Where are all the hip-hop groups | Features | MN2S

A Tribe Called Quest’s final album, We got it from Here… Thank You For Your service, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 last month, and the group topped the Billboard Artist Chart, but besides the reunited Tribe, where are all the hip-hop groups?

Hip-hop, more than any other genre, has its history in groups. Many of hip-hop’s earliest and most successful artists were groups, A Tribe Called Quest among them. Tribe’s final album was full of the best rappers in the game trading bars, with Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak joining residents Q-Tip, Jarobi and the late Phife Dog.

Their duelling wordplay, often finishing each other’s sentences, brought back memories of the hip-hop groups of old, and showed us how great the genre can be when multiple MCs and often one producer make music together as a unit. But apart from the new-look Tribe, hip-hop groups are sadly absent from the world of rap in its current form.

The original hip-hop groups

Many of hip-hop’s most important pioneering artists were groups. The earliest hip-hop hit to draw mainstream attention was ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by MN2S artists The Sugarhill Gang. The format of several MCs trading verses over a beat had its origins in the hip-hop of the streets. No one knows the early hip-hop scene better than Grandmaster Flash, who recently advised Baz Luhrmann for the hit Netflix series The Get Down.

Grandmaster Flash’s Furious Five are another of hip-hop’s most successful early acts with hits including legendary track ‘The Message’, which admittedly only features one MC (Melle Mel) on vocals, but is still considered a group effort.

Around the same time, KRS-One was making a name for himself as a member of the group Boogie Down Productions, which also included D-Nice and the late Scott La Rock. Eric B & Rakim were another prominent group on the 80s hip-hop scene. So was Run DMC. On the other side of the USA, so was NWA. In fact, nearly all the major hip-hop artists during this period were groups.

The first hip-hop solo stars

Other than individuals seeing break-out success from their group work (see: KRS-One’s post-BDP career) there were very few solo hip-hop stars in the genre’s earliest days. Notable exceptions are Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J. But as the genre grew in size, solo rappers became more popular.

The two towering titans of 90s hip-hop are of course Biggie Smalls and 2Pac. The braggadocio continued the blueprint set down by rappers in groups, who often argued that they could out-rap others, but unaccompanied by fellow skilled rappers on their tracks, Pac and Biggie presented themselves as rap gods to be worshipped by their fans and fellow rappers alike.

The cults of personality built up around these two rappers continued beyond their all too early deaths, and the two of them exert a strong influence over many of the solo rappers today. Kendrick Lamar, arguably the biggest rapper in the world today, ended his 2015 opus To Pimp a Butterfly with an “interview” between him and Pac, using archive footage of the 90s icon.

Are there still rap groups today?

Obviously the 90s was a great decade for rap groups, with the native tongues movement spawning A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, the Jungle Brothers, Slum Village, and many more successful groups. Then there is Wu-Tang, and of course Outkast. But it is much harder to string together a list of rap groups from the following decades.

Google’s top results for “2010s rap groups” are a list of acts who started in the 90s and continue to perform and record to the present day, rather than new young groups tearing up the charts. A Tribe Called Quest’s recent success is all the more striking in a landscape of solo rappers.

But Tribe’s ironically solo group success may be misleading. Though there may be very few current hip-hop groups in the traditional sense, almost every successful artist in the hip-hop world is strongly associated with a group of likeminded musicians.

The Odd Future collective, for example, comprises Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, The Internet and Frank Ocean, all of whom frequently appear on each others’ releases. Then there’s the A$AP mob, connected via many featured appearances and by name. As well as these groups there are the strongly integrated TDE labelmates known as Black Hippy (who are rumoured to be releasing an album together soon), and the labelmates on Kanye West’s GOOD Music. Then there are the young artists from Chicago like Noname, Saba, Jamila Woods and Chance the Rapper, connected by their frequent collaborations and propensity for releasing free mixtapes.

These groups may not release music as a group under one name, but they are certainly groups. The way they work together is different, but it is not all that far-removed from the hip-hop groups of old. In fact, one group in particular may have paved the way for this new kind of collaboration. Though Wu-Tang Clan released albums together under that monicker, most of the members released solo albums that featured so many Wu-Tang members they can be classed as group efforts emphasising one member. In this way, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon et al laid the blueprint for the new way hip-hop artists work together as groups today.

Book Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Slum Village, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Run DMC, Eric B & Rakim, KRS-One, Grandmaster Flash or The Sugarhill Gang to bring hip-hop groups back to your venue.

Featured image by Napalm filled tires – Wu Tang Clan, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

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