While hip hop might be one of the newer genres of music, it still has a deep history that’s full of artists and groups that shaped it into what it has become today. It has become a rich style of music, incorporating elements of social commentary, jazz, rap, reggae, electronic music, and rock.
In this article, we’ll be going over the 31 best, most successful, and most influential hip hop groups of all time.
1. Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan was originally formed in 1992 by RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa. They would go on to become one of the most influential groups in the history of hip hop, spearheading the hardcore hip hop style and introducing and springboarding the careers of numerous hip hop artists. Their music is still referenced today, both within hip hop circles and in a variety of other genres.
Run-D.M.C. is one of the best hip hop groups of all time, and they were the first to achieve a lot of music industry milestones as well. They were the first hip hop group to be broadcasted on MTV, the first to be nominated for a Grammy Award, and the first to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. They were also the second hip hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, thanks in large part to their cover of Walk This Way by Aerosmith.
Outkast utilized elements of jazz, funk, and techno in their hip hop tracks, helping them stand out from others in the 90s and early 2000s. The duo released six studio albums and sold over 20 million records, as well as garnered six Grammy wins. The duo broke up in 2006, though André 300 and Antwan Patton have both gone on to lead successful solo careers in the years since.
N.W.A. pioneered the gangsta rap genre, with their second studio album being the first hardcore rap album to top Billboard 200 sales charts. They ran into controversy mostly due to the explicit nature of their lyrics, which had them pulled from most American radio stations. The bans didn’t stop them from selling over 10 million albums in the US though. Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren all went on to become platinum-selling solo artists in the 90s and after their time with the group.
5. Public Enemy
Public Enemy became one of the most important hip hop groups of the 80s and 90s. The biggest reasons for their popularity were their messages centered around racism and the media. They won a lifetime award from the Grammys, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and each of their first four albums went gold or platinum.
6. Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys formed in 1978 and have become one of the best-selling hip hop and rap groups in history. In the US alone, they’ve gained over 20 million album sales and released seven different platinum records. They were the first rap group to top the Billboard 200 chart with License To Ill, the third rap group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and remain popular to this day.
7. The Roots
The Roots aren’t just a group, they are considered hip hop’s first legitimate band. Their music takes elements from jazz and features live instrumentals, a slight departure from normal hip hop songs. They have been the house band for both The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and regularly work with other artists as guests on albums.
8. De La Soul
De La Soul are one of the biggest contributors to jazz rap and alt hip hop scenes. Their unique style and clever lyrics earned them places among the most critically-acclaimed hip hop groups in history, even winning a Grammy in 2006 for their collaboration with Gorillaz on Feel Good Inc.
9. Geto Boys
Geto Boys, originally Ghetto Boys, were formed in 1986 and went on to pioneer southern rap, paving the way for future rappers and groups to make their way into the mainstream with the style. Their biggest hit, Mind Playing Tricks On Me, reached the top spot of the Hot Rap Songs charts and number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
10. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony or BTNH is regarded as one of the most melodic rap groups in history, and they’re the only group to work with 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., Eazy-E, and Big Pun during their time. They penned quite a few hit songs and albums, winning a Grammy Award for Tha Crossroads, a tribute song to Eazy-E.
Next: How Eazy-E died
11. Three 6 Mafia
In the beginning, Three 6 Mafia was a horror-themed rap group, but their later work brought them out of the underground and into mainstream success. They put together two certified platinum albums and won an Academy Award for their hit song It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp, featured in the movie, Hustle & Flow. Overall, they earned over five and a half million album sales.
12. Tha Dogg Pound
Kurupt and Daz formed Tha Dogg Pound after Dr. Dre suggested they create a group after hearing how well they worked together in the recording studio. Their debut album Dogg Food reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts and ended up being a multi-platinum record. The duo, along with 2Pac, were the main reason Death Row Records became a successful brand in the 90s. Their work with Snoop Dogg on New York, New York became the catalyst for the east coast versus west coast rap feud.
13. Def Squad
Def Squad is a side project for Keith Murray, Redman, and Erick Sermon. The group has only released a single album, El Nino, which reached number two on the Billboard 200 charts and was certified gold in 1998. Each member is wildly successful in their solo career, and listening to them together is a beautiful thing.
14. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest was formed in 1985 and would go on to pioneer the alternative hip hop scene. They were the biggest group in the Native Tongues collective, a hip hop circle best known for their good-natured lyrics and sampling of jazz and electronic music. All six of their studio albums were certified gold or platinum.
15. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
When you want to take a look at OG hip hop groups, it’s impossible not to mention Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. They were one of the most influential acts in the origins of hip hop and among the first to use turntables and sprinkle political messages into their lyrics. In 2007, they became the first hip hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and their single The Message was chosen by the Library of Congress to be included in the National Recording Registry.
UGK consistently released charting albums throughout the group’s careers, including the self-titled album Underground Kingz, which saw the single Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You) debut at number-one on the Billboard 200. They have also been featured on other hit songs, including Big Pimpin’ by Jay-Z. Their final album, UGK 4 Life was released in 2009.
17. Naughty By Nature
Mentored originally by Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature first found success in the early 90s with their self-titled album. They would go on to become the first hip hop group to perform at Fenway Park, record multiple number-one hits, and win a Grammy Award for the album Poverty’s Paradise. Each of the members, Treach, Vin Rock, and DJ Kay Gee, has all gone on to have successful solo careers.
EPMD is the main act for Erick Sermon, who is also part of Def Squad. Along with him, Parrish Smith has been an active member of EPMD for the last 35 years. They’ve had their hand in Hit Squad and Def Squad and toured with huge names like Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy. Despite a couple of breakups, they have continued working to this day, including appearing alongside Eminem on the Nas track, EPMD 2.
19. Black Moon
Black Moon has released a total of four studio albums, with the biggest success of those coming in their debut album Enta Da Stage. They also formed part of the supergroup Boot Camp Clik, on whose album Basic Training: Boot Camp Clik’s Biggest Hits they had four of their songs included. They saw moderate success in the 90s, charting a few songs as a group.
20. Goodie Mob
Goodie Mob was an Atlanta-based hip hop group made up of CeeLo Green, Khujo, T-Mo, and Big Gipp. While Green may be the largest name to come out of the group, Goodie Mob’s debut album would go on to be certified gold and produce the single Cell Therapy, which reached number 39 on Billboard’s Hot 100. They are best known for the social commentary aspect of their second record, a shift away from the grittiness of their debut album.
21. Cypress Hill
Cypress Hill was one of the pioneers of West Coast rap in the 90s. Made up of Sen Dog, B-Real, Eric Bobo, Mellow Man Ace, and Dj Muggs, they became the first hip hop group to be given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In total, their records have sold over 20 million units worldwide. Each of the members is an advocate for recreational and medical marijuana use within the US.
22. The Pharcyde
The Pharcyde, also known as The Far Side, is an alternative hip hop group from the west coast that formed in Los Angeles in 1989. Their debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde and singles like Drop, Passin’ Me By, and Runnin’ are their best-known works, with the last being featured in the movie 8 Mile. In total, they would release four studio albums, though none would be as successful as their debut record.
Onyx was originally formed in 1988 but didn’t find its final configuration until 1991. The group is credited with introducing the slam style of dancing to hip hop with their 1993 single Slam, which made platinum as a single. In total, they released eight studio albums, earning one platinum certification and an award for best album at the Soul Train Music Awards.
Fugees is short for the word “refugees,” and was the name Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel, and Lauryn Hill chose when they formed the group in the early 90s. Their second album The Score would become one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 22 million records sold worldwide. They have also won two Grammy Awards and a Brit Award for International Group.
25. 2 Live Crew
The group 2 Live Crew found a lot of success in the late 80s and 90s, though they were surrounded by controversy because of their sexually explicit lyrics. Over time, their compilation changed a lot, with members leaving and returning multiple times. Despite the turnover, they managed to release eight studio albums and record tracks for a few movie soundtracks including Friday.
Hieroglyphics is an underground hip hop collective founded in the early 90s by Del the Funky Homosapien. As a group, they’ve released three studio albums and five compilation albums. Most of their focus is on live music and podcasts rather than commercial success through album sales. They are best known for their logo: a three-eyed face with a straight mouth. You can find it on all of their work and merchandise.
27. Mobb Deep
Prodigy and Havoc got together to form Mobb Deep in the early 90s and became some of the most iconic and important artists in the east coast hardcore rap scene. They are one of the most successful duos in rap as well, selling over 3 million records during their time together. After signing with G-Unit records, the duo would provide production on tracks for 50 Cent.
G-unit was formed by east coast rappers 50 Cent, Tony Yayo, and Lloyd Banks. The trio released their debut album Beg For Mercy in 2003, which would sell over four million units and be certified quadruple platinum. Their second and final album T-O-S (Terminate On Sight) was met with a lukewarm reception but did well in initial sales. While 50 Cent would have the most commercially successful solo career, both Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks would work with him on the G-Unit record label.
29. Boogie Down Productions
Boogie Down Productions were the first group to use elements of dance reggae in their hip hop and one of the few groups in the 80s to be honest about what life was like in their neighborhoods. Despite constant changes in their lineup, the lineage of gangsta rap can be traced back to them. They were only together for a short run, from 1986 until 1992.
Gorillaz is an English group that goes well beyond a group or band. Instead of members, they are made up of fictional characters represented by 2-D art. They have dabbled in a wide range of musical styles, all of which are blended with hip hop themes. They’re one of the most successful European hip hop groups, reaching multi-platinum status there with several albums.
31. The LOX
The LOX is from Yonkers, New York, and was formed in 1994. The group is made up of Sheek Louch, Styles P, and Jadakiss who have also launched their own record label D-Block. Their departure from Bad Boy Records became part of a movement aiming to free them of their contract with the studio. Their debut album Money, Power, And Respect would go platinum, though you might recognize them from their work in Jennifer Lopez’s Jenny From The Block.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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