Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., better known to the world as Common, was born on March 13, 1972, on the Southside of Chicago. He is a Grammy and Academy Award-winning actor and rapper who earned his stripes in the underground hip-hop scene in the ‘90s.

The rapper began to generate national attention when The Source included his 1992 track, “Take It EZ,” in their Unsigned Hype column. His critically acclaimed sophomore album, Resurrection, was released in 1994 and gave the rapper a much larger audience Beyond the city walls of his native Chicago. “I Used to Love H.E.R.”—a track off the album using “H.E.R.” as a euphemism for hip-hop—is considered to be a hip-hop classic.

The follow-up album, One Day It’ll Make Sense, was released in 1997 and included a wide array of collaborations that included Questlove, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Canibus, Cee-Lo Green, Black Thought, and De La Soul. It also included the nefarious track “The Bitch In Yoo” aimed at rapper Ice Cube and regarded as one of the greatest beef tracks in rap history. The buzz from the album resulted in a major label deal with Polydor Records. In 2000, Like Water for Chocolate would become Common’s major label debut which was executive produced by Questlove and featured production by J Dilla. The album was a critical success giving Common his first Grammy nomination for his single, “The Light.”

By the time Common released the highly anticipated Electric Circus in 2002, he had aligned himself heavily with the musical collective, Soulquarians. While the album was well-received by critics, it didn’t amount to a substantive commercial success.

As the rapper’s profile began to grow more as the years passed, Common teamed up with a fellow Chicago MC who was in the midst of his breakthrough success: Kanye West. Common signed to the rapper and producer’s music label G.O.O.D. Music and released Be in 2005. The album was his first to make the top five on the Billboard Charts and his second to be certified Gold.

In 2007, the rapper broke into the silver screen alongside Alicia Keys in Smokin’ Aces and has appeared in various films since then, including 2016’s Suicide Squad. In 2014, he co-wrote the theme song with John Legend, for Selma, a film he also appeared in. He received both a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Forming in the Bronx in 1995, Camp Lo is a duo comprised of rappers Sonny Cheeba (Salahadeen Wilds) and Geechi Suede (Saladine Wallace), both of whom are of Muslim upbringing. Their signature take on hip-hop is full of jazz and funk influences since their first hit single “Coolie High” off 1996’s Great White Hype Soundtrack. The group’s first full-length Uptown Saturday Night was released in 1997, with the project being reissued two years later on Arista Records. Their best-known single “Luchini AKA This Is It” was featured on the album—with the track being labeled as a classic and hitting the halfway mark on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Camp Lo released their sophomore effort Let’s Do It Again in 2002; five years later they returned with 2007’s Black Hollywood, produced entirely by Ski Beatz. Camp Lo then inked a deal with SRC/Universal Records, and changed their name to the Lo, based on the recommendation from DJ Mr. Cee. 2009 saw the release of two studio albums: Stone and Rob Caught on Tape and Another Heist. In 2011, they joined forces with Pete Rock to release 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s. The group’s sixth studio album Ragtime Hightimes arrived in 2015 and in 2017, Camp Lo and Ski Beatz reunited with a collection of demos and previously unreleased songs from the mid-90s, titled On the Way Uptown via Persia Records.

Cormega (born Cory McKay) is a rapper and songwriter from New York City. Born in Brooklyn and raised in the same Queensbridge housing projects that artists such as Nas, Mobb Deep, and Marley Marl and the Juice Crew once called home, Cormega’s early career in music came to a halt when he was arrested for armed robbery. During his four-year incarceration, Nas shouted him out on the track “One Love,” off his critically acclaimed debut record, Illmatic. Following his release from jail in 1995, Cormega made a guest appearance on Nas’s second album, It Was Written—with the feature leading him to signing a deal of his own with Def Jam and joining the supergroup The Firm, alongside Nas, Foxy Brown and AZ. After some internal conflict, Cormega was replaced with another artist, Nature. This resulted in ‘Mega’s solo debut album The Testament being shelved and his friendship with Nas a casualty of the unfortunate situation. Cormega then founded his own independent label, Legal Hustle, to release his debut album in 2001, titled The Realness. His sophomore record The True Meaning arrived in 2002, earning him Independent Album of the Year at the 2003 Source Awards. In 2005, Cormega released his once-shelved record The Testament on his own label. A year later, Cormega reconciled with Nas, solidifying their rekindled relationship with a concert appearance in 2006. Cormega has since added 2009’s Born and Raised and 2014’s Large Professor-produced Mega Philosophy to his catalog, the latter of which helped solidify Cormega’s reputation as a socially conscious emcee that holds knowledge of self in the highest regard.

Esteemed as the first Latino hip-hop group to garner mainstream success, Cypress Hill’s storied career impressively spans nearly three decades and continues to flourish. In addition to being hailed as pioneers of West Coast rap in the early ‘90s and selling over 18 million albums worldwide, the group also became notorious for their advocacy work in the marijuana legalization movement.

First forming in Los Angeles in 1986 as DVX, the group’s original incarnation featured DJ Muggs (Lawrence Muggerud), B-Real (Louis Freese) and Cuban-born brothers Sen Dog (Senen Reyes) and Mellow Man Ace (Ulpiano Sergio Reyes). After experimenting with a fusion of Latin and hip-hop influences to create their signature sound, Mellow Man Ace left the group in 1988. The group renamed themselves Cypress Hill and signed with Ruffhouse/Columbia Records, with their self-titled debut album seeing a 1991 release. Today, their eponymous record is universally regarded as one of the most essential hip-hop albums to come from that decade. Cypress Hill contributed “Shoot ‘Em Up” to the Juice soundtrack, as well as made their first live appearance at Lollapalooza in 1992, prior to releasing their sophomore effort Black Sunday in 1993. With their debut still fresh, Cypress Hill became the first rap group to have two albums in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 at the same time.

Cypress Hill introduced drummer Eric “Bobo” Correa to their line-up at Woodstock ’94, and together they went on to release five more studio albums, with their latest, Rise Up, arriving in 2010. Cypress Hill has since experimented with electronic music, collaborating on separate projects in 2012 with dubstep artist Rusko and the illustrious EDM DJ Deadmau5. In 2016, frontman B-Real joined Prophets of Rage, a rap-rock supergroup designed to challenge the status quo and protest the current political climate.

Czarface is the supergroup formed by 7L & Esoteric and Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan. The trio worked together in the past, most specifically on 1999’s “Speaking Real Words”—a 7L & Esoteric single.

The rapper and duo came together again in 2010 for a track on 7L & Esoteric’s album 1212. Finally, all three of them joined forces as the supergroup Czarface when they released the self-titled album in 2013. The album was met with critical praise, with publications like HipHopDX and The Source, who praised the album for not placating listeners with positive messages. XXL would give the album a four-star review. The album was inspired by a hero who intends to save hip-hop.

The follow-up, Every Hero Needs a Villain, was released in 2015 and received positive reviews, which included HipHopDX once more, saying “Every Hero Needs a Villain is one of the rare sequels that matches the original in quality.” While the debut album held production by DJ Premier, Every Hero Needs a Villain was produced by 7L and SPADA4. In between albums, Marvel Comics solicited the group to contribute music to the Black Panther web series.

In 2016, the group released A Fistful of Peril, with a follow up in 2017 titled First Weapon Drawn.

Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Copywrite (born Peter Nelson) is an emcee best known for his contributions as part of one of the city’s most influential groups, MHz Legacy. He additionally was a member of the now-defunct collective, The Weathermen—a New York-based group that was formed by fellow emcee Cage and included original members El-P, the late Camu Tao, Yak Ballz, Tame One, Breeze Brewin, Jakki tha Motamouth, and Vast Aire—with Aesop Rock later becoming an affiliate. Copywrite emerged to the forefront of the underground rap scene in 1997 with the release of MHz’s debut single, “World Premier,” through Fondle Em Records. In 2001, the group released a compilation album, Table Scraps, before entering a period of hiatus. In 2002, Copywrite released his debut solo album, The High Exhaulted, on underground hip-hop label, Eastern Conference, with the project boasting production from RJD2, Intalex, Mighty Mi, Camu Tao and Copywrite himself.

Eight years later, in 2010, he released his follow-up LP, The Life and Times of Peter Nelson. The following year, MHz ended its hiatus and changed its name to MHz Legacy, going on to release what would later become their lone-recorded contribution as a group. The group’s self-titled debut studio album was released in 2012 on Man Bites Dog Records, featuring guest appearances from Danny Brown, Ill Bill, Slaine, Blu, and Slug. That same year, Copywrite released his third solo album, God Save the King, with guest appearances from Mac Lethal, Roc Marciano and Torae. In 2014, after getting in a bit of legal trouble that doubled as a wake-up call, Copywrite linked with Surock for the collaborative LP, Murderland. Most recently, Copywrite released his fourth solo album, Blood, Bath & Beyond, a project that signifies how far he’s come as an emcee and overall human being, particularly after experiencing the loss of his parents and longtime collaborator Camu Tao, all while keeping an eye on better days to come.

Kentucky-bred group Cunninlynguists have been carving a lane uniquely their own in melodic hip-hop since first joining forces in the early aughts. Comprised of Natti (Garrett Bush), Kno (Ryan Wisler) and Deacon the Villian (Willis Pol II), the Southern boom-bap innovators released their debut, Will Rap For Food, in October 2001. The project not only was met with critical acclaim, but also solidified the group as a soon-to-be major player in the underground hip-hop scene. In 2003, Mr. SOS (David Diaz) joined Cunninlynguists for their independently released sophomore album, SouthernUnderground, which led to the group touring extensively and supporting acts such as Nappy Roots, Cee-Lo Green, People Under the Stairs, Raekwon, and Brand Nubian. With their controversial (and equally distinctive) name as a play on the words “cunning” and “linguist” (and of course, the explicit sexual act of cunnilingus), the group set out to revitalize the soul in hip-hop. They added two mixtapes to their discography (2003’s Sloppy Seconds Vol. 1 and 2005’s Sloppy Seconds Vol. 2) prior to releasing their third LP, A Piece of Strange, a polished and adventurous record entirely produced by Kno. Following this record, Mr. SOS left the group on peaceful terms, with emcee Natti filling his place. This album also marked a transition in the Cunninlynguist story, with the group shifting gears to focus more on passionate lyricism and beginning to abandon their reputed folly.

After appearing live alongside Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and the Strokes, Cunninlynguists released their fourth album Dirty Acres, with the project arriving in 2007 through a joint venture between their own imprint APOS Music and Swedish-based label Bad Taste Records. After a lengthy headlining tour, the group went on to release their fifth studio album, Oneirology (2011), which was a concept record inspired by the scientific study of dreams and was met with rave reviews. With their reputation as top-tier lyricists in tact, Cunninlynguists released two mixtapes in 2009—Strange Journey Volume One and Strange Journey Volume Two—before taking a brief hiatus from the studio. In 2014, the group’s sixth album Strange Journey Volume Three was released, with the project being curated entirely by fans that gave suggestions and feedback throughout the creative process. That same year, it was discovered that the lexicon of Cunninlynguists was one of the most impressive amongst English-speaking rappers. As the group nears two decades in the game, Cunninlynguists remain both an enigma and a fan favorite, celebrated for pushing creative limits and experimenting with their multifaceted sound.