Right now, rap crews are all the rage. Turn on the radio, flip to 106 & Park or go to any one of your favorite websites and you’ll undoubtedly be inundated with songs featuring a slew of MCs, joining forces for significance.
However, while many will argue groups have always run this genre, the difference now is the artists helming these labels are more concerned with signing free agents like the NBA or NFL. Whereas in the past, the leader was less concerned with prominence and more about pushing the crew they grew up with, rather than parading some paper-made facade that only comes together for photo shoots and tours. But, being that Hip-Hop’s a budding business, the money’s there for the taking and the shift is understandable. However, when crew love supersedes a desire for success, the music is that much more potent.
So, to highlight the history of organic Hip-Hop crews, we’ve compiled a list of the nine most prominent cliques of the past, highlighting their members and sharing their conjoined jams. If you too believe a team can make the dream work, grab a couple of homies, sit down and enjoy.
Key Members: Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Freeky Zekey, Juelz Santana, Hell Rell, 40 Cal, J.R. Writer and Vado.
Legacy: During the early 2000s, these Harlem high-rollers had everyone tickled pink. Dipset members were bright, boisterous and did whatever they pleased, endearing fans and Hip-Hop’s high-rollers along the way. When label issues came between childhood friendships and commercial prosperity though, bad blood left key members Killa Cam and Jim Jones separated, sending most members to seek solo success. And, while many welcomed their recent resurgence, the chemistry hasn’t resonated quite as well as it did in their heyday.
Highlights: Cam’Ron Feat. Juelz Santana – “Oh Boy,” Juelz Santana Feat. Cam’ron – “Santana’s Town (Dipset),” Jim Jones Feat. Cam’ron & Juelz Santana – “Crunk Muzik” & Jim Jones – “We Fly High”
Key Members: Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Daz, Warren G, Nate Dogg, Soopafly, Bad Azz, Lil Half Dead, Lady Of Rage, RBX, Roscoe & The Eastsidaz
Legacy: Essentially, as soon as Dr. Dre gave Snoop the spotlight, the entire California G-funk movement got put on, with the DPGC collective at the forefront. Since 1992, countless artists and albums have emerged on the heels of Tha Doggfather – some legendary and others underwhelming – with many of the acts actually bringing up their own homies along the way. Although their allegiance has thinned and much of the later music is far from past heights, their legacy helped shape the musical culture of an entire coast.
Highlights: Snoop Doggy Dogg Feat. Kurupt, Warren G & Nate Dogg – “Ain’t No Fun,” Tha Dogg Pound Feat. Snoop Dogg – “New York, New York,” Warren G Feat. Nate Dogg – “Regulate” & Kurupt Feat. Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Soopafly, Warren G & Tray Dee – “Neva Gonna Give It Up”
Key Members: OutKast, Organized Noize, Goodie Mobb, Slim Calhoun, Killer Mike, Big Rube, Mr. DJ, Backbone, Joi, Witchdoctor, Cool Breeze & Konkrete
Legacy: The epitome of this list, the kaleidoscopic Dungeon Family may have spawned the most stars of any other rap clique. That’s fitting though, because these ATL all-stars went from humble beginnings in Organized Noize founder Rico Wade’s basement “dungeon,” to being known for giving the entire genre more of the extroversion that’s helped take Hip-Hop mainstream. Still, stardom might’ve gotten the best of a few Family members, because the Trans D.F. Express makes way less stops than it used to.
Highlights: OutKast Feat. Goodie Mob – “Git Up, Git Out,” Outkast Feat. Backbone & Cool Breeze – “Slump,” Goodie Mob Feat. OutKast – “Black Ice” & Killer Mike Feat. Big Boi & Sleepy Brown – “A.D.I.D.A.S.”
Diggin’ In The Crates Crew
Members: Diamond D, Big L, Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, Showbiz, AG, Buckwild & O.C.
Legacy: The D.I.T.C. might not be revered by casual rap fans, but that won’t stop certain purists from dubbing this New York collective the most significant. Featuring some of the genre’s most notable sample-based producers in Lord Finesse and Buckwild; a crossover hall-of-famer in Fat Joe and the significance of Big L’s tragic murder amidst his prime, these brothers in breaks ensured the organic Hip-Hop tradition carried on during the turn of the century when rap became flashier than ever.
Highlights: Showbiz & AG Feat. Big L, Deshaun & Lord Finesse – “Represent,” Big L & Fat Joe – “Da Enemy,” D.I.T.C. – “Dignified Soldiers,” D.I.T.C. – “Way Of Life (Remix)” & Big L Feat. AG, Stan Spit & Miss Jones
Members: Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, Chi-Ali & Monie Love
Legacy: In an era when gangsta rap catapulted into public prominence, Native Tongues provided an alternative to the hostility. Positive, but never push-overs, these quirky New York lyricists came together to push their cultural pride and open-mindedness to everyone who couldn’t relate to pistol packing and smacking females. As a result, certain fans began to expect more from their artists, the culture expanded and Hip-Hop began to settle into the different sub-genres that exist today.
Highlights: De La Soul Feat. Q-Tip, Queen Latifah, Monie Love & Jungle Brothers – “Buddy (Remix),” A Tribe Called Quest Feat. Leaders of the New School – “Scenario,” A Tribe Called Quest Feat. TruGoy – “World Tour” & Black Sheep Feat. Q-Tip, TruGoy & Mike Gee – “Birds Of A Feather.”
No Limit Soldiers
Key Members: Master P, Silkk The Shocker, Fiend, C-Murder, Mystikal, E-A-Ski, Steady Mobb’N, Mia X, Kane & Abel, Tre-8, Young Bleed, Mac, Big Ed, Beats By The Pound & Mr. Serv-On.
Legacy: Aside from just coming up together in the wards of New Orleans, Master P and his army of No Limit soldiers were the blueprint for independent success in Hip-Hop. On the flip side, the TRU tank also happens to encapsulate the perfect example of how even the most successful labels can fall apart if they grow too fast. After the Miller brothers founded their renowned label with local talent, then grinded their way into a groundbreaking distribution deal with Priority records, Percy ruined the label via unnecessary signings and business ventures. Now, the former “Ice Cream Man” is on Nickelodeon more than the radio, and his army has dispersed across the board.
Highlights: TRU Feat. Mia X – “Bout It, Bout It,” Master P Feat. Mystikal, Fiend, Mia X & Silkk Tha Shocker – “Make Em Say Uhh!,” TRU Feat. Mia X & Mo B. Dick – “I Always Feel Like” & Young Bleed Feat. C-Loc & Master P – “How Ya Do Dat”
Members: 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo & DJ Whoo Kid
Legacy: Sure, three of the four members might be considered co-stars to the one-man media circus Curtis has become. However, the Southside Jamaica, Queens, crew are another prime example of a hometown Hip-Hop clique’s rise and fall. When they legitimized mixtapes and set a budding internet rap culture on fire, these tough guys-turned-hitmakers were on top of the world. But, by the time the Unit gripped rap by the throat, they ended up going the No Limit route and spread themselves too thin. However, thanks to a couple hefty handshakes with Reebok and Vitamin Water, 50 Cent and his brothers in rhyme still pop up occasionally, pleasing their few leftover die-hards.
Highlights: G-Unit – “Bad News,” 50 Cent Feat. Lloyd Banks & Eminem – “Don’t Push Me,” Tony Yayo Feat. 50 Cent & Lloyd Banks – “I Know You Don’t Love Me” & G-Unit – “Poppin Them Thangs”
Members: Biggie Smalls, Lil Kim, Lil Cease, MC Klepto, Banger, Nino Brown & Chico Del Vac
Legacy: Who knows where the Bed-Stuy group would be had B.I.G. not passed away. After following up Biggie’s classic Ready To Die with their own commercially successful debut, this neighborhood crew went from street wheelers & dealers to having plaques on the wall. They were young and eager to succeed in a legitimate manner, until their momentum hit a wall in the spring of 1997, which basically derailed future plans for every member but Lil Kim – who only lasted as long as her looks could take her. Still, having one of the top five dead-or-alive for either gender is quite the accolade.
Highlights: Junior M.A.F.I.A. – “Player’s Anthem,” Junior M.A.F.I.A. – “Gettin Money (The Get Money Remix),” Lil Kim Feat. Lil Cease – “Crush On You” & The Notorious B.I.G. Feat. Lil Kim – “Another”
Bone Thugs & Harmony
Members: Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Wish Bone, Bizzy Bone & Flesh-N-Bone
Legacy: With certain verging rappers spitting rapid-fire and calling the quickness their “Bone flow,” it’s safe to assume the multi-syllabic rhyme patterns these thuggish, ruggish Cleveland comrades revolutionized wouldn’t be as popular had it not been for them. Despite other MCs predating their style, the Bone boys took double-time rhyming mainstream, pretty much to the point of redundancy. Between breaking up once a year and an inability to stop rehashing the same song concepts, the Bone Thugs estate has basically been reduced to guest appearances and reunion tours with only half the members. Still, it’s E. 1999 Eternal, for a reason.
Highlights: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – “No Surrender,” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – “Crossroads (Remix),” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Feat. 2Pac – “Thug Luv” & Bizzy Bone – “When Thugz Cry”