15 Unsigned Rappers Who Should Get a Deal After SXSW

These are the MCs who the labels are chasing.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Sometimes, the rap industry feels like a game of speculation, and never more so than during the South by Southwest music festival.

Although coverage of label signings often seems to focus on artists who strike it big on a viral level—a million for Kreayshawn, two for Trinidad James, three for A$AP Rocky—those cases are often outliers, lucky shots in the dark. Being a talented artist doesn't guarantee anything; it's hustle and an engaged, invested group of loyal listeners that usually drive an artist's longterm success, whether that artist elects to take major label investment, or prefers to run independently.

Two of hip-hop's biggest current hitmakers are Future and producer Mike Will Made It. Both came up through a slow-and-steady grind, building a multitude of hits the old-fashioned way, and that's also how the artists we're highlighting here are approaching their respective ascents.

There are probably some rising rappers who you think should make this list that are noticeably absent. Some we suspect may already have deals. Others...well, maybe they're just not that great. Mark our words, these are the MCs who the labels are chasing: 15 Unsigned Rappers Who Should Get a Deal After SXSW.

RELATED: The 15 Most Underrated Rappers (Right Now)

Chance the Rapper

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Affiliations: Save Money
Previous Releases: #10Day
X-Factor: Thinks like a songwriter.
At SXSW?: Yes

Last year's #10Day tape was locally acclaimed. The tape came about when Chance was suspended for a weed-related offense from Jones College Prep in Chicago, the school he attended until last year. Some songs were written during his suspension, and many were recorded later on about it.

The release was consistent, but a few of the songs were a cut above. "Juke Juke" updated a familiar "Between the Sheets" sample and gave it some adventurous drum programming, while "Hey Ma" was a sincere "Dear Mama"-style maternal salute, initially produced by another artist on this list. Chance was already exhibiting some of the talent that has driven him to being one of hip-hop's most sought-after new artists. But his recent material—particularly songs "Juice" and "Acid Rain"—show the rapper's undeniable talent is just now beginning to mature.

His live shows are high-energy, he can sing and thinks about hooks and songwriting as much as rapping. And his rapping? Technically proficient, but purely as means to an end, and what's exciting about his career at this moment is that he is just now beginning to figure out what that end is.

Video That Sold Us: Chance the Rapper "Juice"


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Affiliations: HBK Gang
Previous Releases: T-Minus; 3, 2, 1...; Su The Right Thing; Young California; The Miseducation of IAMSU!; Stoopid with Jay Ant; Kilt; $uzy 6 $peed; Million Dollar Afro with Problem
X-Factor: Incredible producer; has verifiable hit song.
At SXSW?: Yes

Iamsu!'s initial exposure to the wider world didn't come under his own name. "Up!" was a major hit for Iamsu!'s associate LoveRance, hitting No. 2 on the U.S. Rap charts and even garnering a 50 Cent cameo.

Iamsu!'s production skills are his most obvious strength; a bounce-y, club-friendly production style that is pop-friendly, but also resolutely hip-hop. While many other artists of Iamsu!'s generation in hip-hop are retro-obsessed to a fault, his remakes of past-rap classics—say, "Summer Anthem" for fellow HBK Gang member Kool John—are full-on reinventions of the source material, transforming them into relevant, entertaining jams rather than bland textual rewrites.

It's also a lot of fun to hear rappers play around with his beats' tightly-wound rhythms. This is truly evident on Iamsu!'s latest project with rapper Problem, Million Dollar Afro, which shows that Iamsu!'s own rap style is becoming worthy of notice as well.

Video That Sold Us: Iamsu! "Mobbin'"

Fat Trel

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Affiliations: Slutty Boyz, Louie V. Mob
Previous Releases: Youngest Runnin' Da City Vol. 1; No Secrets; April Foolz; Nightmare on E St.
X-Factor: Street rap with a pop sensibility on even the hardest hooks.
At SXSW?: Yes

What makes Fat Trel's rap style so engaging is a contradiction. On the one hand, his large frame is matched by his barrelling delivery; his image complements his music. On the other, he's a deft rapper, a lyricist who, when he wants to, has a surprisingly dexterous style. On his best tracks, which often can take on a portentous weight, it's like watching him defy the laws of gravity.

Trel's built buzz in his local D.C. area for some time. For a moment, he was affiliated with Cinematic Music Group, the same crew that worked on the careers of Big K.R.I.T. and Joey Bada$$, among others. Lately, though, the rapper has found a collaborator who seems more congruent to his brand of street rap in Master P, who formed the Louie V Mob alongside Atlanta's Alley Boy and Trel.

To date, Fat Trel remains independent, collaborating, performing live, and growing his audience online, organically.

Video That Sold Us: Fat Trel "Respect With the Teck"

Young Scooter

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Affiliations: Freebandz, 1017 Brick Squad, Black Migo Gang
Previous Releases: Plug Talkin'; Finessin' and Flexin'; Married to the Streets; Voice of the Streetz; Plug Brothers with Cartel MGM; Street Lottery; Free Bricks II with Gucci Mane
X-Factor: A slick, distinctive delivery.
At SXSW?: Yes

He's been cosigned by two of Atlanta's biggest rap entities in Gucci Mane and Future. Associated with both rappers' crews, his recent tape with Gucci (Free Bricks II) served only to cement his growing status as the street rapper du jour in Atlanta.

His style of "count music" isn't exactly novel in street rap, but his hits are. The nearly-drumless "Columbia" is a major regional hit matched by his delivery's loose, untethered rhythmic approach, which gives his rapping an unruffled swagger. His lyrics are often a series of drug-dealing boasts that seem almost too outlandish to be believed. He's got the ambiguously audacious thing down pat.

Video That Sold Us: Young Scooter "Fake Rappers"

Young Thug

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Affiliations: Brick Squad
Previous Releases: I Came from Nothing 1, 2, and 3; 1017 Thug
X-Factor: No one else has such obvious influences, yet sounds so completely original.
At SXSW?: No evidence that he is.

It's hard to even introduce this kid without addressing the name, which is so generic there's no way it isn't intentional. Maybe he thought the way to be distinctive was by hiding in plain sight, or maybe it's a joke on his extremely unique rap style; either way, it gives you something to talk about.

He also carries himself like a star, with a lanky swagger and unusually tight-fitted clothing and facial piercings. His raps are full of street rhymes and oblique references to a possible drug dealing past (or present), but delivered in a brittle, apocalyptic sing-song, as if he took the extreme peak of drug-instilled Lil Wayne and used it as a baseline.

Oh yeah, and when he wants, he has hooks. Sometimes the experiments don't work, but when they do—check out "Nigeria" from his recent tape, recorded under the aegis of the Brick Squad—they hit another level.

Video That Sold Us: Ca$h Out f/ Young Thug "I Got It"

Chinx Drugz

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Affiliations: Coke Boys
Previous Releases: Hurry Up and Die: Get Ya Casket On; From the Cage to the Stage (Hurry Up & Die 2); Hurry Up & Die Vol. 3; Flight 2011; Cocaine Riot; Cocaine Riot 2; Assorted Coke Boys and French Montana tapes
X-Factor: New Yorker with national appeal.
At SXSW?: Yes

He's French Montana's most prominent Coke Boy understudy, a job which should become remarkably more important should French deliver a Bad Boy record that does numbers later this year. But even should the Coke Boy empire collapse, Chinx Drugz could have national appeal. Think about how he blends a choppy New York flow with slick nonchalance that slots him in between New York and the South on "Ha" interpolation "Paper Chaser."

It's a lane that Max B first developed, and A$AP Rocky has also worked it from a different angle, but it remains one of the most promising directions for New York's rap scene in a decreasingly regional rap era. Also, he has bars.

Video That Sold Us: Chinx Drugz "Road to Riches"

Shy Glizzy

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Affiliations: Glizzy Gang
Previous Releases: Streets Hottest Youngin; Law; Fly Money with Jose Guapo; Fxck Rap
X-Factor: His voice cuts through anything.
At SXSW?: No evidence that he is.

As it's been since hip-hop began, initial buzz was built from beef. First, Glizzy went back and forth with fellow D.C. rapper Fat Trel, then with Chicago's Chief Keef. Rumor has it, Keef himself had Glizzy's diss song "3 Milli" on repeat, despite Glizzy's threat to shoot Keef's grandmother "in her titty."

Since his initial splash, though, Glizzy has been making some impressive music on his own. His voice has a shouted, jagged quality that slices through any track he's on, a midpoint between Meek Mill and Lil Wayne. His work relies on blunt earnestness, a searing voice of underclass urgency.

Although he was courted by MMG—Gunplay even appeared in the video for "Busters"—Glizzy has thus far remained independent, and seems to be steadily working on building a buzz within the DMV region, but outsiders are beginning to take a look.

Video That Sold Us: Shy Glizzy "Busters"

3D Na'Tee

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Affiliations: Timbaland (formerly); currently independent
Previous Releases: 3's Company Vol.1: The Rapper, The Hustler, the Diva Vol. 1 and 2; Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown; Guess Who's Coming 2 Dinner; The Coronation
X-Factor: She can RAP.
At SXSW?: Yes

"They can't rap like they used to," says every old person ever. They haven't heard 3D Na'Tee. It's difficult to imagine the uphill climb necessary for a female rapper from New Orleans. She started her hustle by standing outside a club with a stack of CDs and messaging strangers on MySpace to get their attention, but it worked for her, and it's easy to see why after one verse.

Her grind was enough to impress Timbaland, who flew her out to work with him on her mixtape The Coronation. Although that tag-team didn't work out—reportedly, he wanted to sign her to Mosley Music Group, but the two couldn't agree to the terms—she released The Coronation, absent Timbo tracks, to some acclaim late last year.

She's got skill in abundance, but it also translates into quality songs. "Lil Kim," a track produced by Casa Di (who did Chief Keef's "Understand Me") is a top-notch story rap worthy of wide-ranging praise.

Video That Sold Us: 3D Na'Tee "Back 2 Da Block"


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Affiliations: Greedhead
Previous Releases: End of Earth; Fantasy Beds Mixtape; My Westside Horizon; In Dark Denim
X-Factor: Makes cloud rap fun.
At SXSW?: Yes

Antwon is one of the most promising artists to rise out of the Internet-oriented "cloud rap" pseudo-scene that's gotten a lot of online attention in the past few years. His trick is to make music that often feels inward-facing and borderline-myopic into a socially open, even joyous experience. In other words: His shit is just that much more fun than everybody else's.

There's retro-rap, and then there's rap that captures the exuberant spirit of the early '90s. Antwon differentiates himself by adopting a lo-fi m.o. On standout "Living Every Dream," it sounds as if De La and Q-Tip's "Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays" was disintegrating. His rap style is casual, and not the most versatile or dexterous, but that's much to its benefit; he communicates his ideas in funny, punchy lines, which is more than enough.

Video That Sold Us: Antwon "Living Every Dream"

Bodega Bamz

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Affiliations: Tan Boys, A$AP
Previous Releases: Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z.
X-Factor: Flashy gangster shit.
At SXSW?: Yes

He's down with A$AP, he wears Versace, and he's ready to make sure everyone knows the Tan Boys name. Bodega Bamz, who hails from Spanish Harlem, has an aggressive approach reminiscent of N.O.R.E. You can tell that he thinks he's the best rapper out, and that confidence smoothly transitions to his tracks.

His music is mix of coke-dealing street tales and aimless braggadocio. It's a style that any fan of rap is familiar with, but Bamz seems intent on proving that there's still new territory to tread, even regarding the most familiar of subject matter.

Video That Sold Us: Bodega Bamz "P.A.P.I."


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Affiliations: Original Block Hustlaz
Previous Releases: Welcome to Trapstreet; I See Dead People; Allegheny AB; Who Harder Than Me?; Presents: OBH (Original Block Hustlaz); Who Harder than Me 2; M.U.D. Musik (Motivation Under Distress)
X-Factor: Philly hasn't had a bruiser this hard since Beanie.
At SXSW?: No evidence that he is.

Once associated with Cassidy's Larsiny Family crew, AR-Ab (pronounce "A-R-Ab") has made headlines for some extra-musical reasons; he recently got involved with the Meek Mill/Cassidy beef. He was shot ten times and survived.

He's controversial, in the way street rappers often are, but there are some musical reasons to take notice of the rapper. None other than Swizz Beatz called him the "most important new artist in rap." And his latest mixtape, M.U.D. Musik, is a strong release, thanks in part to AR-Ab's gritty visceral vocal style. The intro alone is pushes the shock-rap envelope: "These niggas gotta rap, I don't need to/Gucci Mane caught a body...me too."

Video That Sold Us: AR-Ab "Intro"


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Affiliations: Gutter City
Previous Releases: The 3rd Floor; Sunday School; Pluto; The Tree EP; Wizardtree with Big Wiz; The Johnson & Johnson EP with Nemesis; The Lit with Tony Baines; Treet feat. the City
X-Factor: One-of-a-kind rapper/producer/songwriter.
At SXSW?: Yes

Tree is a triple-threat. He's a producer, writes invigorating, memorable hooks, and he can rap—that is, if you like his distinctively off-the-beaten-path swagger, at once country and urban, much like his Chicago home.

Unlike Twista, who came up on Chicago's West Side, or the recent drill scene, which originated on the East Side, Tree is from Cabrini Green. Once the second-largest housing project in Chicago, the Greens have largely been torn down, but the rapper's sound is very rooted in the contradictory influences that he experienced in that environment, informed equally by tradition, religion, and hard lessons learned coming up in one of America's more notorious locales.

His sound is completely original, chopping up soul samples at unexpected angles. He's more a 2Pac fan than a Dilla one (and wasn't even familiar with Dilla's output until a year or two ago). But his sound could appeal to this entire spectrum of rap fans, should a wide enough audience become familiar with his work.

Video That Sold Us: Young Giftz f/ Tree "Nino"

Young Dolph

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Previous Releases: Paper Route Campaign; Welcome to Dolph World; High Class Street Music; Street Music 2 (Hustler's Paradise); A Time 2 Kill; Blue Magic; East Atlanta South Memphis with Gucci Mane
X-Factor: So laid back he's on West Coast time.
At SXSW?: Yes

There's laid-back, and then there's laid-back. Young Dolph's vocals come so far behind the beat they almost seem to rush the next one. His insoucient approach to rapping is perhaps his most definitive trait, letting each punchline breeze by in an aggressively blithe manner.

He's gained ground in Memphis, coming on the tail of Yo Gotti, and received a co-sign from Juicy J. His latest solo release, Blue Magic, was his best yet, and featured a strong collaboration with fellow Tennessee titans 8Ball and MJG. But his new tape with Gucci Mane, dropping today, should lift his profile up to the next tier.

Video That Sold Us: Young Dolph "Dream"

Kids These Days

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Affiliations: Save Money
Previous Releases: Traphouse Rock, Hard Times
X-Factor: Live instruments.
At SXSW?: Yes

Lead vocalist Vic Mensa is a rapper, but more than anything, Kids These Days is a band, and their unique presence in the hip-hop space has been earning them praise for a few years now. Firmly rooted in their indie stance, they've still managed gigs at Lollapalooza, the Roots picnic, and on late night TV show Conan.

It's that live show that's their true appeal, as expected, given the range of instruments on stage when they're performing. The Kids have been paying their dues, for sure, and they seem primed for more exposure, but it's really a question of whether rap listeners are ready to hear rhymes over live jazz and blues beats, or not.

Video That Sold Us: Kids These Days "Don't Harsh My Mellow"

Joey Bada$$

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Affiliations: Pro Era, Cinematic Music Group
Previous Releases: 1999, Rejex, The Secc$ Tape with Pro Era, P.E.E.P: The aPROcaplyse with Pro Era
X-Factor: Retro appeal.
At SXSW?: Yes

Though down with Cinematic, which allows him to distribute music through Sony, Joey's career maintains a sense of open-endedness. He's just a kid from Brooklyn who really likes '90s hip-hop. His influences are at the core of his sound, and somehow, he still manages to make his re-interpretation of great works of the past feel refreshing. Maybe it's because he's wholly vested in his youthfulness (he's only 18), even his iPod is filled with golden age classics.

Joey was rumored to have signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation, but the thought didn't persist, and no official announcement was made. Instead, he's continued to push his personal, independent mantra forward, and to great success. His guest appearances on A$AP Rocky's "1 Train" and Mac Miller's "America" are a testament to his ability to transcend the style with which he started. There's certainly more on the horizon for him.

Video That Sold Us: Joey Bada$$ f/ Capital Steez "Survival Tactics"

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