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 10. UGK



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 5. Wu-Tang Clan



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 3. Public Enemy



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 1. Run-DMC



  Back to Intro



  Honorable Mention



  The Brain Trust speaks


No group can be compared to the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA's production is incredible. I can't see how they wouldn't be #1.
                 — Eric, 24
                   Buffalo, NY

Got a problem with our choices? Share your own top 10.





  The Greatest Hip-Hop MCs Of All Time



  The Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Of All Time




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If there were only 10 great hip-hop groups, we wouldn't be arguing about who they are. Here are some collectives that, while not top 10 for the entire brain trust, certainly are in some of our hearts.

2 Live Crew
These beastie boys from South Florida literally had to fight for their right to party — the case over whether or not their 1989 LP, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, was legally obscene went all the way to the Supreme Court. We can't really call Luke Campbell and his fun-loving, boot-knocking collective martyrs, but they did take the weight when the powers-that-be tried to stifle hip-hop's freedom of expression. The Crew were also pioneers of the Miami bass sound, which we know helped inspire crunk. Luke and his crew might not be the world's greatest MCs, but they put on quite an interesting live show.

8Ball and MJG
Former Suave House Records CEO Tony Draper will tell you that the independent rap hustle was sweet back in the day: His franchise artists, 8Ball and MJG, pushed major units in the '90s with little marketing but plenty word of mouth. Ball and MJG climbed the ranks to become Southern legends by not conforming to what was hot, but by staying true to their experiences in the ghettos.

Beastie Boys
Who would have thought that the three poster kids for keg parties would turn out to be hip-hop's big humanitarians in their more mature years? The Beasties came out with a bang — opening Madonna's Like a Virgin tour in 1985 before they even had an album out; touring with Whodini and LL Cool J on Run-DMC's Raising Hell trek; and having then-little-known Public Enemy open for them when they toured in support of 1987's massive-selling License to Ill. The group also managed to recover from the overkill of its early years, reinventing its sound with the sample-crammed Paul's Boutique (produced by the Dust Brothers, who'd later play a similar role on Beck's Odelay) and getting into old-school funk throughout the '90s. Still, the Beasties' role in the thriving NYC hip-hop scene of the '80s can't be overlooked: Just for helping to solidify Def Jam alone, the Beasties will go down in the rap annals.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
These Thugs were the most melodic group in hip-hop history. How many MCs have tried to follow in Bone's footsteps with a sing-song flow? Many — but no one has been able to do it like this Cleveland group, which was discovered by N.W.A's Eazy-E. Bone Thugs' harmonizing could make a choir jealous, and if you listen closely, they had a lot to say. In 2006, they signed to super producer Swizz Beatz's Full Surface imprint, and have been poising themselves to become a factor on the charts again.

Brand Nubian
They've had some ups and downs over the years, but Nubian were strongest when they consisted of Lord Jamar, Sadat X and Grand Puba. All for One, their 1990 debut, was a captivating array of Five Percent knowledge, black pride, self-empowerment and b-boy jams. Puba's swagger is what some MCs still build their style on: book bags, name-brand apparel, a fly honey within arm's reach and those catchy one-liners (at one point, he was one of the most sought-after MCs for guest spots, rapping alongside everyone from Mary J. Blige to Fat Joe to Biggie to Tupac). Jamar was focused on doing the knowledge and expressing his militant side, while Dotty X had one of the most ingenious deliveries ever — some of his lines didn't even rhyme!

De La Soul
Weirdos? We think not. Sure, on their first album, 1989's Three Feet High and Rising, they brought a psychedelic tinge to hip-hop that they called the Daisy Age, but their second album proved they were no gimmicky one-trick-ponies. With Prince Paul backing them in the early part of their career, you could always count on some humor to accompany their conceptual wordplay. The De La we know now have not conformed to chase the dollars of kiddie consumers: Plugs One, Two and Three deliver grown-man music at its finest.

Geto Boys
No disrespect to Big Mike, but the Geto Boys lineup that will be remembered the most will always be Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill. 'Face has hall of fame-level respect. He tells his stories with such clarity and gripping conviction that even a corpse could feel what he's saying. Willie D has presence on the mic: When he raps about kicking someone's a-- through the "goal posts of hell," you hear him loud and clear and believe him. Bushwick is the maniacal loon of the crew that you have to listen to every time just to see how crazy his verse will be. In the same way that N.W.A put us onto the West, the Geto Boys opened the doors for Southern hip-hop long before 8Ball and MJG, Outkast and UGK.

Goodie Mob
Before Cee-Lo became the soulful voice of Gnarls Barkley, he was the undeniable standout MC of the Goodie Mob. Not only is 'Lo a better singer than most R&B vocalists, his raps are poignant and prolific. He and his group gained their following with meditative albums in the mid '90s, and remained at the forefront of Southern hip-hop with their clique, the Dungeon Family (which also included Outkast and legendary producers Organized Noize, among others).

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
Flash and the Five — Melle Mel, Rahiem, Scorpio, Kidd Creole and Cowboy — were there when rap started. Along with Kool Herc, Flash is the actual prototype DJ: a timeless pioneer who could keep the party going all night and astound the crowds with his skills. He's one of the first people ever to make a mixtape, and he's credited with being the first to scratch on an actual song: 1982's "The Message." That song was huge for the group and even bigger for the hip-hop community: It defined a generation, introduced the genre to new audiences and opened up a new whole world for hip-hop lyrics to explore. Flash — who's still one of the busiest DJs in the world — and the fellas are being rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.

The LOX
The LOX have actually only made two official albums, but when you add up all the material they've done on the mixtape circuit for the past decade-plus — not to mention their solo work — they have a catalog that's probably larger than Tupac's. Lyrically, there's not another trio that can stand next to Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch. The Yonkers, New York, natives may not see mainstream love that some of their contemporaries have, but the streets will never turn their backs on them. The LOX also have the distinction of being integral parts of two dynasties: Bad Boy circa 1994-98, and Ruff Ryders circa '98-2002.

Mobb Deep
They are masters of blood talk and potent, glum beats that make eardrums bleed and dancefloors turn into jungle terrain. Prodigy and Havoc have not only been able to stay together for over 10 years (a rarity in rap) but they've stayed consistent with opuses riddled with project anguish, liquor-fueled debauchery and rapid-fire gunplay. They'll never step far enough outside their realm to chase a multiplatinum plaque, and that's why they've remained a concrete favorite.

Naughty by Nature
Treach used to kill it on that mic, boy! He was an all-purpose MC: lyrically terrorizing; a new flow on every verse; enough street credibility to be good in any 'hood, from East to West (he was best friends with the realest thug ever, Tupac); and the ability to propel the hip-hop mainstream with tremendous anthems that still get love. Vin Rock is one of the great sidekicks and DJ/producer Kay Gee was masterful with his polished grit. As a group, Naughty were one of the first to get their own clothing line — and even several years after their heyday, the trio are still competitive with younger acts, as far as live performance is concerned.

The Roots
We had a difficult time classifying this long-running Philadelphia troupe. Although they've had a large number of guest MCs making records and performing with them over the years, to make it in our top 10, you had to have at least two MCs officially down with your unit. But this group doesn't really fit into any category, and maybe that's the greatest testament to its legacy. Black Thought — who rated an honorable mention in our Greatest MCs of All Time — still can mix it up with the best of them, the group's instrumental chops are beyond question (they backed Jay-Z on both his 2001 "Unplugged" performance and the 10th anniversary concert for Reasonable Doubt), and its live shows are legendary.

Three 6 Mafia
Before they won an Oscar, before they were staying fly, Triple 6 Mafia were putting Memphis on on the hip-hop radar with full-fledged donnybrook music. Hailing from the city most famous for Elvis, DJ Paul, Juicy J and their Hypnotized Mindz camp were able to carve out their own niche, making the world realize that a lot more music is coming out of Memphis than what's playing at Graceland. Whether it's selling records on their own or producing all their albums, Paul and J have kept it self-contained for over a decade — and when you can sell as many records as they have, who needs outside help?

Whodini
How OG are Ecstacy, Jalil and Grandmaster Dee? They were the first rap group to shoot a music video, the first to regularly feature backup dancers (one of whom was a young, jheri-curl-topped Jermaine Dupri) and were racking up gold and platinum record sales when people said rap was just a fad. They kept their fashion game tight (well, as tight as '80s fashion could be), were able to hold their own on tours with Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, and hits like "Friends" and "One Love" solidified their mastery of relationship rap.

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"He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper": The Greatest MC/DJ Combinations Of All Time

You didn't think we'd let technicalities get in the way of giving props, did you? Although the rulebook disqualified these duos from our top 10, we had to give them their just due.

Eric B. & Rakim With chains that hung lower than Jibbs', and songs that intertwined with your soul, Rakim became the archetype for all MCs, and Eric B. made sure the beats, scratches and the albums' continuity all stayed on point.

Boogie Down Productions Together, KRS-One and his original DJ, Scott La Rock, made two of the greatest battle anthems ever with "South Bronx" and "The Bridge Is Over," as well as a classic LP, 1987's Criminal Minded. La Rock — who was killed just months after the album's release — was the musical mastermind who had the vision, while KRS had the skills to carry out the game plan. La Rock would have been proud to see the career his friend went on to have.

Gang Starr DJ Premier is one of the best hip-hop producers of all time — that's unanimous. But he's just as undeniable at scratching: Just listen to "Mass Appeal." Guru has remained steadily dope on the mic with narratives, battle raps and serious science-dropping, all in his well-known monotone.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince No matter what Will Smith is doing now, there's no denying their pioneering presence: They were the first to win a Grammy and bring it back to the hip-hop community, and helped rap shake hands with the mainstream.

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth When we reminisce over Pete and C.L., we remember one of the most magnificent hip-hop duos of all time — and one of the most tragic breakups, too. Pete had an undeniable run as an "it" producer during the '90s, and Corey Love made the music even stronger with his smooth, introspective lyrics.


NEXT: Wonder why some of these groups are in Honorable Mention? So did some brain trust members: just see at how mad they are! ...
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