Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
Brooklyn is enjoying a moment right now, with the rapid rise of Bobby Shmurda and the recent success of artists like Troy Ave and Joey Bada$$, but it’s always been home to great solo rappers. From Big Daddy Kane to The Notorious B.I.G. to Jay Z to Fabolous, the borough knows how to crank out star MCs, there’s no doubt about it. And it’s also the home to many legendary rap groups. So for our latest Video Vault, we collected 10 Classic ‘90s Brooklyn Rap Group Music Videos for you to enjoy. Included on the list are early Gang Starr and M.O.P. clips, a hat trick of Boot Camp Click visuals, certified dopeness from the Rawkus Records catalog courtesy of Company Flow and Black Star, and much more. Tie up your Timberlands for this one. It’s time to stomp through the back blocks of BK.
1. Gang Starr “Just to Get a Rep”
Brooklyn rap music just hasn’t been the same since Guru passed away. And it’s my job as a hip-hop historian to make sure his time on Earth and contribution to our culture is forever remembered. So I’m starting this list with a classic video from the Gang Starr catalog, off their often slept-on sophomore album Step in the Arena. Check the black-and-white visuals for “Just to Get a Rep” above, and make sure you read our interview with DJ Premier on making of Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn (which celebrated its 20th birthday earlier this year) if you missed it.
2. Black Moon “Who Got da Props?”
This is the first of three Boot Camp Click videos you will see on this list. Let’s face it, the Brooklyn collective was a force to be reckoned with in the ‘90s, and their influence is still shining (check out Pro Era for proof). Black Moon was the breakout group of the bunch, and “Who Got da Props?” was the first single off their classic debut Enta da Stage. It was the perfect introduction to the unique brand of hardcore, backpack, jazz-sample rap that would be featured throughout the LP, showcasing Buckshot’s rugged flow, and DJ Evil Dee’s skills behind the boards and the wheels (shouts to 5 ft, too!) And the video is a straight ‘90s time capsule, from the gear to the dance moves.
3. M.O.P. “How About Some Hardcore”
Like Gang Starr and Black Moon, M.O.P. represents the quintessential ‘90s Brooklyn rap group. These dudes are Brownsville to the core, and their bars are nothing but cement. “How About Some Hardcore” took us into their world of black hoodies, gats, and baseball hats, as they let us know they “like it raw!” with their posse deep behind them. Twenty years later, this song still rings off.
4(a). Crooklyn Dodgers (Masta Ace, Buckshot, and Special Ed) “Crooklyn”
When it came time for Spike Lee to release his film Crooklyn, a supergroup consisting of Masta Ace, Buckshot, and Special Ed was brought in to create a track that looked back at growing up in Brooklyn in the ‘70s, the time period in which the film took place. Sure, Queens’ own Q-Tip was summoned to hold down the production, but don’t get it twisted, with Masta Ace, Buckshot, and Special Ed on the mics, this is undoubtedly a Brooklyn affair. Watch the video, then read the story behind the Crooklyn Dodgers in this awesome oral history piece on Red Bull Music Academy’s site.
4(b). Crooklyn Dodgers ‘95 (Chubb Rock, O.C., and Jeru the Damaja) “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers”
As if the Crooklyn Dodgers legacy wasn’t strong enough off the first joint, Spike Lee recreated the magic for the release of his next movie Clockers, this time bringing in a whole new cast—Chubb Rock, O.C., Jeru the Damaja, and producer DJ Premier. So the debate becomes, which version is better? It’s hard to knock the original, but you can’t deny how incredible the follow-up was. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, or hit us on Twitter to discuss.
5(a). Smif-n-Wessun “Bucktown”
For those who couldn’t get enough of the Black Moon sound, Smif-n-Wessun stepped in to follow up the success of Enta da Stage with their own classic LP, Da Shinin’. With nuff Timberlands, skully caps, and Ls on deck, Tek and Steele show and proved on “Bucktown,” gun clapping for their borough in the cipher amidst a backdrop of graffiti-laced concrete. Welcome to Bucktown USA, they represent it on the love love.
5(b). Fab 5 (Heltah Skeltah & O.G.C.) “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka”
Okay, here’s the third and final Boot Camp Click video on the list. The Fab 5, made up of the duo Heltah Skeltah and trio O.G.C., was the third layer from the crew to step on the scene, and “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” set each group up beautifully to release their own respective albums. The song gave all five MCs (Ruck aka Sean Price, Rock, Starang Wondah, Top Dog, and Louieville Sluggah) a chance to flex their skills, and the video—filmed inside a studio rather than on the block—gave rap fans a taste of their humor and antics, as they mimicked the old school dance moves of soul groups like The Temptations, and even flashed some smiles for the camera. The Fab 5 was dead nice, but they knew how to have fun, too.
6. Group Home “Supa Star”
Part of the Gang Starr foundation, Group Home made an immediate impact on the NYC underground mixtape scene with the release of “Supa Star.” Critics tend to give Lil’ Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker a hard time about their lyrical abilities, but there’s no denying that this track is a bonafide classic. Of course, a large amount of that is due to DJ Premier’s banging production, but Dap and Melachi bring the beat to life with dope flows and vocal tones, and vivid realism in their bars. And the video brought us to their block, with pristine corner store shots and glimpses inside their apartment studio set-up. Check for the shot of them making it rain in a local cemetery, too.
7. Digable Planets “9th Wonder (Blackitolism)”
This video is a personal favorite of mine from the Golden Era of ‘90s Brooklyn rap music. Digable Planets struck gold (well, platinum actually) with the release of their debut Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space), but Blowout Comb had some shit on it too. The video for the album’s lead single “9th Wonder (Blackitolism)” was a slick snapshot of their hood, as it followed the trio’s moves from the subway station to the strip to the park. And the camera effect gives the clip a vintage tint, which allowed it to stand out nicely when thrown in rotation on national video shows. Love this track, and video. Brooklyn should be proud of this one.
By the way, is Ladybug Mecca not the most underrated female rapper of all-time?
8. Junior M.A.F.I.A. ft. Aaliyah “I Need You Tonight”
When The Notorious B.I.G. blew up in 1994, he wasted no time bringing his crew the Junior M.A.F.I.A. into the spotlight, securing them an album deal that allowed the group’s budding stars Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease to get their proper shine and eventually go solo themselves. After releasing two singles and videos with Biggie on them, “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money,” Junior M.A.F.I.A. put out visuals for the Aaliyah-assisted jam “I Need You Tonight.” It was a chance for Lil’ Kim and lesser-known M.A.F.I.A. members Trife and Klep to truly hold their own without their B.I.G. homie, and they did it successfully. Peep the house party-style video above.
9. Company Flow “End to End Burners”
Want that underground, Brooklyn, graffiti slang shit? Company Flow gave us that in overdoses. I’ll keep it real, I didn’t understand what the fuck these dudes were talking about half the time on their Rawkus LP Funcrusher Plus, but I didn’t care. In fact, it made me want to listen more, and try to figure it out. Shout to that album too for celebrating its 17th anniversary earlier this week. Travel into the depths of the New York City subway system above, as El-P, Bigg Jus, and Mr. Len introduce us to the life of Brooklyn bombers with MC and production talents out the wazoo.
10. Black Star “Definition”
Towards the end of the decade, Mos Def and Talib Kweli joined forces to give us their classic Black Star LP, and “Definition” was the anthem to set their underground takeover off. For the video, the duo took a tour through Brooklyn in their customized Black Star van, with producer Hi-Tek behind the wheel, and various friends from Pharoahe Monch to Dead Prez hopping in for the ride. And unfortunately, the NYPD made a cameo, too.
*Bonus* Smoothe da Hustler ft. Trigger da Gambler “Broken Language”
Okay, so technically Smoothe da Hustler was a solo artist, who would have his blood brother Trigger tha Gambler jump on tracks with him. But fuck the noise—on this song, they were a rap group, and a dope one at that. The “Broken Language” flow has been swiped numerous times since it dropped, but no one did it like these two, bouncing back and forth off each other with hard body swiftness. Saratoga Ave. stand up, this is that Brooklyn stoop poop.
P.S. Does anyone remember Brooklyn rap group Da Bush Babees’ joint “The Love Song” with Mos Def on the hook, early? And Dead Prez, though only one-half of them is actually from Brooklyn, deserves a quick nod for their 1999 video “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop.” And shouts to the Beastie Boys, another group with partial Brooklyn roots (RIP MCA), we’ll pay homage to them with “Pass the Mic.”
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