Greatest group in hip-hop history? Well, an argument can be made against that.

Most consistent group in hip-hop history? Well, let’s see. Run-DMC peaked early and had fallen off completely by their fifth album. A Tribe Called Quest suffered a complete quality collapse with “Beats, Rhymes & Life”, made a slight comeback with “The Love Movement”, and then parted ways. Public Enemy has been decidedly average since “Apocalypse ’91”. The only other hip-hop groups who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Long Island’s De La Soul when it comes to consistency are kindred spirits The Beastie Boys, and their stylistic followers OutKast and The Roots.

For two decades now, over the course of 7 studio albums, Pos, Dave and Maseo have given us incredibly musical, occasionally hilarious, sometimes message-filled and always interesting music. Written off as one-note hippies by rap’s harder element during the days of “the D.A.I.S.Y. Age” and “3 Feet High & Rising”, they returned with the stunning “De La Soul is Dead”, an unheralded contender for best rap album of all time. ’93 brought the obtuse, cranky “Buhloone Mind State”, which brought the half decade of collaboration with equally insane producer Prince Paul to a close. “Stakes is High” and “AOI: Mosaic Thump” are solid albums that any other band would be pleased to have as the worst albums in their catalog, while they restored their awesomeness (as opposed to just pretty good-ness) with “AOI2: Bionix”, “The Grind Date”, and a long-deserved Grammy for their collaboration with Gorillaz on “Feel Good, Inc.”

Along the way, De La has blazed trails musical and lyrical. “3 Feet High” was the first album to turn sampling into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink art. Their first three albums (even after “3 Feet High” opened up an unclose-able can of worms in terms of sampling laws) reveal a maverick (and not John McCain maverick)’s love of music, with everyone from Steely Dan and Hall & Oates to The Jarmels to Slave and Bob Marley being thrown into the mix. De La has also released some of the warmest sex/love songs in hip-hop history (“Buddy”, “Baby Phat”), the single most chilling song about child abuse ever recorded (“Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa”), pioneered the grown-folks hip-hop movement with their last two albums, and have collaborated with everyone from Common to Maceo Parker to Teenage Fanclub in the process.

VH-1’s Hip Hop Honors finally gave De La some long-deserved props in their show this year, as everyone from Q-Tip to fellow Long Islanders Public Enemy showed up to deliver a fun and stirring tribute. Then De La’s three members, who have laid low for a couple of years without a contract and with several fairly major health issues, popped up on stage together and ripped it (one of hip-hop’s better live acts, they’re one of the handful of rap artists with a live album worth checking out). Hopefully the future brings more great De La Music, but the classics recorded over the past twenty years have already done more than enough to secure De La Soul’s place in not only rap, but musical history.