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Two heads are often better than one, no matter what realm you're talking about; Michael Jordan might have grabbed only a couple of his six rings without Scottie Pippen; Kobe Bryant would probably have a pair less, too, were it not for Shaq. And with one of the all-time great rapping duos ever making their triumphant return at Coachella last weekend—and making a second pass at it this weekend, too—XXL got to thinking about the greatest duos of all time. But we wanted to make sure everyone was competing on a level playing field, so we focused on duos that were from the two-rapper setup, rather than the rapper-producer combo. This excludes many of our favorites—Eric B. and Rakim, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Madvillain, even newcomers like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis—but we'll get to them later (and before anyone says anything, Public Enemy was more than just Chuck D and Flavor Flav). Without further ado, here are XXL's ten best rapper duos of all time. Let the debates begin. —XXL Staff with Jordan Lebeau
hip-hop rapper duos
8Ball & MJG
Years Active/Status: 1991-present
Biggest Project: Coming Out Hard
Why They Are Dope: Ball & G don’t get the respect they deserve. This is due in no small part to the lackluster albums they released later in their career. Still, you can't deny their influence or ability. Coming Out Hard, On The Outside Looking In and On Top Of The World, respectively, are great, but Space Age 4 Eva is the high water mark of their output as a duo. Friends since middle school, the two rappers carved out their niche at a time when southern rap was largely ignored. Critics and fans beyond the Mason-Dixon failed to take the South’s output seriously in their heyday, but Ball & G aren’t given enough credit for their role in ending that trend.
8ball mjg memphis
cnn capone noreaga
Hometown: Queens, NY
Years Active/Status: 1995-2004; 2006-2011; 2013-Present
Biggest Project: The War Project
Why They Are Dope: C-N-N embodied the gritty lifestyle of New York that was often displayed through their brash lyricism. Revered classics like “T.O.N.Y. (Top Of New York)” and “L.A. L.A.” showed off a unique chemistry often displayed by many New York duos of the era. Fast forward to 2014, C-N-N are still going strong with plans to drop a reunion project soon.
capone noreaga duo
Years Active/Status: 2011-2012/Inactive (for now?)
Biggest Project: Watch The Throne
Why They Are Dope: Jay Z and Kanye West—two of the most high-profile solo artists ever who owe a great deal to each other—actually followed through on what we all rightfully assumed was a bill of goods being sold and released Watch The Throne in the summer of 2011. The album was huge for myriad reasons: it was the first time two titans at the peak of their individual careers had ever collaborated for an album in mainstream rap. It was decadent and lavish in a way only an album by those two guys could have been, but it still managed to slightly undermine and contextualize its own nouveau riche sprawl. It was also the second straight album Kanye decided to share his toys production-wise, and with ‘Ye handling slightly more of the rapping duties, the point at which we all knew Jay had come to view Kanye as more than little brother was quite a moment to behold. Wonderfully produced, clearly fun for both parties, and boasting a few great lyrical outings from two of the best to ever do it, Watch The Throne 2, should it ever happen, has quite the big brother to keep up with.
watch the throne jay z kanye west
Years Active/Status: 1997-Present/Active
Biggest Project: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Why They Are Dope: Few rap acts have left fans clamoring for more like Black Star. Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (better known as Mos Def) linked up after they’d both found themselves signed to the late, great Rawkus Records. What resulted was one of the best one-off efforts the genre has ever seen. They collaborated on projects beyond this debut album, and went on to more commercial success as solo acts before teasing us with new material in 2011. Still, none of us can be blamed for hearing one and wishing he was followed or preceded by the other, even now. Should the two Brooklyn natives ever decide to give us another full-length album, we’ll be here.
black star mos def talib kweli yasiin bey
Hometown: Brentwood, NY
Years Active/Status: 1986–1993, 1997–1999, 2006–present/Active
Biggest Project: Strictly Business
Why They Are Dope: Childhood friends recorded vocals while one was on break from college, and EPMD—the combination of Erick Sermon and Parrish Mic Doc—was the result. Had they only made Strictly Business, the case for placement this high could have still been made. Instead, EPMD put together a four album run so good that only one of the acts featured on this list can lay claim to a comparable run of form. Parrish and Erick never regained form after their first breakup, but still released albums with a few gems thereafter. Either way, their place in rap history is safe off the strength of their first four records. Parrish and Erick made dollars and hits at a clip that very few acts have been able to match.
epmd erick sermon parrish smith
Method Man & Redman
Hometown: Staten Island/Newark, NJ
Years Active/Status: 1994-Present/Active
Biggest Project: Blackout!
Why They Are Dope: Meth and Red, who’d known each other as kids, reunited while recording ‘Pac’s “Got My Mind Made Up.” Def Jam label mates who’d sparred on Yo! MTV Raps, they collaborated frequently before releasing Blackout! in 1999. The result was the two MCs at their best; over hard-hitting production, the two traded bars about everything you’ve come to expect from them, bouncing off each other with an effortless fluidity that is hard to match. It was was hazy, greedy, unhinged fun from start to finish without any sacrifice on the lyrical end. Blackout! 2 followed in 2009 and complimented the original quite nicely. They teased a new single last year, and one can only hope they’ve got more coming.
method man redman blackout
Years Active/Status: 1992-Present/Active
Biggest Project: The Infamous
Why They Are Dope: The Poetical Prophets have carved quite a space for themselves in hip-hop lore. Between The Infamous and Hell On Earth, they made welcome additions to the golden age of New York rap, with gritty street rhymes over minimalist production that drove their points home harder than their peers. Prodigy and Havoc's other collaborative albums failed to reach the same heights, and internal tension along with P’s jail stint have stymied output until recently. Havoc, known more for his production than his mic skills, meshes perfectly with Prodigy’s grittier vocal presence. They’ve weathered storms within and from the outside, and with a new project on shelves now, the M-O-B-B are proving that they aren't going anywhere.
mobb deep havoc prodigy
Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA
Years Active/Status: 1997-2009/Inactive
Biggest Project: Hell Hath No Fury
Why They Are Dope: VA's finest, Pusha T and No Malice, linked with The Neptunes and dropped two albums of incredible tracks, including the XXL-rated Hell Hath No Fury in 2006. Riding bouncy and futuristic Pharrell beats, the brothers cranked out some of the greatest coke-rap anthems of all time and dropped instantly-recognizable hooks that could get stuck in your head for weeks with "Mama I'm So Sorry," "Mr. Me Too" and "Grindin'." The two both dropped solo albums in 2013 after going their separate ways following their 2009 project Til The Casket Drops, and Malice has said that he won't be performing any Clipse songs in the future after finding God. But Pusha carries the torch forward, with My Name Is My Name hailed as one of the best rap albums of last year.
clipse pusha t malice
UGK Pimp C Bun B
Hometown: Port Arthur, TX
Years Active/Status: 1987-2009/Inactive
Biggest Project: Underground Kingz
Why They Are Dope: The bias and shortsightedness that prevented Southern Rap from making a bigger impact sooner along the timeline of mainstream rap is one of the genre’s most glaring mistakes. Before the South was truly allowed any real space in the sandbox, acts like those that had signed to Rap-A-Lot put out quality material. UGK had a track record of sterling releases before the mainstream was made aware of them via Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'." Chad and Bernard—Pimp C and Bun B—helped lay the groundwork for the sound of not just Texas but the South as a whole. Bun B’s signature flow may be as by-the-book as any MC rap fans deem great, but his voice and the literary eye through which he looks at the world have made him formidable for more than three decades. Pimp C gets love for his production, but his voice, the almost polar opposite of Bun’s cool, calculated bellowing drawl, and his say-whatever-the-fuck-I-want style make the second half of a Southern self-contained rap apparatus. “Murder” is as good an example as any as to why few rap duos in any time zone from any era could fuck with the Underground Kings.
ugk pimp c bun b
andre 3000 big boi
Years Active/Status: 1992-2006, 2014-present/Active
Biggest Project: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Why They Are Dope: Andre and Antwan are so good that their film soundtrack stands up against most rap albums. Both students at the same high school and both East Point, Atlanta residents, they met at the Lenox Mall at sixteen. Since 1992, the duo formerly known as Two Shades Deep has given us nothing but God-level rap. Andre’s time as rap’s Billy Sunday has elevated his status far above Big Boi’s, but this is faulty thinking. Andre and Big Boi are Malone and Stockton on beats; you simply cannot assume the same level of success of one without the presence of the other. They started out on relatively the same page on 1994's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, but from there they became the yin to the other’s yang. Big Boi kept his dope boy/pimp game tight as Andre floated further into the clouds. Aquemini was the peak for this group, if only by a nose (Ed. Note: That one will forever be up for internal debate). Remember EPMD’s run of four albums to begin their career? OutKast had a run of five. OutKast’s position as the greatest rap duo of all time seems unassailable.
outkast andre 3000 big boi