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 10. UGK



 9. Fugees


 8. Salt 'N Pepa



 7. EPMD



 6. A Tribe Called Quest



 5. Wu-Tang Clan



 4. Outkast



 3. Public Enemy



 2. N.W.A



 1. Run-DMC



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  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

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Rank: 6

estimonial
Creativity, reliability, respect and lyrics to go: Musically, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg (and early member Jarobi) are one of the most innovative groups ever, and they remain one of the most popular. Tribe bridged the gap from the golden era of the late 1980s to the furious styles of the '90s with hit records that lyrically held the integrity of the everyday kid in the 'hood, but musically went far beyond any city block, coast or time zone.

When Phife Diggy really started to get shine on the classic Low End Theory, hip-hop found that one of its best-kept secrets was a battle-ready five-footer (he was actually a little taller than that) from Queens, New York. He flipped metaphors like dice in his hands for the fellas and still found time to be "smooth like butter" while getting at the ladies. Tip — with his ever-so-recognizable nasal swagger — was the abstract poet whose mind always seemed to be somewhere else, thinking on a different plane, but was right exactly there in the moment. Together, Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad developed Tribe's signature sound — which paired the smooth thump of jazz with the brutal bump of hip-hop — distinguishing the group's soundscapes from all the others of their time.

Co-Signer: Grand Puba, Brand Nubian
"Their music, their whole vibe, their persona, the Native Tongues [collective], the whole package was just different on the scene. It was a real peaceful vibe. Q-Tip was taking words and riding the rhythm, his voice tone was like an instrument. Phife, he had so much lyrical skill. He knew how to spit. I remember riding around in the car and somebody popped in a cassette of 'Can I Kick It?' I was like, 'Wow, this is it!' They had just a whole other vibe. That's what made them so big. They were unbelievable. Back then, everybody had their own identity. It was more put into the craft, as opposed to deadlines and being rushed; you did what you felt and took your time. You really got to put your all into a project. That's what made the music more classic."

100 Percent Proof
"Did I hear somethin' 'bout a crew?/ What they wanna do?/ You better call Mr. Babyface, so he can bring out 'the cool in you'/ Or it'll be a sad love song/ Being sung by Toni Braxton/ And I'll dissect you like a fraction/ Oh, you wanna be/ Top-cat MCs/ I'll pop you like a zit/ You wanna be the champ, you more like Chief Some-sh--." (Phife Dawg, "God Lives Through")

"Back in the days when I was a teenager/ Before I had status and before I had a pager/ You could find the Abstract listening to hip-hop/ My pops used to say it reminded him of be-bop/ I said, 'Well Daddy, don't you know that things go in cycles/ The way that Bobby Brown is just ampin' like Michael.' " (Q-Tip, "Excursions")

Selected Catalog
*People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), *The Low End Theory (1991), *Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), The Love Movement (1998).

* = undeniable classic


NEXT: Erick Sermon of EPMD says, 'The first time I heard [this group], I almost lost my mind.' ...
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Photo: Ernest Paniccioli

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