Too often we hear the narrative that “rap is dead” and “mainstream rap is overrated”. While it’s always a pleasure to hear mainstream artists climb their way up the charts, we can often take our eyes off the artists that are trying to do the same. Underground rap has to be one the most vibrant places in the world of hip-hop. On the other hand, there are some headlining artists that claimed a spot on the charts but still grapple for the credit they rightfully deserve. Here are a few diamond-in-the-rough artists to lend your attention to.
Dom Kennedy has been on the scene for a while now. He released his first tape “The Original Dom Kennedy” in 2011 and has been talked about ever since. His mixtapes are timeless, and it was Dom Kennedy who reached the utmost height of downloads and streams. He has a few albums under his belt too, with From The Westside with Love II earning a spot on Billboards Hot 200 in 2011. The wild thing is that Dom makes dope music. His music offers the most authentic Bay Area tone, wearing Westside love pridefully on his sleeve. He’s managed to make his success without a single record deal, and that’s something to brag about.
It’s safe to say that Top Dawg Entertainment has a unique line up of artists, one of them being Isaiah Rashad. He’s had a rocky battle with prescription drugs and alcohol, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Chattanooga rapper down. His debut album Cilvia Demo sounded like a modern-day ATLiens. Songs like “Shot You Down”, “R.I. P Kevin Miller”, and “Modest” showcased Rashad’s lyricism as a new artist, proving he’s an artist to be reckoned with. His second offering The Sun’s Tirade was an even more polished Rashad, where we get a more inside look on the anxieties that haunt him. At this point, he’s always finding ways to blend his life struggles into his lyrics, and fans clearly love its authenticity.
Let’s be real on this one: Joey Bada$$ is like a modern crossover between Biggie and Nas. Joey’s first tape 1999 solidified his spot in hip-hop as one of its most intricate rhymes. He’s simultaneously harnessed and refreshed the old school tune of New York rap. As New York’s finest, the Bedstuy native delivers seamless bars and wordplay. Why is he so underrated? One reason could be his subject matter. Not too many people are hip on New York’s vintage style of rap. A lot may even say it’s dead, but for Joey, it’s alive and thriving.
Before you get too riled up, let’s make one thing clear: Kendrick doesn’t get the credit he deserves and one of hip hops best artists. The competition for best wordsmith was put on hold after Kendrick´s splendid delivery on Big Sean’s “Control” in 2013. To put it in simple terms, Kendrick ripped everyone featured on the track, including every other rapper in the game that would even fathom they have what it takes to be on top. Since then, Kendrick has been living to that standard, producing some of the best acts and bars to exist. Comparing him to rappers like Drake and J Cole is meaningless, they don’t provide the substance and storytelling abilities Kendrick employs.
Who is Noname Gypsy? Well, her secret life is hardly revealed, but one thing for sure is that she is one of the most promising female emcees right now. We caught a glimpse of what Noname had to offer to hip-hop after being featured on Chance The Rapper’s “Lost”. Since then, she has been moving quietly, releasing singles here and there via Soundcloud. When Noname does come to light, she is blessing the world with her vibrant poetry-felt tracks, partnered with jazzy influenced acoustics. She has a clever way of creating imagery through her lyrics, where fans get more than the bigger picture. She released her latest LP Telefone, packed with contemporary jazz production, along with the witty lyrics the Chicago poet effortless bears. What’s on the agenda next? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. Staying under the radar is what makes fans appreciate her music even more because you never know when she’ll peep back into the limelight.
Whether he’s dropping jewels of wisdom on Twitter or making satire logic in interviews, LA rapper Vince Staples is proof that you don’t have to drink or smoke to be a successful rapper. It takes substance, a purpose, and storytelling to truly evoke this profession everyone is eager to experience. Vince first started out as a guest artist on earlier Odd Future projects. From then on, he’s polished his subject matter, exchanging party galore lyrics for politically intriguing themes such as police brutality, the racial climate in America, and gentrification. He still remains an underrated artist, but the fans he’s acquired are die-hard and loyal. They’re as eager for new projects from the Long Beach artist as most people are for the latest Drake single.
Chicago is home to so many emerging artists. It can sound like most artist’s rush to get a project out. They don’t take the time to brush up their production or lyrics. For Mick Jenkins, his foundation is solid, with the most exquisite production and lyrics that explore the emotions and themes of one’s mind. His two projects Water[s] and The Healing Component, he plays with topics of love and self-identity, coupled with his smooth flow and music taste that’ll make a lame man groove. He’s not entirely against mainstream artists but doesn’t want to place himself anywhere near that category. He’d rather continue to live to the expectations of his idols Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, creating music that is conscious and candid.