In contemporary hip-hop, artists often get propelled to stardom on their own and (if they were part of one) their former crew lurks in the shadows. However, during the genre’s golden age, entire crews were the entities that labels chose to sign, and this was the case until the 1990s when there was a slight shift.
During the ’90s, what many dubbed “label crews” emerged. Quite the self-explanatory term, they were independently formed labels that doubled up as crews. You only have to look as far as Death Row and Bad Boy Entertainment to understand the kind of establishments the phrase references.
This format continued well into the 2000s, with label crews such as Young Money and Maybach Music Group exploding. However, by the early 2010s, the crew element of hip-hop was beginning to fade, and artists were continuously bursting into the mainstream alone. However, although there is no longer that crew camaraderie in the mainstream, it doesn’t mean we can’t look back fondly on hip-hop’s golden age.
As well as crews, now and then, a duo would pop up. Although De La Soul was telling fans in 1989 how “three is the magic number”, sometimes it wasn’t, and like Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock had told fans on their album the year prior. So in this article, we’re going to scour the entirety of rap to present to your our top five hive hip-hop duos of all time.
The five greatest hip-hop duos of all time:
5. Run the Jewels
When talking about hip-hop duos, Run The Jewels has to get a mention. Although they are not necessarily from the golden age, they have contributed a lot to the culture in terms of quality music and are, arguably, highly unappreciated.
Hailing from two different cities, the two members of Run The Jewels created a melting pot of sounds that was and is fantastic. With Brooklyn rapper and producer EI-P and Atlanta artist Killer Mike, the two married the East Coast and Dirty South cultures and, since their inception, have been praised.
Each of their projects has received an abundance of acclaim from publications, yet there has been little commercial success. Their music may be too experimental, or it may go over the heads of many. However, Run The Jewels are an outstanding duo for those who love people who push the boundaries.
4. Kriss Kross
Kriss Kross was the original Rae Sremmurd. A funky, young hip-hop duo, They caught the tail end of hip-hop’s golden age. Originating in Atlanta and comprised of Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac, Kriss Kross represented America’s under 18’s and gained popularity fast.
Gaining gold and platinum albums aged only 12 and 13, they were hip-hop’s first act under 18 to achieve such a feat. Their biggest hit ‘Jump’ which was released in 1992, debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for several weeks, eventually getting certified double-platinum by the RIAA. Their debut album also topped the charts upon release. An extraordinary duo, Kriss Kross was undoubtedly one of the best duos in hip-hop during the ’90s.
3. Mobb Deep
Mobb Deep is another duo that emerged during the 1990s. However, they were much older and more explicit than Kriss Kross. Originating in the New York borough of Queens, the duo consisted of the late rapper Prodigy and Havoc.
Mobb Deep was most known for their tracks, Shook ones and Quiet Storm, especially its remix, which featured Lil Kim. Their debut album, The Infamous, is still considered a culturally significant body of work and, to this day, is still regarded as one of New York’s first gangster rap albums of the ’90s.
2. Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock
Rob Base and DJ-EZ Rock are akin to Eric B. and Rakim, one of hip-hop’s most renowned and respected duos. Another New York-based duo, this famed duo, emerged from Harlem in the early 1980s. Following in the footsteps of Run-DMC and producers such as Rick Rubin with the duo’s 1985 smash hit ‘It Takes Two’, the Harlem artists managed to utilise boom-bap hip-hop and make it to the heights of fame.
The anthem samples the Lyn Collins track ‘Think (About It)’ and popularised the use of the “Woo! Yeah!” sample, which has cemented its place in history as an energiser of all music. The “Woo! Yeah!” sample has been used countless times in genres such as house, jungle and even in other hip-hop songs.
1. Eric B. and Rakim
Rakim and Eric B were a legendary rap duo and have gone down in history. Emerging on the New York hip-hop scene in the mid-1980s before long, they were at the top of the charts, and many cite Rakim as the first MC to break out of the rigid mould that hip-hop had concerning rhyme schemes.
Rakim is said to be a lyrical pioneer, and when the duo’s debut album, Paid In Full, was released, it changed the course of lyricism in hip-hop. Rakim was the first MC to break the mould of the basic cadence of hip-hop, in which everyone had to rhyme the last word of every sentence. With Rakim, it was more complex. His schemes intertwined different rhymes, and the rhyming sat in the pockets of the offbeat.
Furthermore, the beats they often produced were unbelievably catchy and, for the time, very different. Sampling off-the-wall tracks such as ‘Im Nin’alu’ by the Israeli singer Ofra Haza, everybody who has even the slightest interest in hip-hop know of Eric B. and Rakim.