Each year, there are new variables that shape the success of up-and-coming artists. And as we enter 2021, there are more questions than answers about what will unfold in the next 12 months. Will a new app like TikTok pop up and change the way people share and consume new music? How will virtual events evolve as the pandemic continues? Will festivals and major concerts return by the end of the year? Despite the uncertainty, however, there are clues that indicate which artists are closing in on their big breakout moments. Throughout 2020, new rappers figured out ways to make a splash during an extremely tumultuous year, and many of them show signs that they’re about to level up in 2021.
For the purposes of this list, we excluded artists who have been featured on our Rappers to Watch lists in past years. So, while we expect to see rappers like Baby Keem (2019’s list) and Flo Milli (2020’s list) have big years in 2021, you won’t see their names here. We also tried to avoid artists who were all over our Best of 2020 lists, like Sada Baby and 42 Dugg, so we could leave more room for rappers who we expect to break through and reach much larger audiences on a national level than they have in the past. So, if you want to stay ahead of the curve on what’s happening in rap and get a preview of what the future of the genre will sound like, here are the artists to keep an eye on. These are Complex’s picks for the rappers to watch in 2021.
Bfb Da Packman
For fans of: Earl Sweatshirt, Mick Jenkins, R.A.P. Feirreira
Listen to these songs first: “My Name Jack?,” “sonder,” “take a hold”
Maassai is a rapper’s rapper. The Brooklyn-based MC excels at thoughtful, introspective rhymes like the ones unleashed all over ve·loc·i·ty, her collaboration tape with producer JWords (as H31R). The most impressive thing about Maassai is her range. She has no trouble finding her pocket over more experimental tracks like some “take a hold” from ve·loc·i·ty, but she can also navigate a more mellow soundscape like “sonder” from unsounded points of view. She’s the kind of artist who makes you wonder why “left of center” isn’t just the actual center. —Andre Gee