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by Mosi Reeves

September 20, 2012

Hip-Hop's Crews, Labels and Extended Fam

by Mosi Reeves  |  September 20, 2012

This playlist is dedicated to that misunderstood yet extremely important phenomenon that can only be found in hip-hop: the crew. Crews are usually different from groups. In theory, musical groups are an assembly of equals, with the lead singer often considered "first" among them. The egoism of the modern rap star has made groups nearly obsolete; there can only be one strutting rooster in the room; you know what happens when you get a bunch of cocks together. (They try to poke each other's eyes out!) So the hip-hop crew as it has been designed and put into practice for nearly 15 years -- ever since the dawn of the 2000s -- centers on one megastar, with a few smaller constellations fighting for airspace.

Gossip sites love to talk trash about these random dudes with major-label demo deals, the guys who serve as barber and weed carrier to the star and his management team, and the thugs who always seem to initiate bottle-throwing fights with rival crews in the clubs. But rap crews also help us comprehend the world.

A great example is Wale: When he dropped Attention Deficit in 2009, we didn't know what to make of him because he didn't have any kind of crew affiliation to define him. Is he some kind of go-go rapper or hipster rapper? We didn't know. But when he joined forces with Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group and released Ambition in 2011, we understood him better. (It didn't hurt that he made a more commercial, albeit less ambitious, album.) Ah, he's a slick game-talker just like Ross, but doesn't pretend to be a gangster! It makes sense.

Maybach Music Group marks the latest evolution of the hip-hop crew: the boutique label that cranks out the jams. In the past, crews would emerge from one city as a support staff to the big star, like T.I.'s PSC team from Atlanta, Cam'ron's Diplomats from Harlem, and Beanie Sigel's State Property from Philadelphia. But the current vogue is labels like Lil Wayne's Young Money, Ross' MMG and Eminem's Shady squad -- all imprints formed by a rap star and his management team. At best, these extended families make the lines of authority more clear, avoiding potential quagmires like former G-Unit member Young Buck, who apparently thought he was a personal friend of 50 Cent, and G-Unit affiliate The Game, who started beefing with the boss when he realized he'd made a massive hit with 2005's The Documentary. With these new setups, there is no debate over who the don dada is.

The occasion for this playlist is Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music family and its new compilation, Cruel Summer. Here we have the epitome of the modern crew: None of the members has any real connection to Kanye beyond admiration for his hit-making prowess (with the exception of John Legend, the only member who worked with him during his Chicago days). We can laugh about Kanye, Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz's attempts to pretend like they're all homies or something. Maybe they are. But the real purpose of this outfit is to make hit records. Hip-hop is big business, man.

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