Age: 27
Label: Bread Winners Association/Atlantic
From: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Active Since: 2006
Latest Release: The Luca Brasi Story
Recent Single: "Neon Lights"

Kevin Gates may be the least-known name on this list, but that shouldn't be true for long. Kevin Gates is from Baton Rouge, long a crucible for hip-hop, but one that remains largely off the map for most listeners (Give or take a Lil Boosie or Webbie single hitting the Hot 100.) Gates, like many of today's most successful rappers, thinks not just in terms of rhymes, but about songs—fleshed out material with changes and hooks.

But make no mistake, while he might make the local white girls go crazy, Gates can flat-out rap. Densely lyrical, with poetic turns of phrase, his impressionistic hood narratives have earned him a sort of "your favorite rapper's favorite rapper” status. Lil Wayne has repeatedly shouted him out and quoted him on Twitter, and Gates has popped up on standout records by the Coke Boys and Pusha T.

Thus far, he's unproven commercially, at least on a national level. But his latest mixtape, The Luca Brasi Story, has snowballed in critical acclaim since its release earlier this year, and from all indication, Gates is knocking on the door. —David Drake

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