Best-selling bands of the '90s, then and now

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August 24, 2020
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Best-selling bands of the '90s, then and now

Music in the 1990s spanned a stunning variety of tastes. The decade included chart-topping hits from R&B heavyweights Boyz II Men and En Vogue, grunge rock bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and pop legends such as the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. A lot has changed in the last several decades, both culturally and musically, which inspired Stacker to mine Billboard chart data and look at the career arcs of 25 of the best-selling bands from the '90s—including what made them so successful and where their band members are today. 

Like the music itself, the careers of the bands Stacker chose varied. For some, like rock legends U2 and Aerosmith, the '90s were just another decade making chart-topping music; for others, like SWV and the Spice Girls, the decade represented full career arcs. Many bands on the list have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Several artists from these groups—from Nirvana's Dave Grohl to Hootie & the Blowfish's Darius Rucker—went on to form other successful bands, lucrative solo careers, or both. And some acts broke up, either due to infighting, drug addiction, or death. Each band is split into two slides: The first looks at some of that group’s notable accomplishments in the '90s, and the other explores bandmates' musical paths since the turn of the century.

Keep reading to see who made the charts as one of the best-selling bands of the '90s, then and now.

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U2: Then

Irish band U2 shifted gears in 1991 with the electronica-infused “Achtung Baby.” The album reached the top spot on the Billboard 200 (spending 101 weeks on the charts altogether), and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Album in 1992. “Zooropa” built on that success, winning a Grammy in 1993 for Best Alternative Album. U2's final album of the decade, “Pop,” in 1997 garnered a nomination for Best Album.

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U2: Now

U2 hasn’t slowed since its heyday. The band became the first to hit #1 on the Billboard 200 eight times following the release of 2017’s “Songs of Experience.” U2's members have also stayed politically and socially active throughout their careers.

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Backstreet Boys: Then

The Backstreet Boys enjoyed some success in Europe after forming in 1993, but bandmates hit it big in the states with their self-titled 1997 album. Featuring hit singles “Quit Playing Games (With my Heart),” and “As Long as You Love Me,” the LP reached #4 on the Billboard 200 and notched more than 18 million sales to date. The group's follow-up album, “Millenium,” was the best-selling album of 1999.

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Backstreet Boys: Now

The Backstreet Boys kicked off the 2000s with another #1 album, “Black and Blue,” which sold 1.6 million copies in its first week alone. The group toured with New Kids on the Block in 2011 and sold out tickets in 50 cities, and enjoyed a successful two-year Las Vegas residency in 2017 and 2018 that brought in more than $23 million in ticket sales. The group reached #1 on the Billboard 200 again in 2019 with the album “DNA.”

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Spice Girls: Then

The British girl group, formed during an open casting audition, made it big in 1996 with the smash hit “Wannabe,” which shot to #1 on the Hot 100 in early 1997. The Spice Girls had two more hits reach the top five on the charts in 1997: “2 Become 1,” and “Say You’ll Be There.” The quintet’s follow-up album, “Spiceworld,” reached #3 on the Billboard 200; and the accompanying movie “Spice World” made more than $10 million on opening weekend—the highest ever for a Super Bowl weekend debut despite being considered among the worst movies of all time.

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Spice Girls: Now

Geri Halliwell (Ginger) left the Spice Girls in 1998 in the middle of the “Spiceworld” world tour, with the remaining members touring until disbanding in 2000. Victoria Adams (Posh) married English soccer superstar David Beckham in 1999, and went on to create a fashion empire. The Spice Girls have reunited in various forms since, most recently touring in 2019 without Beckham (Posh), who cited wanting to spend time with her family.

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Aerosmith: Then

Boston-formed Aerosmith already had two decades making music together when the band hit its stride in the '90s, with 12 songs hitting the Billboard Hot 100. “Janie’s Got a Gun” started Aerosmith’s decade in February 1990 by peaking at #4; the band earned its only #1 hit in 1998 with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the film “Armageddon.” Aerosmith earned its two #1 albums in the '90s, too: 1993’s “Get a Grip” and 1997's “Nine Lives.”

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Aerosmith: Now

The quartet of Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, while Tyler and Perry joined the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013. Aerosmith has scored a top-five album on the Billboard 200 in every decade since the ‘70s, with “Just Push Play” hitting #2 in 2001 and “Music From Another Dimension!” reaching #5 in 2012.

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Hootie & the Blowfish: Then

Hootie & the Blowfish debuted with “Cracked Rear View,” an album that reached #1 in 1995 and stayed on the charts for 129 weeks. Three singles—“Hold My Hand,” “Only Wanna Be With You,” and “Let Her Cry”—reached the top 10 and helped the album become the ninth best-selling of all time. The group’s 1996 follow up, “Fairweather Johnson,” also hit #1. Hootie & the Blowfish closed the decade with “Musical Chairs” reaching #4 in 1998.

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Hootie & the Blowfish: Now

The group released four albums in the early 2000s to modest reception before amicably disbanding in 2008. Lead singer Darius Rucker went on to a highly successful country music career, recording five top-10 albums and winning a Grammy for Best Solo Performance in 2013 for “Wagon Wheel.” “Hootie & The Blowfish” reunited in 2019 to play a 44-city tour and record the album “Imperfect Circle,” which reached #26 on the Billboard 200.

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R.E.M.: Then

After forming in 1980 in Georgia, R.E.M. hit its stride in the 1990s with three albums that reached #1 or #2 on the Billboard 200 by 1994. “Losing My Religion” was the band’s biggest hit, helping the 1991 album “Out of Time” receive six Grammy nominations and land the top spot, remaining on the charts for more than two years. Brain aneurysms while on tour in 1995 led drummer Bill Berry to leave the band in 1997.

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R.E.M.: Now

The band kept recording and touring in the 2000s, earning a nod to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Two more albums followed, with 2007’s “Accelerate” hitting #2. The band's final album, “Collapse Into Now,” debuted at #5 in 2011. Later that year, the band announced it was calling it quits.

[Pictured: Michael Stipe.]

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Goo Goo Dolls: Then

The Goo Goo Dolls formed in Buffalo, New York, in the mid-’80s and became a household name in 1995 with the album “A Boy Named Goo.” “Name” peaked at #2 in 1995 and spent 44 weeks on the Billboard Radio Play charts, while the band's follow-up album “Dizzy Up the Girl” cemented the Goo Goo Dolls atop the pop charts. “Iris” spent 47 weeks on the airplay charts, including 18 weeks at #1, and earned the band two of its three Grammy nominations.

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Goo Goo Dolls: Now

The Goo Goo Dolls have recorded six albums in the 2000s, four of which have reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200. Billboard in 2012 named “Iris” the best pop song of the last 20 years (“Slide” was #9), and Rolling Stone ranked it the 39th ever. Frontman Johnny Rzeznik was selected for the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, having set a record for the most top-10 hits on the Hot AC Radio charts with 14.

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Boyz II Men: Then

Boyz II Men dominated the charts in the 1990s with five #1 hits, including “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You,” which spent 13 and 14 straight weeks at #1, respectively. The quartet teamed up with Mariah Carey for “One Sweet Day” in 1995, which reigned for 16 weeks atop the charts. Boyz II Men had a top-5 song on the Billboard Hot 100 every year from 1991 to 1997 except for 1996, and picked up four Grammy wins and 11 nominations in the '90s.

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Boyz II Men: Now

Boyz II Men released nine albums since 2000, reaching the top 10 twice. Michael McCary left the group in 2003 due to complications from multiple sclerosis. The trio paid tribute to Los Angeles Lakers superstar and fellow Philadelphia native, Kobe Bryant, by singing the national anthem at the Staples Center in the team's first game back after Bryant's death. The trio performed with Alicia Keys a few nights later at The 2020 Grammy Awards.

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The Smashing Pumpkins: Then

The Smashing Pumpkins' early '90s EP “Siamese Dream” reached #10 on the Billboard 200 and earned the band a pair of Grammy nominations. The group's follow-up album, “Pisces Iscariot,” hit #4 on the charts. 1995's “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” a 28-track, double-disc album that notched seven more Grammy nominations, featured hit singles “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Tonight, Tonight,” and “1979.” The album climbed #1 and spending nearly two years on the charts.

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The Smashing Pumpkins: Now

Smashing Pumpkins bandmates have had an up-and-down ride since the turn of the century, with shuffling lineups and infighting leading to a messy breakup in 2000. Bassist D’Arcy Wretzky never returned, while guitarist James Iha found success with A Perfect Circle before reuniting with his Smashing Pumpkins bandmates in 2018. The group toured in 2019 and frontman Billy Corgan announced they were working on a new album in 2020.

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Metallica: Then

Metallica found success in the 1980s with “Master of Puppets” and “...And Justice for All” before a self-titled fifth album in 1991 launched the band to stardom. "Metallica" featured several #1 singles, “Enter Sandman,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” and “The Unforgiven,” and remained on the charts for more than a decade. Two more #1 records—“Load” and “ReLoad”—rounded out a decade that saw the band pick up four Grammy awards.

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Metallica: Now

Metallica impacted more than just heavy metal in the early 2000s, engaging in a public battle with file-sharing service Napster that included guitarist Lars Ulrich testifying before the U.S. Senate. Bassist Jason Newsted left the band in 2001, and despite some blowback from fans over the Napster suit, Metallica still managed to put 2003’s “St. Anger” and 2008’s “Death Magnetic” atop the Billboard 200. Newsted rejoined his mates in 2009 as they were sworn into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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Depeche Mode: Then

Depeche Mode, French for “fast fashion,” formed in England in 1980 and quickly became established on the electronic scene. The band released six albums by the end of the decade, and kicked off the '90s with “Violator,” which spent over a year on the Billboard 200. Depeche Mode's 1993 follow-up album, “Songs of Faith and Devotion,” became the group's only chart-topping record, while its final installment of the ‘90s, “Ultra.” reached #5.

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Depeche Mode: Now

Depeche mode delivered five more albums in the 2000s, all of which reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200. In total, the band has 10 #1 hits on the Billboard Dance Club Songs charts, with 18 top-10 hits. Depeche Mode was set to be enshrined into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in May 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the ceremony’s delay to November.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers: Then

The Red Hot Chili Peppers lost its guitarist Hillel Slovak in 1988 to a drug overdose. While dealing with the loss, the band's lead singer Anthony Kiedis wrote what became the band's breakout hit “Under the Bridge,” which helped the album it was on reach #3 on the Billboard 200 in 1992. Two more top-five albums followed—“One Hot Minute” and “Californication”—the latter of which spent nearly two years on the charts, setting the Chili Peppers up for a wildly successful 2000s.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers: Now

Riding the wave of its best-selling album ever, “Californication,” the Chili Peppers hit #2 on the Billboard 200 in 2002 with “By the Way,” and reached the top with 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium.” The group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, with a résumé that includes 13 #1 hits on the Alternative charts. Bandmates announced in January 2020 that they were working on a new album with guitarist John Frusciante, who played on five of the band’s 11 albums.

[Pictured: The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform with Post Malone.]

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Third Eye Blind: Then

Formed in San Francisco in 1993, Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut album posted three singles in the top five of the Adult Top 40. “Semi-Charmed Life” was the band’s breakout hit in 1997, winning a Billboard Music Award for Rock Track of the Year, while “Jumper” and “How’s It Going to Be” followed in the top five. The band’s second album, “Blue,” produced a final top-five single, “Never Let You Go,” before internal strife split up the songwriting duo of Stephan Jenkins and Kevin Cadogan.

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Third Eye Blind: Now

Third Eye Blind fired and was subsequently sued by Cadogan for wrongful termination (he sued again after the album’s reissue in 2018). 3EB did have its highest-charting record in 2009 with “Ursa Major,” but it fell off the charts within seven weeks. The group released “Screamer” in 2019, although the supporting 2020 tour has been postponed due to COVID-19.

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Pearl Jam: Then

One of the most influential bands of the grunge era, Pearl Jam became a household name with the release of “Ten” in 1991. The album spent five years on the Billboard 200, topping out at #2. The video for the single “Jeremy” won four MTV Video Music Awards. The Seattle grunge band—originally named Mookie Blaylock after the NBA player—saw its next three albums reach the top of the charts, while racking up a coincidental 10 Grammy nominations in the '90s.

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Pearl Jam: Now

Pearl Jam continued recording chart-topping albums well into the 2000s, while lead singer Eddie Vedder also posted two hit solo records in 2007 and 2011. The band continued touring during this time, leading Rolling Stone readers to vote Pearl Jam the eighth-best live band of all time in 2011. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted the group in 2017, with a résumé that includes five #1 albums and more than 60 million records sold worldwide. Pearl Jam is still going strong in 2020, with the group's 11th studio album “Gigaton,” hitting #5 in April 2020.

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The breakout success of the Backstreet Boys in the mid-’90s helped spawn the formation of NSYNC, whose 1998 self-titled debut album reached #2 on the charts. Singles “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back” were top-10 hits and helped the album sell more than 15 million albums. A top-10 Christmas album followed, setting the boy band up for an amazing run in the early 2000s.

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NSYNC released two #1 records to kick off the decade. “No Strings Attached” and “Celebrity” joined the group's debut album as three of the fastest-selling albums in history. Following its 2002 “Celebrity” tour, NSYNC announced a hiatus. The group has not recorded or toured since. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake went on to become a superstar on his own: He's recorded five #1 and 19 top-10 hits.

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TLC: Then

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas found success with their debut album “Ooooooohhh...on the TLC Tip” in 1992. The group's sophore effort “CrazySexyCool” earned a Grammy for Best R&B Album, produced two #1 singles with “Waterfalls” and “Creep,” and sold more than 11 million copies. Two more #1 hits followed in 1999, “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty,” giving the group its first #1 album with “Fanmail” and another two Grammy Awards.

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TLC: Now

Discord between Lopes and the group led to her recording a solo album in 2001. She was working on a second when she was killed in a car crash in Honduras. TLC in 2002 released its final album with the original lineup, thanks to previously unreleased tracks with Lopes. Watkins and Thomas continued as a duo and recorded a new album in 2017 after a lengthy hiatus. TLC trails only the Spice Girls as the best-selling girl group of all time.

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En Vogue: Then

En Vogue’s debut album “Born to Sing” in 1990 produced R&B chart-topping singles “Hold On,” “You Don’t Have to Worry,” and “Lies.” The multi-platinum “Funky Divas” followed, and featured “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” which reached #2 on the Hot 100 and remained on the charts for 30 weeks. Dawn Robinson left the group after a contract dispute in 1997, with the remaining trio rerecording her parts for the album “EV3,” which peaked at #8 on the charts.

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En Vogue: Now

En Vogue never quite found the same success in the 2000s despite releasing three albums from 2000 to 2004 (none of which went higher than #33 on the Billboard 200). Cindy Herron and Terry Ellis returned as En Vogue for the 2018 album “Electric Cafe,” and original members Maxine Jones and Robinson joined them on stage in 2019 for the City of Hope Gala. Rolling Stone ranked “Funky Divas” #60 in 2019 on its list of the best albums of the 1990s.

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SWV: Then

Sisters With Voices began as a gospel group in the late 1980s in New York City. Bandmates Tamara Johnson, Leanne Lyons, and Cheryl Gamble originally used their first initials to create the name TLC, but another TLC had already staked a claim.

SWV in 1993 the group scored its first and only #1 single with the wildly popular “Weak.” The group's debut album “It’s About Time” reached #8 on the Billboard 200.

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SWV: Now

SWV disbanded in 1998 with the record label signing Gamble to a solo recording contract; she ended up landing two top-five albums on the Gospel charts. The trio reunited in 2011 and have recorded two albums since. SWV was honored with the Lady of Soul award at the 2017 Soul Train Awards and teamed with fellow R&B group Salt ‘N Pepa for the BET show Ladies Night in 2019.

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Nirvana: Then

Nirvana brought grunge into the mainstream in 1991 with “Nevermind,” an album featuring the wildly popular singles “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come as You Are,” “Polly,” “Lithium,” and “In Bloom.” The Seattle-based trio of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl maintained a spot on the Billboard 200 for nearly nine years total. Nirvana’s third album, “In Utero,” also reached #1 on the charts. Cobain died in his Seattle home on April 5, 1994.

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Nirvana: Now

Shortly after Cobain’s death, the band’s “MTV: Unplugged in New York” album topped the charts—as did the live album “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” in 1996. Grohl stepped out from behind the drum kit to form the Foo Fighters, who ended up netting 11 Grammys. “Nevermind” was named the 17th best album of all time by Rolling Stone in 2012, and Nirvana was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 (Grohl and the Foo Fighters are eligible in 2021).

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Radiohead: Then

Radiohead gained mainstream recognition in 1993 with the song “Creep,” the video for which was also popular on MTV. Radiohead’s subsequent albums, “The Bends” and “OK Computer,” gained them critical praise, with the latter being nominated for Best Album and winning Best Alternative Performance at the Grammy Awards in 1997.

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Radiohead: Now

Radiohead picked up two #1 albums in the 2000s, with “Kid A” and “In Rainbows” both winning Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Album. Rolling Stone ranked “Kid A” as the #1 album of the decade in 2009 and 67th all time. Radiohead joined the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, although frontman Thom Yorke skipped the ceremony while working on a project for the Paris Philharmonic.

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Beastie Boys: Then

The Beastie Boys' 1987 EP "Licensed to Ill" was the first rap album to hit #1 on the Billboard 200. Another top-10 record came in 1992, followed by 1994's Ill Communication that included the wildly popular “Sabotage.”. The group's third #1 album, “Hello Nasty,” helped the New York City trio pick up its first two Grammy Awards in 1998.

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Beastie Boys: Now

Following a six-year gap between albums, the Beastie Boys sat atop the charts once again in 2004 with “To the 5 Boroughs.” While working on the album “Hot Sauce Committee Part II” in 2009, Adam Yauch (MCA) announced he was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer and the group canceled its tour. MCA was unable to attend the Beastie Boys enshrinement in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, succumbing to cancer a month later, in May 2012. The group officially disbanded in 2014.

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Rage Against the Machine: Then

Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled 1994 debut album went triple-platinum, while a pair of #1s—“Evil Empire” and “The Battle of Los Angeles”—followed in 1996 and 1999, respectively. The group’s chart-topping single of the decade, “Bulls on Parade,” reached #11 on the Hot 100, headlining an album in “Evil Empire” that Rolling Stone called an “inflammatory blend of roaring guitars, barked raps, and political activism.”

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Rage Against the Machine: Now

Discord between frontman Zack de la Rocha and the rest of the band led to a split in 2000, two months before the album “Renegades” rose to #14 on the Billboard 200. The other three members of Rage joined Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell to form Audioslave, and created three top-10 albums by 2006. Rage reunited for Coachella in 2007 and achieved a #1 in England in 2010 with the 1992 song “Killing in the Name” following a radio campaign to end “X Factor’s” four-year run of Christmas #1s. Rage reunited again in 2019 to announce its first tour in nine years.

[Pictured: Brad Wilk and Tom Morello.]

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A Tribe Called Quest: Then

Formed in Queens, New York, in the mid-1980s, A Tribe Called Quest scored three top-10 albums in the Billboard 200 in the '90s. “Beats, Rhymes, and Life” was the group's top-charting record of the decade, reaching #1 in 1996. Tribe's 1998 follow-up and final album, “The Love Movement,” hit #3. Tensino between rapper Phife Dawg and producer Q-Tip precipitated the band's split.

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A Tribe Called Quest: Now

After eight years apart and only sporadic recordings, A Tribe Called Quest officially reunited in 2006 and returned to the top of the Billboard charts in 2016 with “We Got it From Here...Thank You For Your Service.” Months before the album was finished, 45-year-old Phife Dawg died from complications from diabetes. The group delivered a politically charged performance at the Grammys in early 2017 in front of a mural of Phife Dawg and disbanded a few months later.

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Public Enemy: Then

The lyrical stylings of Chuck D and Flava Flav led to four albums reaching the top 15 on the Billboard 200 in the first four years of the 1990s. Public Enemy was among the first rap groups to enter the political arena, calling attention to race issues in and around New York City. “Give It Up” was the group’s top hit, climbing to #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994.

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Public Enemy: Now

The group released eight albums in the 2000s, but hasn't reached the Billboard 200 since 2006’s “Rebirth of a Nation.” In 2013, Harry Belafonte called Public Enemy “radical, revolutionary change agents,” as he and Spike Lee inducted Chuck, Flav, Terminator X, and Professor Griff into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The group officially split in 2020 after Flava Flav was fired for issuing a cease and desist letter against presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

[Pictured: Chuck D.]

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Phish: Then

Formed in Vermont in the 1980s, Phish created a cult following in the '90s with improvisational live shows reminiscent of The Grateful Dead. Despite album sales that barely exceed 8 million units sold, Phish’s unique live shows were the driving force behind the band's success, even landing the group a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in 1997. Phish's 1996 album “Billy Breathes” was its most commercially successful of the decade, reaching #7 on the Billboard 200 despite little-to-no radio play.

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Phish: Now

Drug addiction and a grueling touring schedule prompted frontman Trey Anastasio to announce a Phish hiatus in 2004. The group was back within five years and has been touring together since, including a 13-night “Baker’s Dozen” residency at Madison Square Garden in 2017. Phish capped 2019 with yet another Madison Square Garden run, eclipsing the $50 million mark for tickets sold at New York’s most historic arena.

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