During the 90s, fresh faces ushered in a golden age of hip hop groups to boomboxes and headphones worldwide.
Rappers took the mold set by groups of the eighties and expanded it with Shakespearean artistry on the mic, rhythmic flows, and beautiful harmonies. To sum it up, it was dope.
As hip hop has progressed, however, the art of a perfect group dynamic seems to have all but faded away. Finding the ideal combination of flows, tones, and personalities has long been the hip-hop version of unearthing a flawless diamond. Arguably, the world hasn’t seen the likes of these hip hop groups since the 1990s.
A Tribe Called Quest
Members: Phife Dawg, Q-tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Rapping out of: Queens, NY
First album: People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm
Hit Single: “Award Tour” (People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm)
Underrated Jam: “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” (People’s Instinctive Travel and Paths of Rhythm)
Kicking off the list are the undisputed kings of flow. Coming straight out of Queens, NY, A Tribe called Quest brought a unique sound and attitude during a surging era of hip-hop aggression in the nineties.
They put macho-ism on the back burners, and instead brought forth very lucid songs that took on social issues.
With their uniquely jazz-like beats and soothing rap style, Tribe made the nineties a particularly great time for group artistry.
The Lords of the Underground
Members: DoItAll, Mr. Funke, DJ Lord Jazz
Rapping out of: Newark NJ/ Cleveland OH
First album: Here Come the Lords (1993)
Hit Single: “Chief Rocka” (Here Come the Lords)
Underrated Jam: “Tic Toc” (Keepers of the Funk)
The streets know that the Lords are absolute studs.
Coming out of a ridiculous hip hop class in 1993, The Lords of the Underground were straight-up gangsters. Their constant homage to their streets and hard-hitting storytelling made their sound bleed through blocks all over the east coast in the nineties.
A tight break-dance friendly style saw their way to a BET award in 1993 for “Best Rap Group,” beating out some of the most influential groups of all time—many of which are also on this list.
Members: B-Real, DJ Muggs, Eric Bobo, Sen Dog, Mellow Man ace, Mix Master Mike
Rapping out of: South Gate, CA
First album: Cypress Hill (1991)
Hit Single: “Insane in the Brain” (Black Sunday)
Underrated Jam: “Hand On the Pump” (Cypress Hill)
Cypress Hill meant more to hip-hop than anyone can ever give them credit. They bridged cultural gaps as the first widely listened to Latino Hip-hop group.
It’s no secret that Cypress Hill likes to “hit that loud,” as they say. The group has been advocates for marijuana legalization since its conception.
They cornered the market for “stoned funk,” which made their sounds perfect for anyone who wants to burn, shut the world off, and listen to some hip hop for a little while.
The Lost Boyz
Members: Freaky Tah, Mr. Cheeks, Pretty Lou, Spigg Nice
Rapping out of: Queens, NY
First album: Legal Drug Money (1996)
Hit Single: “Renee” (Legal Drug Money)
Underrated Jam: “Lifestyle of the Rich and the Shameless” (Legal Drug Money)
Somewhat of a dark horse on this list, The Lost Boyz were absolutely rocket strapped to hip hop lore in the nineties.
Their unique emotion and understanding of the rough come-up in the projects shone through their sound. Raspy flows with rugged lyrics made this group an absolute hammer.
Unfortunately, their tsunami-like momentum tragically halted when Freaky Tah was shot dead in 1999.
Members: Chali 2na, Cut Chemist, Mark 7, Akil, Soup, DJ Nu-Mark
Rapping out of: Los Angeles, CA
First album: Jurassic 5 (1998)
Hit Single: “Quality Control” (Quality Control)
Underrated Jam: “Remember His Name” (Power in Numbers)
Hilariously enough, Jurassic 5 is comprised of six members. J5 was a beautiful example of wildly different blends and voices coming together to form something extraordinary.
Each member differs from the last: their extremely unique tones and spices combined to create a trademark schoolyard storytelling style.
Members: Flesh-n-Bone, Krayzie Bone, Wish Bone, Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone
Rapping out of: Cleveland, OH
First album: Faces of Death (1993)
Hit Single: “Tha Crossroads” (E 1999 Eternal)
Underrated Jam: “Foe Tha Love of $” (Creepin on Ah Come Up)
In many hip hop historians’ minds, Bone Thugs were the fast-paced, high-BPM flow originators.
Their hammering yet smooth pace made them a unique combination of prolific gangster rap and refreshing melody.
Pairing that with party-friendly choruses made Bone Thugs massive stars as a group in the 1990s.
Members: Andre 3,000, Big Boi
Rapping out of: Atlanta, GA
First album: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1996)
Hit Single: “Hey Ya” (Speakerboxx/The Love Below)
Underrated Jam: “Elevators [Me and You]” (ATLiens)
Despite having a few mainstream smash hits, Outkast is still well respected amongst hip hop connoisseurs.
They shone a much-deserved light on dirty southern rap during the ’90s. Their eccentric personalities and jazzy flow brought forth a needed positive vibe to the rap world during that time.
Naughty By Nature
Members: Treach, Kaygee, Vin Rock
Rapping out of: East Orange, NJ
First album: Naughty By Nature (1991)
Hit Single: “Hip-Hop Hooray” (19 Naughty III)
Underrated Jam: “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (Naughty By Nature)
Originally known as “New Style,” Naughty By Nature ushered in the nineties’ group dynamic.
The reach of their influence cannot be understated. Their peppering and prolific styles often beautifully flowed in to pop anthem choruses. This style made their sound respected by the streets, yet also palatable for a less underground audience.
Members: Havoc, Prodigy
Rapping out of: Queens, NY
First album: Juvenile Hell (1993)
Hit Single: “Shook Ones Pt. II” (The Infamous)
Underrated Jam: “Peer Pressure” (Juvenile Hell)
During the explosion of poetic artistry on the east coast, Mobb Deep was amongst the elite.
Rubbing elbows with the likes of heavy hitters Notorious B.I.G and Nas would have buried most. Mobb Deep, however, not only held their own, but they also carved out their own path.
Their take-no-prisoners lyrics and raw boom-bap beats made them one of the most influential groups of all time amongst east coast hip hop.
Members: RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Old Dirty Bastard, U-God, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck
Rapping out of: Staten Island, NY
First album: Enter the Wu-Tang [36 Chambers] (1993)
Hit Single: “C.R.E.A.M.” (Enter the Wu-Tang [36 Chambers])
Underrated Jam: “Can It All Be So Simple” (Enter the Wu-Tang [36 Chambers])
Wu-Tang Clan is the consensus standard when it comes to group hip-hop.
The management of nine different artists, each with just as much claim as the last to a lored solo career, is truly a miracle.
Wu has transcended generations. Each member has seen their success as their own entity, all while maintaining undying loyalty to the group.
They also featured some of the illest samples in rap history. Kung-Fu movies’ unheard-of influence made this group decisively at the head of the table amongst hip hop groups.
The 1990s were a time of unparalleled prosperity for hip hop groups, delivering amalgams of raw individual talent and inspired collaboration today’s hip hop scene has yet to match. In an era where solo artists abound, hip hop fans can only hope another group revival is on the horizon.