Key Song: Macklemore "Thrift Shop"

Minneapolis-based rapper Slug and his group Atmosphere pioneered an independent grind that began in the late 1990s, becoming an inspiration to many underground rappers and thriving on their Rhymesayers label throughout the 2000s. The group was touring internationally by the early '00s, and major labels came calling after 2002's God Loves Ugly. Slug's lyrics were obliquely poetic, highly personal, and considerably more edgy than your typical radio rap fare. By 2008, though, the group's cult fanbase had grown significantly, and they were able to place their album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold at No. 5 on Billboard its opening week. When Macklemore emerged five years later, his rap style was considerably more mainstream-friendly; it's hard to imagine the Seattle rapper ending a story rap with a darkly comedic line about murdering cattle, as Slug did on "Nothing But Sunshine." But the similarity in their vocal styles is unavoidable. When Atmosphere tweeted out congratulations to Macklemore, the rapper tweeted back thanks for providing the blueprint for his business model. He didn't mention Slug's rap style, but he should have. —David Drake