The streaming era may have rendered collective hip-hop projects less effective than in decades past, but these groups still run the game with their ability to blend talent and produce high-quality music. The idea of a rap group is ever-evolving, but in this article, I’m defining the concept as a label, band, group, or collective that consistently collaborates: constant features on each other’s work and in-house producers are a trademark of this kind of group. Let’s dive in!
Flying in the face of J. Cole haters nationwide, Dreamville has established itself as the premier collective in hip-hop with a fantastic and memorable squad-album, Revenge of the Dreamers III. An album packed front to back with bangers, it was everything that longtime fans were hoping for, and it did well to expose a whole new section of hip-hop-heads to their immense talent. Past their point guard, J. Cole, the Dreamville roster is full of talent — from EARTHGANG to JID to Mereba, Ari Lennox, and many more, their starting lineup is possibly the best in the game.
And like many labels, they’re made exponentially better by their friends, which include Smino, Buddy, Guapdad 4000, and Saba. And that’s just their immediate connections — J. Cole’s legend status in hip-hop provides the ability to pick and choose from virtually any sector of the industry for features or production.
While they may still be reaching for the adulation of traditional rap fans, Dreamville has taken the youthful demographic of hip-hop fans and run with them, creating a cult following that’ll support anything they release.
#2: Top Dawg Entertainment
While they’ve trended down in recent years, a lukewarm “fan week” featuring seven new tracks being their only output in 2020, TDE still rocks the best talent in the game. Kendrick Lamar needs no introduction, and while he hasn’t released a studio album since 2017, he’s rumored to have a fully finished album on the backburner. The same goes for SZA, another superstar, who’s made headlines in the past few weeks due to her album being delayed by the label. Hopefully, we’ll get each album by the end of 2020 — we sure could use it.
Album delays have been the issue for TDE over the years — it seems we’re always hearing about a new album from one of their members, but it ends up taking far longer than other labels to put it out. I can’t blame them, however, as the quality control on their albums tends to be incredible. You’d be hard-pressed to find an album released by TDE that doesn’t surpass expectations.
Albums from ScHoolboy Q, SiR, and Jay Rock in the last few years remain in rotation. And while they might have not sat well with mainstream audiences, they’re still strong pieces of music that will remain relevant for years to come.
The same goes for Isaiah Rashad and Ab-Soul, both of whom haven’t dropped albums in over three years. While each of these seven artists have AOTY potential, they just haven’t been putting out enough music to justify a #1 spot.
The underground collective is ready to take the hip-hop landscape by storm. Led by MIKE, with Ade Hakim, Jodi 10k, and Darryl as a crew of radical, socially-conscious beatmakers and rappers, sLums has been building a cohort of dedicated fans for years now. Rocking a friendship-based network just like Dreamville, Slauson Malone, MAVI, Pink Siifu, and Cleo Reed are constant collaborators with sLums.
Each of these artists have released music in the past two years, making for a group that’s ready to match the needy attention spans of contemporary music consumers. And they’re not sacrificing quality or soul in their output; each of their albums challenges mainstream views of music, culture, race, gender, and identity in their own unique ways. Check these artists out if you’re looking for a breath of fresh air; a group uninhibited by the music industry’s whitewashing demands.
If this was an early 2018 list, Brockhampton might be #1. But due to the obstacles they’ve faced, most notably the betrayal of band member and close friend Ameer Vann, they lost almost all the momentum they built during the SATURATION series. 2018’s iridescence held little appeal to wider audiences, but GINGER, released in 2019, felt like a return to form. While it lacked the excitement and cloud of mystery that came with SATURATION, GINGER featured much of the explosive talent and boundary-pushing attitude that made them so alluring to begin with.
Here’s to hoping they can continue to foster the good feelings that spurred GINGER into their next project.
#5: Dinner Party
Who knows if they’ll continue to make music as a group, but Dinner Party’s collaboration this year was a tone-setting effort for jazz and hip-hop. The supergroup of Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, and Terrace Martin is a showcase of hip-hop and jazz’s best talents, and Dinner Party is a testament to their ability, serving as another reminder of the two genre’s intertwined legacies and mega-compatible melodies.
The album is gentle, smooth, intimate, down-tempo, and romantic, a welcoming and accessible palette for listeners that haven’t delved into any of these artist’s discographies before.
Griselda — Gritty, mean hypebeast music is making mad waves these days.
Pro Era — Led by Joey Bada$$, the group is talented but lacks depth.
Washington Slizzards — D.C.’s finest, with array of talent, just doesn’t have the nationwide appeal.
The hip-hop landscape will continue to evolve, bringing new groups to the limelight and seeing older, more stale groups to the door. Was anyone left off this list? Any predictions for groups that’ll be rising in popularity going forward?