Well before samplers and synthesizers became a part of hip-hop’s fundamental equation, most hip-hop artists recorded their music with live bands in the studio. In the early 1980's, for example, Brooklyn-based hip-hop group Stetasonic popularized the use of live bands in hip-hops. And, thankfully, the art form has been kept alive throughout the years thanks to artists like The Roots, Common, DJ Quik, OutKast, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Q-Tip. With today’s release of Wake Up!, the collaborative LP from platinum soul singer John Legend and hip-hop’s greatest band The Roots, it only makes sense that XXLMag.com celebrate the bands and artists that are maintaining the oftentimes forgotten art of live instrumentation. Here are five of our favorites.

1. 1500 OR NOTHIN’

The Los Angeles-based, quartet of former church musicians Kenneth “Bam” Alexander (drums), Brody Brown (guitar), Charles “Uncle Chucc” Hamilton (bass, guitar), Larrance Dopson (piano, drums), and Lamar “Mars” Edwards (organ, piano) extends beyond this core into the entire 1500 family of other associated musicians, rappers, singers and songwriters. They’re most noted in hip-hop for providing the keys and drums for Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got, producing Game’s “Dope Boys” and the playing keys on Kanye West’s “Stronger.”


The New York City-based, seven-man band is comprised of MCs Mojo, Mas D, and Rheturik, bassist Apex, drummer Tomek, guitarist Taylor Rivelli, trumpeter David Guy (who doubles as a member of the Dap-Kings), and keyboardist Borahm Lee. The crew is known for their explosive live performances (backing such artists as Lauryn Hill and Skyzoo) and music showcases. They’ve also produced records for Keith Murray, Saigon, Immortal Technique and Dipset.


Jay-Z’s touring band has also contributed to Hov’s music off-stage, handling the sounds of “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is),” included on his 2007 album American Gangster. The track sampled the Menahan Street Band’s “Make the Road By Walking.”


When Snoop Dogg left No Limit Records, he founded his own independent record label Doggystyle Records (originally Dogghouse Records) and brought his own band into the fold. The Snoopadelics, the Doggfather’s in-house band, most noted for their appearances on his now-defunct MTV late night variety show Dogg After Dark, has included producer/rapper Soopafly and West Coast producer Terrace Martin, as well as DJ LT, Carlos Mcswain on the drums, and Mike Smooth on the guitar.


If you pick up the new LP from producer Ski Beatz, 24 Hour Karate School (and we suggest you do so), you’ll notice the record’s use of live instruments over traditional samples. And if the set’s organic feel agrees with you, then you’ll have The Senseis to thank. Ski’s go-to band, The Senseis are bass player Brady Watt, guitarist John Cave and drummer Daru Jones. Prior to working with Ski on 24 Hour Karate School and Curren$y’s recent Pilot Talk LP, the three-man band toured with Talib Kweli, while Jones spent time on the road with Black Milk.

***The Senseis and Ski performing the Ski-produced “Dead Presidents” beat live: