Two heads aren’t always better than one, but in music, it’s proven to be a winning formula. Some of the world’s best material has come from teams of two: think Tears for Fears, The White Stripes, Simon and Garfunkel. The same is true in hip hop, a genre that lends itself extremely well to variety in vocal and instrumental styles. Here’s a list of two-man acts that have made great contributions to hip hop—and why they’re worth listening to.
OutKast: Some say that if you listen to only one hip hop group, it should be the unstoppable team of Big Boi and Andre 3000. Their catchy rhymes were no doubt part of their charm, but what cemented their place in hip hop is the fact that they didn’t glorify the infamous hip hop lifestyle: it was more about the music, with more quotable lines than probably any other group, than it was about the bling.
Gang Starr: Guru and DJ Premier released six albums, each one a commercial success. DJ Premier is largely hailed as the greatest hip-hop producer of all time, and the late Guru is known for his impressive monotone rap. There are rumors of a posthumous album released in 2012—that’s certainly worth watching out for!
Eric B and Rakim: Guru’s monotone flow is rivaled only by that of Rakim, who together with partner Eric B produced some of hip hop’s greatest classics. Their material stood for itself; unlike so many hip hop acts today, they didn’t need the pretentious thug-gangster attitude to grab and hold on to fans. Older fans often name the duo as the group that fueled their love for the genre.
EPMD: Even if you’ve never laid eyes on one of their albums, chances are you’ve heard bits of their music elsewhere: EPMD’s music is one of the most widely sampled in rap. Their material ranges from catchy rock-influenced pieces to emotional songs, appealing to a wide range of listeners. They broke up in the mid-90s, but came back together in 2006 and are again producing memorable tracks.
UGK: Formed in Texas, this group is one of the first southern-rap acts to gain relative popularity. Much of their success is attributed to Pimp C’s expert production skills, which belied his Southern roots while maintaining a distinct country feel. Bub B provided the rhyme and rhetoric, an element that would make them one of the most quoted groups of their time.