weren't many artists willing to make such a bold statement, but it was precisely that sort of unapologetic, rebellious spirit that would become N.W.A.'s trademark. If any hip-hop group was the face of fearless self-expression, it was N****s Wit Attitude. Though they could definitely be considered one of the most controversial groups in music history, they were never shocking just for the sake of getting a reaction; Ice Cube's powerful delivery alone gave no doubt that he meant every word that came out of his mouth. Their music personified life in Compton, and though they weren't the first to rap openly about inner-city violence, police brutality, or life on the streets, they were the first to cross over to mainstream audiences without putting a filter in place. Who else do you know had the guts to take direct shots at the FBI in their music, after being advised directly by the FBI to basically simmer down? Now that is attitude. — Sharon Lynn Pruitt
5. Eric B and Rakim
Described by Tom Terrell of NPR as "the most influential DJ/MC combo in contemporary pop music period," the sounds of Eric B. and Rakim are so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that even people with only a cursory knowledge of rap as an art form would recognize their music, even if they aren't able to identify its origins. Rolling Stone's Mark Coleman weighed in on the duo's eternal appeal, saying: “There's nothing trendy about this impassive duo … Eric B. and Rakim are hip-hop formalists devoted to upholding the Seventies funk canon and advancing rap's original verbal mandate … They both can riff and improvise like jazzmen, spinning endless variations on basic themes and playing off each other's moves with chilly intuition.” Shockingly, unlike other rap legends, the group has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite being considered in 2011. — Eric Shorey
6. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest has become the lay person's go to for powerful and accessible hip-hop, but that hasn't stopped them for advocating for meaningful change. Indeed, the smooth jazz and hard-hitting rap combo doesn’t (in the abstract, at least) sound immediately appealing to many, but the utter talent and endearingly funky attitude of the band's members tend to charm doubters without fail. Considered pioneers of “alternative hip-hop,” the group is often recognized for bringing rap music into the realm of legitimate high art. Covering a wide range of issues—from the complexities of black masculinity to the challenges of the music industry—the band brought a new sense of social important to the art form. “In essence,” says John Bush of AllMusic.com, “they abandoned the macho posturing rap music had been constructed upon, and focused instead on abstract philosophy and message tracks.” — Eric Shorey
The Fugees created music as unique as the group itself. Comprised of rapper/singer Lauryn Hill, Wyclef and Pras, the Fugees based their name on being “refugees” (tapping into Clef’s Haitian heritage). As such, they blended hip-hop with outside genres like soul and reggae. The group’s landmark album, The Score, cemented the trio as one of alternative rap’s most influential and commercially successful groups of all time. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
8. The Roots
From Philly neo soul to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots have done it all. Steeped in live musical elements, the group fronted by Black Thought with drummer Questlove garnered acclaim with 1996’s Illadelph Halflife. Always conscious, the group poked fun at rap video clichés in the video for “What They Do.” In 2000, The Roots won a Grammy for the crossover hit “You Got Me,” which featured Erykah Badu and a then-unknown Eve. Nearly 30 years in the game, The Roots continue to perform for bigger audiences, including appearing on kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba and backing President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney on Fallon. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
9. Public Enemy
Politically conscious and unapologetically afrocentric, PE used their music as a platform to call for change. They created music that was fun and high-energy (thanks in large part to Flavor Flav's limitless enthusiasm) without watering down their essential message: fight the power.
They were also one of the first hip hop groups to experiment with their sound so widely, often linking up with artists in other genres; think rock and metal groups like Anthrax and Living Colour. The result was a fresh, blended sound rarely heard in the hip hop scene before PE's arrival. They continued to break barriers by becoming one of only four hip hop acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Even as the member line-up changes, Public Enemy continues today to create hard-hitting music that pushes anyone listening to question the world as we know it.
10. Run D.M.C.
"More than any other hip-hop group,” writes Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic.com, “Run–D.M.C. are responsible for the sound and style of the music." Indeed, it's hard to imagine the trajectory of rap culture's fashion and style without the legendary crew in mind. Hailing from Hollis, Queens and founded in 1981 by Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jam Master Jay, the group became the first hip hop act recognized for their talents by major cultural institutions: they were the first group in the genre to have a gold album, the first to play a major arena, and the first to be nominated for a Grammy Award. They were the first to earn a platinum record, the first to earn a multiplatinum certification, the first to have videos on MTV, and the first to appear on American Bandstand and the cover of Rolling Stone. — Eric Shorey
11. Mobb Deep
The '90s saw its fair share of gritty street groups but Mobb Deep is in its own class. Prodigy and Havoc from Queens created a dark, hardcore soundtrack. 1995’s The Infamous featured the street anthem “Shook Ones Pt. II” (which still gets play in New York City clubs). In 1999, the duo garnered crossover success by tapping Lil’ Kim for the ferocious “Quiet Storm (Remix).” Like many groups, Mobb Deep broke up due to internal tensions in 2012 but rap fans rejoiced when they reunited shortly thereafter. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy