Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Top 5 Rap Groups of All Time
With the release of Michael Rappaport's much hyped A Tribe Called Quest documentary "Beats, Rhymes and Life", it got us to thinking about the greatest rap groups of all time. Admittedly, this is a tough task, being that one person's definition of "greatest" varies depending on age, race or personal taste in rap music. Speaking for myself, I'm more of a fan of the mid to late '90s New York thug rap sound, but I can't deny that groups like Tribe or De La Soul or any of the other so-called Native Tongues rappers (while I find mostly boring) made a huge impact on hip-hop. Same goes for pioneering old guys like the Cold Crush Bros. or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I'm not likely to sit through The Message any time soon, but they'd have to make any top 10 list of rap groups off their legacies alone.
So, in order to dead any confusion, the criteria for this top 5 list is as follows: longevity, individual talents, at least 2 classic albums as a group and impact on hip hop. This would eliminate at least one of my favorite groups (The L.O.X.) since they've been better individually and their impact has been pretty minimal outside of the tri-state, and unfortunately the group who I've seen more often live than any other performer The Beatnuts, since most people only know one song by them. Also left off the list would be the militant Public Enemy due to their only being one talented rapper in the group. Who made the cut then?
5) Beastie Boys
Say what you want about the three Jews, but they've been around for FOREVER and still release relevant albums, which is more than you can say about any group on the original Def Jam roster or really any rapper from the 80s period (LL hasn't had an album that anyone paid attention to since he was dissing Canibus). Most of their longevity is due to the fact that they've changed their musical styles more than Madonna, but still retain their core appeal: that is, three mediocre at best rhymers yelling out nonsense over funky beats. They've gone from goofy, party animal, ironic frat boy types rapping over ACDC samples and 808 drums to funky beat digging Political activists, to Hip hop culture reviving old men with tons of famous, funny cool friends.
4) Mobb Deep
The only thing keeping the two diminutive Queensbridge dudes from being higher on this list is the fact that Prodigy has royally SUCKED for the past 8 or so years, but off the strength of their first 3 albums alone, they've had more of an impact than most rap groups who were in the game for 25 years. Alongside that group pictured at the top of the post, Mobb Deep revolutionized the rap sound in the mid 90s. Havoc's beats sound like a cold New York winter more than any other musical act (in my opinion) and Prodigy's voice and style paved the way for the generation of no frills thug rap that dominated East Coast rap for the next decade.
3) Run DMC
While losing a point or 2 for a lack of longevity (their albums are fun to listen to still, but definitely sound dated) the Hollis, Queens trio did more than enough in their 7 or 8 years of dominance to warrant a place among rap group royalty (or at least this silly list). Besides popularizing a couple of fashion trends, Run DMC were really the first cross-over rap stars. Alongside the number 5 group on this list, they embarked on a world-wide stadium tour that was a first for the young genre that wasn't really taken very seriously at the time. They also are responsible for introducing the sometimes great, often annoying, rap-rock sub genre of music with their rock record sampling hits and their duet and very literal video with Aerosmith.
The sum of their parts was even better than the group as a whole (at least as far as classic albums go), but perhaps no other group has been as influential introducing the gangsta rap that would be in the DNA of every rapper that followed, for better or worse. Even the tissue softest, singing pop rapper today says "bitch" and "nigga" and other once scary to white people words like it's second nature, and they can thank NWA for that. While most groups have a couple weak links weighing them down, even NWA's worst rapper, MC Ren could rap circles around some of the other chumps who take up space in lesser rap groups. Besides Ren, the other members are practically a Mt. Rushmore of West Coast Gangsta rap. Dr. Dre is probably the most universally loved rap producer alive, Eazy E is somewhat of a legend in death, and Ice Cube (though better known as an actor now) was the baddest mother to rock a microphone in the early 90s. Prompting federal investigations, nation wide protest, and numerous parodies and copy cats, NWA are the most influential rap group of all time and second only to.....
1) Wu-Tang Clan
I'll admit, I'm a bit biased. Bottle can tell you, I once told someone I only listen to Wu-Tang in answer to what type of music I listen to. That may be a little creepy, but it's not too far-fetched that somebody could only listen to CD's that had that W on them and be satisfied. Other groups had a sound, but not like Wu-Tang. When you heard a Wu affiliated album, you knew exactly that that's what you were listening to: movie samples (in particular karate flicks), chopped up soul samples, heavy bass, and somewhat indecipherable lyrics. Even if they were some times hard to understand, they spit enough straight forward stuff to influence a generation of biters (shark ni$%as to hear Ghostface tell it). Every rapper in the 9 (sometimes 10) man crew could rap (even last man on the bench Cappadonna had a couple classic verses), and for a 4 or 5 year period, every album released through the Wu-Tang imprint was a success, commercially and critically. The Wu made dark, weird records hugely profitable. This was a time before the so-called "bling" or shiny suit era (which although it is constantly ridiculed and bad-mouthed, I think still turned out some great music) when scary sounding, karate movie sampling, sometimes chorusless songs could dominate radio. Most of these guys are still churning out albums, but sound like the old guy who still buys the newest Jordans every week and uses words like "swagger". We'll always have the classics though.