In recognition of hip hop’s 50th anniversary, BET, in partnership with Ambrosia For Heads, is celebrating the culture by hosting a bracket-style competition that allows you to determine hip hop’s greatest crew.
Rather than having “experts” tell you who is the greatest of all-time, this is your opportunity to collectively make that decision. After giving the opportunity to any and all fans to provide feedback on which crews should be included, 32 collectives from different regions, styles, and generations have been selected—all vying for that #1 spot. When the final battle is over and the last vote is cast, you will have determined who is your Greatest Rap Crew of All Time.
The Soulquarians and Griselda formed over a decade apart. Each unit combined stunning talent from multiple regions and creatively cultivated their bond in the studio. Starting in the 1990s, the Soulquarians were composed of The Roots’ Questlove, Slum Village’s J. Dilla and Common, as well as a number of non-hip hop artists. The collective set up shop for a series of incredible albums in hip hop and R&B.
During the 2010s, Westside Gunn built the Griselda crew around family, who happened to share a prowess for hard-hitting lyricism rooted in authentic reality. Even two decades apart, these respective crews welcomed a far-reaching crew of artists into their orbits, which included overlapping affiliates like Black Thought, Jill Scott, and Black Star. Each squad has achieved critical acclaim and cult followings, but only one of these heralded crews can reach the second round of this tournament.
The Soulquarians crew transcends proximity, label association, and typical features surrounding rap squads. This collective began through a combined creative residence in Manhattan's Electric Lady Studios—once commissioned by Jimi Hendrix. The core crew, comprised predominately of Aquariuses, includes Questlove, J Dilla, Common, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, and keyboardist James Poyser, who worked with other artists and musicians, including Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Bilal, Q-Tip and others, between 1992 and early 2002.
These would-be musical legends jammed in various groupings and formations to oversee albums, including The Roots' “Things Fall Apart” and “Phrenology,” Common's “Like Water For Chocolate,” Q-Tip’s “Amplified,” as well as non-rap classics by D'Angelo and Erykah Badu. The results of these sessions appeared in The Roots and Erykah's Grammy-winning "You Got Me" and Common's "The Light."
Brew from these jam sessions also spilled into albums, including Mos Def's “Black On Both Sides” and Slum's “Fantastic, Vol. 2.” However, the lineup and even this crew's official name is murky, according to Questlove. What is much more clear is the impact of the music from that period. Artists from Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and Virginia came together in downtown New York for something communal and culture-shifting. Although the fans never received it, a lost-and-found (and lost again) interview suggests that even Slum Village co-founder J Dilla believed—at least for a time—that a Soulquarians album was possible. Across all of these songs and albums, the Soulquarians' impact outweighs its legend.
Over the last decade, the Griselda crew earned the respect of the rap industry through quality, consistency, and a refusal to conform. Long before the label’s founder and leader, Westside Gunn caught the attention of Eminem’s Shady Records and JAY-Z’s Roc Nation, he was a Buffalo, New York artist making music inspired by the ‘90s East Coast sound.
Amid a stream of mixtapes, Gunn enlisted his brother Conway The Machine, his cousin Benny The Butcher, and hometown producer Daringer to launch a movement. These soloists found greater success as a unified front. By 2017, signing with Shady and a breakthrough BET Cypher performance established Conway and Benny as elite punchline-savvy lyricists and storytellers, with Gunn as the visionary player-coach. Subsequent titles, including “Burden Of Proof,” “Pray For Paris,” and 2019’s trio album “WWCD” earned critical recognition and perennial Billboard chart placements.
Beyond the three core MCs, Griselda has become a growing fraternity for like-minded artists. This collective has expanded to include veterans and free agents nationwide. Detroit mainstay Boldy James has joined the circle, while Newark’s Mach-Hommy, Syracuse’s Stove God Cooks, and Brooklyn’s Rome Streetz have been vital additions to the movement. With Conway and Benny having launched their own companies and rosters, this crew is far tighter-knit than just a record label; the Griselda crew maintains its family bond regardless of whose company releases the music.
In this celebration of hip hop and all of its talented crews, your vote decides the winner.
EDITOR's NOTE: Register for the sweepstakes for a chance to win the grand prize of 2 Tickets to BET Awards 2023, 2 Round Trip Airline Tickets, 2-night Hotel Stay on June 25. Up your chances to win by voting weekly.
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID OUTSIDE OF THE 50 US & DC AND WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Open to legal residents of the 50 US & DC who are 18 years or older at time of entry. Ends at 12:00pm ET on May 1, 2023. Official Rules: bet.com/grcoat-official-rules. Sponsor: Black Entertainment Television.