Following up from our Top 10 Female Vocalists to Watch, we’ve selected 20 exciting and upcoming hip-hop and rap acts we think you should keep an eye – and ear – out for this year. Sure, there’s a swarm of artists that are spinning circles around each other but the names that have made this list have convinced and impressed us with the way they’ve mastered their craft: hard-hitting lyricism, versatile beat-making and rapid delivery. With each act clocking in less than 40,000 Facebook likes at the time of writing, here’s our list – in no specific order – of those with enough raw talent to step up the game in hip-hop this year.
New York rap crew Ratking are the punkest hip-hop kids around. Capturing what New York feels like, they mix a youthful hardcore energy with beats and rhythms that are consciously post hip hop. Known for their eccentric live shows, the crew consists of teenage MCs Wiki and Hak from the Upper West Side and Harlem and producer Sporting Life. Their work also receives frequent contributions from engineer and Jay Z associate Young Guru. They released their debut album Wiki93 at the end of 2012 and brought out their follow-up So It Goes after signing to XL Recordings (Radiohead, SBTRKT, Tyler, The Creator). The album showcases their rapid delivery and talent for freewheeling and includes off-kilter single “So Sick Stories” featuring King Krule.
Visit the band’s website here.
2. Vince Staples
Vince Staples first broke onto the scene with his memorable guest verses on Earl Sweatshirt’s 2010 “epaR” as well as three following appearances on 2013’s Doris. The emerging MC is both one third of hip-hop group The Cutthroat Boys and a frequent Odd Future collaborator. Earlier this year he released the collaborative mixtape Stolen Youth with Mac Miller who, under his pseudonym Larry Fisherman, produced the project in its entirety. Now signed to Def Jam Records, he released Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 in March, which sees him rapping about growing up and surviving in Long Beach. The 21-year-old is currently touring the States with ScHoolboy Q and Isaiah Rashad on the Oxymoron World Tour.
Listen to and download Shyne Colchain Vol. 2 via SoundCloud.
3. Vic Mensa
Known for being Chance The Rapper’s Save Money counterpart, Chicago native Vic Mensa’s talent and range in his own work demand attention. The 21-year-old mixes his strong sense for song craft with experimental ’80s funk and R&B beats. Shortly after his own group Kids These Days broke up in May of 2013, he released his impressive solo project entitled Innanetape, which can be heard in its entirety here. The record features the work of LA experimental jazz-fusion bassist Thundercat who’s just collaborated with Flying Lotus on his highly anticipated new album. Check out the infectious “Down On My Luck” here and his new track “Wimme Nah” here. Produced by Kaytranada, the track speaks of Mensa’s newfound confidence in his career.
4. Quelle Chris
Although he was involved in all manner of musical project from punk to rock to folk, Quelle Chris’ affiliation with the Wasted Youth crew first brought him onto the hip-hop scene. Since then the Detroit emcee’s been praised for his abstract rhyme patterns. It’s no surprise that he lists a multitude of soul, jazz and rock artists as his influences – it was his eclectic taste that elevated him from the Detroit hip-hop scene. His 2013 album Ghost at The Finish Line hailed him Detroit’s latest hometown hero. Released via Mellow Music Group – which houses Oddisee and Apollo Brown – the record encompasses a feat of Quelle Chris’ feelings– pride, pain, lust, struggle and enjoyment.
In a recent interview, he spoke of the overall theme of the album: “…on the road to success- who will still be there in the end? It’s even beyond the physical, hence the ‘ghost.’ Sometimes people aren’t there but the lessons and their presence still lingers or drives you to keep running. The ghost can be positive too.” Check out goofy “Super Fuck” to sample the humor in his work and watch the funky video for the titular single here.
Check out Quelle Chris’ music on Bandcamp.
5. Shabazz Palaces
Fronted by Ishmael Butler aka Palaceer Lazaro and producer Tendai Maraire, Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces is an experimental hip-hop group that dares to dive deep. They brought out their first mixtapes anonymously in 2009 and by releasing their 2011 Black Up via Sub Pop they became one of the label’s few hip-hop acts. Their latest offering Lese Majesty was released this year and showcases their versatile soundscape. With a subtle science fiction theme running through it, the album swells with pulsing synths, playful riffs and chaotic grooves. The duo are undoubtedly shaping the Seattle scene and it’s no wonder they were listed #1 in The Seattle Times’ recent “Local Top 10.” Their recent collaboration with Chimurenga Renaissance is also well worth checking out.
Find out more about Shabazz Palaces here.
Jonwayne emerged right in the midst of a new generation of hip-hop beat makers consisting of FlyLo, The Gaslamp Killer and Nosaj Thing. Starting out as a producer, his talent as an MC got him noticed and subsequently signed to Stones Throw. They got him to record an MC album and Rap Album One is the praiseworthy result – it’s a dense, weird affair and the producer’s electronic background has a solid presence on it. He’s since worked with Flying Lotus and Jeremiah Jae (also on our list), and collaborated live with Mount Kimbie on BBC Radio 1. Jonwayne is currently working on an instrumental album, a second “Rap Album” and productions for Homeboy Sandman’s next record. Watch his LA Boiler Room appearance here.
7. Jeremiah Jae
Chicago rapper and producer Jeremiah Jae is a welcoming anomaly to the rap scene of 2014. With his calm vocals and obscure samples that bare resemblance to Madlib and J Dilla’s soundscape and excellent beat making, it’s easy to see why. His Lunch Special mixes got him the attention of none other than Steve Ellison aka Flying Lotus and signed to Brainfeeder. His most recent effort Good Times was put out on Warp Records. Son of a jazz composer, he grew up studying classical music, lists Placebo as his earliest influences and claims Wu-Tang and Souls of Mischief got him into the hip-hop scene.
Visit his website to check out more.
8. Bishop Nehru
The youngest on our list, this NY rapper and producer is a mere 17 years old. His age-impressive efforts are aplenty: at the age of 13, he first started releasing his tracks on the Odd Future forum; his 8-bar freestyle over Mos Def’s “Mathematics” gaining him widespread attention. When he was just 15, his debut mixtape Nehruvia received the production efforts from DJ Premier, J Dilla, Madlib and MF Doom. This year, he toured with Earl Sweatshirt and opened for Wu-Tang Clan’s 20th anniversary European tour. His talent doesn’t end there though – he also edits and directs music videos and directed the video for his Disclosure-produced “You Stressin’.” Watch the video with its stylized lyrics, paint brushstrokes and the electronic duo’s trademark white lines here. Bishop Nehru’s collaborative effort NehruvianDOOM with MF Doom is set to be released on September 23.
It’s all about love when it comes to MoRuf. Not only dedicated to creating music, the Nigerian-American rapper is also a strong advocator of a positive moment he calls “Love Over Everything.” Sharing and respect are important Nigerian values – ones that heavily shaped and influenced his music and have led him to refer to his work as “soulhop.” It’s a risk that he’s so vulnerable and bares all but it separates him from others around him. “Never look down on a man. Bring him up,” he raps on Shades.Of.Moo. The work is his first full-length release and deals with growing up in New Jersey: from heartbreak and new relationships to losing loved ones. All his mixtapes are available on his Bandcamp page.
10. A$AP Nast
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a certain East Coast hip-hop collective. Next to rise out of the mob is 23-year-old A$AP Nast. The crew’s second album L.O.R.D is set to drop this year and its lead single “Trillmatic“ is managed by Nast. Influenced by hip-hop’s Golden Age, Nast had said that he wants the track to act as a time machine to the late ’90s “when it was all about rapping.” It features a guest verse from Method Man alongside Nast’s deft lyricism and confidence. A$AP Ferg’s breakout track “Work” on the Mob’s collective album Lords Never Worry pushed him to the forefront – we’re sure the same will happen to Nast.
Check out his profile on the A$AP Mob site.
11. Isaiah Rashad
Tennessee’s Isaiah Rashad has come quite a way since rapping with friends on laptops in tenth grade. He toured with Joey Badass in 2012, signed to Kendrick Lamar-led label Top Dawg Entertainment in 2013 and released his debut EP Cilvia Demo to critical acclaim early this year. It debuted at number 40 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and landed him a spot on XXL’s annual freshman class alongside Chance The Rapper, Rich Homie Quan and Vic Mensa. Watch the video for his recent collaboration with fellow TDE signee SZA on the softly contemplative “Warm Winds” here.
Consisting of brother and sister Eddington Again and Miche Maya alongside producer Tulip Pezley, California hip-hop Oddience is crafting hip-hop at its poppiest. Stoned raps, trippy beats and mellifluous male-female vocals glisten within stitched samples of ’80s soul funk. Their first, full-length studio album Um, Yes You Can features 10 tracks that are heavier, grittier and sonically more demanding than its seven-track predecessor Slide. It’s their atypical approach that makes Oddience’s sound seem so familiar but with its rap detours and dizzying melodies it goes on to delight and surprise. The result is both infectious and smile inducing.
Check out their SoundCloud here.
13. Young Fathers
Young Fathers – comprised of Graham, Ali and Kayus – hail from Scotland, but you wouldn’t know it from their sound. The hip-hop trio exists outside of the scene of their hometown Edinburgh and instead draw more heavily on their African heritage – Ali is from Liberia and Kayus hails from Nigeria. All the more impressive then that they won the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) award and beat Mogwai and CHVRCHES in the process. Their album Tape Two is an exhilarating display of their talents in raw, honest writing and experimental beat making. Released via Big Dada/Anticon earlier this year, their latest full-length Dead, (which you can stream here), is an intensely powerful and passionate offering from three guys who love what they do and do what they love. Check out our interview with the trio here.
14. Little Simz
Simbi Ajikawo aka Little Simz is a North London rapper that’s shaking things up. The experimental musician has been praised for exhibiting quick flows and smooth vocals. The spontaneity and sonic experimentation of four-track EP Age 101: Drop 1 project set Little Simz apart from her peers –in her own words, “… sometimes I don’t like to think about what I do and just do it.” It’s this carefreeness that landed her a slot on BBC Radio 1 Maida Vale session – particularly memorable because it marked her as one of the few unsigned rappers to do a BBC session before releasing an official single. In June of this year she introduced her label AGE101 to the scene by releasing her debut on it. “E.D.G.E” (acronym for Every Day Gets Easier) follows her fourth mixtape Blank Canvas, which premiered on Jay Z’s Life+Times website.
Visit her Bandcamp to hear more.
15. Denzel Curry
There’s a remarkable level of purposefulness to 18-year-old Denzel Curry. With an ear for eclectic and uneasy beats, the Florida rapper’s work exhibits a distinct mix of grimey hooks, dense lyricism and a surprising psychedelic swirl. His lo-fi retro raps have lead to him a signing a deal with 4AD and his live appearances thus far have been wholly impressive too: he performed at Coachella and on BBC Radio 1 last year, SXSW this year and headlined Miami’s first ever Boiler Room. We’re excited to see what his forthcoming EP, “Planet Shrooms,” will unveil. Watch the trippy video for “Parents” off the skillfully delivered Nostalgic 64, which presents an important message about the lack of parenting and values in today’s society.
Visit his SoundCloud to hear more.
16. Hawk House
Amidst the tidal wave of New York’s current Beast Coast movement, a lot of emerging British hip-hop is being overlooked. We’re here to put one of those acts back into focus. Soulful UK trio Hawk House are creating experimental hip-hop that’s been praised for its thought provoking rhymes and atmospheric flow. Comprised of Croydon brothers Sam and Eman and singer Demae, they’ve crafted an organic and collaborative working process and it shows through their sound. 2013 saw them release the consciously British mixtape A Little More Elbow Room. and their latest effort A Handshake To The Brain dropped last month. Their sound is rooted in the realities of London city life and is making serious and much needed- waves in the UK hip-hop scene.
Sample their music through their SoundCloud page.
17. Cakes Da Killa
Rising Cakes Da Killa is part of a new wave of openly gay rappers in a genre that’s been intolerant of anything other than alpha males for decades. Proudly describing himself as “the most clinically insane cunt bitch up in the game” and bragging that he can “spit that shit to make a homophobe a hypocrite,” 23-year-old Rashard Bradshaw’s offerings are raunchy and attention-demanding. On The Eulogy, the New York MC questions why it’s such a big deal for a male rapper to rap about wanting to have sex with other men, and precedes to rap about just that in comically graphic detail. Easy Bake Oven Vol. 1 and The Eulogy and his latest offering Hunger Pangs are all available on his SoundCloud – give the mixtapes some of your time, they’re so jam-packed with jokes and references that it takes several listen to catch them all. Check out the grimey, bass-heavy “I Run This Club” with its vocal loops and siren-like synths here.
Check Cakes Da Killa’s mixtapes on his SoundCloud.
18. Blitz The Ambassador
Ghanaian-American hip-hop artist Blitz The Ambassador tests the limits of hip-hop by meshing African popular sounds and American vintage soul with hard-hitting beats and lyrics. Now based in Brooklyn, he provides an insight of the African migrant to the big city – his body of work is a real hustler’s story. In 2009 he released the full-length studio album Stereotype, which is a live-instrumental-heavy musical exploration and includes the hugely beautiful, strikingly real “Something to Believe.” A few months ago, he brought out his follow-up album – the excitingly diverse Afropolitan Dreams. He may not have coined the term “Afropolitan,” but he feels strongly inspired by it, using it to describe being young, creative and global.
Check out more over at his website.
19. Black Kray
There’s very little about Black Kray online but here’s what we managed to find out: he’s 17 years old, hails from Virginia and is producing trippy sounds alongside barely recognizable yet strangely alluring lyrics. The young rapper is also stirring things up in the video world; working alongside his DMV-based collective Goth Money Records, the experimental filmmaker’s work presents a certain online aesthetic reminiscent of the early 2000s.
20. Azizi Gibson
It may seem like a made-up story, but we assure you, it’s true: Azizi Gibson got his big break at the gym. It’s where he met Steve Ellison aka prolific producer Flying Lotus. The 22-year-old handed FlyLo his Millz-produced Phuck Deluxe mixtape and in turn, Ellison invited him to lunch. Fast forward a bit and he’s signed a deal with Brainfeeder, worked with fellow act-to-watch Jeremiah Jae and released the sonically dynamic Backwards Books, which sees him remarkably – and successfully – sampling Portishead’s “Biscuit.” The release can be heard in its entirety via Soundcloud.
Special mention: Novelist
Technically grime, London-based Novelist receives a special shout out for his unequivocal talent and what he’s achieving within the genre. He’s a mere 16 years old but his unique flow and the way he spits and produces have caught the attention of the difficult-to-please Grime Forum. Critics and fans alike have been unable to find suitable comparisons, suggesting that this young MC from Lewisham is indeed the new face of grime. His crew, The Square, was on NTS radio just last week and their dizzyingly raw show can be heard here.
Check out more from the emcee via his SoundCloud page.
Written by Ange Suprowicz for Highsnobiety.com