It doesn’t matter where you hang out on the web, when it comes to news about your favorite artist, somebody has got it covered. Whether it is a new album release, new tattoo, haircut, fashion miss, who is dating who or an artist embroiled in controversy; the web is really good at getting it in your face – all the time!
But if you part of the growing segment of the population looking for alternatives other than mainstream entertainment, you have to do a little digging.
The best underground hip hop artists?
Well, finding them is not as easy as going to your neighborhood iTunes and picking them out from a ready made list. One must seek out the experts/gurus/enthusiasts in the niche music blogosphere, forums, boards and popular social media channels. The journey doesn’t end there. Why? Because each expert has a different opinion or opposing view on who is who on the web. Lists vary from one site expert to the next.
The good news; if your patient and dig around enough, a few new names will begin to stand out. I started this project out with the intention of listing 50 of the hottest underground hip hop artists and rappers on the web, but changed things up to the most influential. In reality naming the hottest or the best comes down to popular opinion and polls. Influence relies more on the facts and many other ranking factors. And facts take a lot more time to comb over, so in the meantime I compiled a list of artists. 39 so far.
This is by no means the final list, but a start to an unofficial GiGhive music project to find the most influential underground hip hop artists.
Expert input and passionate opinion is welcome and much appreciated!
Starting with the hip hop artists listed below in no particular order.
Death Grips are an experimental hip hop group formed in Sacramento, California in 2010. The group consists of Stefan Burnett (vocals) and the production team Zach Hill and Andy Morin. Their live setup consists of Burnett on vocals, Morin on keyboards, and Hill on drums.
The group officially formed December 21, 2010, and released its first single and video for “Full Moon (Death Classic)” on March 8, 2011.
Das Racist is a weed edge/hare krishna hard core/art rap/freak folk music trio based in Brooklyn, New York.
Das Racist is an alternative hip hop composed of MCs Himanshu Suri (aka Heems) and Victor Vazquez (aka Kool A.D.) and hype man Ashok Kondabolu (aka Dapwell). Known for their use of humor, academic references, foreign allusions, and unconventional style, Das Racist has been both dismissed as joke rap and hailed as an urgent new voice in rap.
Born & raised in Harlem, New York, ASAP Rocky is no stranger to the cliche rap lifestyle, popularized by fellow Harlem Patriarchs from Big L & Kool Moe Dee to Ma$e, and Cam’ron. However, Rocky’s entrenching yet melodic rap style has drawn more immediate comparisons to recently incarcerated Harlemite Max B.
Rocky is avoiding hipster cliche, and the recent “swag” overload, with a more organic yet still braggadocio style, self proclaimed as Harlem’s “Pretty MotherF**Ker.” Rocky’s uniquely authentic introspection, and style have many toting the youngster as NYC”s emcee to watch in the year to come. And if Rocky’s initial buzz is any indication, all signs point to a rap resurrection, appropriately led by the kid named after “The God Emcee.”
It is rare to find an artist who has both age and wisdom on his side. At just 24 years-old, Big K.R.I.T. possesses the musical intuition of an old soul. Hailing from Meridian, Mississippi, K.R.I.T. (born Justin Scott) grew up listening to early rhythm and blues records in his Grandmother’s house and later went on to discover songs by revered soul artists like Curtis Mayfield, Willie Hutch and Bobby Womack. It’s easy to detect these artists and rap legends who have influenced the young MC like 8Ball & MJG, UGK, Scarface and OutKast in K.R.I.T.’s own music which masterfully resurrects the rich heritage of Southern hip-hop in the 1990’s.
Immortal Technique (Felipe Coronel) is a revolutionary. Born in Peru, he immigrated to Harlem, NY and eventually ended up in prison. He left with a new focus on music. His aggressive style gained him instant notoriety as a battle rapper, and his first album was a word-of-mouth sensation. Unwilling to change his message for mainsteam, he remained completely independent. His subsequent projects have permanently found their way into the hearts and minds of truth seekers worldwide.
Daniel Dumile (“doom-uh-lay”) is a British born American hip-hop artist who has taken on several stage names in his career, most famously MF DOOM (standing for metal fingers/metal face doom). He has also been known as Zev Love X, King Geedorah, Metal Fingers, Viktor Vaughn, Doom, and has appeared in several collaborative projects such as Dangerdoom (with Danger Mouse) and Madvillain (with Madlib). Little is known about his personal life.
Dumile’s eccentric wordplay makes him a favorite of underground hip-hop fans. He is heavily influenced by American comic books (especially the Fantastic Four and their battles with Dr. Doom). Japanese science fiction is also an influence; the concept for King Geedorah (which is derived from Ghidorah) and the Monsta Island Czars comes from the Godzilla movie series. He is also renowned for bringing comedy back into the sometimes overly serious world of rap lyrics and a unique, sample-heavy production style.
His career has spanned over 24 years, during which he has released eleven albums and performed shows from Los Angeles to New York City
His stage name originated from the TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun, given to him by rapper Black Walt due to his fast rhyming style. Yates later applied a deeper meaning to the name, claiming that it stands for the complete technique of rhyme, with ‘tech’ meaning technique and ‘nine’ representing the number of completion.
Atmosphere – Slug
Eleven years after becoming the first hip-hop act to put the Twin Cities on the map, Atmosphere has grown into one of the most accomplished MC/producer duos around. Between Slug and Ant, they’ve released six albums, 11 Sad Clown tour albums and various side-projects like Felt – amounting in well over a million units sold. And along the way have performed to sold-out crowds everywhere from modest sized venues in their hometown to colossal festivals in Japan. Since releasing their 1997 debut, Overcast!, Ant’s ASR-born melodic beats and Slug’s open book and observational style of rapping continues to evolve into hip-hop that’s more honest – more textured. And the praise for these Rhymesayers pioneers hasn’t stopped flowing in.
Determined to be one of Southern Cali’s premier MCs Hopsin bought an $8 microphone from Wal-Mart, installed Fruity Loops on his computer, and locked himself in the basement. As time went by he knew that his lyrics and production had surpassed what he was hearing on the radio. He combined his skills with a new image [often seen wearing white contacts] and emerged from the basement. In 2007, Hopsin signed a major record deal with Ruthless Records, and released his freshman album, “Gazing at the Moonlight” in October 2009.
Unfortunately Hopsin was never able to get on the same page as Ruthless, so in 2010 he decided to cut ties, and join his own label, Funk Volume. In November 2010, he released his sophomore album, RAW, and has not looked backed. In 2011 he headlined over 60 shows around the world, grew his Facebook page to over 140,000 fans, racked up millions of YouTube views, and earned a feature on Tech N9ne’s “All 6’s & 7’s” album with B.o.B.
Although she was born in South Africa, Jean Grae (real name Tsidi Ibrahim) will always be a New Yorker by heart. The daughter of two jazz musicians, Jean learned an appreciation for all genres of music at an early age. She attended the High School of Performing Arts as a vocal major and was later accepted to New York University as a Music Business major. Disenchanted by the classroom settings, Jean decided early on that she was more of a hands-on learner.
The New York-bred rapper Jean Grae has been spinning heads for the past 10 years or so. What makes Grae stand out from the pack is her combination of humor and seriousness. Whether poking fun at herself on “Going Crazy” or rhyming about loyalty and dedication on “My Crew,” J.G. does it all with a touch of excellence.
Danny is an unconventional hip hop artist employing multiple flows and cadences thus the moniker of “The Hybrid”. His style varies from low pitched gravelly tones to a manic, high pitched, squawk.
His lyrics, often dealing with the truth of living in Detroit; poverty, drug abuse, desperate circumstances, etc and his own experiences in the motor city, from selling drugs to underground parties in Detroit’s rave scene juxtaposing those topics with a humorous narrative told ferociously over avant-garde production choices.
He originates from the Magnolia Projects in New Orleans, Louisiana. He produced the first track, “Queens Get the Money”, on the 2008 Nas album “Untitled”. The unconventional nature of much of his music, and the lack of conventional release methods for that music, has since 2007 made him the object of much attention. He was perhaps best known for the piece of music Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge), until the release of the Just Blaze-produced track “Exhibit C” in late 2009. Announced Friday, November 12, 2010, Jay is an official member of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
Coming straight out of Flushing, Queens, NYC, Action Bronson personifies the golden era of East Coast, New York hip hop., when intricate lyrics flowed off the tongue over head nod inducing drums.
Growing up, Action Bronson began cooking at his father’s restaurant as a youngster and developed a deep passion for culinary expression. As talented a rapper as he is a cook, he still claims to be “A chef first — I just happen to rap.”
Azealia Banks is a 20-year-old Harlem rapper and hip-hop�s most talked-about new sensation. She has been at the centre of an intense industry buzz ever since the release of her first recording, “Seventeen”, four years ago.
Since her first steps as a child in off-broadway theatre productions to her training at La Guardia High School of Performing Arts -a breeding ground for stars- she’s been steadily perfecting her craft and making a name for herself.
Los Angeles resident Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, is a producer of electronic music and hip-hop beats, known for his abstract and sometimes jazz-tinted style. Flying Lotus, often abbreviated to FlyLo, is the founder and leader of the Brainfeeder collective, which includes such artists as Samiyam, Teebs and Daedelus. He is also often seen as being at the forefront of the new wave of beatmakers and musicians who fuse IDM and electronica with hip-hop and trip-hop.
Shabazz Palaces are percussionist Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler, formerly of Digable Planets and Cherrywine. Working now under the moniker Palaceer Lazaro, Ishmael provides the group�s vision and vocals, while Tendai employs ancient instruments from his homeland Zimbabwe.
After releasing several recordings themselves on small time labels, in 2010 they contracted to release an ep with Sub Pop and have collaborated in recordings and on stage with artists such as mc Silk, and THEESatisfaction. They deliver sincere and radical lyrics with sounds and beats that include sounds from around the world. Containing echos of funk, minor-key jazz, London dubstep and mbira sounds they structure their songs outside the 16-bars/chorus/repeat form of much hip hop.Their music won them the first ever Music Genius award from The Stranger in 2010.
The group which also features mixing engineer Erik Blood, often dress in elaborate costumes and masks for their live performances.
Few recent rappers have gone from 0 to 60 faster than Chief Keef. In just a few months, the Chicago teenager has elevated his game from just another Youtube rapper to one of hip hop’s most buzzed about up and comers, with heavyweights like Kanye and Birdman knocking down his door.
Aesop Rock is a hip hop artist and producer. He was at the forefront of the new wave of underground and alternative hip hop acts that emerged during the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is signed to El-P’s Definitive Jux label and is a current member of The Weathermen. Regarding his name, he said: “I acquired the name Aesop from a movie I had acted in with some friends. It was my character’s name and it sort of stuck. The rock part came later just from throwing it in rhymes.”
Aesop’s style blends a varying tone with lyrics that contain intricate sequences of widely varying images metaphors puns absurdism, and pop references culture while including occasional touchstones of traditional hip hop storytelling and self-promotion as a result of this unorthodox style, Aesop has become a controversial rapper among hip hop enthusiasts.
CunninLynguists are a hip hop trio from Lexington, Kentucky and Atlanta, Georgia. The group currently consists of Deacon the Villain, Kno, and Natti. The name is a portmanteau of the words cunning and linguist, and is also a play on the word cunnilingus.
There has never been an anomaly in hip-hop quite like the southern trio CunninLynguists. Sampling genres from psych-rock to blues, New Romantic to polka, they have been musically compared to UGK and Atmosphere in the same breath. They have toured and shared stages with Kanye West and Aesop Rock to equal success.
Before the world ever heard the name ELZHI, the young artist was sitting in the back of classrooms thinking of rhymes, spitting verses while his friend Fes banged out beats on lunchroom tables, or was battling rival emcees on the blacktop after school. He sharpened every blade in his arsenal, developing his style to measure up against the competition in Maurice Malone’s Hip Hop Shop, the legendary proving ground for Detroit artists that has produced some of the greatest emcees in the world.
ELZHI spent years paying dues, writing songs, entering battles, and recording demos until he finally made his international debut on “Come and Get It,” a standout track from J Dilla’s album, Welcome 2 Detroit. The acclaimed song drew massive attention to the mysterious artist, and made his unfinished EP, Out of Focus, a highly sought after recording.
An uprising of rappers against the watered down and predictable state of hip-hop took hold in the early twenty-first century, as artists such as Killer Mike set out to bring the genre back to its roots. Render was turned onto rap at an early age by his mother, who exposed her son to early groundbreaking artists. By the time Render heard Run-DMC’s ‘Rock Box’ at the tender age of nine, he instantly knew that he wanted to become a MC himself, and began partaking in local freestyling competitions with rival rappers.
Amethyst Amelia Kelly also known as Iggy Azalea, an Urban Blond Bombshell , model, song writer, and upcoming Rapstress of Grand Hustle.
Iggy Azalea (Amethyst Amelia Kelly), first began her lyrical journey at the age of 14 but was in-tuned with rap since the tender age of 11, when she first heard “Baby Dont Cry”.
In 2011, Iggy Azalea began uploading a number of freestyle videos on YouTube that subsequently went viral. Her popularity began to flourish into a career when her first official music video, Pu$$y, was uploaded on her channel.
Psalm One is a Chicago-born musician signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment. A former Chemist, she has been making music the right way since 2002. She’s been writing since she could hold a utensil. Boasting a prideful, soulful and vulnerable style, she takes a multi-faceted, ultra-cultural approach to songwriting.
Critically claimed, criminally slept on and superbly talented, Psalm is a legend in the making. Heralded by some, intimidating to others, incredible to hug. Rhymesayers Entertainment showed remarkable taste and intelligence and signed her to a multi-album deal in 2006.
Ra The Rugged Man
Few artists are ever as controversial as they are influential. New York legend R.A. the Rugged Man has lived up to such a moniker by simultaneously inspiring generations of rappers while being banned from every major record label’s offices and even barred from performing during the late-90s underground explosion. But by combining the authenticity of his undeniably rugged life with his undisputed mic skills and understanding of the genre as a Hip-Hop historian, his music has both survived and thrived off the strength of bootlegs and word of mouth through high profile collaborations and high quality official releases, setting a standard for “Real MCs” that few have ever attempted to match.
Soul Khan’s distinctive booming voice and personality break the stereotypical mold of an MC. He started rapping during his junior high school years and dabbled in the underground rap battles. It wasn’t until November 2008 when Soul Khan started taking his rap career seriously. He moved to
Brooklyn, NY, got a job at the world renowned Fat Beats and formed the underground hip hop collective Brown Bag Allstars with his co-workers.
From 2008 to 2010, Soul Khan amassed a large fan following as he quickly become one of the best battle rappers in the battle league circuits. His battles have amassed a cumulative total of over 6 million combined views on YouTube. During late 2010, Soul Khan retired from battling and focused all his energy on making music.
One Be Lo
There are many poets, and far too many rappers, but the mastery of One Be Lo’s wordplay, metaphors, story telling skills, and socially concious lyrics place him in a league above the rest. His ability to translate life experience into music, passion into performance, allows One Be Lo to command attention both on record and stage.
Born just North of Detroit Michigan, Raland Scruggs aka One Man Army would grow up in Pontiac where the once almighty General Motors Corporation would begin to shut down factories that employed thousands, leaving many jobless, and the city wounded. These blue collar origins, would teach him the meaning of hard work, and the impact of Motown in his home would unknowingly plant the seeds for a future artist.
Crooked I is currently CEO of his own record labels, Dynasty Entertainment and C.O.B. Digital, as well as Senior Vice President of Treacherous Records. Before starting his own label, he was also signed to Virgin Records and Death Row Records. The name ‘Crooked I’ comes from a shortened version of his original moniker, Crooked Intriago. He is part of the supergroup Slaughterhouse (with Joe Budden, Royce da 5’9″ & Joell Ortiz), and is currently regarded as the best rapper on the west coast, after rising to hip-hop prominence with his freestyle series ‘Hip-Hop Weekly’, which he released a new freestyle over popular industry beats every week for 52 weeks.
Jedi Mind Tricks
For more than fifteen years, the name Jedi Mind Tricks has become synonymous with raw, gritty underground hip-hop. From their debut album, The Psycho-social, in 1996 to their seminal sophomore release, Violent By Design, to their musical expansion heard on Servants and Heaven, Kings in Hell, JMT has made an indelible impression on the independent music scene while arguably forging its own subgenre of rap. Led by the fiery vocals of controversial frontman, Vinnie Paz, and his venerable rhyme partner, Jus Allah, the group has built one of the most critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful careers in independent music.
Though JMT rarely appears on Billboard charts, their success is most accurately measured in the passion and respect of their growing legions of hardcore fans who have packed JMT shows around the world from Boston to Bogota to Bucharest. JMT’s music is defiant and their longevity is a testament to their blue-collar work ethic born from the bloodlines of their hometown, Philadelphia.
From the heat of Spanish Harlem, to the spitfire of “Chill-town” known as Jersey City, New Jersey, at an early age hip-hop artist Joe Budden answered the call of his artistic destiny. This gifted wordsmith seemed to transition effortlessly from street ciphers, rap battles and local shows where he would rip the mic regularly, to the promising position of down to earth rap superstar. Using page and pen as his sounding boards, Joe used his gift of lyricism as therapy to push through the tough times. As a result of honing of his craft, he soon infiltrated the ears of many, and his ability started commanding the attention, recognition and studio time from various industry movers and shakers like DJ Cutmaster C, DJ Clue, DJ Kay Slay and super producer Dub-B (aka White Boy).
El-Producto or El-P is an underground hip-hop producer & rapper from New York City.
As a member of Company Flow, he honed his production skills alongside DJ Mr. Len and Bigg Jus. His unique style helped Company Flow gain critical, then popular success, culminating in 1997 with Funcrusher Plus. Eventual differences between the group & label Rawkus, lead to El-P & Len leaving the label in 2000.
El-P then decided to start his own record label, Definitive Jux.
When Substantial was recording his debut album, …To This Union a Sun Was Born, he was driven by adversity. The Maryland native was struggling to balance school with a budding music career, was homeless at times and still reeling from having buried more than ten friends and family members.
The resulting album-produced by Nujabes and Monorisick of Hyde Out Productions and released in October, 2001-earned Substantial international critical acclaim and a particularly devoted following in Japan, where it was recorded and distributed. …To This Union was a top ten seller for two months at Virgin Megastores in Tokyo, Japan, and outsold artists such as Ja Rule, Jermaine Dupri, Faith Evans and Angie Stone in November. The album was dedicated to his late father and niece.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas (Southside) and killing with some of the illest bars in the rap game. He�s better known as Killa Kyleon.
Receiving his name Kyleon from Houston underground legend Big Pokey and being a product of the legendary Houston collective Screwed Up Click, headed by DJ Screw. He began his career at a young age, building his name in the Houston underground rap scene.
Coming up in the South Park, Houston neighborhood of Herschelwood, Lil Keke’s (born Marcus Lakee Edwards) first rise to notoriety came when he joined forces with DJ Screw and became an original member of of a loosely organized Houston-based rap collective known as the Screwed Up Click, Lil’ Keke quickly proved himself to be one of the collective’s strongest artists, strongly aligning himself with the city’s underground rap don DJ Screw. By not only appearing on countless “Screwed” DJ mixes but also a seemingly endless number of other albums to come out of the South, Keke also became one of Houston’s most visible rappers, releasing solo albums for Jam Down Records. His debut album, Don’t Mess Wit Texas (1997), affirmed his talent as a rapper, proving that he could hold down an album’s worth of tracks.
Brotha Lynch Hung
Hip-hop ambitions are often described in terms of “hunger”, but no known MC has an appetite quite like Brotha Lynch Hung. This is not simply the peckishness of a seasoned artist still making music while his former contemporaries have long passed their sell-by date. This is the ravenous hunger of Mannibalector, Brotha Lynch Hung”s flesh-chomping, gore-streaked altered ego and the antagonistic protagonist at the dark heart of Coathanga Strangla.
Brotha Lynch Hung (born Kevin Mann) is an MC and producer from Sacramento, CA who began rapping at 13. Lynch Hung’s lyrics are notorious for featuring highly explicit themes, including murder, rape and cannibalism. Lynch Hung debuted with the 1993 album 24 Deep, which featured stories of the struggles involved with being affiliated with a local street gang in Sacramento’s “Garden Blocc.”
Brotha Lynch Hung has been described as the creator of the “horrorcore rap genre”, and has sold 1.4 million cds independently. His rapping style has been described as smooth and quickly delivered.
Del the Funky Homosapien
Hailing from Oakland, California comes Del the Funky Homosapien no doubt a true innovator and legend in the world of underground Hip-hop. Del got his start rapping behind his cousin, Ice Cube, as a member of his back-up band and crew. After parting ways, Del ventured out as a solo artist, making music that immediately gained attention. Del’s music offered a fresh new outlook on an otherwise gangsta rap controlled California Hip-Hop scene
Del has successfully released quality, critically acclaimed material for over 10 years. There seems to be no stopping him and as history has shown. Del’s lyrics and wordplay are the Midas touch to his wonderful taste in production. Del the Funky Homosapien has grown from the 17 year-old protege of Ice Cube, to a crafted artist, whose hypnotic voice has transcended the norm, taking underground Hip-Hop to an even deeper level.
Francis has never been afraid to provoke. As a result he is a sometimes polarizing and increasingly important figure in modern music. Adored by many, reviled by a few but never ignored and always essential, Sage Francis has emerged as the reigning agent provocateur of hip hop.
Sage made a reputation for himself by consistently winning poetry slams and freestyling competitions, and has built something of a cult following. His style is always personal and often highly political, but refreshingly free of preachiness.
He’s won a string of distinguished battles, though he’s far from just a battle rapper. He’s garnered a rep for his signature, rapid-fire delivery, yet he’s considerably more than just a fast rapper. He sings and produces-though not quite a singer nor producer-and is the founder of QN5 Music, though you wouldn’t just call him a label head. He’s the artist you can’t quite categorize.
Combining beauty, talent and artistic innovation, Tonedeff shatters the mold of conventional hip-hop, bringing it to levels that others only speak of. Influenced by a diverse range of artists – Common, Fresh Prince, Enya, Tori Amos and Bjork, for example-his own style is reflective of such, a melting pot of styles and sounds. Following the QN5 mantra of “the New Hip-Hop,” the multi-talented artist breathes new life into a dwindling art form, taking the reigns in the pursuit of new ideals as the originator, the new standard, the archetype.
Rapper Brother Ali spent much of his life living in various cities in the upper Midwest, starting in Madison, WI, then moving to Michigan as a young child, where he was first introduced to breakdancing and graffiti and rapping, and finally settling in northern Minneapolis with his family when he was 15. Eventually, his demo tape, Rites of Passage, made it into the hands of the still-young Rhymesayers crew, who signed the MC and brought him along with them to the 2000 Scribble Jam, at which Ali was a finalist.
In an age of hip-hop where the paradigm of swag over substance reigns supreme, few emcees are willing to use their platform to tackle the hot-button topics and pressing social maladies of our time – but it�s apparent that Minneapolis-based hip-hop artist Brother Ali is one of those few.
If you don’t know who Chris Webby is, well than it’s time to get familiar with the 23 year-old , Norwalk, Connecticut native who has been selling out shows across the country for the past couple of years. Webby, who helped usher in a new school Hip-Hop movement and mentality several years ago, has been steadily building upon the grassroots foundation he created while simultaneously honing his skills. Having worked with artists like: Freeway, Mac Miller, Joell Ortiz, Big K.R.I.T., and more, Webby has shown and proven his worth time and time again.