The Best “Underground” Rappers You Aren’t Listening To
Hip-hop has finally turned its back on auto-tuning and the rap game is redeeming itself in big ways. Talented rappers like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky have made huge splashes in the industry, and there are plenty of other newcomers with a lot to show. Unfortunately, a lot of genuine talent gets lost in obscurity. This list was created to give people the opportunity to check out some rappers that they otherwise might not have listened to.
Keep in mind, some of these rappers have been making music for several years, and some of them have already seen a lot of success. Overall, though, it’s fair to say that most of these artists have not yet entered the “mainstream” in many people’s eyes (not to say that they will or should).
Pause your routine playlists, read over this list and listen to some fresh music from the latest up-and-comers.
The Top 10 Rappers You Aren’t Listening to V.2
YC the Cynic
There’s something a bit contradictory about being highly regarded by critics yet also an underground rapper, but nonetheless we have YC the Cynic on our list. A Bronx native, his first two mix tapes–You’re Welcome and Fall FWD–helped get him on Deli Magazine‘s “Top 5 Underground Hip-Hop Artists in New York” list, and helped him get onstage with rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Mac Miller. The Bronx may have found their new rap god.
Not to be confused with the clothing company out of Australia that make bangin’ leggings, Black Milk aka Curtis Cross is a 31-year-old MC out of Detroit. Out of the five solo albums he’s released, only two of them have charted–2010’s Album of the Year actually made it all the way to 28 on the US R&B chart. His rap is influenced by A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and ?uestlove,
Songwriter, rapper, ex-battle rapper and… white Jewish dude? One of the newer MCs on the list, Soul Khan’s music sounds raw and authentic, and rather than spitting his lyrics he sings them in a more pleasant, soulful way. A member of The Brown Bag Allstars out of Brooklyn, and one of Allhiphop‘s Top 50 Underground Hip Hop Artists of 2012, Soul Khan is well on his way aboveground.
When you think of Connecticut, you don’t naturally associate it with underground rap. But, the 35-year-old Apathy has made quite a name for himself in the underground circuit of CT, as unofficial leader of hip-hop supergroup Demigodz and a member of Army of the Pharaohs and Get Busy Committee. His latest release, Connecticut Casual, has been described as an album “that uncovers the darker sides of Connecticut and New England,” touching on the Kennedy family, inadequate law enforcement and connections to East Coast royalty.
You can’t mention Apathy on this list without mentioning Celph Titled. Celph, or Vic Mercer, is also a member of Army of the Pharaohs and Demigodz, and has even been tapped by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda to join his underground hip hop group, Styles of Beyond. Considered a season veteran in the underground rap community, Celph has released countless collaboration albums, and his 2006 release The Gatalog chronicles his music from 1998 to current day. His most recent music is the upcoming Heavy Lies the Crown coming out later this year with Army of Pharaohs.
Gilligan Gatsby is so underground that I couldn’t even find a Wikipedia page on him, and his official website no longer exists. But fear not–the Inglewood, CA, native is still around and as good as ever, popping up on shows like Sway in the Morning and The Wake Up Show, and having released new single “Why Not Us?” earlier this summer. Gatsby first began his career as a “gospel rapper,” which makes sense considering his voice is so strong and deep. Check out said single below.
This native New Yorker has garnered attention from MTV, BET, Hot97, SiriusXM, NYDaily News, TimeOut New York and World Star. He’s hit No. 1 nationally on college radio, and had a successful showing at SXSW this year. He won Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre–twice!–and was listed by AllHipHop as the “Top 50” coming up for two years in a row. But, I bet you’ve never heard of him. Until now.
Raised by an African American mother and Sudanese father, Oddissee–aka Amir Mohamed el Khalifa–cites the heritages of his parents as being early hip-hop influences, along with Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest. Raised in Prince George’s County, MD, one of the wealthiest African American counties in the nation, Oddissee’s lyrics circle around his hometown, traveling, inequality and social issues.
Paraphrasing his own rhymes, Sonny was likely a soon-to-be XXL Freshman Class selectee as frontman of The Dean’s List. He just had to “stay the course.” He did the opposite, and now the frontman of half-of-the-dean’s-list group The Kings Dead and new religously fueled solo work, Sonny has lost almost all the notoriety he had banging the college rap scene back in 2010. Listen to The Return of The Beast though, and you’ll know he deserves even more respect he had then when he was burning it all touring off a mixtape.
Yep that’s one letter, Z, formerly going by Seer this London-born, New York-raised artist residing in Harlem, NY, has been putting out music for over a decade. With a brand new project soft launched, ALL YOU NEED, and new dope tracks coming out seemingly daily, Z might be primed to be removing the ‘un’ from his label status in 2014. Although you won’t hear him reference rap much when talking about his music—his genre on Facebook is listed as “dance soul poet”—it doesn’t take too many tracks to realize he’s too good of a rapper not to give him rap props, regardless of base genre.
The Top 10 Rappers You Aren’t Listening To V.1
(Originally published 7/2/2013)
1. Freddie Gibbs
The Indiana-born rapper just released his debut album “ESGN” this past June, and his eighth mixtape ‘Baby Face Killa’ (released September 2012) featured some heavy hitters as well. Keep an eye on Freddie as his music becomes more well known.
2. Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino might be the only rapper on this list more well known by his actual name: Donald Glover. Mr. Glover is well known for his role in the show Community (recently renewed for a fifth season), as well as his hilarious stand up. Beyond being funny, he is also an amazing and entertaining rapper, known on stage and in the studio as Childish Gambino.
3. Big K.R.I.T.
The King Remembered In Time, Big K.R.I.T. has already become a well-known name to many rap fans. He’s collaborated with several well known artists, including Wiz Khalifa and Trinidad James, and even worked with Yelawolf to produce the album Country Cousins. He is currently working on his second studio album.
4. Dizzee Rascal
Dizzee Rascal is one of the most famous rappers in the United Kingdom, and it’s time some of his work got recognized on this side of the pond. He’s released a ton of smash hits and even performed for the London Olympics. Give the chap a chance and listen to ‘Dance Wiv Me’.
5. Nipsey Hussle
Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Nipsey Hu$$sle has done work with Rick Ross, Dom Kennedy and Wale. His latest mixtape, The Marathon 3: Victory Lap was released this year.
6. Three Loco
As the kings of comedic-but-catchy hip-hop, ¡Three Loco! has been on many people’s radars. The group consists of Andy Milonakis, Riff Raff and Dirt Nasty. In 2012, the trio received a cease and desist order from Farmer’s Insurance Group for their sampling of the company’s jingle ‘We Are Farmers’. The song was taken down, but a similar version was released entitled “We Are Llamas”.
7. Casey Veggies
The California-based rapper Casey Veggies has produced five mixtapes and just released his latest studio album in January of 2013. Since becoming active around 2007, he’s worked with Mac Miller, Dom Kennedy, Wiz Khalifa and Odd Future. Listen to one his older hits off the mixtape Sleeping in Class
8. Die Antwoord
The South African group Die Antwoord is hard to explain, so instead of reading about them, you should just watch this video. You might find that you can’t stop watching.
9. Tyler, the Creator
Many people will say that Tyler, the Creator is too famous for this list. While he is certainly well known, a wide range of his music doesn’t get as much circulation as it should. The LA-based rapper started the hip hop collective Odd Future, and he recently released his latest album Wolf.
10. Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt is the youngest rapper on this list, but he is far from the least talented. His debut album Earl made waves when it was released, and even more hype is building for his next album Doris. Although he hasn’t released many songs since he rejoined the rap game, the few that he has released are amazing. Listen to ‘Whoa’ if you enjoy ‘Chum’.