The rap game is always evolving. It seems like every day there's something else on people's radar. New trends catch on just as old ones are fading away. A rapper who was once at the top of the game can find themselves unceremoniously thrown to the wolves. In short: it can be rough out there.
The one bright spot in this vicious cycle is that there's always new talent on the horizon. Some come up after years of hard work, while others go viral in what seems like an instant. What remains clear is that with so much young blood, the rap game is in no danger of dying out. Complex scoured the dark depths of the Internet to pick out 25 rappers on the ascent. We think the artists in this group have what it takes to break through the noise, and maybe even make it big in the process. While we certainly don't think all of them will end up becoming huge stars, we do think there's a place for them somewhere in hip-hop's ever expanding stratosphere.
Watch the throne, because here are the 25 New Rappers to Watch Out For In 2014.
Written by Angel Diaz (@ADiaz456), Justin Charity (@BrotherNumpsa), Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin), Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia), Edwin Ortiz (@iTunesEra), Jacob Moore (@PigsAndPlans), Chris Mench (@chris_mench), and Alex Siber (@Alex_Siber)
From: Saint Paul, MN
Essential listening: Future Memoirs
Pros: He's backed by Plain Pat—the man behind Kid Cudi—and also a skilled producer.
Cons: His eccentricities might tie him to a small niche.
Not one to follow trends, Allan Kingdom has made some serious noise in 2014 for a kid from St. Paul, Minnesota. The latest Plain Pat protégé has already proven himself worthy of the co-sign, carefully crafting a unique sound he began building years ago on his latest project, Future Memoirs.
The 12-track EP continues Kingdom’s exploration of alternative hip-hop. His vocal quirks and cluttered, heavily reverbed beats shine, from the strange but catchy hook on “Evergreens”, which expresses Allan’s affinity for the freedoms of the forest, to the sleek, spacious “Wavey,” featuring budding Internet sensation Spooky Black. His flows are weirdly syncopated, his subject matter shows no limits, and he has a formidable team behind him. —Alex Siber
From: San Jose, CA
Essential listening: Heavy Hearted in Doldrums
Pros: Has some indie rap credibility, specializes in sex raps, has an eclectic range of influences.
Cons: His style is still too rough around the edges and may be inaccessible to the average listener thanks to his affinity for trill wave and cloud rap.
Antwon has been kicking around in the underground for a while now and he’s slid mostly under the radar for casual rap fans, choosing instead to explore his passions with like-minded artists such as Kitty and Lakutis. While he’s mostly been confined to followers of the ethereal cloud rap/trillwave genre thus far, his latest album Heavy Hearted in Doldrums makes a case for his music to reach a wider audience as his sound starts to come into focus. Plus, at the very least, if gross out sex raps (a la Danny Brown's cunnilingus anthem "I Will") is your kinda thing, you're definitely in luck thanks to Antwon. —Chris Mench
From: Nanuet, NY
Essential listening: Strictly Flowz
Pros: He's a backpacker whose beats aren't too crunchy for his own good, and has both MF Doom and Nas in his corner.
Cons: He's anti-trap, essentially.
2014 is rough terrain for artists (and fans) rooted in ‘90's hip-hop sound and sensibilities. Bishop Nehru, however, is a young New York rapper who’s managed to blend MF DOOM’s mentorship and his own Method Man cadence with a youthful vulnerability that’s rather en vogue in this era of Drake and Kendrick, Gambino and Chance.
Nehru and DOOM’s upcoming joint project, NehruvianDOOM, is Nehru’s first major release and an early bellwether of boom-bap’s vitality in NYC despite A$AP Mob and French Montana’s street rap dominance and Bobby Shmurda’s current ownership of the zeitgeist. Nas even went so far as to call Nehru "the future of music" though that probably has a lot to do with the fact he signed him to Mass Appeal Records. Still, we're hoping to see Nehru's profile grow to its rightful New York proportions in the near future. —Justin Charity
From: Brooklyn, NY
Twitter Handle: @BobbyShmurdaGS9
Essential Listening: Shmoney Shmurda
Pros: He's bringing drill to the streets of New York.
Cons: His Shmoney Dance risks turning him into a gimmick
Brooklyn’s Bobby Shmurda has taken the Internet by storm recently. His song "Hot N****" has morphed into the street rap anthem of the year and the video racked up over a million YouTube views. Not to mention his trademark “Shmoney Dance” has been seen everywhere from Vine to Jay Z and Beyonce’s “On The Run” tour.
Bobby’s halting delivery and street-inspired lyrics have many calling him New York’s answer to Chicago Drill music. His GS9 crew recently dropped their Shmoney Shmurda mixtape, delivering on the buzz their viral hits generated—though it shouldn't be considered a Bobby Shmurda project as he's notably absent from most songs. He's already been able to turn his buzz into co-signs from guys like Raekwon and Meek Mill and a major label deal with Epic Records thanks to Sha Money. But despite having more buzz than any other rapper on this list, the pressure is on as Bobby needs to shake off the one-hit wonder tag in a hurry by dropping another hot song and a quality project. —Chris Mench
From: South Central, CA
Essential listening: N/A
Pros: A lyrically-inclined MC hand-picked by J. Cole as the new face of the Dreamville roster, has a powerful voice.
Cons: With just a handful of songs released, he's still an unproven talent.
Rappers getting signed to a major deal off one record isn’t a new trend. But unlike most who do, Cozz is in prime position to maximize his full potential. For one, the 20-year-old rapper from South Central has an unmistakable knack for lyricism, which shines through on “Dreams,” the song that brokered his record deal. Cozz illustrates his grind state of mind throughout, piecing together a visceral picture that feels so pure.
A similar narrative can be found on “Knock the Hustle,” a record that delivers boom bap throwback appeal without sounding dated. Just as imperative to Cozz’s eventual rise is his new home, J. Cole’s Dreamville Records, which operates under Interscope. He’s got the skills and the machine behind him, which means he'll have no excuses when he drops his debut album, Cozz & Effect, later this year. —Edwin Ortiz
From: Atlanta, GA
Essential listening: Hello World
Pros: His skill set and background could lead to some very interesting things.
Cons: He'll probably never make a club hit.
There is no longer such a thing as a “typical” rapper. From Drake to RiFF RAFF to Childish Gambino, we've seen and heard it all. Still, Daye Jack is a unique case. He was born in Nigeria, grew up in Atlanta, and now he studies computer science at NYU. He's 18-years-old. He listens to James Blake and the title of his first mixtape, Hello World, was inspired by a computer program.
Being different can be a good thing, though. While ATL continues to spawn trap rappers who hop on the latest trends, Daye Jack has no trouble standing out. His ability to combine complex song structures, vocal melodies, and soulful production gives his music a weight that so many of the artists making the club bangers of the month will never achieve. Will it ever catch on in a major way? That's still to be determined, but weirder shit has happened.—Jacob Moore
From: Miami, FL
Essential listening: Nostalgic 64
Pros: Pure spitter, excellent live performer, already has cult following.
Cons: Lacks an easily accessible break-out song.
Okay fine, we totally slept on Denzel Curry and his excellent Nostalgic 64 project last year. In retrospect, it was one of the stronger projects of 2013, filled with genuine anger and angst about the perils of society (Curry went to the same high school as Trayvon Martin) and a surprising maturity urging for responsibility rather than giving in to nihilism.
Curry was originally in the Raider Klan (he left last year to start his own crew, C9) and like the Raiders, he’s used ‘90s rap influences to mold his style through his first three mixtapes. But on Nostalgic 64 his style began to crystallize. What makes it even better is Denzel’s a rapper’s rapper, just listen to how his flow weaves through Deniro Farrar's “Bow Down” when he rhymes, “From the planet of the nectar on the sea and the isles/Wanna see an angel dead? Let's walk a few miles/With a sword, halo, and a crown so round.” Oh, and if you ever get a chance to catch him live, get ready to mosh. —Insanul Ahmed
From: Virginia Beach, VA
Essential listening: N/A
Pros: He doesn't need gimmicks to make compelling music.
Cons: A lot of people like gimmicks.
Virginia Beach rapper DP has tracks on SoundCloud that go back two years, but in April of 2014 he released “Jabar,” a song that reached a larger audience than any of his previous work and served as a powerful introduction for many. Like fellow VA representative Pusha T, DP raps like he's disgusted with the world. It's raw, visceral, no bullshit-type rap, and it's proof that even in today's hip-hop environment of rapper/singers and experimental genre-melding, there is little as effective as a dude who spits like he's got something to prove.
Since “Jabar,” DP has put out two other songs, the vivid "Glass Casket" and creeping "Glitch," and he's shown that along with his unfiltered intensity, he's got intelligence and personality that could set him apart from the thousands of other rappers who rap well. His first mixtape, Designer Casket, is on the way. —Jacob Moore
From: Chicago, IL
Essential listening: Schizo
Pros: She's a talented lyricist with fiery delivery.
Cons: She needs to match the hype of “Chiraq” with a song of her own.
In a long line of remixes to Nicki Minaj’s “Chiraq,” there was perhaps none better than Dreezy’s. The Chicago rapstress snapped on the track, throwing lyrical bombs left and right, and attracting Internet buzz in the process. Of course, while “Chiraq” put her on the map, Dreezy is much more than a one-trick pony. Her mixtape Schizo, released earlier this year, finds her spitting over everything from piano-driven ballads to trap beats. She delivers both hard-hitting verses and airy choruses, displaying an impressive versatility throughout. “Chiraq” may be her calling card, but a solid skillset proves that this Windy City rhymer is one to watch. —Chris Mench
From: Washington, D.C.
Twitter Handle: @GoldLink
Essential Listening: The God Complex
Pros: He's blurring the lines between rap and dance music.
Cons: The masses may struggle to accept his unique style.
GoldLink’s come up has been as fast as it was surprising. With only a handful of songs on his SoundCloud page, he dropped his debut mixtape The God Complex earlier this year to much critical praise. The project combines a myriad influences from house, soul, and classic hip-hop, combining it into a sound he refers to as “Future Bounce.” Much of it would sound at home on an Azealia Banks record, but without her muffled delivery.
Instead, his articulate, double-time flow fits the beats perfectly, playing equally well over the pulsating dance rhythms of “Planet Paradise” or the eerie echoes of “When I Die.” The whole mixtape clocks in at under a half hour, but it’s a whirlwind of house beats and spitfire raps. In 2014’s wide-ranging rap game, GoldLink is offering a product that doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. —Chris Mench
From: Toronto, ON
Essential listening: In God We Trust
Pros: Capitalizing on a distinct sound that is so not Toronto.
Cons: Like every artist from Toronto, he lives in Drake's shadow.
Earlier this year, Jimmy Johnson’s single “Pray” popped up on Drake’s personal blog, October’s Very Own. The Internet naturally jumped to conclusions, assuming that Drake had signed this fellow Toronto rapper, who before then had very little profile. Four months later, and Jimmy Johnson is still not OVO. However, that hasn’t stopped the 21-year-old from becoming one of the more talked about new figures in rap.
His debut EP, In God We Trust, arrived in April and solidified his presence, marking a distinct sound which matched Johnson’s views from the six with stellar chopped and screwed backdrops from his producer Eric Dingus. Johnson has continued to produce notable cuts like “Northside” and “Perfect,” which probably sound even better on certain purple substance. Whether the official OVO stamp of approval comes for Jimmy Johnson is beside the point. He’s become a rapper to watch for, and his notoriety will only continue to build if he locks in a radio hit. —Edwin Ortiz
From: Atlanta, GA
Essential listening: In Due Time
Pros: He's making radio-friendly songs, already has a chart hit with "Cut Her Off."
Cons: His lyricism leaves something to be desired, can quickly become another one-hit wonder out of Atlanta.
After achieving some regional success in Atlanta, K Camp broke out this year off the success of his song “Money Baby" which became a viral hit that translated into real-world success. He followed that up with the smash "Cut Her Off" with 2 Chainz which peaked at No. 49 on Billboard and proved that the Atlanta rapper’s sing-song verses and ear for catchy hooks was a potent potion for hits. His rising popularity led to a major label deal with Interscope earlier this year.
And yet, despite the fact K Camp has two videos on his YouTube page that have over 10 million plays and three more with over a million, he's hardly made a dent as an artist. He'll either need to keep banging out hits until we can't ignore him or produce a full length project that'll make people see him as a legit star the way other Atlanta artists like Future and Young Thug were able to do in recent years. Otherwise, he'll end up like Que or Trinidad James. —Chris Mench
From: Atlanta, GA
Essential listening: Like A Mexican
Pros: He's able to make catchy songs over knocking beats, uses Mexican heritage to his advantage.
Cons: Needs to improve lyrically, might be too comical to be taken seriously.
Kap-G is amassing a bit of a following because Latinos down South have someone to rally around. Kap interjects his Mexican heritage into trap raps that give his songs a personal feel. Songs like “Jose Got Them Tacos,” “Eddie Guerrero,” and “Working Like A Mexican” feature underrated rhymes and their accompanying videos have imagery that poke fun at longheld stereotypes.
Earlier this year he dropped Like A Mexican which boasted features from Young Jeezy and Fabolous and production from Bangledesh, Drumma Boy, and Pharrell. Now he has to turn that into radio play. His songs have some bounce to them and when that beat drops you'll start screaming: “Nacho, nacho, extra queso/We stacking 'em like Legos.” —Angel Diaz
From: Islington, England
Essential listening: E.D.G.E.
Pros: Juggernaut flow.
Cons: Americans rarely warm to even the dopest U.K. rappers.
She’s 20, she’s British, and already she’s toured with ScHoolboy Q and performed at SXSW. She’s won a co-sign from Snoop and studio time with Dizzie Rascal. With the release of her strongest project yet, E.D.G.E., which featured lowkey gems like “Devour,” “Mandarin Oranges 1 & 2,” and “The Hamptons,” 2014 may well be Little Simz’s breakout year.
Her BBC Radio 1 debut in February was divine, with live studio bass and drums that’ll have you dreaming of the padawan Simz trading bars with master Black Thought. Her “Fire In the Booth” freestyle is that 8 Mile flow, born 3,500 miles across the Atlantic. On E.D.G.E., and in general, she flits with ease between grime and trip-hop influences, with a taste for beats that’s profitably compatible with the present American hip-hop soundscape. Imagine Simz working with T.D.E., Chance The Rapper, Danny Brown, and Gambino. Now make it so. —Justin Charity
From: Boston, MA
Essential listening: Is This Art?
Pros: His comedic personality all but assures crossing over into movies and TV—or at the very least, becoming an Action Bronson like cult figure.
Cons: He needs to find his own sound.
Michael Christmas is equal parts rapper and comedian, poking fun at the quirks and awkward realities that define everyday life. He never hesitates to pinpoint small but significant behaviors—messily gorging on a Hot Pocket, wistfully recalling Pokemon games, and taking unfulfilling showers. Rather than having that become embarrassing, it comes across as endearing.
The 20-year-old’s rise began last summer, when the video for "Daily"—a song that humorously documents a day in the life of a Boston teen—raised his profile. The February release of Is This Art?, his first official mixtape, proved the jovial rapper capable of holding down an entire project. Michael Christmas might think he’s Michael Cera, but we think the multi-talent is likely to lead his own lane. Stay tuned to your TV and radio—you might just find him all over both soon enough. —Alex Siber
From: Chicago, IL
Essential listening: Truths and Trees
Pros: He's bringing balance to the Chicago rap scene.
Cons: Can be a bit preachy.
Hailing from the Windy City, Mick Jenkins is coming with a more “traditional” sound. He comes off preachy at times but it's not unbearable. His lyrics are smart and have a message. Mick effortlessly weaves through pro black raps to braggadocious metaphors over jazzy beats. More Common than Chief Keef, Mick is here to help balance things out. His Truth and Trees mixtape have some special tracks on there that touch on the struggle of being black in America. But don't sleep, Mick can go bar for bar with the best of 'em. —Angel Diaz
Age: "20 somethin’" (or so he says)
From: Atlanta, GA
Essential listening: The Blue M&M
Pros: He can make bangers better than most of the competition.
Cons: He has yet to deviate from his one-dimensional material, sounds too much like Young Thug.
PeeWee Longway notably showcased his blistering flow alongside fellow Atlanta artist Young Thug in the firearms-filled video for “Loaded.” Standing beside the most animated rapper in the game right now, Longway never loses his presence—hell, his ad-lib at the 1:09 mark nearly steals the show.
Nothing about PeeWee is small aside from his stature. His towering swagger and deep drawl make for one of the more identifiable voices in hip-hop, compensating for his lyrical lackings with intensity and grit. On the back of several high profile collaborations with Rome Fortune and Migos, Longway released his anticipated project, The Blue M&M, back in May.
Between “That Boy Right There”’s inescapable catchiness and successful stabs at carrying a melody on “Energy Kit,” the free tape all but cemented the 1017 Brick Squad signee as a viable star in the making. Armed with a steady flow of Zaytoven and Metro Boomin-produced bangers and cosigns from A$AP Rocky and Thugger, among others, PeeWee’s can sneak up on listeners as they get familiar with Young Thug. —Alex Siber
From: New Orleans, LA
Essential listening: Floating While Dreaming
Pros: Bringing “dream rap” to the forefront.
Cons: His unique style may scare off true hip-hop heads.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: X-rapper doesn’t sound like he comes from Y-city. But there’s really no better way to explain 21-year-old rapper Pell. Think for a second what style of rap resonates with New Orleans. Pell gives you the exact opposite in his music, punctuated by his latest project, Floating While Dreaming.
Records like “Dollar Store” and “Runaway” are a great place to experience this difference. Pell hits listeners with layered melodies and focused rapping about his unique story of growing up in NOLA. His style has been described as “dream rap,” and that label certainly fits. He even flexes his vocal chops from time to time, though he does sound eerily similar to Chance The Rapper. Which, unfortunately for Pell, makes him sound a little less intriguing. Still, he's making good music. That should be evident no matter where Pell comes from. —Edwin Ortiz
From: Atlanta, GA
Twitter Handle: @Raury
Essential Listening: N/A
Pros: His alternative sound has the potential to push the boundaries of rap.
Cons: He only has three songs out, meaning the hype could still be a fluke.
With only three songs to his name, Raury has managed to attract quite a following. The teenage artist, born in suburban Atlanta, has little regard for the conventions of rap music. His alternative sound combines singing, rapping, and acoustic guitar which often feels like miles away from the Atlanta’s hip-hop scene.
"God’s Whisper" incorporates tribal-esque drums and an echoing chorus, giving it an inexplicable feeling of vastness, as if the whole song was recorded outside around a campfire. Even his tour defied convention. Dubbing it the “Anti-Tour,” he played impromptu, guerilla shows to crowds exiting the concerts of some of his favorite artists, including Childish Gambino and Tyler, the Creator. But he's getting a big look by opening for OutKast for their first Atlanta reunion show. Raury's debut project Indigo Child is due later this year, giving the 18-year-old the chance to deliver on a truly unique sense of promise, and perhaps expand the boundaries of rap music in the process. —Chris Mench
From: Hackensack, New Jersey
Essential listening: Polo Sporting Goods
Pros: Has a great ear for production, knows what he sounds good over.
Cons: He needs to diversify his subject matter.
After coming up as half of Hz Global (a group he formed with fellow Jersey rapper Da$h) and delivering a standout verse on Action Bronson’s "Flip Ya" off Blue Chips 2, RetcHy P made a name for himself with the release of last year’s Polo Sporting Goods. The beats, entirely produced by Jersey native Thelonious Martin, are dark and brooding as if they scored a noir film. RetcH plays on this vibe, spinning tales of “Parasail[ing] off the roof into the whip with the tints,” and other such James Bond-esque maneuvers, while his slow-burning raps come floating through the speakers like a haze of smoke. The result is a project filled with vivid crime stories over dirty samples, showing great creative promise for both producer and rapper. —Chris Mench
From: Washington, D.C.
Essential listening: Young Jefe
Pros: More distinct voice, songwriting, and melodies than DMV neighbor Fat Trel.
Cons: Adolescent trap is a competitive niche in 2014.
Wale aside, D.C. typically struggles to launch rap stars into national rotation, especially given the limited appeal of traditional D.C. hip-hop’s niche gogo influences. Shy Glizzy’s recent collaborations with Lil Durk on “Chiraq” and Lil Bibby on “Wassaname,” all while fellow D.C. native Fat Trel is settling in at MMG, suggest that trap and drill may well be the DMV’s saving grace.
We’ve previously billed Glizzy as “a midpoint between Meek Mill and Lil Wayne,” and Young Jefe only bolsters such comparisons. As grassroots trap flourishes beyond Atlanta and Chicago, Glizzy’s made his own mark with tracks like “Or Nah” and “Awwsome,” his first legit hits. Yet Young Jefe’s “Free the Gang” proves Glizzy’s moral dynamism with a somber bit of Bone Thugz harmony, and the narrative anti-romanticism of “Ungrateful” is nothing if not daring. He’s Young Thug, but intelligible. —Justin Charity
From: Memphis, TN
Essential listening: CMG Presents: Chapter One
Pros: His sing-song voice fits perfectly on the radio.
Cons: His lyrics can be corny, needs to raise his profile.
Snootie Wild hit it big this year with his Yo Gotti-assisted “Yayo.” Propelled by radio play and a number of unofficial remixes, the Memphis, Tennessee native’s debut single hit No. 19 on the Billboard Rap songs chart in April. He even signed a deal with Yo Gotti’s CMG label off the song’s success. The official remix, which featured Fabolous, French Montana, Jadakiss, and YG, also made its rounds on the radio and online.
Following up on this success, he registered several solid appearances on the CMG’s Chapter One mixtape, delivering on the melodic, post-Future sound that helped popularize “Yayo.” If he can deliver more of the same on his upcoming mixtape. Go Mode, he might be able to keep the hits coming. —Chris Mench
From: Chicago, IL
Essential listening: Winter's Diary 2
Pros: Fierce rapper, stunning singer, and has the ability to make cohesive projects that separate her talents.
Cons: She needs a hit record on her own, outside of any of her collaborations.
Chicago is home to an increasing number of new artists—within and outside of the “Drill” scene—including a handful of female artists like Sasha Go Hard, Katie Got Bandz, Dreezy, and Tink. But Tink is on to something different; with a handful of mixtapes under her belt, she’s able to balance her ability to spit some of the hardest verses coming out of the city, but flourishes as an R&B vocalist on projects like Winter’s Diary 2: Forever Yours.
She’s spent the last few years alternating between her two alter egos, but the soft-spoken, emotionally-charged artist finally has the music world’s attention, thanks in part to collaborations with Jeremih, Future Brown, and a major look from Timbaland. These days, she’s down in Miami working on her debut album, and has the potential to become a major star who mixes rapping and singing. —Lauren Nostro
Your Old Droog
From: Brooklyn, NY
Essential listening: Your Old Droog EP
Pros: He sounds exactly like Nas.
Cons: He sounds exactly like Nas.
No, Your Old Droog is not Nas. He's a Russian kid from Brooklyn. Regardless of his sonic doppelganger, Droog can spit—something he proved on his Your Old Droog EP which basically became talked about just because people suspected it was a secret Nas project. But those who actually took the time to listen to it could see a wordsmith starting to come into his own.
For now, Droog's image is shrouded in mystery; he only has nine tweets, there are barley any pictures of him online, and hardly anyone knows much about him. The secrecy actually highlights the music, which is refreshing. Listen to how he opens this track from 2013 (when he rapped under the moniker Imaginary Droog). He won’t be able to live in the shadows forever though; he recently announced he’ll be playing a show at the Studio in Webster Hall in New York City in September. We’ll see if he’s gained a real following or if people were just interested in the idea of an elaborate ruse by Nas. In the meantime, stop trying to play Internet detective and just enjoy this New York rap renaissance. —Angel Diaz
From: Detroit, MI
Essential listening: HELP
Pros: Unique, off beat delivery that shuns comparisons, has Danny Brown in his corner.
Cons: He's clearly still developing, isn't totally camera ready yet.
While Danny Brown was the first big success from his Detroit-based Bruiser Brigade crew, ZelooperZ is aiming to make sure he isn’t the only one. After making appearances on Danny’s “Kush Coma” with A$AP Rocky and various Bruiser Brigade songs, the Motor City MC released a free album HELP last month. Danny even predicted that the would do the same thing for ZelooperZ career that XXX did for his.
Aside from fellow members Brown and Dopehead, HELP is featureless, allowing ZelooperZ's punchy flow to take center stage. He makes a case for himself as a solo artist along the way, mixing tales of Detroit street life with party jams and hedonistic rhymes. The result isn’t always highly polished, but it shows promise for a rapper still coming into his own. —Chris Mench