By ADANAI staffOOne of the most popular pastimes for music fans is trying to rank their favorite acts. Get around a group of hip-hop fans and it’s rare the conversation doesn’t at some point turn to ranking the top five MCs of all time (Rakim, Eminem, Jay-Z, Biggie and Tupac, in case you were wondering. Not necessarily in that order).
ESPN’s Grantland has a podcast that features former NBA star and ABC/ESPN basketball analyst Jalen Rose and Grantland Producer David Jacoby. Generally the content is focused around hoops culture (there is nothing better than hearing Jalen riff on “Champagning and Campaigning”).
Hip-hop music is an integral part of hoops culture. Spend an afternoon up at the Rucker in Harlem and you’ll get the picture. With the NBA in a quiet period, Jalen and Jacoby have decided to run a NCAA March Madness bracket-style contest to determine the best hip-hop group of all time. Thirty-two groups made the cut with everyone seeded one through eight.
The voting is taking place right now. Instead of just voting, ADANAI has gone a few steps further to: 1) List the groups that should have been included and likewise, those that shouldn’t have; 2) Put together a playlist with a selection of tracks from each artist; and 3) Make an argument for the rightful winner of the existing bracket.
Here is Jalen and Jacoby’s bracket of best hip-hop groups:
While reading this, it may help to turn on the ADANAI “Jalen/Jacoby Best Hip-Hop Group” playlist (created on Spotify).
Editor’s note: You will need Spotify (Get it here: www.spotify.com) to listen to, share and subscribe to the playlists we will periodically post.
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Everyone has a right to their opinion but with that said, several groups are glaringly absent from this contest:
Nice and Smooth
For a several year period, the early to mid-‘90s, they controlled the dance floor. You know the deal if you are old enough to remember the frenzy of “Dwyck,” (yes, “Dwyck” is a Gang Starr track but Nice and Smooth took it to another level) “Hip Hop Junkies” or “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow.” Heck, put “Hip Hop Junkies” on now and watch the dance floor go nuts.
Souls of Mischief
Souls of Mischief is the West Coast version of Black Moon. Much like Black Moon represents a larger movement – the grimy Boot Camp Clik sound emanating from Brooklyn, Souls of Mischief represents the lyrically focused Bay Area sound from the Hieroglyphics crew. “’93 till Infinity” is still a banger and the Souls of Mischief freestyle on Bobbito Garcia and Stretch Armstrong’s radio show is legendary.
A few years ago in the NCAA basketball tournament they added four “play-in” games where two teams on the bubble of getting in play each other for the last four spots in the bracket. The Pharcyde deserves serious consideration for this tournament thanks to “Runnin’,” “Passin’ Me By” and “Drop.” However, might make them do a play-in game (perhaps against Souls of Mischief? Feels about right).
Pete Rock and CL Smooth
Jalen and Jacoby talk about them not being a hip-hop group because Pete Rock really isn’t a MC. While he doessn’t flow like Big Daddy Kane, his quirky offbeat style is super memorable. Check his verse on his remix of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” for just a taste. Also, “They Reminisce Over You” is one of the best hip-hop songs ever made.
One of the most iconic lines in hip-hop history is, “When I pop the trunk, hit the deck.” If you are a fan of Fat Joe and Big Pun, then be clear that The Beatnuts were the trailblazers of NYC – Latino influenced hip-hop. Tracks like “Get Funky,” “Watch out Now” and “Off The Books” should have easily earned them a spot in the top 32.
Perhaps they get KO’d because they only have two albums (with one on the way, supposedly). That being said, there are some groups on the list with a similar sized library and it‘s important to think of the influence and star power of 50 Cent and the skills of Lloyd Banks, Young Buck and Tony Yayo.
It isn’t fair to just say you should add group X or group Y without discussing who comes off the list. Assuming Souls of Mischief and The Pharcyde have a play-in game, here are the five that need to be bounced:
2 Live Crew
They are historically important and clearly influential, but their music is hard to listen to and their MC skills are definitely questionable. When was the last time you actually wanted to listen to 2 Live Crew? Kudos for creating the hip-hop strip club genre and maybe Uncle Luke should be given credit for the Twerking craze but, come on.
Clearly the affiliation with super producers The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) has done wonders for them, and Pusha T is a great MC. That being said, their limited library doesn’t merit a spot on this list.
Their feature on “Get Up, Git Out” by Outkast is one for the ages and clearly Cee-Lo has gone on to be a real star, but they deserve honorable mention as the 33rd group.
They had a few great hits and the Tupac connection gives them serious street cred but try to find four tracks of theirs that you really want to listen to.
Jalen and the city of Detroit may stop reading this article (assuming they ever started) because of this but this here is the truth: J-Dilla is a legend and it’s terrific that he is getting his due posthumously but this group does not rise above the likes of Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Pete Rock is just as accomplished as a producer and while his work with CL Smooth was limited, it’s better than Slum Village’s.
Wu-Tang Clan (#1 seed) vs. Brand Nubian (#8 seed)
Rationale: Method Man, Raekwon and Ghostface Killa are top 32 MCs on their own.
On the loser: During their run in the early ‘90s, Brand Nubian was one of the best hip-hop groups hands down. Tracks like “Slow Down” and “All For One” are all-timers. If Grand Puba hadn’t split, who knows what else they might have done together.
2 Live Crew (#4) vs. The Lox (#5)
Rationale: The Lox win this one easily.
On the loser: See “The Boot.” Enough on 2 Live Crew.
Beastie Boys (#3) vs. M.O.P. (#6)
Rationale: The Beasties are hip-hop royalty. This seed is disrespectful.
A word on the loser: M.O.P. had glimpses of brilliance with “Ante Up” and “Cold as Ice” but were never able to get their act together to consistently put out great music. The link to G-Unit gave every M.O.P. fan hope but it never came together.
Mobb Deep (#2) vs. Naughty by Nature (#7)
Rationale: 20 years in the game and Mobb Deep is still putting out relevant music. While they never had the commercial success of Naughty by Nature, “Shook Ones Part II” and the remix of “Quiet Storm” match any Naughty by Nature track on the club banger status scale.
On the loser: A worthy inclusion and their hit making ability should be lauded. “O.P.P.” was the song of a generation and “Hip-Hop Hooray” still gets people to wave their arms in the air. Their hard, gritty image combined with their pop, sing-songy tracks was always a little confusing though.
N.W.A. (#1) vs. Clipse (#8)
Rationale: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. ‘Nuff said.
On the loser: See “The Boot.”“Grindin” is still a great listen.
Black Moon (#4) vs. The Dogg Pound (#5)
Rationale: Black Moon represented a movement while The Dogg Pound never felt like a committed group. Was Snoop really part of The Dogg Pound? Didn’t Daz and Kurupt really just want to be solo artists?
On the loser: The Dogg Pound may have gotten lost in the shuffle of the abundance of music coming out of Death Row post Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Their “New York, New York” track was at the epicenter of the infamous West Coast / East Coast beef.
Cypress Hill (#3) vs. Goodie Mob (#6)
Rationale: See “The Boot.” Goodie Mob shouldn’t be on this list. Cypress Hill is responsible for several mega-hits including “Insane in the Brain” and “(Rock) Superstar.”
On the loser: Love that the lead MC, Cee Lo Green, is the man behind Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, the rise of the smash hit TV show “The Voice” and the start of Outkast’s Hall of Fame career (remember “Git Up, Get Out”) – now that’s range.
Geto Boys (#2) vs. Dipset (#7)
Rationale: To be clear, this analysis assumes they meant specifically the group The Diplomats and not the clique The Dipset. This was closer than one might think. If Dipset included the library of Cam’ron, Juelz Santana and Jim Jones as solo artists then it might be a different story.
On the loser: There is no clique that represents Harlem, New York better than the Dipset.
Public Enemy (#1) vs. Whodini (#8)
Rationale: Whodini is incredible and love tracks like “Friends”, “Five Minutes of Funk” and “I’m a Ho” but their library doesn’t come close to Public Enemy’s.
On the loser: Whodini does not get its due as a historically important group. People tend to skip from Grandmaster Flash to Run-DMC when discussing hip-hop group pioneers, but Whodini was a critical part of the birth of hip-hop.
Black Star (#4) vs. EPMD (#5)
Rationale: EPMD is historically underrated. From 1988 until the mid ‘90s they were on top of the hip-hop world. Their albums used to be some of the most anticipated in hip-hop.
On the loser: One and done on the album front isn’t enough to pass muster, but Black Star is possibly the #1 hip-hop group in terms of pure MC skills with Mos Def and Talib Kweli both possibly being top 10 all-time MCs.
The Roots (#3) vs. UGK (#6)
Rationale: RIP Pimp C. The Roots are the best live performers on this list and they have been relevant in three different decades.
On the loser: Is there a better feature than UGK on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’”?
A Tribe Called Quest (#2) vs. Digital Underground (#7)
Rationale: See “The Boot.” ATCQ’s career was memorialized in a documentary – that’s pretty strong.
On the loser: One positive attributed to Humpty and his crew – Jalen is right, next time you are in the strip club, make sure they play “Freaks of the Industry” and see what happens. Oh and much like UGK and”Big Pimpin'”, they have a feature on a top 50 all time track, Tupac’s “I Get Around.”
Run-DMC (#1) vs. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (#8)
Rationale: Both are historically important but Run-DMC is more important and more prolific.
On the loser: ‘The Message” pioneered the concept of having real meaning in hip-hop lyrics. That video is still an amazing watch.
De La Soul (#4) vs. The Fugees (#5)
Rationale: De La Soul was one of the first to move away from macho bravado lyrics and embraced fun, quirky concepts without giving up anything from a MC perspective. This is probably the toughest and oddest matchup in the first round. If you look at the hip-hop family tree, there is a pretty direct line from De La Soul down to The Fugees. In fact, The Fugees never become The Fugees if not for De La Soul. That’s some real “Back to the Future” rationale.
On the loser: The Fugees going out in the first round isn’t right. Lauryn Hill is super iconic and Wyclef Jean is more than just a rapper. Their take on Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” is possibly the best cover/interpretation of all time.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (#3) vs. Slum Village (#6)
Rationale: See “The Boot.” Bone Thugs has an eclectic mix of gangsta flow, religious references and old school R&B/Soul. Add their amazing delivery and you have one of the most unique groups on in hip-hop history.
On the loser: Much respect to J Dilla but beyond that not much else to say. “Selfish” is a decent track.
Outkast (#2) vs Three 6 Mafia (#7)
Rationale: Outkast is a real candidate for the Final Four. Somehow they’ve been in it 20 years but don’t feel dated at all.
On the loser: They have won an Oscar – that’s right, an Oscar, not a Grammy. If you give them credit for Three 6 Mafia member Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance” then maybe they get a better seed. If you want a real sense of what Three 6 Mafia is about, check out the video for “Stay Fly”. There are dozens of groups trying to copy Three 6 Mafia now. Just head to Cameo in South Beach and you will see them all.