The late Christopher Wallace, known to the world as The Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie/Biggie Smalls, is often touted as one of the greatest rappers of all time. B.I.G. was involved in the streets as a teen in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. At 17, a brief stint in jail for selling drugs would push him to change his course, and he soon began his attempt at turning rapping into a career. With his unique wordplay, charismatic wit and laidback flow, he quickly garnered a local buzz, and his demo tape landed in the hands of popular DJ Mister Cee. Cee was so impressed with the then 19-year-old, that he secured Big a feature in The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype, sparking the interest of Uptown Entertainment A&R Sean Puffy Combs. Puffy brought Big in and signed him to Uptown, but it wasn’t long after that Puffy lost his job there. Undeterred, Puff launched Bad Boy Entertainment, and was able to convince Big to sign with him. Biggie would appear on two Mary J. Blige singles that year, before releasing his own, Party and Bullshit. In 1994, his award-winning debut album Ready to Die was released, selling over one million units and solidifying his place within hip-hop’s elite. He’d later lend his star power to launch his group, Junior M.A.F.I.A., sparking the solo careers of Lil Kim and Lil Cease. By 1997, the East Coast-West Coast feud was at its height, and Biggie was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles on March 9. Just 16 days later, his sophomore effort, Life After Death, was released as a double-disc, immediately hitting number one on the Billboard 200. Today, B.I.G.’s US sales exceed 17 million, and his unsolved murder remains one of hip-hop’s darkest mysteries.

While The Roots may be best known currently for being the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, long before they appeared regularly on national television in front of an audience of millions, the group’s beginnings were much more humble. In 1987, founding members rapper Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) and drummer Questlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts and began making music under the moniker The Square Roots. Shortly thereafter, the pair literally took their talents to the streets, busking for change and making rounds competing in local talent shows. Later adding bassist Hub (Leon Hubbard) and rapper Malik B to their line-up, the group shortened their name to The Roots and the rest soon became history. Early members included producer Scott Storch (replaced by keyboardist Kamal Gray) with the current roster including producer James Poyser. Renowned for their live show, the group began experimenting and winning over fans with their neo-soul meets hip-hop sound, expanding their line-up significantly. After building a buzz, the group released their first album in 1993 (Organix) later leading them to signing with GGC. Following their 1995 major label debut album Do You Want More?!!!??!, the group went on to experience mainstream success for the first time, breaking the Top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart, with their rap parody music video accompanying “What They Do” ending up on rotation on MTV. Their 1999 album, Things Fall Apart, led them to their first Grammy win, as well as helped elevate the careers of Beanie Sigel and Eve. The Roots have since gone on to collaborate with the likes of John Legend, Betty Wright, Elvis Costello and more, continuously evolving their sounds and talents, crafting almost a dozen albums and securing their influential legacy as top-tier instrumentalists and creators.

Talib Kweli Greene (born October 3, 1975) is as well known for his contributions to hip-hop as he is for his social activism and political views. The Brooklyn born artist came to recognition first through his group, Black Star (alongside Mos Def), though Kweli’s story began years earlier. He made his official rap debut in 1996, with five guest appearances on Cincinnati group Mood’s album titled Doom. Upon returning to New York City, Black Star released their first and only album, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, in 1998. The Hi-Tek produced project is still continuously celebrated by critics and helped put Rawkus Records on the map in the ‘90s as the hub for quality underground rap releases. Kweli later made his official debut as a solo artist in 2002 with the release of Quality. The project featured production from Kanye West and DJ Quik, as well as an appearance from Dave Chappelle. Despite its critical acclaim, the project was met with lukewarm sales. Still, Kweli’s strong lyricism became his trademark, overshadowing the numbers on the board. However, his Kanye West-produced single “Get By” helped him garner some mainstream recognition, peaking at No. 77 on the Billboard Hot 100. Kweli returned the favor by appearing on Ye’s own successful debut album The College Dropout in 2004, as well as joining the Beastie Boys on tour that summer. His second solo album (and final release on Rawkus) The Beautiful Struggle debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard 200. With his solo career in music established, Kweli went on to collaborate with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Just Blaze, J Dilla, Madlib, Kendrick Lamar, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, will.i.am, and more. Kweli also founded his own media powerhouse, Javotti Media in 2011. In 2017 he joined forces with Lox alum Styles P to release The Seven. His music career is footnoted with his strong activist spirit, often acting as a political pundit while taking to his social media accounts to re-enforce his strong views.

First joining forces in 1989, The Beatnuts originally were a Queens-bred trio comprised of members JuJu (Jerry Tineo), Psycho Les (Lester Fernandez) and Kool Fashion (Berntony Smalls). In the early ‘90s, they mainly focused on DJing and beatmaking, as well as lent their talents to remix the likes of Cypress Hill, MC Lyte, and Naughty by Nature. Early on in their careers, hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa introduced the group to Native Tongues members De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Jungle Brothers. The Beatnuts became the only Latino affiliates of the Native Tongues collective. After garnering buzz for their work behind the boards and with the help of top-tier cosigns, the group scored a deal of their own with Combat Records. In 1993, their debut project Intoxicated Demons: The EP arrived, following a delay due to Kool Fashion six-month prison stint for drug charges. The group released their LP The Beatnuts: Street Level, via Relativity Records a year later. The project was their first and last LP as a trio, with Kool Fashion leaving the group to pursue a solo career under the moniker Al’ Tariq.

The Beatnuts continued to build their discography as a duo, going on to release their sophomore album, Stone Crazy, in 1997. Two years later, their third album A Musical Massacre became the Beatnuts’ most commercially and critically successful album to date. With the hit single “Watch Out Now” helping the album to climb to No. 35 on the Billboard 200, the group received praise for balancing rough, raunchy lyrics with layered, eclectic production. After the release of their 2001 album, Take It or Squeeze It—as well as the release of two greatest hits albums (2001’s Beatnuts Forever and 2002’s Classic Nuts, Vol. 1—the group parted ways with their longtime father imprint, Relativity Records. The Beatnuts then signed to underground label LandSpeed Records, releasing The Originators that same year.

Their 2004 album, Milk Me, was released through Penalty Recordings and included a track, “Confused Rappers,” dissing Jennifer Lopez for stealing the beat from “Watch out Now” for her 2002 smash single “Jenny From the Block.” The Beatnuts eventually received royalties for the song and agreed to end the feud with Lopez’s producers (The Trackmasters and Cory Rooney). In 2009, the Beatnuts starred in a 3-night performance run of a semi-autobiographical theater production, Deez Nuts, produced by journalist Sacha Jenkins and took place at the Ohio Theatre as part of the New York Hip-Hop Festival. In 2011, the Beatnuts linked with the Alkaholiks to release a collaborative EP titled Liknuts. In recent years, the Beatnuts have actively toured, with their seventh studio LP, Planet of the Crates, still anticipating a release.