Two weeks ago my source for popular culture – my girlfriend – informed me that Prodigy of Mobb Deep passed away at 42. The group from Queensbridge, New York featuring the previously mentioned Prodigy and Havoc gained acclaim for song such as Shook Ones,
Survival of the Fittest and Quiet Storm. Prodigy’s death – as must do – has allowed me to reflect on not only Mobb Deep but the declining state of groups in rap.
Without rap groups the some of the greatest songs and performers wouldn’t have made the airwaves. The first nationally recognized hip-hop track – Rapper’s Delight by Sugar Hill Gang – brought a new genre but also forsaw the popularity groups would have.
The dominance era of rap groups were not restricted to a single decade or location. The growth of hip-hop in the 1980s was spearheaded by the groups of the decade. While New York became recognized as the hub for hip-hop with groups such as Beastie Boys and Run DMC; other groups in New York and across the country were just as talented and influential. Public Enemy and De La Soul were other New York groups who used their platform to promoted increased political activity and black positivity. Though groups from New York drew the most attention, others across the country began exposing the country to local cultures. Niggas With Attitude (NWA) headlined by by Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr.Dre pioneered “gangsta rap”, but were not the ones to develop this style. Lead by Scarface the Geto Boys of Houston through songs such as Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta spoke freely of vulgar topics such as depression, sex and murder. Groups of the 80s gave voice to the varying experiences of black life across the country.
The nineties continued on the path with greater groups of a larger variety. New York saw competing sounds gain popularity as a Tribe Called Quest did it through relaxed jazz influenced beats. Meanwhile Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep took another rout to fame with a more hardcore sound. Atlanta’s current command of rap would be nothing without Outkast and UGK creating a space for them within music. Groups all over the country put their cities on the map from South Gate, California’s Cypress Hill to Cleveland’s Bone Thugs and Harmony. Groups of the 90s also allowed us to see the development of hip-hops future stars. The following are individual artists that were members of groups;
- Cee Lo Green – Goodie Mob | Mos Def & Talib Kwali – Black Star
- Jadakiss – Lox | Lauren Hill / Wyclef Jean | The Fugees
Even some of the greatest performers were members of groups from Busta Rhymes in Leaders of the New School and Tupac in Digital Underground (he’s in the red). Rap’s golden age saw groups lead the charge and their members dominate once alone.
The 21st century began the dramatic decline of rap groups. While Outkast’s success continued early into the decade; groups like G-Unit and the Diplomats – also known as Dipset – seem to have a greater cultural reputation than their music would indicate. This current decade has seen even fewer groups gain national attention. Meanwhile collaboration albums have done just the opposite with Jay-Z & Kanye West’s Watch the Thrown as well as Drake & Future’s What a Time to Be Alive. The most popular group of this decade is unquestionably Migos. Originally Polo Club, Migos exploded with their 2016 album Culture and has consistently grown since their 2013 singles Hannah Montana & Versace in 2013. Though other groups like Odd Future have a profile their members Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean and the Internet are often best solo. As Migos stands alone one can only wonder how long it will take for the next rap group to emerge, if ever.
The reason groups have declined overtime is complicated and fascinating. Even the best rap groups have split due to a variety of internal conflicts ranging from unequal revenue sharing to opposing visions. In this digital age it is now easier for solo acts to gain recognition. While this has empowered the artist and exposed us to more diverse sounds; it has come at the cost of us losing the most collaborative and innovate music possible.