The 25 Best Rap Groups

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The 25 Greatest Rap Groups

A Tribe Called Quest
(L to R) Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of the hip hop group 'A Tribe Called Quest'. Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

What makes a great rap group? Is it chemistry? Personalities? Body of work? All the essential ingredients have to be in place, of course. It also helps if the sum of the group is greater than its individual parts.

The best rap groups come in various shades and sizes. The Wu-Tang Clan set the bar high for large crews. De La Soul proved that three really is the magic number. And groups like Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill showed that hip-hop has the power to bridge cultural gaps.

We've come to love crews like N.W.A. and Public Enemy because they changed the landscape of hip-hop with their activism. We cherish OutKast and The Roots because they somehow pinched our hard-wiring and resonated with our humanity.

These are the groups that live on in hip-hop lore. The very best of the best.

These are the 25 greatest hip-hop groups of all time.

  • Eligibility: Groups of 3+ members with at least two albums are eligible
  • Criteria: Points were awarded based on cultural impact, originality, quality, and consistency

Honorable Mentions: Jurassic 5, Pharcyde, Onyx, The Beatnuts, Freestyle Fellowship

See Also: 10 Greatest Rap Duos

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25. CunninLynguists

Balazs Koren / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

 (Kno, Deacon The Villain, Natti)

CunninLynguists may be the best hip-hop group you've never heard of. Their style consists of southern-fried beats and gripping narratives that linger after the song ends. As forward-thinking as they are, they never managed to enjoy the mainstream exposure they deserve. Still, their pedigree is undeniable.

Essential: A Piece of Strange | Purchase/Download

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24. Little Brother

Little Brother
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 (Phonte, Big Pooh, 9th Wonder)

Influenced by Tribe Called Quest and De La, Little Brother took hip-hop by storm with their brand of brainy hip-hop. When BET deemed their "Lovin' It" video "too intelligent" for their audience, it further established LB as underground darlings. They went on to drop three great albums in three years, including 2007's GetBack.

Essential: The Minstrel Show | Purchase/Download

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23. Slum Village

Slum VIllage
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(Baatin, Jay Dee, T3, Elzhi)

Though Slum Village had more lineup changes than Destiny's Child, quality remained a constant for the most part. The Detroit crew enjoyed a boost from the addition of lyricist Elzhi and a non-stop supply of thumping beats from Jay Dee.

Essential: Fantastic Vol...II | Purchase/Download 

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22. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
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 (Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Kid Creole, Cowboy, Scorpio (aka Mr. Ness) and Raheim)

Flash and the Furious 5 are creative inventors in every sense, having influenced generations of MCs, b-boys, DJs, and style icons. "The Message" and "White Lines (Don't Do It)" helped launch what we now know as conscious rap. To crown it all, they made history as the first hip-hop act to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The only chink in their armor was their fashion steez -- glam cowboy hats, studded belts, Kangols and dukey rope chains. Melle Mel should have fired their stylist.
Best Album: The Message | Purchase/Download

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21. Naughty By Nature

Naughty by Nature
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 (Treach, DJ Kay Gee, Vin Rock)

Here's one oft-overlooked aspect of Naughty By Nature -- Treach could rap circles around his peers. He laced each song with a crisp new flow, and made it seem effortless. The group's string of catchy hits would eventually propel them to mainstream success. In 1996, Naughty By Nature won the first ever Best Rap Album Grammy for Poverty's Paradise.
Best AlbumNaughty By Nature |Purchase/Download

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20. Brand Nubian

Brand Nubian
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

 (Lord Jamar, Sadat X and Grand Puba)

Afrocentricity, spirituality, sexuality, self-empowerment, you name it and Brand Nubian already rapped about it. No topic was off limits with these brothers, who occasionally dropped Five-percent knowledge.
Best AlbumOne for All | Purchase/Download

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19. Three 6 Mafia

Three 6 Mafia
Rick Diamond/WireImage

(DJ Paul, Juicy J, Lord Infamous )

Before the hits, before the historic Oscar and TV shows, Triple 6 Mafia (DJ Paul, Juicy J) helped place Memphis on the map with their unique brand of donnybrook hip-hop. They've had no trouble selling records and making a mark in the land of Elvis.
Best Album: Most Known Unknown | Purchase/Download 

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18. Cypress Hill

Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

(B-Real, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog, Eric Bobo)

With the legendary DJ Muggs manning the board and B-Real offering street wisdom on the mic, Cypress Hill set the industry ablaze with three consecutive platinum albums. Granted, they were never able to match the intensity of their self-titled debut, arguably a street classic, but their impact is undeniable. The West Coast trio was inducted into the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors in 2008. (Brownie Points: Cypress Hill appeared in the "Homerpalooza" episode of The Simpsons)
Best Album: Cypress Hill | Purchase/Download 

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17. The LOX

Gary Gershoff/WireImage

(Styles P, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch)

Mobb Deep and Capone-N-Noreaga were at the peak of their popularity in the late '90s, so The LOX could've easily been lost in the shuffle. Instead, the trio quickly pulled away from their New York peers with their edgy beats and intelligent rhymes. Jada's raspy voice added flavor to his rewind-worthy punchlines; Styles brought the straitjacket flow; while Sheek completed the cipher with a gritty delivery.

Essential: Money, Power & Respect | Purchase/Download

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16. Goodie Mob

Goodie Mob
Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

(Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, Khujo, T-Mo)

When Goodie Mob coined the term "dirty south," southern hip-hop was still taking a backseat to New York and L.A. However, Goodie Mob and OutKast carried the weight and helped place southern rap back on the map. "What y'all fools know about the Dirty South?"

Essential: Soul Food | Purchase/Download

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15. Hieroglyphics

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

 (Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Casual, Pep Love, A+, Opio, Tajai, Phesto, Domino)

When Del rhymed, "Life ain't all about busting caps or f--cking b--ches" on "At the Helm," he pretty much professed the group's mantra. Hiero was the first West Coast group to make a lasting impression without thuggin' on wax.

Essential3rd Eye Vision | Purchase/Download

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14. Black Moon

Black Moon
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

(Buckshot, DJ Evil Dee, 5ft Accelerator)

I can't imagine many hip-hop heads without Black Moon's 1993 gemstone Enta Dah Stage in their collection. With Da Beatminerz and DJ Evil Dee supplying hardbody beats and Buckshot dropping dimes in his trademark raspy voice, Black Moon kept East Coast hip-hop on lock for years.
Best Album: Enta Dah Stage | Purchase/Download

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13. Salt N Pepa

Salt N Pepa
Michael Putland/Getty Images

(Salt, Pepa, Spinderella)

Salt 'N Pepa's contribution to hip-hop extends beyond their status as rap's most significant female group. They took the entire rap game by storm and grabbed the attention of both men and women with their titillating ditties.

Essential: Hot, Cool & Vicious | Purchase/Download

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12. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Bone Thugs N Harmony
Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

 (Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, Flesh-n-Bone)

Show of hands if you ever caught yourself mimicking Bone Thugs' melodic flow as a teenager. Yeah, me too. When these Midwest boys were Creepin on ah Come Up in the '90s, the game was rife with talented artists of all kinds from all regions. So, they created a sound that was both original and inimitable. Bone Thugs' blend of octane-fueled lyrics with harmonized vocals made them a household name.

Essential: E 1999 Eternal | Purchase/Download

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11. 2 Live Crew

2 Live Crew
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

(Luke, Fresh Kid Ice, Mr. Mixx, Amazing V., Brother Marquis, Verb)

It's unfortunate that the hoopla over 2 Live Crew's sexually charged (sometimes misogynistic) songs eclipsed the group's musical accomplishment. The obscenity case over their 1989 LP, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, took them all the way to the Supreme Court. They weren't lyrical wizards, but their thunderous booty bops helped popularize the Miami bass sound. And if this show is any indication, they're still as nasty as they wanna be.

Essential: As Nasty As They Wanna Be | Purchase/Download

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10. Geto Boys

Geto Boys
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

 (Scarface, Bushwick Bill, Willie D)

Along with UGK and SUC, Geto Boys will always be revered as southern rap pioneers. Scarface delivered compelling stories about street life in Texas, while Willie D's impeccable mic presence and Bushwick Bill's maniacal rhymes kept things interesting. By all standards, the Geto boys paved the way for future southern hip-hop acts.

Essential: We Can't Be Stopped | Purchase/Download

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9. Fugees

Paul Natkin/Getty Images

 (Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Pras)

The Fugees were a super talented bunch -- in fact, too talented for their own good. Though they would later have one of the most heartbreaking breakups after just two albums, they left an indelible impression on the music world. Their 1996 masterpiece, The Score, garnered so much buzz that it eventually eclipsed their first, though less remarkable CD, Blunted on Reality.

Essential: The Score | Purchase/Download

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8. Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

 (Ad-Rock, Mike D, MCA)

Who knew that three white kids would eventually become one of hip-hop's most influential acts ever? The Beastie Boys were amongst the legion of trailblazers who left an indelible impression on a generation of rappers to follow. The Beasties Boys came out with a bang — dropping 1987's massive-selling Licensed to Ill. The group also reinvented its sound with the sample-heavy Paul's Boutique.

Essential: Licensed to Ill | Purchase/Download

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7. The Roots

The Roots
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

(?uestlove, Black Thought, Kamal Gray, Captain Kirk, Frankie Knuckles, Tuba Gooding Jr.)

Hip-hop's first legitimate band defies genres as well as comparisons. The Roots often rely heavily on live instrumentals and little on samples to create original, timeless hip-hop music. Besides, if you're in the market for the ultimate live show experience, your money's always safe with these Philly boys.

Essential: Things Fall Apart | Purchase/Download

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6. De La Soul

De la Soul
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

(Posdnuos, Trugoy, Maseo)

While others were busy name-checking their gun collection, De La Soul positioned itself as the antithesis of everything gangsta rap represented. They were playful, intelligent, funny. Lyrically, they displayed maturity and vulnerability. Musically, they designed the manifesto that would alter the landscape of hip-hop forever.

Essential: 3 Feet High and Rising | Purchase/Download

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5. Public Enemy

Public Enemy
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

(Posdnuos, Trugoy, Maseo)

While others were busy name-checking their gun collection, De La Soul positioned itself as the antithesis of everything gangsta rap represented. They were playful, intelligent, funny. Lyrically, they displayed maturity and vulnerability. Musically, they designed the manifesto that would alter the landscape of hip-hop forever.

Essential: 3 Feet High and Rising | Purchase/Download

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4. A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

(Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg)

Tribe was the most successful of their Native Tongues brethren, thanks, in part, to their consistency. By the time Tribe's third disc arrived, that brand of melodic, Crisco-slick classics that gave yield to "Electric Relaxation" and "Award Tour" had become synonymous with ATCQ.

EssentialMidnight Marauders | Purchase/Download

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3. Run-DMC

Oliver Morris/Getty Images

(Run, DMC, Jam Master Jay)

Run-DMC's place as the most influential rap group and undeniably one of the greatest hip-hop acts of all-time is unquestionable. The trio shattered barriers for future generations with a bold and wildly innovative style of hip-hop that captivated fans from Queens to Macedonia. Run-DMC exemplified the perfect combination of honesty, attitude, and creativity.

EssentialRaising Hell | Purchase/Download

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2. N.W.A.

Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

(Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince)

Any rapper who's made a buck by voicing social concerns without fear of castigation owes a royalty check to the world's most dangerous group. N.W.A. literally had to fight for their right to express themselves. Not even threats from the FBI could keep them from publicly indicting the powers that be or calling out racist cops. These Compton boys were vicious, unapologetic, and vividly outspoken. All good things, they say, must come to an end. Though N.W.A. finally broke up after 1991's Efil4zaggin, their legacy lived on. Dre, Cube and Eazy would go on to launch successful solo careers respectively.

EssentialStraight Outta Compton | Purchase/Download

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1. Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Clan
Bob Berg/Getty Images

(RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, ODB)

The most powerful weapon in any group's arsenal is neither beats nor rhymes--not even one of those big headnodders that RZA used to make every 2 years. No, no weapon in hip-hop history can rival the chaotic cohesion of the Wu-Tang Clan. The Clan had so many characters, each with his own eccentricities. They were fearless in their approach. There's a good reason no group has been able to successfully recreate their sound. The crew spawned gazillions of loosely associated acts. Their classic albums spawned classic albums.

EssentialEnter the 36 Chambers | Purchase/Download