The posse-rap album has become a rite of passage for rap superstars. Either just before or right after you’ve snagged your shoe line and/or headphone endorsement, the crew album is up next: the time to display just how many different rappers, R&B singers, and whoever else you can crowd under your banner. Jay-Z called his entourage the “Dynasty”; Puff Daddy went with the slightly more modest “Family.” Rick Ross referred to his, with his typical Bond-villain flair, as “the Untouchable Maybach Music Empire.” And now, it’s Kanye’s turn, with this week’s G.O.O.D. compilation Cruel Summer.
Posse albums aren’t to be confused with, say, group records: these aren’t “groups” anymore than the Harlem Globetrotters are a “team” or a home-run derby is a “game.” These records are gloriously overstuffed by design, a parade of excess. They are the big summer blockbusters of rap music: So many stars, so many features, so much money. We thought we’d help you sort through the albums the only way we know how: by the numbers. Below, a Harpers Index-style breakdown to answer the question: Whose crew is the biggest? As a wise man once put it: Men lie; women lie. Numbers don’t. â€“JAYSON GREENE
Kanye West Presents G.O.O.D Music, Cruel Summer
No. of Rappers Total: 22
Most Guests In One Song: 7
No. of Producers Total: 20
Best Budget-Flaunting Maneuver: Kanye West makes no secret of his travels, and the credits of Cruel Summer are a look into his passport. Vocals for the song "The One," for instance, were recorded in London, Hawaii and California.
MVP Turn: Cruel Summer will quickly sink under its own weight and be remembered as a peril of empty excess. But with "Clique," producer Hit-Boy ("Niggas in Paris") turned in the second stone-cold classic beat of his career, solely justifying the project's entire existence.
Most Under-utilized (aka "the Nature Award"): 2 Chainz is -- at least amongst hardcore rap fans -- a divisive star. His outlandishness often veers into numbing inanity, but his outsized personality on tracks like "Mercy" (where he brags, among other things, about his "chain the color of Akon") is a blast of color on an album where drab rappers are enthralled by their own overwrought moroseness.
Most Left-Field Guest: Ma$e hasn't been relevant -- or good -- for over a decade, but Kanye is partly driven by weaving left-field collaborators into his ever evolving self-mythology. What's surprising isn't Ma$e's involvement, but that he gets shoehorned into a non-event mid-album track with Pusha T and The-Dream.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award"): If you ever want to get yourself fired from work, leave your office and don't return until you can find someone that will admit to being a fan of CyHi Da Prynce. He appears on two songs here.
Biggest Upset: Kanye's last album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, ran 68 minutes. That Kanye managed to squeeze 22 guests into an album that's 10 minutes shorter is something close to a miracle. â€“JORDAN SARGENT
Puff Daddy and the Family, No Way Out
No. of Rappers Total: 12, not counting the comparable number of R&B performers.
No. of Producers Total: 10, most of whom fall under the general Hitmen umbrella.
No. of Executive Producers: 3 (Puffy, D-Dot and Notorious B.I.G.)
Best Budget-Flaunting Maneuver: The demented Running Man homage of the "Victory" video, which ran eight minutes, cost $2.7 million, and featured Danny DeVito, Dennis Hopper, and upwards of 8 separate explosions.
MVP Turn: Notorious B.I.G., playing keynote speaker of his own eulogy.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award"): Busta Rhymes, weirdly enough — relegating him to a hook cameo delivering the most generic "where you at" lines imaginable on "Victory" is like putting Ozzie Smith in your lineup as a DH. — NATE PATRIN
Nas and Ill Will Records Present, Queensbridge, The Album
No. of Rappers Total: Two dozen-plus; 15 in the first three tracks if you count the Bravehearts intro.
Most Guests In One Song: 9, "Da Bridge 2001" (Capone, Cormega, Marley Marl, MC Shan, Millennium Thug, Mobb Deep, Nas, Nature, and Tragedy Khadafi).No. of Producers Total: 11 (assuming all three members of Infinite Arkatechz had input).
No. of Executive Producers: 2 (Nas & Ill Will), along with two "co-executive producers," (L.E.S. & Horse), which redefines "meaningless status-symbol credit."
Best Budget-Flaunting Maneuver: The rider for everyone at the recording sessions for "Da Bridge 2001", probably.
MVP Turn: Nas, for using "Da Bridge 2001" to dump gasoline on the fire that'd fuel the best rap feud of the '00s.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award"): Iman Thug's pudding-mouth imitation of a Wu-Tang Killa Bees D-teamer on "Our Way" — NATE PATRIN
Ruff Ryders, Ryde or Die, Vol. 1
Most Guests In One Song: Six, on "Ryde Or Die," which was basically every substantial member of Ruff Ryders rapping over the beat from EPMD's "Headbanger." Every rap crew should be required to do the same.
No. of Producers Total: Technically four total, but 10 out of the 13 tracks were produced by Swizz Beatz in his prime, i.e., before he felt the need to actually rap.
Most Left-Field Guest: Easily ParlÃ©, an ostensible Ruff Ryders R&B offshoot that only existed because the name "Ruff Endz" was already taken by a late-90's R&B offshoot. They contributed the very Joe-esque "I'm A Ruff Ryder" and disappeared immediately thereafter, sparing everyone the opportunity to point out how ridiculous a Ruff Ryders R&B offshoot really was.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award"): Obviously Cross, because he's the guy they stuck on a Jermaine Dupri and Ma$e track called "Platinum Plus." Which appeared on Ruff Ryders' Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 in case you've forgotten.
Biggest Upset: Swizz Beatz as HBCU bandleader on "Down Bottown," a track which every horn player at Hampton and Grambling immediately learned the moment it dropped. â€“IAN COHEN
MMG Presents, Self-Made Vol. 2
No. of Rappers Total: 16, but that's only if you think Wiz Khalifa counts.
No. of Producers Total: 16, though Beat Billionaire shows up enough times to lead me to believe his name hasn't yet become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Most Under-utilized (aka "the Nature Award"): Gunplay, probably because they didn't want one of the most likeable rappers in the game to be corrupted by Wale. Which I suppose was similar to wanting to keep your first-round draft pick away from Michael Beasley.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award"): Oddly enough, Stalley can't even win his own award on Self Made, Vol. 2. There are no shortage of candidates here, particularly the eternally loathsome Wale and platonic ideal for Anonymous Street Rapper 2012 (Ace Hood). But the winner simply has to be Omarion, who managed to be the subject of the only boring Rick Ross press conference ever.
Biggest Upset: A song with the chorus "my bitch bad, looking like a bag of money" has become a legitimate hit. â€“IAN COHEN
Dr. Dre Presents, The Aftermath
No. of Producers Total: 13, but notable mostly for their names, such as Stu-B-Doo, Stocks McGuire, Flossy P and Chris "The Glove" Taylor, who likely went by that nickname so that he wouldn't be confused with the guy from Grizzly Bear 15 years later.
Best Budget-Flaunting Maneuver: The video for "Been There, Done That" in which Dr. Dre admits to "doin' the tango." You cannot currently find it on YouTube.
MVP Turn: The American economy in 1996, which allowed this record to go platinum for no real reason.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award"): Nowl, for deciding to bank his breakout moment on a song called "Nationowl."
Biggest Upset: Group Therapy, a pickup squad consisting of B-Real, KRS-One, Nas and RBX, somehow had less chemistry than The Firm. — IAN COHEN
Jay-Z Presents, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
No. of Rappers Total: A comparatively modest 7. Jay kept it mostly in the family with members of the titular Roc-A-Fella camp. The only "outside" guests were Scarface, Snoop Dogg and R. Kelly.
No. of Producers Total: 9. Though go-to hitmakers The Neptunes ("I Just Wanna Love U") and Rockwilder ("Guilty Until Proven Innocent") manned the boards on The Dynasty's biggest singles, the bulk of the album tracks were handled by the nucleus of what would become Jay-Z's Blueprint team - Bink, Just Blaze and a young newcomer by the name of Kanye West, whose contribution, "This Can't Be Life," prefigured the chipmunk soul that he would later build his brand on.
MVP Turn: Though Jay's "Stevie Wonder with braids under the doo-rag" intro is a strong contender, the album's best verse actually came from outside the crew, with Scarface going through the grieving process in real time on "This Can't Be Life."
Best Budget-Flaunting Maneuver: The for-no-reason CG effect of Beanie Sigel being hit by a moving car and subsequently stopping it dead in its tracks in the "Change The Game" video.
Most Under-utilized (aka "the Nature Award") Freeway, then still an early initiate in the Roc roster, only appears on "1-900-Hustler," but he's already rapping like he's been set on fire.
Least Valuable Player (aka "The Stalley Award") Whiny, one-dimensional rapper Amil, who was wisely restrained to just one cameo.
Biggest Upset: Perennial hanger-on Memphis Bleek, upending everyone's expectations and delivering the very solid solo cut "Holla." â€“ANDREW NOSNITSKY
Dungeon Family, Even In Darkness
No. of Rappers Total: 20. Ten core Dungeon Family emcees - including Outkast and Goodie Mob - and ten additional cameos from proteges and associates.
Most Guests In One Song: The album closer "Curtains," an eight-deep posse cut highlighting second-generation DF members like Killer Mike and Big Boi's little brother James, who then went by the all-too-apt rap name Brother James. (He's since changed it to Lil Brotha.)
No. of Producers Total: 6. All production was the work of in-house trios Organized Noize (Rico Wade, Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown) and Earthtone III (Outkast and Mr. DJ).
No. of Executive Producers: 1,000,002. The entire crew gets an executive producer nod and rapper Witchdoctor once estimated "there's a million of us in the Dungeon Family." LA Reid, then the president of Arista, and Manager Michael "Blue" Williams are also credited.
MVP Turn: Cee-Lo, giving what would prove to be his final album-length performance as a rapper's rapper, before fully adopting his contemporary Liberace-via-Al Green crooner persona.
Most Under-utilized (aka "the Nature Award"): Cool Breeze, an original DF member and the man who coined the phrase "Dirty South," is inexplicably relegated to just two tracks.
Most Left-Field Guest: Hicksploitative Timbaland collaborator Bubba Sparxxx who, unbeknownst to many, is actually an extended Family member. â€“ANDREW NOSNITSKY
The Firm, The Album
Number of Rappers Total: Despite having only pictured The Firm's key lyricists on its album cover (Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown and newbie Nature), The Album actually featured twice as many unadvertised guests scouted from Nas' own Queensbridge (Canibus, Noreaga, Half-A-Mill), which bring the total to a whopping, and unnecessary, nine.
Best Budget-Flaunting Maneuver: In the Hype Williams-directed music video for "Firm Biz," Foxy Brown stretches over a bed of crisp $100 bills as she lays naked, save for two strategically placed Benjamins. She then raps for AZ's camera and even licks a bill, just because she can.
Number of Producers: Instead of fusing their bi-coastal sounds, Trackmasters and Dr. Dre split production duties in half, then hired three more hands: L.E.S., Kurt Gowdy and Chris "The Glove" Taylor. "As a result, The Album is essentially rap's kitchen sink -- pained French cabaret strings, overly metallic synths, Diddy-ready overblown instrumentals and everything in between.
Most Under-utilized: Nature. In "Desperados," he attempts to explain the Firm's appeal: "Here's the cause of this shit: more statistics, deeper than the law of physics." But, with just five verses and Dr. Dre-produced countdown "Five Minutes to Flush," Nature didn't have enough time to delve further into the supergroup's supposed, statistical complexity.
Least Valuable Player: Shockingly, the answer is "Nas." Nas -- sorry, Nas Escobar -- occasionally provided over-confident lyrics ("Thriller, will I shoot to the top of the charts?") and sings The Album's laziest hook -- as in, "We are the Firm All-Stars." — CHRISTINA LEE
Young Money, We Are Young Money
Most Guests in One Song: "Finale" isn't a song -- it's a curtain call, in which eleven Young Money members recite a few lines, then promptly exit. It is telling, though, of Lil Wayne's approach to signing new talent: Purchase one of everything, whether ladies (Nicki Minaj), gentleman (Drake, sort of) or children (Lil Chuckie, then 14).
Biggest Upset: Before Lloyd signed to Interscope, his swooning hook provided the catchiest lines in "Bed Rock," save for Drake's Talladega Nights references.
Number of Producers: Between We Are Young Money's eleven producers, experience level ranged from none (Phenom's "Roger That") to, well, David Banner. In "Streets Is Watchin'," the Jackson, Miss., rapper forces his beats to deflate like helium out of a balloon. Its polar opposite: Chase N. Cashe and B. Carr's string-and-xylophone whimsy in "New Shit."
Least Valuable Player: Before she takes a bow in "Finale," in-house singer Shanell only appears in Weezy duet "Play In My Band." As electric guitars wail, she exhales through one cringeworthy come-on at a time: "Can you make me sound like the strings you're playing / autograph your name in the sheets we lay in?"
Best Budget-Flaunting Manuever: In "We Be Steady Mobbin,'" Gucci Mane shouts out to Tity Boi, the College Park, Ga., rapper now known as 2 Chainz. This song first appeared in Tity Boi's mixtape All Ice on Me, but in We Are Young Money's version, the label edited out his verse entirely. At the time, Tity Boi wasn't known enough to be missed.
Most Under-utilized: With just four verses, Nicki Minaj references Roots, Tonka and Clippers forward Lamar Odom. She rhymes the latter with 'scrotum,' and she adds a syllable to 'journal' so it rhymes with 'urinal.' Even in all her potty humor, Minaj doesn't waste a single gum-smacking breath. — CHRISTINA LEE