It must have been freshman year of college when I first heard Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia referred to as the “DMV.” Do a little digging and you’ll see these three letters represent more than its states and more than their cultures of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, gogo beats, and VA beaches. Here is a region expanding with music creativity (and a rich lineage of groundbreaking '90s culture courtesy of Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Pharrell), home to an array of expressive music artists making their own lane.
Ten DMV artists in particular are blessing our playlists with their wordplay and bass-laced melodies. Back their sound by an ambition characteristic to East Coast beginnings and you have a group of creatives resetting the agenda in both hip-hop and pop.
There is much to be said and even more to be heard from these 10 DMV talents. Check them out below.
To speak of Ashlee White we’d have to start at poetry — a hobby turned self-expression for the 23 year old music artist from Woodbridge, VA. Add soft chimes and euphonic drums to those poems, chop & screw to taste, and the result? Late-night radio confessionals turned reputable raps.
When it comes to Ashlee’s musical style, “There’s no limit to it.” Her creative process is sporadic and unorthodox, an unusual prelude to a sound welcoming of vulnerability not just for herself but for others’ and their self-discovery.
Chameleon, her debut album, is out now.
This is a group where the sum of its parts are as great as the whole. A marriage of soulful, carefree, R&B/house greatness cultivates a style that’s just plain fun.
Norfolk, VA, RIAA Gold-Certified producer FAKE UZUMI is the brains behind the beats that bloom a synesthetic experience. Lex Lucent, a Portsmouth, VA native, proclaims “I’ll always be with the gang” in their single “B.D.E,” known for her sublime, mellow but confident delivery of ill punchlines. Whogotdadutch steps in with the assist, offering non-stop, effortless flows straight out the gate. From Richmond, VA, MACK infects our souls with her jazzy, trance-like sound, making it hard not to ask “Who is she?”
Be sure to check out “Names”, featured on Pusha T’s Heirwave Music Group playlist, from Flip Phone+’s latest album Phone Calls.
Love or loyalty? It’s naysayers and self-reflection that fuel the fire in singles like “Lost Love” or “2 Face” for this Newport News, VA artist. Floyd channels an unknown playing field that is the human emotional palette as he discovers the beautiful struggle in life and love.
What started as a therapeutic experience turned into hours in studios crooning over fluid kicks and strings orchestrated by college friends turned loyal producers. The smooth sounds of this R&B inamorato is sure to make you take the long way home.
What better way to paint a picture of social outcast, loner, and hopeless romantic than through anime. FULMETALPARKA$ thought so too. His latest single “Gugu” embodies the anime “To Your Eternity”:
“The messages I receive from these animations and the stories they tell inspire me to make something as great or better.”
A sad day? You’ll get slow, acoustic, lyric-driven content from the rapper, songwriter, producer, and video editor; compared to the upbeat trap content you’d get in his braggadocios swagger. Yet FULMETAL is still careful to not blur the lines between tough guy and lovelorn.
A Virginia native, home to arguably the most progressive producers of our time, he strives to stand out both sonically and aesthetically like they did.
Suffolk, VA native Kiree 3600 debuted his breakout mixtape titled Blockstarr at the top of 2021 following his premiere single “Dun Dun” on Pusha T’s Heirwave Music Group Youtube channel in late 2020.
Kiree 3600 doesn’t believe in a “copy and paste” method; every line is organic and from real life experience. At 22, Kiree continues to master his art-introspective rap style. Although he's young, when he steps in the booth he commands a powerful presence that spills into the mic and connects his energy to the streets of VA and beyond.
Representing Landover, MD, Lil Gray makes scam rap too good to be about something totally left field! I mean we can’t get enough and the Maryland streets say the same.
Often times all it takes is bravado and 1-2 beat sequence for Lil Gray to lose himself in his clean-cut bars. He’ll switch it up with head-bopping samples like on his single “Pest Control (RAT).”
Gray released his album 10B410 in February 2021.
In their universe, ‘Everything is Madeup’. This dynamic duo has taken the stage from Virginia Beach to Richmond, VA, with a ripping presence going bar for bar with loyal fans in the crowd.
Will Amadeus and Jalf are Madeup: a merging of two extraterrestrial rap styles who mix wit and finesse into a daring pattern that trails in the light of fellow native VA producers like The Neptunes. Their chemistry is like water, it's fluid and conforms to compliment each other, as if one pushes the other to out-rap.
Jalf’s Modern Time Disguise arrived November 2021 and Will’s Midnight Paintings 2 landed October 2021. See what the buzz is about on their second joint release Enough Is Enough.
Gogo’s major contender in DC music culture, indisputably, is trap music. The glorified street business is the subject told through “no bark, all bite” repartee. Schlish lives by the DC Northeast code, a code that runs deep through the foundation of the area's rap culture — as deep as the days when Wale would come through to pay homage to neighborhood OGs.
The authenticity of the hustle and finding himself in the process set the foundation of Schlish’s rhymes. At the core? A beast waiting to pounce on his next hot track. Discover Schlish’s sound on his latest album Streets Last Hope 3.
Newport News, VA's Zach Thousand is a brand; funky beats, charismatic lingo, and an affinity for fly women and fly shit characterize the West Coast flows he clings to.
Early influences of skateboarding, BBC Icecream apparel and his first CD (The Neptunes’ In My Mind) stained his memories with beautiful experiences unique to a small city with creative dreamers.
Zach’s charm and chill approach dance well with the hard grind he applies to production, writing, and rhyming. “I’m serious. I’m into song writing and really making great songs. Rapping is cool. I love hard bars, but I like to make great music.” Who knew it was passion in the player anthems?
Zach Thousand’s VA is for Lovers is out now.
There’s one life to live, and in this life 3way has been a friend, a father, a son and now a rapper — a fire one at that. At 29, he’s been a true student of the craft of music, learning first hand at a young age from his father who was a DJ.
His sound is gritty yet elegant, placing you in the golden Nas-era where it wasn’t enough to just rap; you had to spit every bar like it was your last. Still, humbleness hums below the surface of his art.
3WaySlim’s second album Golden Child drops October 25.