Ten acts that helped make hip-hop more accessible to mainstream audiences
7. Deltron 3030
Deltron 3030 isn't so much a group or an album as it is a mode of thought, and there are few hip-hop albums (or albums of any genre, for that matter) with the cinematic quality of this one. Dan the Automator created deeply textured and darkly evocative soundscapes, aided by Kid Koala's turntablism, as a backdrop for Teren Delvon Jones (aka Del tha Funkee Homosapien, aka Deltron Zero) to tell the tale of how he becomes Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion. Similar to Dan the Automator's earlier work with Kool Keith, Dr. Octagonecologyst, but more coherent and accessible, this album proved that hip-hop could successfully travel to where only geeks had gone before -- silly non sequiturs, outer space fantasy and ridiculous characters all became fair game, and so did the out-crowd that relished them.
6. A Tribe Called Quest
Fair or not, rap carries a connotation for hooliganism that, for some people, is wholly unappealing. A Tribe Called Quest provided an access point into the genre for listeners looking for more high-brow fare. From one legendary producer to another, 9th Wonder credits Tribe producer Q-Tip with creating the feel-good, soulful style that inspired later artists like his group Little Brother, J Dilla's Slum Village and Kanye West. The Tribe is not music to drink 40s to. Rather, it's music to sip wine to. One is not necessarily better that the other, they just appeal to different people and different states of mind.
5. Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang's crossover appeal doesn't come as much from musical influence as it does from cultural influence; these were guys who spent hours upon hours watching old kung-fu flicks, and it shows. Hip-hop had been an arena for style warfare long before 1993, when Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) changed the game forever. Wu-Tang made it seem as if rapping was a form of combat. Kids from all backgrounds who idolized martial arts heroes like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris flocked to hip-hop because it gave them a weapon. No longer did you need to be from the streets of a rough neighborhood to be a warrior.