Safe to say this isn’t your father’s rap scene.
Over the past three decades the rap scene has diversified itself time and time again. From the hard-hitting, golden age 90’s that gave us N.W.A, Ice Cube, Tupac, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Dr. Dre and Tribe Called Quest, to the early 2000’s that were taken over by the likes of T.I., Young Jeezy, Nas, 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne – and of course, Jay Z and Eminem.
Several of those names are still relevant in today’s rap landscape, but for the most part they have begun to fade into the horizon or take a back seat to their up-and-coming proteges.
Granted, rap in 2015 is not quite rap as it was in 1995, or even 2005. Back in ’95, you could roll down the windows and throw on some N.W.A and people walking down the street would know exactly who you were listening to. In 2005, you’d put on some Snoop and everybody would start droppin’ like it was literally hot in the general vicinity.
These days, though, it’s almost becoming impossible to nail down what exactly rap is, or what it has become, or what it will be. You have 16-year-old girls running around telling people that Justin Bieber is a rapper because he said a few words in rapid succession and featured Ludacris on a track. You have others calling Iggy Azalea the queen of rap in this new decade. Others still spend more time refuting claims that this or that is rap because it’s “lyrical garbage” or too auto-tuned for their taste (“where’s the real talent at!”).
Thankfully, through all the nonsense, these 10 rappers have stepped up to take over the rap game – to guide it and lead it back on its rightful path, paying homage to past legends while carving out their own place in history.
10. Nicki Minaj
Love her or hate her, Nicki Minaj has put her stamp on the rap game over the past several years. What seemingly started off as another pop-for-radio career turned into a hard-hitting rap game-changer. Minaj might not always get the love she deserves, but it’s hard to deny that the girl can spit – just listen to her verse on Beyonce‘s “Flawless”. If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
While she’ll likely never touch Queen B at the top, she’s rapidly establish herself as a close second, at least in this era. She’s landed several features on some big tracks with some big names, and that likely isn’t going to stop anytime soon. She goes as hard on the track as any man on this list or in the rap game, and she knows it.
9. Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator lands on the list for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he’s become a fixture at the top of the rap game. He’s literally changing how the scene works. Gone are the days of pushing CD’s of your mixtape to rappers, producers and radio stations. Tyler, the Creator started out as a blog, letting readers download mixtapes off his Tumblr for free. Today, he’s considered a rising media mastermind, an Internet sensation turned-into-online (and rap) mogul in a matter of years. Blogs and the Internet in general had already taken over how we consume and listen to rap (or anything else for that matter), but expect to see more young artists and producers follow the path Tyler, the Creator ended up paving.
8. Joey Bada$$
Listen to “Christ Conscious” one time and you’ll know – and hear – just about everything you need to become a fan of Joey Bada$$. One of the youngest stars in the rap game today, Bada$$ is a blend of old-school and new. His sound will bring you back to the 90’s, but you’ll also understand where the comparisons to Nas are coming from. Joey Bada$$’s star will only continue to rise as he continues to infuse his unique style into the rap landscape.
Bada$$ finds himself further down the list for now, but the youngest member of this list is ready to skyrocket to the top of the rap game, especially if he keeps dropping the kind of tracks that he has out there up to this point.
7. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky has exploded onto the scene as quickly as anyone has of late, and he’s managing to stay near the top as he progresses through his rap career. A$AP has carved out a niche as a beats master, and while some question his ability as a lyricist there’s no questioning that his tracks are capable of getting even the most stubborn dissenters nodding their heads along to the beat. He put the world on notice with his trippy “At. Long. Last A$AP” – a redefining album that caught a lot of people off guard, but also got a lot of people on board.
6. Schoolboy Q
Schoolboy Q pulls no punches in his verses, often drawing on personal experience to create what he and others have labelled as new age West Coast gangsta rap. Nothing is more indicative of this than the opening of “Gangsta”, on his 2014 Oxymoron album. Q credits several big names as his influences, but he makes sure to mention that he, for the most part, wants to throw restriction and tradition out the window. Not many have the confidence or ability to add or cut bars, or switch up their entire style on the go, but Schoolboy Q has put his stamp on the new age of rap with his versatility.
Schoolboy Q gives his fans the best of both worlds. You can sit back and let his music wash over you, or you can crank it up and throw a party, and make everyone shake it for the Man of the Year.
5. Big Sean
Big Sean was already a fixture in the rap world a few years back, but of late he’s blown up into a mega-star, and with good reason. “Sean Don” is a Kanye‘s protege, and he’s become almost as big as his mentor over the past few years. His latest work of art, Dark Sky Paradise, is fantastic from top to bottom, telling a very personal story while also dropping a few club bangers for the late-night crowd. Big Sean has made his mark on the new age of rap, and he’s still in his prime – it’s only going to get better from here on in.
Big’s sound is as unique as it gets in today’s scene, and while he’s able to draw upon the work of his influences, there’s no rapper out there today that sounds like the Detroit native.
4. J. Cole
At one point, it didn’t seem like J. Cole‘s rap career was going anywhere. That all changed when he signed with Jay-Z, and then subsequently put the rap world on notice with “Cole World”. He took it to another level with “Born Sinner”, putting his mark not only on the “new school” of rap but on the entire rap game, going head-to-head with the likes of Kanye and coming out on top on the billboards and in the album sales department. Cole knows how to cater to today’s market, while never leaving behind his influences and his own style, which continues to grow and improve with each passing year. He’s already made his mark on the new school, but he’s nowhere close to being done.
No, Drake isn’t here because he won a Twitter war. He’s here because he’s earned it.
You can argue that for awhile Drizzy was the Justin Bieber of the rap game: famous, successful, and well-known, but railed against for being soft, or whatever other insult you want to replace it with. Fast-forward to today, and nobody is calling Drake any names – let alone soft – and it has nothing to do with the beat down he put on Meek. Drake is rising to icon status faster that you can say “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”.
Drake has proven to be one of the more versatile members in the new school of rap, from his soft tones on “Take Care” to his more recent work which blends his hard-hitting rap lyrics and his storytelling ability. You can’t go through two or three songs on a rap playlist without hearing Drake on a track, whether it’s his own or a song he’s featured on. He’s the hottest commodity in the game right now, and with good reason.
It might be too late to appreciate the rise of a star, but it’s not to late to jump on the bandwagon.
2. Kanye West
One could argue that Kanye shouldn’t be considered new school, because he’s been around for such a long time and has overlapped multiple eras of rap. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the impact he’s had on the new school of rap, which is nearly unparalleled. “808’s & Heartbreak” turned auto tune from a scoffed-at method of making music to becoming as common as swearing on a track. “My Beautiful Dark Twister Fantasy” was a Kanye masterpiece, one that will be hard to top even by the man himself. “Watch the Throne” reminded the world – the entire world – who the kings of rap were (and probably still are) back in 2012, and “Yeezus”, while hard to digest at first, is transcendent in every sense of the word.
All this success, all while growing and discovering talent all over the country. Kanye continues to produce hits, as he’s done for years, and has what one what might call a golden resume of new school artists that features Travis Scott, Drake, Jay-Z, Big Sean, Pusha T, Lil’ Wayne, Lupe Fiasco and countless others.
1. Kendrick Lamar
He calls himself King Kendrick Lamar – and rightly so.
No rapper has made the kind of impact on the new age of rap than Kendrick has over the past few years. From “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” to “To Pimp a Butterfly”, Kendrick has earned a reputation as a rap visionary beyond anything anyone has seen or heard in awhile. A lyrical mastermind, many have compared him to 2Pac himself – in fact, many go as far as claiming that Kendrick is the reincarnation of the legend. While we won’t go that far, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between the two. Kendrick refers to himself as a writer, and with good reason – he paints pictures in the mind in ways authors can only dream of doing.
No one is quite sure what’s next for Kendrick, but one thing is for sure – it’s being waited for with bated breath, and it’s sure to blow our minds.