Since Hip Hop’s inception, there have always been groups. As the genre got older, we’ve seen so many units deevelop. From beloved duos and trios to crews that encompass nine or more members, it’s been interesting to see Hip Hop groups evolve over time.
Rather than offer you a standard “best of” list, this is a general collection of rap squads across decades and regions. Some of these groups are pioneers who provided the foundation for what Hip Hop is today. Others are contemporaries who are building on that lineage while envisioning a future for themselves and their successors. Peep them below.
1. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five served as a blueprint for what a Hip Hop group could be. Though short-lived (after forming in 1978, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five split into two separate groups in 1983), they had an impact on the then-burgeoning cultural phenomenon that became Hip Hop, primarily thanks to their song “The Message.” The track showcased the genre’s ability to address social and political concerns in disenfranchised communities and is still considered a classic to this day. Its influence is a reason why Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five continue to be acknowledged decades later.
Dubbed “The First Ladies of Rap” for their notable achievements — including being one of the first female rap groups to win a Grammy — Salt-N-Pepa is one of the most important acts of all time in Hip Hop. The duo, along with DJ Spinderella, made space for women who wanted to shamelessly express their sexuality with songs like “Push It,” “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Shoop,” which served as liberating anthems for women. The fact that the group is still around speaks to their legacy. Their music is a clear predecessor to contemporary figures like City Girls, Megan Thee Stallion, and other female rappers.
Pioneers of gangsta rap, there’s a reason why N.W.A referred to themselves as the world’s most dangerous group. Their debut album, 1988’s Straight Outta Compton, showcased their militant disregard for authority (particularly the LAPD) while speaking on the harsh everyday struggles they endured as Black people. At their peak, N.W.A’s music was banned from radio stations and MTV; the members also endured hostility from law enforcement. Now, their story is everywhere, told through their music and also through one of the most successful musical biopics ever made.
4. Public Enemy
The charismatic and eccentric Flavor Flav paired with the powerful and booming Chuck D has made for one of Hip Hop’s most important groups. Public Enemy introduced itself as a pro-Black and politically minded rap act with their 1987 debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Stage, and continued to build on that with follow-ups like 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions and 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet — all produced by the brilliant and innovative Bomb Squad production team that included Chuck D. Public Enemy defined the idea of being socially conscious in Hip Hop, so much so that revered film director Spike Lee got them to make a politically charged anthem for his outstanding 1989 film Do the Right Thing.
5. Wu-Tang Clan
What started in the slums of Shaolin — NYC’s often-forgotten fifth borough, Staten Island — grew to become a worldwide sensation. No group in Hip Hop has as much of a fascinating origin story as the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s honestly mythic: A group that got its name from a 1983 martial arts film from Hong Kong, and released a debut album that featured nine different MCs rapping across 12 tracks. De facto leader RZA brought together so many distinct personalities to create a united front — from the unconventional Ol’ Dirty Bastard to the pretty boy Method Man — resulting in one of the most successful and recognizable collectives in Hip Hop.
6. A Tribe Called Quest
There’s no way to describe A Tribe Called Quest other than ingenious. From the brilliant back-and-forth raps between Q-Tip and the late Phife Dawg — and occasionally Jarobi White — to the intricate production built from funk, jazz and soul samples, this Hip Hop group crafted a sound that became a part of a notable sub-genre of rap in the ’90s: jazz rap. The group went on to influence countless rappers, too. Just one listen to classics like “Bonita Applebum,” “Electric Relaxation” or “Check the Rhime,” and it’s understandable why game-changers like Pharrell, Kanye West and OutKast were inspired by such a timeless rap act.
7. Three 6 Mafia
From horrorcore pioneers to Academy Award winners, Three 6 Mafia’s influence is undeniable. The Memphis Hip Hop group channeled a dark and menacing sound that complemented their evocative lyrics, culminating in early hits like “Tear da Club Up.” Although that darkness would clear up some as they grew in popularity, the brash energy that was always a part of the group remained intact, which helped songs like “Poppin’ My Collar” and “Stay Fly” become classics. Hip Hop has turned over to the dark side many times since this group’s rise, and though countless acts have borrowed from the blueprint they created, none do it quite like Three 6 Mafia.
“The South got something to say.” Those words, said by OutKast’s André 3000 at the 1995 Source Awards, perfectly capture what the beloved Atlanta rap group is all about. Since its beginning, OutKast has southern fried Hip Hop in a way that only they can, their rhymes just as thought-provoking as the eclectic production that accompanies them. Throughout their career, they’ve redefined themselves time and time again. They’ve traversed the rap realm as extraterrestrial ATLiens, able to create everything from high-speed drum and bass anthems to a double album that has become the highest-selling Hip Hop album ever. OutKast hasn’t just put on for the greatness of Southern rap, but rap as a whole.
Starting with a string of mixtape releases between 2002 and 2003, G-Unit achieved breakout success with their 2003 debut album, Beg For Mercy. Released nine months after 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the album Beg For Mercy was a proper debut for 50 Cent’s group, which featured Lloyd Banks, Young Buck and Tony Yayo. The album reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200, bolstered by singles like “Stunt 101” and “Wanna Get to Know You.” Five years later, they would release the follow-up to Beg For Mercy, titled Terminate on Sight, as well as release countless mixtapes up until then. Although 50 Cent has said he wants to erase the group from his memories, there’s no denying how impactful G-Unit was in the early 2000s.
Run-D.M.C. not only changed what Hip Hop sounded like, but what it looked like, too. Run, DMC and the late Jam Master Jay weren’t trying to emulate the funk and disco-driven raps of their predecessors. Instead, they relied on sparse and strong production, with all the empty space filled up by Run and DMC’s rhymes. To fit their new sound, the group also had a uniform: a full Adidas tracksuit, a pair of Adidas Superstar sneakers — with no laces and the tongue out— a large hat and a thick gold chain. Their support of Adidas ended up working in their favor. After company executives saw thousands of fans show off their Adidas at a Run-DMC show at Madison Square Garden, the footwear brand signed the group to a $1 million deal, which marked the first time a rap act signed with a major sportswear brand.
They may not have invented the now ubiquitous triplet flow in rap, but they absolutely popularized it. There was a long period where Quavo, Offset and the late Takeoff had a stranglehold on rap, so much so that even Drake felt compelled to remix one of their songs. The Atlanta group has so many classics under their belt that it’s understandable if you forgot a few of them. With hits like “Hannah Montana,” “Pipe It Up,” “Bad and Boujee,” “MotorSport,” “Stir Fry” and “Walk It Talk It,” Migos made their mark on Atlanta and beyond, and they became one of the most important Hip Hop groups of the 2010s.
12. Rae Sremmurd
As Rae Sremmurd, brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi created some of the most memorable rap songs of the 2010s like “No Flex Zone,” “No Type,” “Throw Sum Mo” and many others. And how could we forget about “Black Beatles,” which was integral to the viral Mannequin Challenge in 2016? The rap group has — and continues — to give us fun and exhilarating party music.
13. City Girls
It wasn’t that long ago when City Girls first took the rap world by storm in 2018 with Period and Girl Code. JT and Caresha became scam rap heroes, and a feature on Drake’s “In My Feelings” only bolstered their then-rising acclaim. They’ve continued to release hits like “Twerk,” “Act Up” and “Twerkulator” while working with notable artists like Cardi B, Doja Cat, Lil Baby and Usher. The late 2010s foreshadowed the surge in women rappers that we’ve seen coming into the 2020s, and City Girls are an important part of that.
Putting on for Virginia, Clipse first found success with their debut album, 2002’s Lord Willin’. With the in-demand production team, The Neptunes, handling the beats, brothers Pusha T and No Malice created a project primarily centered around their cocaine-dealing escapades. Although the group took a break following the release of their last album, 2009’s Til the Casket Drops, they’ve since popped up as guests on other artists’ albums, appearing on Kanye West’s Jesus is King in 2019, and Japanese fashion designer Nigo’s I Know Nigo in 2022.
15. The LOX
Even before their memorable Verzuz battle against Dipset, The LOX was already a Hip Hop group deserving of praise. Rappers Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch rose to prominence in the late ’90s with their debut album, 1998’s Money, Power & Respect, which showed the trio’s undeniable chemistry and rap talent. The title track alone signaled how important they would become to hardcore East Coast rap. The LOX have gone on to release three other albums since then, while also proving that they’re just as enthusiastic and serious about their raps as they were when they first started.
16. Flipmode Squad
More a collective than a Hip Hop group, what’s most fascinating about the Busta Rhymes-founded and fronted Flipmode Squad is the number of distinct artists who have been a part of it at some point in their careers. N.O.R.E., Papoose, Rah Digga, DJ Scratch, Serious Jones — even a young Roc Marciano was a part of Flipmode when he made his career debut on “Whatcha Come Around Here For” and “The Heist,” two tracks off the first Violator compilation released in 1999. (The compilation was released through the Violator record label that Busta was a part of.)
Although Flipmode would only release one studio album, 1998’s The Imperial, it’s better to remember the group as a jumpstart for the careers of artists that ultimately went solo, as was the case with those already mentioned. Nowadays, Flipmode has essentially transformed into The Conglomerate, a much smaller group that encompasses Busta, Spliff Star and others.
17. Leaders of the New School
Even before Chuck D and the Bomb Squad (Chuck’s production team) gave the group its name and took its members under their wings, Leaders of the New School had already shown so much promise and potential. While there’s no denying how pivotal Busta Rhymes was to that, with his contributions on behalf of the group — particularly a show-stealing guest verse on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” — adding to their rising popularity during the early ’90s, it’d be wrong to dismiss the rapping abilities of fellow members Dinco D and Charlie Brown, as well as DJ (and occasional rapper) Cut Monitor Milo.
With only two albums, the group made a lasting impression on Hip Hop. A Future Without a Past showed that Leaders could handle a full debut album, with singles like “Case of the P.T.A.” and “Sobb Story” showcasing their enthralling chemistry with each other. Then came the group’s second album, T.I.M.E., a project that was revered to be even better than their debut thanks to standouts like “What’s Next” and “Eternal.”
With how much star power he had, it was inevitable that Busta was going to break out and do his own thing, which played a part in the group disbanding after T.I.M.E.‘s release. (It should be noted that Busta, Dinco and Charlie have said that the group is working on new material, although there hasn’t been any recent updates on that.) Still, there’s no denying Leaders’ talent as a forward-thinking Hip Hop group who was able to stand alongside greats like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.