In this months series, I’ll be paying homage to my favourite cliques in Hip-Hop in a random order. To avoid over-complicating this topic, I’ve filtered ‘clique’ to; a group of 3+ members. (So no duos such as; Outkast) An original clique, not a record label. (So no RocaFellas, MMGs or Death Rows) and the clique must have at least 1 original release as a group such as a Mixtape or an Album. (So no compilations, No ‘Best of Black Hippy Songs’)
Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine & Benny the Butcher
From New York; Buffalo, I discovered Griselda in 2015 through a collaboration release with Big Ghost Ltd. a Producer/Hip-Hop Journalist at the time. They had released Griselda Ghost and the way they glided over Classic Jazz beats was effortless and caught my attention. Brothers; Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine’s flow and lyricism was captivating and smooth, I was ready to hear more. 2015 saw Conway release his sophomore mixtape Reject 2 which helped Griselda gain recognition around the internet and New York. This tape showcased Conway’s talent of flowing so smoothly over jazzy boom bap instrumentals such as Rex Ryan and Wraith-Ful, as the next year 2016 hit, the name Benny started popping up a lot more on their features and little did we know, Griselda had a new addition, still kept within the family; Benny is the cousin of both Gunn and Conway.
Griselda were releasing projects at a crazy rate, what felt like every month from 2016 to now and are still going strong! In 2018 Benny released his debut album; Tana Talk 3 which really put him on the map as one of Griselda’s heavyweights. His method of telling stories of his past is nice, the style in which he illustrates his past with great wordplay and lyricism. But finally the leader of the clique; Westside Gunn had released his third album; Pray for Paris which received great feedback featuring the likes of Wale, Tyler, the Creator, Joey Bada$$ and more. His voice never fails to fulfil an instrumental, he also boasts a nice flow whilst doing so.
Whether its Conway, Westside or Benny it feels like we get something every other month, kind of like No Limit Records. However, pretty much all of these projects hold a certain standard, No Limit were kind of quantity over quality. This thing here prioritises both, the work ethic is crazy, what’s not to love? Supply & Demand at its finest.
Jadakiss, Styles P & Sheek Louch
The LOX are a group from New York, Yonkers. Originally named “The Bomb Squad” as high school friends. Affiliated with DMX and The Ruff Ryders being close-by from the Bronx, the group started gaining some attention in the Bronx/Yonkers district of New York and had changed their name to “The Warlocks”, gaining a celebrity admirer in Mary J. Blige. who’s also from Yonkers.
After Mary J. Blige had given P-Diddy a demo tape of the group for him to check out, Puff had decided to sign them and change their name telling them “The war is over, now you’re The LOX”. Puff included them on the Bad Boy Compilation album; No Way Out and Notorious BIG’s sophomore album; Life after Death. The group had gained national exposure and were ready to release their debut album; Money, Power & Respect. This album did very well on the Bad Boy roster with songs like Money, Power & Respect featuring DMX & Lil’ Kim becoming an anthem within the city and All For the Love showcasing the classic “LOX” sound of illustrious urban life narratives being rapped over funky, jazzy boom-bap instrumentals.
After the deal with Puff and Bad Boy Records went sour, the group signed with the local Bronx label responsible for DMX and Eve; The Ruff Ryders in 2000, however their sophomore album; We Are the Streets was pretty lacklustre for what we had come to expect from the group, not performing as well as their debut album. The missing presence of Puffs’ executive production was really felt and the group had taken a hiatus and began focusing on their solo careers more extensively.
In the 2010s the group released a couple of EPs but it wasn’t until 2016 that they had finally released an album again in; Filthy America, It’s Beautiful. But their fourth album released in 2020; Living Off Xperience shows that the LOX are back and better as ever.
Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones, Freekey Zekey, Hell Rell, Un Kasa & JR Writer
The Diplomats from New York, Harlem, responsible for many anthems in the late 90s and early 00s; Cam’ron and Jim Jones had formed Dipset as a machine for Cam’ron’s albums as a team was needed behind Cam’s releases and Dipset were perfect for that.
Juelz Santana playing the wonder-kid of the team, visibly entered the squad in 2000 as an 18 year old young man and this had really jumpstarted the team. Their first smash hit by Cam – Oh Boy (feat. Juelz Santana) launched them into mainstream media as Cam released his third album; Come Home With Me under Roc-A-Fella records. They began a reputation of holding the ‘bop’, tracks that make you want to dance and move your head, you could feel the flyness of Harlem in their music.
Many mixtape releases by Dipset, Jim Jones other members kept the clique in constant airplay from the early 00s. But once 2003 hit and they released their critically acclaimed collective album; Diplomatic Immunity, the rest was history, the album featured anthem after anthem as a soundtrack to New York in the mid 00s. Songs such as Ground Zero, Real Niggas, Dipset Anthem and many more solidified this, they stapled themselves as a legendary clique within the culture.
Odd Future (OFWGKTA)
Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats, Left Brain, Domo Genesis, The Internet, Frank Ocean, Jasper Dolphin, Taco & Mike G
Odd Future, the crew you have definitely heard of, especially if you’re a millennial. From California, Los Angeles, spreaded between Ladera Heights, Pasadena and Inglewood founded by the head of the clique Tyler, the Creator alongside Hodgy Beats, Left Brain, Jasper Dolphin & Matt Martians.
Odd Future popped on the scene around 2010, although in July 2009 Hodgy Beats released The Dena Tape and Tyler released Bastard in December as mixtape releases, these stood as the debut releases from Odd Future.
Tyler and Hodgy created buzz in LA and Odd Future created buzz mainly on the internet through various YouTube content. 2010 saw 4 mixtape releases from various artist within the clique; Hodgy Beats and Left Brain as Rap & Producer duo; Mellowhype; Yellowhite, Domo Genesis; Rolling Papers, Earl Sweatshirt; Earl and Mike G; Ali. With Tyler featuring on all of the above releases.
This created huge internet buzz being played alongside their youtube content. The clique exploited their music like an X-rated MTV through their YouTube channel; playing music in the background of Jackass-esque videos, presenting their own music videos and keeping things in house.
In 2011 Frank Ocean made a mark on the underground scene with his mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA, an alternative R&B project. Tyler dropped his highly anticipated debut album; Goblin which reached billboard #1 Independent Album and Tyler won an MTV VMA in 2011 for Best New Artist and got nominated for Video of the Year with Yonkers.
This was perfect for the clique because they had prepared music with their releases the year prior, therefore, as Tyler prepared for his National and World Tour, it was able to be packaged as OFWGKTA as a collective. His friends and fellow clique members were ready to open up and collaborate to produce a show as they created buzz by heavily collaborating on each overs music and this shot the crew into stardom. Pre-meditated buzz had been created through the internet, therefore there were able to smartly monetise their buzz through pop-up shops in various cities selling rare merchandise, which will later become collectibles.
The collective will continue to join forces on releases up until 2014 where they kind of grew apart. Odd Future changed the landscape of the rap scene through utilising the internet, definitely an influential crew in my lifetime.
A$AP Yams, A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, A$AP Twelvyy, A$AP Nast & A$AP Ant
A$AP Mob, our second group hailing from Harlem, New York. Founded by A$AP Yams, A$AP Bari and A$AP Illz as Harlem natives into fashion, yet the music didn’t come until A$AP Rocky joined in 2007 around the same time as his cousin A$AP Nast and high school friend A$AP Ferg.
A$AP Twelvyy and Rocky got introduced to each other by Yams in 2008, as well as A$AP Ant who was running an independent clothing line; Marino Infantry in Baltimore. In 2011 A$AP Rocky released his debut mixtape; Live.Love.A$AP which featured his cousin A$AP Nast, A$AP Twelvyy and A$AP Ferg. This created major buzz around New York as Purple Swag became an anthem in the city. However, A$AP Mobs style was peculiar for a New York group as they had a Southern Texas, Houston influence in their sound but New York flow and style on the beats for the most part, however this varied.
In 2012 they released their debut group mixtape; Lord$ Never Worry, which featured the anthem Work from A$AP Ferg, Coke & White Bitches featuring Danny Brown & Gunplay and the illustrious Bath Salt featuring fellow New Yorkers; Flatbush ZOMBIES. After creating much buzz from Rocky’s mixtape release, he alongside Kendrick Lamar supported Drake on his tour. The mob were able to gain views for themselves through releasing content on youtube alongside RVIDXR CLXN.
In 2013 A$AP Ferg created much buzz for himself from his single Work which featured on the group mixtape; Lord$ Never Worry. Ferg was able to capitalise on this single by releasing a remix featuring A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Trinidad James & ScHoolboy Q on his album released in 2013; Trap Lord.
A$AP Rocky released his debut album Long.Live.A$AP, A$AP Ferg also released a mixtape; Ferg Forever in 2014 and the rest of the clan members prepared for a debut group album titled; L.O.R.D.; Nast released the energetic, funky Trillmatic featuting Method-Man and in 2014 Twelvyy released Xscape. Although, unfortunately the album L.OR.D. was scrapped…
Fast forward to 2015 and the untimely passing of A$AP Yams hit us, RIP. A$AP Mob prepared for their debut group album and second group project; Cozy Tapes, Vol 1: Friends, a lot of the project was dedicated to A$AP Yams, also A$AP Mob have come a long way since their debut release in 1012, as 2016 is around the corner, they’ve added Playboi Carti and Key! to their sub group; Cozy Boyz.
Rocky has also established a new friendship in Tyler, the Creator ahead of the release of Cozy Tapes, Vol 1: Friends which released late in 2016 featuring Skepta, Tyler, the Creator, Wiz Khalifa, Lil Yatchy and many more. The following year they released Cozy Tapes, Vol 2: Too Cozy which featured many more artists such as; Jaden Smith on the hazy Perry Aye, What Happens featuring Joey Bada$$, Nyck Caution, Kirk Knight and Flatbush ZOMBIES (Beast Coast) is a playful cut and Blowin’ Minds (Skateboard) featuring Chief Keef is also fun, yet chill. Cozy Tapes Vol. 2: Too Cozy felt much more fun and included many more features.
We await the Mobs next move but for now, they’re uniting much talent amongst the scene.
Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice & Erick the Architect
From New York, Brooklyn, Flatbush which is pretty clear from their name. The Flatbush ZOMBiES are one of the unsung heroes of New York rap groups. Formed through friends since school, the group are compiled of Meechy Darko who has a unique presence and deep tone to his voice, Zombie Juice who also has a unique presence, yet high pitched tone to his voice and Erick who provides production in the group and also holds a generic yet soothing tone and this makes for great chemistry between the group and variety.
Their initial release in 2012; D.RU.G.S. introduced everyone to the group, the lead single; Thug Waffle is what caught everyone’s attention, great chemistry between the group was on show. Also another standout track was Face-Off (L.S.Darko) by Meechy Darko on a solo cut, the project caught our attention to say the least as FBZ also garnered internet buzz through a series of content being dropped through their YouTube accounts.
Anticipation built as the year passed and they released their follow up mixtape and second project; BetterOffDEAD in 2013. This put their trajectory towards the right direction as they sounded a lot more polished, the graphic track; Death presents their great chemistry again, yet the quality was higher. BetterOffDEAD showed a lot more versatility in sound, the production from Erick had clearly stepped up a level as the samples were cleaner and the drums more crisp. This project featured many well crafted tunes, to name a few; Regular & Complex (GNB), Palm Trees, 222, Drug Parade featuring Danny Brown, TP4, MRAZ, My Team SUPREME and many more.
The clique spent most of 2014 & 15 touring and performing at festivals such as Coachella, Reading, Made in America and many more as their internet and core fanbase grew. However, they were also working on releases, dropping 10 individual tracks via their soundcloud account during touring through these years, these tracks featured Skepta, Domo Genesis and Beast Coast allies; Joey Bada$$ & Issa Gold. 2016 came around and Flatbush ZOMBIES released their highly anticipated debut album; 3001: A Laced Odyssey which played to mix feelings from the listeners. Being their debut album and touring off of mixtape music created a huge core fanbase which had led to big expectations.
Although, the album was still good quality, not much of an improvement from their mixtape 3 years prior but that tape was so good that it’d be difficult to top that feeling. Many song stood out on this album such as Bounce, RIPCD, A Spike Lee Joint, Trade-Off and many more. 2017 the clique took some time to themselves as they had been performing and recording for 3-4 years without much of a break.
As 2018 came around the corner, the group released their second album which also held high anticipation as the Hip-Hop industry was moving to a time where releases are being launched almost every week. So; Vacation in Hell had released and the ZOMBiES did not disappoint this time around. This album felt consistent all the way through the 19 songs, the lead single Vacation featuring Joey Bada$$ set the tone of the album, Headstone became a lyrical anthem as the group include a variety of different Hip-Hop references within their lyrics, kind of similar to GOD Blessed the DEAD from their 2013 mixtape. Big Shrimp and the intro HELL-o kept that energetic mosh-pit essence their supporters grew to love. Meechy gave the fans a solo lyrical cut, full of flow, featuring Jadakiss with Facts. Zombie Juice’s rapping ability had stepped up and this was clear throughout, definitely up there as one of their better projects!
The following year of 2019 saw the ZOMBiES contribute to the Beast Coast collective album and 2020 hit us with the Corona Virus and Lockdown… meanwhile the ZOMBiES dropped now, more than ever EP; which is nice but doesn’t hold much of an impact. Some tracks stand out such as iamlegend and dirty elevator music. Apart from some inconsistency problems, the Flatbush ZOMBiES show great versatility and uniqueness as a group through their releases.
Joey Bada$$, Capital STEEZ, Kirk Knight, CJ Fly, Nyck Caution, Chuck Strangers, Powers Pleasant, T’nah Apex, Dirty Sanchez, Aaron Rose, Rokamouth & Dessy Hinds
Capital STEEZ and Powers Pleasant both planned Progressive Era and had founded the group with Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly and Dirty Sanchez. Their initial release came from Capital STEEZ through his debut mixtape; AmeriKKKan koruption, although it wasn’t until the next release from the camp that stamped them into the underground and that was 1999 from Joey Bada$$ his debut project released in 2012 featured every member from Pro Era and sounded great from top to bottom, the resurrection of the boom bap as Joey kept shouting felt real.
This clique sounded like a living homage of the 90s New York Hip-Hop era we grew to love and this project presented that, Pro Era were a team to look out for after this. Standouts featured Waves, FromdaTombs, Survival Tactics and Killuminati with many more standouts as the mixtape is a masterpiece. Pro Era released their debut mixtape as a group in 2012; peep: The Aprocalypse after they created internet buzz and worldwide buzz through Joey’s mixtape which he performed at many festivals worldwide.
peep: The Aprocalypse was an extension of the sound Pro Era had formed a core fanbase through, it sounded great. Crew cuts; Interlude 47 & Last Cypher capture the essence of the team well. Whilst we got standout records to add to the library such as Like Water and Overseas. After such a great year, the untimely passing of Capital STEEZ was endured as he committed suicide at end of the year RIP. In 2013 CJ Fly and Joey Bada$$ released their mixtapes; Summer Knights and Thee Way Eye See it debut for CJ Fly and these continued the good underground run Pro Era were on, as 2014 saw Pro Era release 2 group EPs; The Secc$ TaP.E. Vol. 2 and The Shift EP where various crew members performed on different cuts.
Years passed as Joey‘s solo career began to really take off, many members proceeded to release solo projects such as Cj Fly, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution. Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution collaborated as a duo for a new project titled Nyck @ Knight in 2017 which garnered some attention.
Members continue to progress well in their individual solo careers dropping releases such as Chuck Strangers, Dirty Sanchez 47 and Aaron Rose however; apart from the Beast Coast project, we haven’t heard any collective music from Pro Era since 2014. Yet still a great moment in Hip-Hop.
Pro Era, Flatbush ZOMBiES & The Underachievers
2019 saw the Beast Coast collective (Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies & The Underachievers) release a group album compromised of all of the corresponding artists from the individual groups. Something which had been speculated for years as their fanbases cross-contaminate and they share a lot of the same fanbase. This is because they’re a collective that emerged around the same time, all from Flatbush Brooklyn and frequently collaborate. This project flowed very well and held great chemistry amongst so many different artists, half of the Pro Era artists showed great versatility as the albums overall sound wasn’t in the comfort zone of some the Pro Era artists.
The effortless transitions from each artist through Left Hand is nice. The change of vibe brought from Far Away as the members glide on the smooth beat shows nice versatility. Also catchy cut Distance has the members flowing over the trap-mellow beat which works for all of the members.
A Tribe Called Quest
Q-Tip, Phife Dawg & Ali Shaheed
Q-Tip and Phife are childhood friends from New York, Queens, but Tribe didn’t form until Q-Tip & Ali Shaheed linked as a DJ & Rapper duo. Phife Dawg later joined them to form A Tribe Called Quest. They released their debut album as a group; People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990, yet it isn’t until their sophomore album until I began to take notice; The Low End Theory released in 1991 which is a fantastic album, full of a jazz essence and doesn’t fall too far from the tree of funk music. The smooth jazzy essence was presented on tracks such as Butter and this vibe continued on throughout the album. Some of my favourites are Vibes & Stuff, Check the Rhime and Jazz (We’ve Got).
In 1993 we got the second album from the group; Midnight Marauders which featured the conscious song; Sucka Ni**a, as well as the timeless classic hit, synonomous of The Tribe’s sound; Electric Relaxation. And an addition of the smooth, jazz tone The Tribe had adopted in songs such as; Clap your Hands & Lyrics to Go. This album is there best received, and plays like a sequel to The Low End Theory. The clique released group albums in 1996 and ’98; Beats, Rhymes & Life and The Love Movement.
However, as the 21st century hit, each individual member focused on their solo careers, especially Q-Tip. The group had rekindled in 2015, however the tragic death of Phife Dawg in 2016 also helped gel the group again RIP. They had recording content before Phife’s death. But the death of Phife was a big motivator for the clique to release this album; We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service and a huge success it was featuring artists such as; Kendrick Lamar, André 3000, Elton John, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes and many more. A group that will forever be remembered as a classic Hip-Hop group, responsible for presenting the vibe.
Compton’s Most Wanted
MC Eiht, Tha Chill, Boom Bam, DJ Mike T, DJ Slip & The Unknown DJ
Formed by MC Eiht back in 1989, CMW are quite clearly from Compton, Los Angeles and are a big part of the late 80s/early 90s LA G-Funk era, as well as artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and many more. This music was synonymous with the LA culture of gang bangin’ which was the act of representing either Crip gang or Blood gang.
MC Eiht represented The Compton Crips and after himself and Tha Chill had been discovered by The Unknown Dj and DJ Slip they had formed Compton’s Most Wanted and spent 1989 and ’90 recording their debut album; It’s a Compton Thang! which stapled them as a force to be reckoned with within the G-Funk genre. They created a unique sound of a slower rap style over super funky 70s/80s funk and soul records and samples. This is prevalent on Late Night Hype the single from the debut album.
As ’91 was approaching the clique had prepared for their sophomore album; Straight Checkn’ Em however, Tha Chill had been arrested whilst recording this album as he had one foot in crime and one foot in music. This led to him only featuring on the lead single; Growin’ Up in the Hood which was featured on the soundtrack of the ’91 film Boyz N the hood.
However, their 3rd album released in 1992; Music to Driveby is their most successful project, considered a classic amongst West Coast G-Funk as it featured the smash hit The Hood Took Me Under which later had a resurgence in 2004 as it was featured on video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and MC Eiht contributed as the voice actor for in-game main antagonist; Ryder.
After these 3 albums, Eiht began working on his solo career yet featuring CMW throughout his solo career on his solo projects. CMW have released 3 further albums since these in 2000, 2006 and 2019 but if I’m being honest. I haven’t heard any of these, although CMW are definitely a big source of the G-Funk era we grew to love in the early.
RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, U-God, Cappadonna & Masta Killa
The clan formed in the early ’90s from Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. Created by RZA who had been the record producer of the group and also recruited his cousins GZA and ODB. RZA later started collaborating with Ghostface Killah in Staten Island and this formed into a squad of rappers joining the clan as Ghostface attended school with Method Man, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck who all later followed Ghostface into the clan.
U-God, Cappadonna and Masta Killa all joined the clan later.
Influenced by kung-fu culture, RZA had decided to blend the aesthetic of the clan between old kung-fu films, 5 percent teachings and comic culture, this is evident through the name of the clan itself and the individual members, such as Method Man also being known as Johnny Blaze or Ghostface Killah also being known as Tony Starks. Or the clan constantly referencing Shaolin and having sound clips of old kung-fu battles within their songs.
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993 was their introduction to the game and they were held as a classic crew straight away. The album boasted anthems such as; Bring da Ruckus as the intro or the timeless C.R.E.A.M., or Method Man’s illustrious introduction to the scene with his self titled track Method Man; the low quality, grimy flow and lyricism over beautiful samples became a staple of their sound. After releasing their group project and establishing themselves within the culture, each individual started working on their solo projects and great success they were about to receive.
Method Man lead with his debut; Tical released in ’94, ODB followed with his debut album; Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version in ’95, as Raekwon the Chef came next with his; Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… also in ’95 and GZA followed with my personal favourite and his sophomore album; Liquid Swords also in ’95 and last but certainly not least was Ghostface Killah as he released; Ironman (featuring Raekwon and Cappadonna) in ’96.
Come 1997 the Clan released their sophomore group album after most of the members began launching their solo career, Wu-Tang Forever released as their next album and despite not being heralded as well as their debut album. Regardless it’s a great work of art. The members continued to work on their solo careers and continue to be solid as ever as a group, collaborating for group albums every now and then for almost 3 decades, the group have released 8 albums as a group and a total of 74 solo albums coming out of the camp. They continue to move strong as a unit.