The 10 Most Influential Hip Hop Groups of All-Time

Published: August 7, 2014

From The Sugar Hill Gang to G-Unit, hip hop groups have long shaped the landscape of the music industry. This list dives into the most influential groups who have pushed the creative envelope and affected their peers and aspiring rappers and groups alike. We have not included groups pieced together around music labels (Maybach Music Group, Dungeon Family).

  1. Outkast

    Big Boi and Andre 3000: The Pimp and the Poet. The two MC's met in high school and went on to sell more than 25 Million albums while earning awards at the highest levels, including a Grammy for the Album of the Year in 2004. The duo celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first studio album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, with a global, festival tour in 2014. Outkast is the most influential hip hop group of all time due to their longevity, dynamic range of musical and personal styles, their important work in establishing Atlanta as the new age Motown and for inspiring countless MCs and singers alike.

  2. RUN-DMC

    The pioneering rap group out of Hollis, Queens crushed the walls in front of them. Just check their video for 'Walk This Way' with Aerosmith which many hail as the original mainstream mash-up. Composed of Reverend Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay (the group's DJ). Their group paved the way for hip hop groups that showcased the talents of lyrical MC's and DJing, including Gang Starr (#7) and Salt n' Pepa (#8). Lest we forget their sartorial influence by bringing the cool of "[My]Adidas" across the entire globe. In 2009, the group was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, only the second hip hop group to reach such a level of recognition (the other is our # 6 pick: Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five). 

  3. Wu-Tang Clan

    Few groups can account for as many members or as far-reaching an influence as the Wu-Tang Clan. The group fields nine original members in total: Method Man, RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Ol' Dirty Bastard, U-God and Masta Killa. Their name derives from the kung fu action flicks that shaped so much of their music and styles. They even re-named their hometown of Staten Island as "Shaolin" after the films. Their influence, in turn, has reached from their home island to the island of Japan, across to Greece and beyond. Their production influenced such top name talents as Kanye West and their influence of their lyricism can be found in the wordsmithing of Jay-Z and Nas.

  4. N.W.A.

    Coming straight out of Compton, the collection of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince and Eazy-E was at one point labeled 'The Most Dangerous Group on Earth.' Their braggadocious rhymes about the rough and tumble streets of California influenced every "gangster rapper" worth his salt. G-Unit is a recent example, particularly given their proximity to Dr. Dre. They never won a Grammy (neither did our upcoming #2...) but that is exactly what makes them all the more important: Thheir deep influence while shattering the "mainstream" routes of the music industry. Eazy-E passed away in 1995.

  5. The Fugees

    Admittedly, this is a bit of a peculiar choice. The group is composed of Lauryn Hill, Pras and Wyclef Jean. The trio released just two studio albums, Blunted on Reality and the grammy-winning follow-up, The Score. Perhaps that is what makes this uncanny group so influential: Just one really incredible album - which  was filled with heavy east-coast production, a global vibe, politically-driven lyrics and a great dose of dynamic individualism - could influence artists like Common, Nas and Akon. Give The Score one listen and you'll understand why this briefly shining star deserves a place in the Top 5 of our list. 

     

  6. Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five

    The group  banded around their DJ, Grand Master Flash. As master of ceremonies, Flash hyped up the MC crew of Melle Mel, Kid Creole, Cowboy, Mr. Ness and Raheim. The group was transformative in the '80s by taking the  four cornerstones of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, breaking and graffiti) from their home in the boogie down Bronx and into the mainstream music scene. Their most recognized song, 'The Message', has been sampled more times than you can count and could be considered the greatest hip-hop song of all time. Plus, those outfits were something to behold.

  7. Gang Starr

    The duo of Guru and DJ Premier is like fine wine. It's crisp (in lyricism and production), produced over a dozen vintage tracks and aged well. They are one of those groups where you just know it's a Gang Starr track as soon as the Primo beat hits and Guru's monotone flow comes on. Many copy cat groups work day in/day out to do the same, but that's what makes Gang Starr so influential. They built up the street of New York in the early '90s, helping to usher in the "golden era of hip hop" headlined by the Notorious B.I.G., Nas and Jay-Z, amongst others. Guru passed away in 2010.

  8. Salt n' Pepa

    Three loquacious ladies from Queens, New York. Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella either had to be an influential hip hop group or they never stood a chance. Thankfully for music lovers worldwide and future, aspiring female MCs (like Lil' Kim, Missy and Nicki Minaj) they succeeded in the hyper-male rap game. They busted through the proverbial glass cieling with their cross over smash, "Push It," which went #1 on the US charts in 1986. No one had seen or heard anything like it before. They went on to release classics like "Let's Talk About Sex" and "Whatta Man." You can still catch the group on tour. 

  9. 2 Live Crew

    The original bad boy group out of Miami has influenced butt shaking and party making groups since their inception in 1989. Headed up by Uncle Luke, the group shook up the government and record industry with their single "Me So Horny." The song was so divisive (read: influential) that its Free Speech case reached the US Supreme Court. The group has influenced countless MC's and groups, including Rick Ross and Lil' Wayne, and is said to have had a large impact on the wild early days of the University of Miami football program.

  10. A Tribe Called Quest

    A Tribe Called Quest stood at the vanguard of the native tongues movement that influenced the musical landscape at a time when hip-hop was really branching out (late 80s - early 90s). There was West/East coast beef. Multiple producers were starting to get exposure in the spotlight along side their MC counterparts. And in the middle, stood Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Their production was sample heavy and very influential on its own. Their lyrics were organic and could be overtly fun, politically driven, sexual and even bizarre. That mixture is what exemplified the daisy age that A Tribe Called Quest helped to usher in, along with De La Soul and Jungle Brothers. Their music and the native tongues movement influenced MC's like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar.

Their you have it: The 10 most influential hip hop groups of all time. Some may have never won awards, many are now disbanded and a few, perhaps, completely forgotten about. Whether you agree or disagree, we hope this Top 10 list drives more commentary on hip hop and a conversation around which group really should be considered the most influential of all time.