Hip-hop is a genre built on five cultural elements: emceeing, break dancing, deejaying, beat boxing and the art of graffiti. Since hip-hop’s birth, another element has been important in its cultivation and dissemination: the crew.
The crew used to be a rapper’s entourage, typically people to provide support, if only of the wallet-draining kind. Of late, the crew is made up of second-team rappers or hypemen who, at the very least, have perfected the look of a successful rapper. That’s not saying much, especially since hip-hop, in its third decade, has aged into a genre that values appearances over skills. The hip-hop crew remains visible, and on Tuesday when The MMG Tour stops at the Colonial Life Arena, arguably hip-hop’s most successful crew of the last five years will be on the stage. Maybach Music Group is the roster that has formed with the oversized rapper Rick Ross at its center.
Ross has continued an improbable ascendancy, particularly since his credibility and authenticity has been repeatedly questioned. When Ross signed Wale and Meek Mill, the move seemed to be counterintuitive. One, Wale, was on his way to the budget-rapper bin, and the other, Meek Mill, was known as a battle rapper. But with the two, Ross has built one of the most recognized and targeted crews in hip-hop.
A rapper’s top-tier resume isn’t complete without building a crew. Rza constructed Wu-Tang Clan into a mythological collective. Jay-Z created a conglomeration with Roc-a-Fella Records and, this summer, Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music clique had people saying “Mercy.”
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Some crews fail while others prosper — for a trend cycle. It’s hard to maintain success, even as Jay-Z has found out. Here are some of our favorite crews of the last 20 years.
Maybach Music Group
The crew leader: Rick Ross
The crew members: Meek Mill, Wale, Gunplay and Maybach O, the singer formerly known as Omarion
The height: Right now.
The decline: We’ll see. Some might start believing that the title of Ross’ 2010 album, “Teflon Don,” might truly apply to him.
The crew leader: Rza.
The crew members: Rza, Gza, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and ODB. And a number of affiliated rappers, most notably Cappadonna and Killah Priest.
The height: “Wu-Tang Forever,” 1997’s the double CD, opened at No.1 on Billboard’s album chart.
The decline: “Wu-Tang Forever.” After the album, Rza ceased being the crew’s controlling voice.
The crew leader: Jay-Z.
The crew members: Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Amil, Freeway, State Property, Cam’ron, The Diplomats, Foxy Brown and Kanye West. There were others; part of the label’s problem was that it was bloated.
The height: From 1997, with the release of Jay’s “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1,” to the release of West’s 2004 debut album, “The College Dropout,” the Roc was nearly untouchable.
The decline: When Roc-a-Fella was sold to Def Jam in 2004.
The crew leader: Kanye West.
The crew members: John Legend, Common, Pusha T, Big Sean, Kid Cudi, Mos Def, Q-Tip, CyHi the Prynce, Mr. Hudson and Teyana Taylor.
The height: The release of 2012’s “Cruel Summer,” a decidedly uneven album, but it has possibly hip-hop’s song of the year: “Mercy.” Swerve.
The decline: Whenever it happens, ‘Ye will be summarily blamed.
The crew leader: 50 Cent.
The crew members: Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, The Game, Young Buck, Olivia, Ma$e, Mobb Deep, M.O.P. and DJ Whoo Kid.
The height: 50’s 2003 debut, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”
The decline: 50 Cent’s “Wanksta” was, effectively, the beginning of the end of Ja Rule’s popularity — if Ja wasn’t already on the decline. But when 50, who has attacked a bevy of rappers lyrically, went after Ross, he took the loss. Don’t agree? Do you hear 50 on the radio?
The crew leader: Irv Gotti.
The crew members: Ja Rule, Ashanti, Lil’ Mo and Charli Baltimore.
The height: At the start of the millenium, Ja Rule and Ashanti ruled popular radio.
The decline: See G-Unit.
The crew leader: Lil Wayne. Young Money is an extension of the Cash Money Records, itself a formidable crew.
The crew members: Drake, Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Cory Gunz, T-Pain, Lil Twist, Mack Maine, Jae Millz, Gudda Gudda, Lil Chuckee and others.
The height: Right now. Drake and Minaj, along with Wayne, of course, are superstars.
The decline: Wait until the solo albums of the lesser-known artists drop. Just wait.
No Limit Records
The crew leader: Master P.
The crew members: Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, Mystikal, Mia X, Soulja Slim, Snoop Dogg and Lil Romeo.
The height: “Make Em Say Uhh,” the 1998 single that introduced No Limit to MTV.
The decline: †The late ’90s underground releases “I’m Bout It,” “I Got the Hook Up” and “Foolish” should’ve been the end of it. Actually, it was.
The crew leader: Suge Knight.
The crew members: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Nate Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound and others.
The height: At the 1995 Source Awards, Death Row turned the brewing coastal beef into an inferno.
The decline: 2Pac’s 1996 death.
The crew leader: Diddy
The crew members: Notorious B.I.G., Ma$e, The Lox, Shyne, Danity Kane, Red Cafe, Yung Joc and Cassie.
The height: One could argue it was 1997, the year Biggie died.
The decline: Just when you think the crew is done, it keeps coming back. It survived Biggie’s death, the now-lampooned shiny-suit era and Diddy being the crew’s flagship rapper. French Montana and Machine Gun Kelly are its stars of the future.