The posse cut - usually comprised of three or more MC’s who don’t belong to the same group — has been the source of Hip-Hop intrigue for decades.
Whether it’s who had the best verse on “The Symphony” between Kane and Kool G. Rap, or the potential of Kid Hood on the “Scenario” remix, the posse cut has always been a hot and much debated topic in rap music.
The anticipation of rap fans favorite artists collaborating has existed as long as recorded rap music. Sugar Hill records - rap music’s premiere early record label —released collaborations with The Sequence and Spoonie G, The Sequence and The Sugar Hill Gang, and the Furious 5 vs The Sugar Hill Gang. One of Enjoy! Records highest selling singles was “The New Rap Language” by Spoonie Gee and The Treacherous 3, but the true spirit of what would become the posse cut was captured on record not long after these collaborations.
In 1984, Profile Records founder Cory Robbins summoned his top artists and his top producer — the late great Pumpkin — and the result was “Here Comes That Beat” by Pumpkin & The Profile All Stars.
Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, Scratch On Galaxy, The Fresh 3 M.C.’s, The Disco 4 and Fly Ty-rone created a classic and set the template for the posse cut.
According to Robbins, “Run-D.M.C. were huge at the time and I can’t remember exactly why they weren’t on the song, but I’m pretty sure that they were busy. They were on fire at the time,”
The collaborations that existed prior to “Here Comes That Beat” saw the MC’s rhyming together and doing several verses throughout the songs. “Here Comes That Beat” would see each group showcased individually one after the other over Pumpkin’s blistering Linn drum beat with Ty-rone’s Michael Jackson inspired hook.
A year after “Here Comes That Beat,” The Fat Boys, Run-D.M.C., Sheila E. and Kurtis Blow released “Krush Groovin’” as "The Krush Groove All Stars." “Krush Groovin’” was performed on the highly successful Krush Groove motion picture and featured on the soundtrack. Fans of the featured M.C.’s were not only excited to see their favorite rap acts immortalized on the silver screen, but they were equally excited to blast the Russell Simmons and Kurtis Blow-produced track on their boom boxes.
In a move that would be mimicked years later on posse cuts, the music changed from MC to MC providing a more customized feel. In fact, even though Kurtis Blow and Russell Simmons produced the song, Rick Rubin and Run-D.M.C. produced the part that Run-D.M.C. rhymed over and Kurtis Blow rhymed over a segment of the beat that had less instruments than Sheila E’s and The Fat Boys parts giving each artist a different sonic punch while keeping the listener engaged. This kind of tailored production had not been done previously.
For three consecutive years Queensbridge legend and producer extraordinaire Marley Marl was responsible for, or heavily connected to, the next evolution of the posse cut.
In 1986, the late Andre Harrell aka Dr. Jeckyll (of Harlem rap duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde) released the Uptown’s Kickin’ It compilation which served as an introduction of his Uptown Records imprint. This compilation introduced the world to the late Heavy D and also gave us the classic “Uptowns Kickin’ It” featuring Heavy D & The Boyz, Finesse & Synquis, Groove B. Chill, The Brothers Black and Woody Rock – produced by D.J. Eddie F and mixed by D.J. Marley Marl with scratches by Marley Marl.
The accompanying video with Andre Harrell pushing out the old guard of stuffy record executives in a board room and Marley Marl showcasing his turntable wizardry were a glimpse of what was to come in the near future for both Marley and Andre.
In 1987, in the same Queensbridge dwelling where “Roxanne’s Revenge” and “Eric B. Is President” were created, Marley created “Juice Crew All Stars.”
Enlisting Kool G. Rap, Craig G, Glamorous, MC Shan, Tragedy, and Roxanne Shante, this marked the first time that a group of strictly solo M.C.s collaborated in this fashion (previously groups co-existed on posse cuts with solo artists).
“Juice Crew All Stars” released on Cold Chillin’ Records was also the beginning of posse’s and cliques in the genre.
Prior to “Juice Crew All Stars,” posse cuts were comprised of artists who were labelmates, and/or were put together for the purpose of one recording.
According to Juice Crew member Glamorous, “Marley was a genius. We recorded that whole song in his living room. Originally, I was the only female on the song, but Shante’ was added late.r” According to Cold Chillin’ founder Fly Ty, “Mr. Magic always wanted to do that kind of record. He was really the brains behind that.”
This Juice Crew was the second version. The original Juice Crew was started by Disco Fever owner Sal Abbatiello and boasted a membership of various Hip- Hop personalities and artists such as Sal, Mr. Magic of WHBI and WBLS, Mele Mel, Mike C, O.C. & Krazy Eddie of The Fearless 4, and Fly Ty of WBLS and later Cold Chillin’ Records.
“Never say a rhyme that’s less than hoopin’ – beauty queens are the girls I’m scoopin’ this is just a small rap representation down with the juice as the basic foundation, write one rhyme and for years you run it I sit and write a rhyme when I’m done get blunted.”
In 1988, Marley Marl released a compilation of artists that he produced called In Control Volume 1. While working on the album and tracks for Big Daddy Kane’s debut album Long Live The Kane he recorded a version of “Raw” with Kane and Kool G. Rap that debuted on New York’s WBLS. The popularity of the song inspired Marley to ask Kane and G. Rap to record a song together. After the historic airport photoshoot for the In Control album wrapped up. Marley suggested that they go to his house and record the song.
Queensbridge M.C. Craig G overheard the conversation and asked if he could get on the proposed song.
Big Daddy Kane explains, “I was cool with Craig G hoppin’ on because I’d heard him rhyme recently. In fact, I’d just heard “Duck Alert” and “Droppin’ Science” and I saw his growth from “Transformer,” and his earlier stuff."
"Masta Ace didn’t go through the process that the other Juice Crew members had to go through. They had to do shows and prove themselves. Ace bypassed that entire process,” says Fly Ty.
According to Masta Ace, his first time meeting most of the other members of the Juice Crew was at the photo shoot for In Control.
“The only reason that I was there that day was because I was already cool with Craig G. We were hangin’ out strong back then and he needed a ride, so I gave him a ride to Marley’s. That’s the only reason that I was there. They were all spread out writing their rhymes and Marley asked who was going first. No one wanted to go first and that’s why Marley says I don’t care who’s first or who’s last. No one wanted to go first so Marley asked if I had something. I told him that I did. I don’t think that there was ever any intention to keep my rhyme on the song, he just wanted someone to crack the mic first.”
According to Big Daddy Kane, “Me and G. Rap had never met Ace until the day of the photo shoot. We really didn’t want him on the song. Me and G were in the corner planning to say that we were going to get pizza – but we were really gonna leave and not come back. We had given Ace the nickname 'Glasses' and we didn’t like the fact that what started as a song with just me and G turned into this four-man song. Once Ace started rhymin’, G.Rap said, 'Shit, Glasses' verse is better than Craig's..."
Masta Ace’s inclusion in one of rap music’s most enduring songs is on the strength of the verse that he chose. If he said something less potent, history would have been totally different.
The debate between fans of "The Symphony" remains whether Kane or G. Rap said the best verse. Both Kane and Ace say that G. Rap rhymed so long that the tape came off the reels.
'He literally rhymed until the tape ran out. His original rhyme was like six minutes. I didn’t get a chance to rhyme before the tape ran out.
I told him to just say the first half, Marley said that the second half was better” says Kane between laughs.
G. Rap ended up scrapping that entire first rhyme and saying an entirely different rhyme (which is what the world heard on “The Symphony”). The original rhyme that G. spit appeared the next year on “Men At Work” from his debut album Road To The Riches. “Put a quarter in ya’ ass ‘cus you played ya’ self” spat by Kane remains one of the most quoted lines in Hip-Hop.
“The Symphony” remains a classic and the Kane vs G.Rap discussion is still very much alive more than three decades later. The line up from the original Symphony released “The Symphony Part II” in 1991, and Snoop Dogg, Mia X , Fiend , C Murder , Mystikal , Goldie Loc and Silkk The Shocker released a remake in 1999.
In 1989, Dr. Dre had just produced Straight Outta Compton a year previous and was releasing the now classic No One Can Do It Better album by The D.O.C. The album’s closing song, “The Grand Finale,” featured Ice Cube, M.C. Ren, Eazy E and The D.O.C. over an interpolation of Parliament’s “Chocolate City.” “The Grand Finale” would mark one of the last times that Ice Cube rocked with his N.W.A. counterparts before releasing his debut solo album the next year.
Three years after “No One Can Do It Better,” Dre continued his sonic assault on the world of Hip -op with the seminal compilation titled The Chronic which contained “Stranded on Death Row” which featured the late Bushwick Bill, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, RBX, and The Lady of Rage.
“Stranded” is not only one of the greatest West Coast posse cuts, it remains one of the greatest posse cuts overall with every MC delivering a powerful lyrical display as Bushwick acts as the guide and host.
“Rage, lyrical murderer stranded on death row and now I'm serving a lifetime sentence, there'll be no repentance since it's the life that I choose to lead I plead guilty on all counts let the ball bounce where it may it's just another clip into my AK buck 'em down with my underground tactics stacks and stacks of clips on my mattress bed frame, there's another dead dame laying lame, put to shame, who's to blame”? The Lady of Rage - Stranded on Death Row 1992
The Chronic era gave us another posse cut - “Puffin’ On Blunts & Drankin’ Tanqueray” which was a previously unreleased track included on the single for Dre’ Day. The Lady of Rage, Daz, and Kurupt flip flows effortlessly over a Dre- produced track with West Coast vet Chris “The Glove” on the boards and live bass. There aren’t any vocals on the twelve-minute track until two minutes in, and the song continues for nearly 6 minutes after the last verse ends —suggesting that this unstructured studio session was likely true to the title of the song.
The A side of 1987’s “Juice Crew All Stars” single proved that the posse cut could be used for more than just competitive lyrical sword sharpening. The brainchild of Cold Chillin’ founder Fly Ty, “Evolution” saw various members of the Juice Crew assume the personas of great figures in Black History. MC Shan was Martin Luther King, Debbie D was Harriet Tubman, Kool G. Rap portrayed Malcolm X, and Glamorous represented Maya Angelou.
Ty states, “That song was special to me. I wanted it to be educational for the kids listening and also to the artists on the song. I didn’t feature Shante’ because she was an off the head rhymer. I needed someone to do research on the person they portrayed. I let everyone choose their person and they all chose who I would have wanted them to — especially G. Rap.
'He had an Islamic background, so Malcolm was perfect”.
“I chose Maya Angelou - the only person who was still alive at the time. I wrote my part at the Amityville Library. I got “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and did my research right there,” says Glamorous.
In the wake of growing violence at rap concerts KRS ONE formed the Stop The Violence Movement in 1988 and assembled himself, Kool Moe Dee, Chuck D, M.C. Lyte, Stetsasonic, Doug E Fresh, Ms. Melodie and Just-Ice and recorded “Self Destruction." The song raised over $100,000 for the National Urban League and inspired The West Coast All Stars to record “All In The Same Gang” to address the gang situation in Los Angeles. Above The Law, Young M.C., Digital Underground, Body & Soul, J.J. Fad, Young M.C., M.C. Hammer, NWA, Ice T, Def Jef, Tone Loc and King T did for the West what The Stop The Violence Movement did for the East.
In 1991 Queens trio Main Source released their debut album Breaking Atoms. Amongst the many gems contained on the album was “Live At The Barbecue” featuring Nas, Joe Fatal, Large Professor, and Akinyele. Over a Bob James sample, each MC destroys the mic device, but it was the first MC who introduced himself as Nasty Nas who earned the most rewind value hands down. If some of his lines were intended to induce shock value, then he surely achieved his intended goal. “Verbal assassin my architect pleases, when I was 12, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus - Nasty Nas is a rebel to America/police murderer I’m causin’ hysteria/I melt mics ‘til the soundwaves over before steppin’ to me ya’ better step to Jehovah”. The Nas performance created anticipation for his solo releases “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, “Half Time” and later the classic Illmatic.
A year later, Heavy D dropped his fourth album Blue Funk with the closing track “A Bunch of Ni**as” featuring 3rd Eye, the late Guru, The Notorious B.I.G., Rob O, and Busta Rhymes. Setting his verse off with the proclamation, “I bring the drama like you spit on my Mama,” The Notorious B.I.G. caught the ears of Hip- Hop heads and along with his feature on Mary J Blige’s” Real Love” and Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby” set high anticipation for his solo “Party and Bullshit” single and later his full-length release Ready To Die.
Sometimes the remix receives more accolades than the original. Such was the case with 1992’s “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. This posse cut was already considered a classic without question, but the remix featuring newcomer Kid Hood (who was murdered three days after recording his verse) and Leaders of The New School solidified this songs position as one of the most revered posse cuts.
This song also put all antennas on alert for Busta Rhymes of Leaders of The New School who was already respected. Busta’s energetic, animated and fiery delivery on both versions of “Scenario" officially crowned him The Dungeon Dragon.
Craig Mack set off the legendary Bad Boy label with “Flava In Ya Ear” in 1994 and gained popularity on the label slightly before The Notorious B.I.G. who debuted the same year. “Flava In Ya’ Ear” was not only a chart topper, the Easy Mo Bee-produced opus is a classic in the genre. The remix receives as much adoration as the original and features The Notorious B.I.G., L.L. Cool J, Last Boy Scout and Busta Rhymes.
“When features were happening the hottest M.C.’s went last. I went last on every song at that time going back to A Bunch of Ni**as and Scenario. I was last”. Busta Rhymes on Vlad TV 2018
One of the most talked about posse cuts is 1997’s “4,3,2,1” by LL Cool J featuring Method Man, Redman, Canibus, the late DMX and Master P. A misunderstanding centered around the interpretation of certain lines led to fans decoding lyrics from Canibus and L.L. Cool J and eventually one of rap music’s most storied battles on wax.
The beef between the two M.C.’s unfortunately took some attention away from one of the all-time great posse cuts.
Current mainstream rap releases don’t contain traditional posse cuts, but features are commonplace now more than ever. Underground rap still strongly embraces the original spirit of the posse cut and the songs discussed here are by no means a complete list. Many posse’s, cliques and crews contributed posse cuts to the great canon of classic rap. “Buddy” by the Native Tongues, “Piano” by King T, Public Enemy with “Burn Hollywood Burn”,” A Chorus Line” by Ultramagnetic, “Ladies Night” by Lil Kim, “The Game” by Pete Rock, “Don’t Curse” by Heavy D, “The Head Banger” by EPMD, “Money In The Bank” by Kool G. Rap, “The Last Song” by Above The Law, “I’m The Man” & “DWYK” by Gang Starr, “Back To The Grill” by M.C. Search, “Down The Line” by Nice & Smooth, “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” by The Fab 5 and the list goes on.