Producer Pete Rock (Peter Phillips) and rapper CL Smooth (Corey Penn) are a group from Mount Vernon, NY, known for their legendary use of jazz and soul samples mixed with pensive rhymes. They first met in the early ‘90s while attending Mount Vernon High, establishing themselves early on as a duo destined to make the hip-hop history books. Pete Rock was taken under the wing of DJ Marley Marl at New York City’s WBLS, eventually earning his own airtime and catching the attention of Heavy D’s DJ Eddie, who introduced the pair to various record labels in New York City. Following Pete Rock’s co-produced four tracks off Heavy D & the Boyz’s sophomore album Big Tyme (1989), he and CL Smooth used that momentum to release their debut EP All Souled Out in 1991. From jump, the duo carved their own lane by juxtaposing Pete Rock’s signature horn blares and renowned ear for obscure soul and jazz samples with CL Smooth’s knack for waxing philosophical yet effortlessly profanity-free lyrical delivery.

The duo’s 1992 debut album, Mecca & the Soul Brother, gave the world their best-known single, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).” Met with rave reviews, the project was praised as one of the greatest rap records of all time. Following critical acclaim, the pair scored placements on soundtracks for films Menace II Society, Who’s the Man?, and Poetic Justice, as well as collaborated with Mary J. Blige for a remix of her track “Reminisce.” In 1994, Pete Rock & CL Smooth reunited for The Main Ingredient, a project that would later become the legendary duo’s last album together. After splitting in 1995, both artists went on to nurture solo careers and would later reconnect for occasional tour runs and public appearances. The year 2003 saw the release of their compilation record, Good Life: The Best of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, further fueling the demand for a proper reunion. In 2010, the death of hip-hop pioneer Guru acted as a catalyst for them to reconcile their creative differences in a new way, with the duo promising fans new music was in the works. The group promises a new project by the end of 2017.

Peter “Pete Rock” Phillips is a rapper, producer, and DJ from the Bronx, best known for his use of samples in production and his fusing of jazz and funk into hip-hop beats during the “Golden Era” of rap in the early ‘90s.

In 1987, a then-teenaged Pete Rock got his start as an intern at New York City’s WBLS radio station on the Show, “In Control With Marley Marl.” His skills as a DJ earned him considerable recognition, prompting him to begin experimenting with production. His first major placement was in 1989 with Heavy D, who was Rock’s older cousin.

In 1991, Pete Rock teamed up with rapper CL Smooth to form the duo, Pete Rock & CL Smooth. The pair released the EP All Souled Out that year to critical acclaim. The following year, they released their debut studio album, Mecca and the Soul Brother, via Elektra Records.

In between Mecca and the Soul Brother and the 1994 release of their sophomore (and final) album The Main Ingredient, Rock continued working with other artists—producing for Nas, Run-DMC, The Notorious B.I.G., Doug E. Fresh, Redman, Naughty By Nature, Slick Rick, and many more.

After Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s disbandment following the release of The Main Ingredient, Rock went on to release three solo albums, as well as three instrumental albums. He has also released collaborative projects with Ed O.G., Smif-N-Wessun, and Smoke DZA, respectively.

Rock is often considered one of the greatest producers of all time, and a backbone of New York hip-hop.

Paul Nice is a DJ, producer and self-declared Renaissance Man originating from Poughkeepsie, New York and claiming the Bay Area as his second home. First getting his start in 1982, Nice began mastering the art of DJing from all angles, weaving between being a club DJ, mixtape DJ, radio DJ, tour DJ, and party rocker before beginning to hone his skills as a producer. Solidifying himself as a force to be reckoned with in the indie hip-hop scene in the late ‘90s, Nice went on to work with the likes of Biz Markie, the Beastie Boys, Tony Touch, Guru (Gang Starr), Talib Kweli, Black Thought (The Roots), Lord Finesse, Masta Ace, Rhymefest, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson and more, developing his own catalog of remixes and production credits. His DJing has taken him around the world, with tour stops from New York to LA, London to Paris, Toyko to Sydney and everywhere in between.

Nice broke through to a larger audience with the release of several mixes, such as Breaks for Days and Soul on the Grill. He has also been reputed for his technical skills as a DJ, with turntablist purists such as Q-Bert, Babu, and Rob Swift praising him for his Battle Break series, “5 Fingers of Death.” Additionally, his infamous Drum Library series was also utilized by the likes of Kanye West and Common, with many praising him as one of the first to curate such a wealth of sounds for producers to build their tracks with, creating over a dozen volumes. As a DJ and producer, Paul Nice specializes in hip-hop, soul, jazz funk, disco, Brazilian, dub, and dancehall.

Hailing from the West Coast and more specifically putting Fresno, California on the mapPlanet Asia (born Jason Green) is an emcee that broke out on the scene in the late ’90s. In 1998, he relocated from his hometown to the San Francisco Bay area at the age of 22 to continue releasing an onslaught of mixtapes and 12″ singles to level up his career. After making the move, he started working with producer Fanatik and began to gain notoriety for his fierce vocal delivery and vast wealth of lyrical content. In addition to working as a solo artist, he also was one-half of the now defunct duo Cali Agents, as well as currently a member of the groups Gold Chain Military and Durag Dynasty. Cali Agents’ 2000 album, How the West Was One, helped him secure a label deal with Interscope Records, where he was unfortunately not as promoted as acts such as Eminem and 50 Cent. Planet Asia left the label without releasing an album, but did find his first Grammy nomination in 2002 for his contribution to Mystic’s track “W”. Avatar Records later picked him up, and he went on to release his solo label debut The Grand Opening in 2004, securing him The Source’s Independent Album of the Year Award. Throughout the course of his career, Planet Asia has collaborated with the likes of Linkin Park, Bun B, Talib Kweli, Madlib, DirtyDiggs, Ghostface Killah, and more, releasing an impressive amount of music over the year, with 2016’s solo studio effort Egyptian Merchandise the latest addition to his expansive discography.

Troy Jamerson, better known as Pharoahe Monch, is a rapper from Queens, New York—both a solo artist and one half of the rap duo Organized Konfusion. Though never having significant mainstream success, Monch is often considered one of the best lyricists of all time, known for his complex rapping technique and intelligent lyrics.

In the late ‘80s, Monch and friend Prince Po originally formed a duo named Simply II Positive MCs, with Po as the lone rapper and Monch just contributing as a beatboxer. Upon realizing how skilled he was as an emcee, Monch decided to rap as well, and the pair eventually recorded a demo with producer Paul C. The pair soon caught Def Jam’s attention, and ultimately changed their name to Organized Konfusion upon the label’s suggestion. The Def Jam deal did not pan out—and despite producer Paul C’s murder in 1989—they signed a deal with Hollywood BASIC in 1991. Their eponymous debut album was released and met with critical acclaim.

The group would go on to release two more albums, both of which were critically acclaimed, yet failed to garner sales. Because of this, Po and Monch parted ways, and Monch embarked on a solo career in 1997.

With a new deal on Rawkus Records, Monch went on to release his solo debut Internal Affairs in 1999. The project’s lead single, “Simon Says,” was a moderate hit on Billboard and was featured on the film soundtracks for Charlie’s Angels and Boiler Room. A lawsuit stemming from an uncleared sample on the song caused a halting in the album’s distribution. Monch wouldn’t release another album for eight years.

To date, Pharoahe Monch has released four solo albums, with the most recent being 2014’s PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

When Los Angeles-based rappers Double K (born Michael Turner) and Thes One (born Christopher Portugal) first crossed paths while shopping at Martin’s Records on Pico Blvd in 1996, they had no idea the fated meeting would result in a partnership now closing in on two decades. Landing on the moniker, People Under the Stairs—a name they felt best represented their humble outlook—the duo began creating music driven by art and not by money or fame. While Thes One was a student at the University of Southern California, he tapped into his student loan money in order to fund the group’s first 12″ single, “The Next Step II.” Soon thereafter, The P (as they later became known) recorded their debut album, The Next Step, releasing the self-funded project through Om Records in 1998. Despite having difficulty getting their record played on the radio, the project laid a foundation for 2000’s Question in the Form of an Answer, a release that led the group to tour with De La Soul. After releasing 2002’s O.S.T., the group took a four-year hiatus to focus on separate side projects.

Their 2006 return was met with great enthusiasm, with the release of Stepfather marking a turning point in their careers, as the group consciously changed up their sound. In an experimental effort and precautionary measure to protect the album from being leaked early, the group released a “fake” version of the album online. The real Stepfather included a lone feature from Double K’s idol, George Clinton, and was met with positive reviews, debuting at No. 32 on the Billboard Heatseeker Chart. After touring with then-unknown rock-rap group Gym Class Heroes as their opening act, People Under the Stairs returned to the studio. Thes One released his debut solo album Lifestyle Marketing in 2007 and the group readied their first compilation record, 2008’s The Om Years. PUTS has since gone on to tour the world, as well as release four more studio albums, with each project helping to expand their audience to younger ears and further secure their legacy.

PackFM (born Omar Rogelio Tull) has not only made a name for himself in the underground hip-hop scene, but has also cheekily kept fans eternally guessing as to what the “FM” represents. During the title track for his acclaimed solo debut, 2006’s whutduzFMstand4?—a project that garnered him UGHH’s Album of the Year Award—he provides over 20 different suggestions of what the acronym could possibly stand for without revealing its true meaning. With the mystery behind his moniker in tact, PackFM’s career as a well-rounded artistic threat went on to span over two decades before he entered a period of hiatus in 2014.

PackFM first began as a battle rapper in the late ‘90s, during which he would remain undefeated for months at a time and take home several prestigious awards, including an induction into the 88HipHop MC Battle Hall of Fame. Following his reign as a top-tier freestyle emcee, he went on to hone his pen in the studio, collaborating with artists such as Eyedea, Apathy, Pumpkinhead, Poison Pen and more. Between the years of 2002 and 2012, PackFM contributed his talents to a widespread array of vibrant compilation records, most notably alongside longtime collaborators Tonedeff and the QN5 Music roster. With projects such as The Plague’s debut group album Gang Green (2002), Extended F@mm’s Happy F*ck You Songs (2002) and QN5’s Asterisk compilation series, PackFM established his reputation as a versatile lyrical force. After releasing an abundance of recorded material, including his 2010 solo effort I F*cking Hate Rappers, fans are still eagerly awaiting the official release of PackFM’s third solo LP, The Human Highlight Reel.

Prodigy (Albert Johnson) was both as a solo artist and one half of the legendary duo Mobb Deep. Prodigy began his career as a solo emcee and producer at the age of 14, but dropped everything when he met Havoc at the High School of Art and Design in 1989. The two formed the duo Poetical Prophets and their later-known roles within the group (Mobb Deep) were initially juxtaposed. Born into a musical family in 1974—with his grandfather Budd Johnson being a well-known saxophonist, and his mother Fatima (Collins) Johnson a member of The Crystals—the Hempstead, Long Island native (turned Queensbridge rap legend) already had some experience producing. Havoc meanwhile, was the primary emcee in the early years. In 1992, the group signed a deal with 4th & Broadway and released their debut album Juvenile Hell under a new moniker, Mobb Deep.

 

After poor record sales, Prodigy and Havoc were subsequently dropped from the label and signed with the newly-formed Loud Records and Steve Rifkind, who had previously inked a deal with Wu-Tang Clan. In 1994, the duo began working on their magnum opus, The Infamous, and released the album a year later to critical praise and high chart placements. P and Hav recorded two more well-received efforts, Hell on Earth in 1996 and Murda Muzik in 1999. Their success was fueled by now-classics including “Shook Ones (Part II),” “Survival Of The Fittest,” “Quiet Storm” (with Lil’ Kim on the remix), and many more. In 2000, Prodigy released his debut solo effort, H.N.I.C. The album featured the smash hit “Keep It Thoro” and would eventually become certified Gold. Prodigy was also known for his epic beefs with other rappers. Tupac, Jay-Z, Crooked I and Saigon were just a few.

 

After releasing two more albums with Havoc, Mobb Deep signed to G-Unit Records and released their seventh studio album Blood Money in 2006. In 2008, Prodigy was incarcerated for a gun-possession charge and served three-and-a-half years in prison, releasing his first memoir My Infamous Life in 2011 with writer Laura Checkoway when he returned home. After a brief group hiatus, Prodigy and Havoc released their final group album, The Infamous Mobb Deep in 2014. While known for his conspiracy theories surrounding the Illuminati, Prodigy was a spokesman for sickle cell anemia awareness, having suffered with the disease since childhood.

 

He spent his later years as an advocate for finding a cure for sickle cell anemia, as well as publicly discussing prison reform and the importance of maintaining inmate health. In 2016, he released the prison cookbook-slash-memoir Commissary Kitchen with writer Kathy Iandoli. In 2017, P dropped his final solo album with The Hegelian Dialectic. On June 20, 2017, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson passed away due to complications from sickle cell anemia following his final performance in Las Vegas. With close to twenty albums (both as a solo artist and collaborative artist) under his belt, Prodigy will forever remain as one of the most legendary artists in hip-hop history.

Public Enemy has long solidified their legacy as one of hip-hop’s most distinctive, influential and controversial rap groups. As the group pushed the boundaries of hip-hop with their own revolutionary approach to politically charged music, they flipped the fast-rising genre flat on its back in the late ‘80s, facing an initial shockwave reaction of both praise and criticism.

While Public Enemy’s early years can be traced back to 1982 when founding members Chuck D and Flavor Flav first met and later collaborated on the single “Public Enemy No. 1.” The group expanded and signed to Def Jam, first cutting their teeth as an opening act for the Beastie Boys. With the release of their 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show, the self-declared “prophets of rage” soon became revered as an unapologetically self-aware voice of resistance. By the time their second album arrived in 1988, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the group promptly crossed over to captivate a mainstream audience, with the record going on to peak at No. 42 on the Billboard 200 and chart for 49 weeks straight.

The group’s intricate dynamic—juxtaposed by Chuck D’s unwavering focus on social issues and pro-Black consciousness plus Flavor Flav’s comedic relief—became their trademark. With the stylistically contrasting emcees at the forefront, the group was perfectly accented by the Bomb Squad’s inventive, sample-heavy production. Public Enemy now has over a dozen studio albums in their groundbreaking discography. The most recent, Man Plans God Laughs, arriving in 2015. In addition to over two decades’ worth of touring and other accolades, the group’s earlier albums have since been hailed as some of the most culturally influential works in hip-hop history. Public Enemy was rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

The Pharcyde—a quartet hailing from South Central Los Angeles—is best known for shaking up the cultural landscape of hip-hop during a time when gangsta rap was dominating the airwaves. With their celebrated eccentricities and desire to stay in their own authentically weird lane, the group has been revered as an undeniably influential force in alternative hip-hop ever since recording their first demo in 1991. Three of the group’s founding members (Tre “SlimKid3” Hardson, Romye “Bootie Brown” and Emandu “Imani” Wilcox) first met in the late ‘80s through their mutual love for dancing, with Derrick “Fatlip” Stewart signing on last to complete the Pharcyde’s roster of vibrant emcees. The group also introduced DJ Mark Luv as their first DJ and went on to recruit J-Swift and a then-unknown J Dilla to handle production duties. After hiring their first manager, Paul Stewart, the group signed to Delicious Vinyl and began cultivating a steady buzz.

Their debut album, the certified Gold Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, arrived in 1992 and was met with critical acclaim, fueled by the album’s second single (and now hip-hop classic) “Passin’ Me By.” With their early careers as dancers directly influencing their approach to rapping, the group became known for their lively performances, joining the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul on tour. In 1995, the group released their sophomore album, Labcabincalifornia, which swayed stylistically from their feel-good debut and featured the crossover hit “Runnin’,” later featured in the film 8 Mile. The project also marked the last with Fatlip, who left the group to focus on his solo career. The Pharcyde returned years later as a trio, releasing both an EP, Chapter One: Testing the Waters and a studio LP, Plain Rap, in 2000. In an accompanying music video for the track “Trust,” the group expressed their true disdain for Fatlip’s departure, portraying him as a sad-faced clown. The video also presented Tre Hardson as a phoenix flying away following his verse, symbolizing that he had the group’s blessing to part ways (which he did soon after). With only two original members left to hold down the group’s legacy, Bootie Brown and Imani released Humboldt Beginnings (2004), a project what would become the Pharcyde’s last studio effort. However, a compilation record, Sold My Soul: The Remix & Rarity Collection, was later released in 2005. The Pharcyde has reunited on stage several times over the years, most notably in 2012 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the group’s debut album.