Let’s be honest, pretty much everyone in this generation dreamed about becoming a rapper at some point in their life. But these artists here are making that dream a reality. Anyone who knows about today’s hip hop scene knows that there’s a huge amount of underground artists behind the mainstream icons like rapper Kanye West. And the crazy thing is, most of them are extremely good at what they do. It just blows my mind how full of talent the hip hop industry is, and it really shows you how competitive the industry is these days. The rivalry to be seen and heard is perhaps fiercer than any other genre, because so many rappers and hip hop artists want to be the next big star, like Kanye West.
Something that impresses me again and again when I listen to underground hip hop artists is their level of professionalism. These guys are finished products. It’s not like you’re listening to them and thinking, “These guys have potential. I wonder what they’ll sound like in a few years.” No. What you’re thinking is why the hell these guys aren’t more popular, because they really are ready to take on the biggest rappers and hip hop artists in the industry – and win. The standard is incredibly high. Some of these artists are more popular than others. Some have a huge following, and they can hardly be considered “underground.” But they all have one thing in common – they sound amazing, and more people need to know about them.
15. Chance The Rapper
Of all the rappers on this list, Chance is hardly underground. His albums and tracks are not only wildly popular, they’re also critically acclaimed. In 2016, he won 3 Grammys, including one for Best Rap Album. The album, called Coloring Book, holds the record for being the first ever “streaming only” album to receive a Grammy. This is a real indicator of where the rap industry is going – away from mega record labels and back towards underground rap, where the genre was born. Since stepping into the spotlight, Chance The Rapper has been tipped by many to take the king of rap’s throne one day, and Kanye better watch out. This rapper has already collaborated with rap royalty such as Lil Wayne, and now he’s moving much more into the mainstream, while retaining the unique style that made him famous. His full name is Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, and he was born in 1993.
Gibrilville is getting a lot of attention for their clean style, strong vocals, and catchy beats. I could definitely see their music being played on the radio alongside the likes of Kanye West and Drake, among others. They strike a nice balance between hardcore rap and a more upbeat musical direction, making their music accessible to people of all types and tastes. Gibrilville is actually a hip hop duo, made up of two very talented musicians, Gibril Mansaray and Emmanuel Owusu Bonsu.
They share a lot in common with Kanye West in regards to their political message. We all know that Kanye is a man of very strong opinions, and Gibrilville are no different. Their newest album, The Rapskallyonz Illegal Immigrants, features some very strong messages about black culture. One of their top songs on the album is called “Kings!” This song blasts the chorus of “We were kings when we left Africa. How did we become slaves in America?” They say the best kind of art is that which asks questions. And they are asking some really poignant ones with their music.
One amazing hip hop group that’s really not afraid to experiment with new musical styles is Agency. In this way, they’re pretty similar to Kanye West, who is as much a skilled producer as he is a rapper. Their music is classified as alternative hip hop, but that’s such a broad term, and it doesn’t really do Agency justice. The truth is that they’re doing something really unique, something that defies any definition. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the vocals are absolutely amazing – like honey to the ears. Their beats are slow but purposeful, enveloping the listener in a trippy haze that takes them to a different land.
So why haven’t you heard more about this amazing hip hop group? There’s a number of reasons. First, the band has curiously decided to remain “shrouded in mystery.” So we don’t know who the actual people are behind this music. It’s a shame, because they really deserve recognition, but the sense of mystery is also alluring. The second reason you might not have heard of them is because they just released their debut album back in February 2017, entitled Identity. I really have nothing but love for Agency, and you can expect to hear a lot more of them in the future.
12. Tyson Amir
Watch this man speak and you will be blown away. Simple as that. His videos are the kind of rare finds on YouTube that leave you speechless and reminded of how much talent there is out there in the human race. Tyson Amir is a spoken word poet – speaking powerful truths in flowing, expertly constructed lines designed to stop and make you think about the world around you. We’ve all seen Kanye West speak in similar ways, and his rants can sometimes be very powerful political messages. Tyson Amir does this 12 times better than Kanye ever could, it must be said.
Instead of releasing an album, Tyson Amir is releasing a book called Black Boy Poems, which is a collection of his spoken word pieces. He can capture your attention with words laced over beats in the background as well. In addition to being a poet he’s an accomplished musical artist. His last album, Purpose, received heaps of critical acclaim from the hip hop industry. So much of hip hop music these days seems to lack substance. Bringing Tyson Amir into the spotlight would be a welcome change of direction.
11. Jelani Lateef
Chicago provides a constant stream of amazing musical artists, and Jelani Lateef is one of its premium exports. Like Kanye West, Jelani Lateef is an intelligent artist, combining musical talent with business smarts and the ability to market himself. He realized that he could be much more successful if he went from being just another rapper to his own producer and a CEO. I feel like his new album, Cold Days Hard Nights is all about this mindset. The music on this mixtape has a very purposeful attitude behind it, one with a strong, determined vibe. It’s almost a statement of intent, a message to the world that he’s moving up the ladder fast. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Jelani Lateef is drawing in more and more fans everyday, with rave reviews from Allhiphop.com and Rap Sheet, the latter calling him a “breath of fresh air.” And it’s hard to argue with that. Jelani Lateef’s delivery is smooth, flowing, and never seems to falter, with intricate (mostly self-produced) beats to back it up.
10. 3Bubble And J. Gray
Of all the musicians on this list, 3Bubble and J. Gray show the most range. It’s incredible. Just like Kanye West, they can perform pretty much any sub-genre within hip hop that you can think of, depending on how they’re feeling at the time. “No Lie” is a smooth, soulful R&B track that will bring you back to the days of Nate Dogg with a modern twist. But another track, “Hands Up,” will get your blood pumping with its heavy electronic beat, and make you feel like you’re at a rave. These two artists are clearly very well versed in all forms of hip hop. Both these tracks are off their newest album entitled Live From The Pentagon, an album which contains more variety and surprises than you could ever imagine.
3Bubble is the name of the artist who was born Cleon Solomon III, who has had a lot of success in his solo career before teaming up with J. Gray. Justin Andrew Gray is J. Gray’s full name, and he has a strong foundation for artistic knowledge obtained from a very young age at Houston’s famous High School for Performing & Visual Arts. Whether they’re rapping or singing, 3Bubble and J. Gray bring contagious energy to every single one of their tracks, and this energy has the potential to take them all the way to the top.
I’m beyond excited about WiseProof right now, and it’s hard not to be when you listen to his tracks. One thing needs to be said about this guy right off the bat: He is fast. He’s basically on the same level as Twista, Krayzie Bone, Tech N9ne, and the fastest names out there. But the way he delivers his lines is in a style completely of his own. He’s almost nonchalant in the way he spits out multiple words per second. It sounds like he’s not even breaking a sweat. And I think that’s a huge part of what makes this rapper so awesome. Kanye West himself saw firsthand what WiseProof was capable of when WiseProof actually opened Kanye’s concerts.
Clearly he is making his way to the top fast. His newest album is called Trapadelic, and it demonstrates WiseProof’s willingness to explore uncharted territory in the rap galaxy, creating new genres left right and center. WiseProof is credited with creating his own unique style that has been dubbed “Galactic Trap,” due to its mixture of trap beats and psychedelic influences. One of his best tracks on Trapadelic is “More More More More,” which is going to be playing on a lot of people’s iPhones by the time this year is done, mark my words.
Everyone familiar with the trap genre of rap knows about Migos. This is another group that crafted their own unique style and quickly rose to prominence. Although they are immensely popular within the trap genre, they are just beginning to break into the mainstream rap genre because many listeners are too distracted by bigger rappers such as Drake and Kanye West. If they would only take some time to sift below the surface of commercialized, mainstream rap, they would discover hidden gems like Migos and many other hip hop artists on this list.
The band comprises of three talented individuals: Quavo (Quavious Keyate Marshall), Takeoff (Kirshnik Khari Ball), and Offset (Kiari Kendrell Cephus). The trio are famous for their unique style, not only in their beats but also their vocal delivery, as their lines seem to cascade out of their mouths in an erratic, unpredictable rhythm that makes their music very satisfying. They are known as the rookies of the rap game and considered by many to be the future of rap – much like Kanye West was back in the day.
Any rap enthusiast will tell you that UGK was one of the best things to ever come out of the south, including up-and-coming rapper J’Moris. Now he’s following in UGK’s footsteps and blazing his own trail towards success, combining years of listening to and learning from the kings of southern rap with his own unique spin on the rap genre. His music is characterized by chilled and calm vocal delivery, which draws you in with its methodical, stable beat before stunning you with spurts of speed. This is definitely the type of rap that gets played at a party and has everyone asking each other, “Who is this? This is amazing!”
His newest single is “Dope Life,” and it’s a mark of how much this rapper has matured over the years. This artist seems to have really locked in on his style now, and it’s become very clean and refined. I think his music appeals to a larger audience now, more than it did with some of his earlier tracks. His music is wholly unique, but solely in terms of quality, there really isn’t that big of a difference between J’Moris and big names like J. Cole and Kevin Gates.
3ipleA is a group everyone should be really excited about. I know I am. Who better to look to for a new style of rap than the younger generations? Heading up this generation is 3ipleA, and they seem poised to show us all the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to rap. Listening to 3ipleA reminds you just how outdated a lot of these ageing mainstream rappers sound. It’s time to usher in a new sound for rap, and 3ipleA can show you what the future of rap will sound like.
Their newest track, “Water Diamonds” showcases 3ipleA’s clean and professional style. They may be young, but they’re clearly a finished product, as “Water Diamonds” is already blowing up in terms of popularity, especially on YouTube. The track features calm, soothing beats and the kind of vocal style that is becoming really popular right now, which is not dissimilar to that of Migos. It’s this style that is becoming contagious right now, but 3ipleA aren’t copying it – they’re taking it in a new direction and executing it perfectly. The group is based in Florida and is comprised of various members, although A-Tre (Arthur Alexander Adams) and ImKidKid are the ones featured on “Water Diamonds.”
5. Lordo OLO
To be successful in the music industry, you have to be incredibly passionate about your work. And along with musical talent, an undeniable rapping skill, and a strong work ethic, Lord OLO has a deep sense of passion for music. As he once said, “I would do music no matter how hard life got, because I literally have only music left.” And this mentality really shows in his music. His newest album, entitled Goldenfist, is the product of a rap career that stretches back to when Lord OLO was 5 years old and knew, even back then, that he was going to become a famous rapper one day. And his lifelong experience with music has led to a long evolution that is now reaching perfection with his newest release.
Of all the artists on this list, I’d say Lord OLO’s tracks hit the hardest. There is something brutally hardcore about his rapping, and when combined with dirty, dark beats, his music creates the kind of gritty vibes that made rap famous in the first place. But let’s make it clear – his rap is totally modern. I would love to see Lord OLO mix it up a little with the speed of his delivery. He has the tone and the style down, now I think all he needs to do is play with the pace of his lines a little bit.
4. Menace To $ociety
Like a lot of the other groups on this list, Menace To $ociety comes from the depths of the younger generations. It’s from these individuals that we’re sure to find the next mega rapper like Kanye West, and Menace To $ociety have the potential to be the chosen few to go mainstream. The group is comprised of Francis Rivera, Santino Rivera, and Mason Liefreid, all of whom live in Las Vegas. Growing up in this city must have equipped them with a lot of powerful experiences, and such experiences were no doubt a source of inspiration for their music. The message behind their work is a reaction to the tendency of society to pull you away from the path that you’re meant to follow.
Their newest album, entitled Balance: Light & Dark Part: 1 is all about the struggle we face in everyday life. The group has stated that they draw a lot of influences from 90s rap, both from the west and east coast. And those influences can be heard in their music. I find myself drawing comparisons between Menace To $ociety and rappers like Nas back when he was first starting out. Although this group certainly has potential, they’re still pretty rough around the edges. But that’s part of the charm of listening to underground rap. I hope they stick with their craft, because it’s going to be really interesting to see what they evolve into in the coming years.
3. Hundred Million Thousand
Hundred Million Thousand is an artist taking hip hop in a new and exciting direction. He is stylistically brilliant, with amazingly striking music videos that seem like very polished art pieces on their own. His entire art style moves in a very well thought out, carefully constructed way, with images and music coming together and working in tandem to create a totally unique experience. And we all know that multi-talented artists like Hundred Million Thousand are the way of the future, with rappers like Kanye West expanding his art into multiple mediums, such as film-making and even fashion.
His newest album is entitled simply lp1. This is the product of Noel Jon, a Filipino/Persian rapper and producer that set out with a clear mission when he made this album. He wanted to create something that encapsulated struggles with mental illness, an album that functioned as an audio journal. And it was through the creation of this work that Noel Jon was better able to cope with his own life journey. This album is wild. There is so much going on musically, from rapping to spiritual chants and traditional Iranian music. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, and can result in sensory overload. But maybe that’s exactly what Noel Jon wants us to feel, so we understand what mental illness is like. Although the music is erratic and can be hard to “get into,” we can easily overlook this because the overall experience is so interesting. While the music itself might not be to everyone’s liking, the overall amount of rich sensory stimulation is enough to make anybody stop and listen.
2. Erich Mrak
Erich Mrak is a very clear departure from the direction in which most hip hop artists are heading these days. And that’s what makes him so interesting. I’m not even sure how to categorize Erich Mrak’s style of rap, but I don’t think I need to, because his music is a whole new genre. And I don’t just mean a sub-genre within rap, I think this man has crafted an entirely new flavor of music, separate from both rap and hip hop. Although it definitely has both rap and hip hop elements, I actually find strong comparisons between Erich Mrak and someone like Beck. His vocal style is very down to earth and grounded, and it just sounds like some guy having a conversation with you. That pretty much sums up Erich Mrak’s entire brand – he’s not trying to be anything, his music is just a genuine representation of his personality.
His newest track is entitled “Think About It,” and it was produced by Erich Mrak’s producer, Bento. Although Erich Mrak is just 21 years old, he shows enormous promise and we’re really looking forward to more of his music. If you’re itching for more of this amazing music, you won’t have to wait long, as Erich Mrak is planning to release a lot more tracks like “Think About It” during 2017.
1. PNB Rock
PnB Rock is another artist on this list that has perhaps already stepped out of the shadows and into the mainstream world of hip hop. But clearly this man is not finished making his mark, and he shows the potential to move much further up the ladder with the kind of quality he’s capable of. But don’t just take my word for it: in October 2016, Rolling Stone named him as one of their “10 Artists You Need To Know.” He’s lived a rocky life and was in and out of prison throughout his early 20s, releasing a lot of his mixtapes while he was still in jail. His voice is extremely characterful, and perhaps that’s because his many life experiences are layered underneath it. He reminds me a lot of Drake, but his voice carries much more soul and pain within it. Expect to see and hear a lot from PnB Rock in the future.