If you haven’t noticed, something big is happening in Jacksonville right now. One viral song at a time, the balance of Florida rap is shifting.
For years, South Florida has dominated the state’s rap scene, led by artists like Uncle Luke, Trick Daddy, Trina, Plies, Rick Ross, Kodak Black, and XXXTentacion. And whenever anyone outside the state talks about Florida rap, they almost always bring up Southern regions like Miami and Broward County. But now, a new area of Florida is demanding attention, thanks to an explosive new generation of rappers up in Jacksonville.
In 2021, a new Jacksonville rap song seems to be going viral every other week, with tracks like “Who I Smoke,” “When I See You,” and “BeatBox,” racking up tens of millions of plays. Many of the city’s rappers make songs about street life in Duval County, and they all do it from different perspectives. Somebody like Lil Poppa delivers his message with a lot of melody, while an artist like Foolio attacks his songs with much more aggressive energy. A lot of these rappers are tangled up in unresolved beef with each other, which is openly referenced on songs. The wildly disrespectful lyrics on a track like “Who I Smoke,” which includes disses about deceased rivals, is bringing unprecedented national attention to the city this year. But beyond all the shock value is an undeniably talented new era of rappers, who are all drawing attention to themselves in their own ways.
To fully understand what’s happening right now, you need to go back to the beginning. Jacksonville has never been thought of as a major music city in the eyes of the rest of America. To be honest, it’s more well-known as the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. And to be fair, there haven’t been many successful rappers to emerge from the city over the years, minus a few exceptions. The earliest mainstream success for Jacksonville came in 1994 when the 69 Boyz dropped the classic party record “Tootsee Roll,” followed by the Quad City DJs’ 1996 hit “C’mon N’ Ride It.” Fast forward to 2010, and artists like Tokyo Jetz and Yung Trap (now known as Trap Beckham) were able to make a name for themselves. Even for those who have found success, though, it has always felt like there was a glass ceiling on rappers trying to emerge from Jacksonville.
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the sound of Jacksonville hip-hop started to shift away from glossy party music. Thanks to the rise of local street rappers, essential songs like “Who U Tellin,” “Buckin Da Jack,” and “Got Fye” helped inspire a new direction for the city that we still hear today. Jacksonville’s most popular rappers started borrowing sounds from Cash Money Records, Trill Ent, and the Chicago drill scene to create gritty music that more accurately depicted what the streets of Jacksonville are really like.
Historically speaking, Jacksonville has been one of the more violent cities in Florida, but things have become progressively worse in recent years. In 2019, there were 131 murders in the city, and in 2020 that number shot up to 176. These tensions have spilled over into the music, and Jacksonville’s drill scene is full of rappers referencing loved ones who have lost their life to gun violence. In some instances, you’ll even hear those same rappers dissing dead people who they once had beef with.
Not every Jacksonville artist makes drill music, nor do they all have public beef, but that’s what’s getting most of the attention from new fans tuning into the city’s rap scene right now. The authenticity of the music reels fans in, but many ignore the uncomfortable reality that some of the songs are about real dead Black people.
With all the new eyes and ears on Jacksonville rap comes exciting possibilities for local artists, as well as dangerous drawbacks. On one hand, a lot of these young artists are now in better situations to feed their families. On the other, the national attention is putting a bigger spotlight on local street beefs, which has only amplified tensions.
Artists like Foolio point out how fans involve themselves in conflicts and magnify violent situations. “The fans play a big role,” he says. “The same way our job is to wake up and rap, it’s almost as if some of these fans’ jobs is to wake up and troll under Foolio’s comment section.”
Certain subsections of YouTube are even making money by breaking down all the rivalries. Treating real-life situations like Grand Theft Auto Online recap videos, some of these outsiders have given people quirky nicknames, often making slick remarks about dead Black kids. The artists themselves play a big part in beefs being publicized, and most of them acknowledge that to be true, but as someone born and raised in Jacksonville, it’s been troublesome to see people who are not affiliated with these beefs make jokes (and content) out of a serious situation that doesn’t involve them.
For a long time, I hesitated to write an article like this, because I was always taught to stay out of other people’s business, and I would never want to write anything that would instigate problems between anybody. But my mind changed when I noticed that the only people covering Jacksonville rap were not from the city, so they were getting a lot of information wrong and found themselves in a position to sensationalize and poke fun at serious situations without repercussions. I know I can’t bring peace to Jacksonville singlehandedly, but I’ve seen the city drown in so much negativity that I wanted to put forth a small beacon of honesty on a place I call home, and highlight some of the most talented rappers the city has ever seen.
Instead of continuing to let outsiders control the narrative of a city that they have never stepped foot in, I want to give a platform for these rappers to tell their truths. So I spoke with some of the most promising and important rappers coming from Jacksonville about the past and future of the city’s rap scene, as well as their own personal success. This isn’t an exhaustive list—there’s a lot of exciting talent coming out of the city right now—but these are some of the up-and-coming rappers who you should be paying attention to right now.
Yungeen Ace is one of the first artists from this generation of Jacksonville rappers to make a name for themselves outside of Florida, repping the west side of Melvin Road (which he’s already made notorious in his music). Switching between melodic crooning and an aggressive rapping style, Ace’s sound varies depending on the tone of each song. In 2017, he started strong with his first music video for “Go To War,” which currently sits at over 7 million views, but the song that really started to bring him national attention was his single “Fuck That,” which dropped on one of the most tragic weeks of his life.
On June 5, Ace attended his little brother’s birthday dinner with two of their friends, and when they left the party, they were all shot. Three of the four died, leaving Ace as the only surviving victim. When I ask him how he deals with the pain of this memory, Ace says, “I have trust issues. I don’t tell people my problems. I let music be my therapy.” He worked through that process on his song “Pain,” which was recorded after the shooting. Willing to get extremely vulnerable on the track, he outlines how it felt for him to go through the traumatizing situation, rapping, “I lost three brothers, how the hell I’mma tell their momma?” It’s one of Ace’s best songs to date, showing his ability to convey honest emotions in his music.
Since then, Ace has been on a tear, releasing standout songs like “Step Harder.” All along the way, though, he’s been caught up in beef. Ace and fellow Jacksonville native Foolio have been going back and forth for years through songs and social media, but everything was magnified with the release of “Who I Smoke” in March 2021. The song samples Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” which is juxtaposed with aggressive lyrics from everybody featured on the song. It’s a diss record that specifically names (and disparages) a long list of people who are now deceased. The song has gone viral on every social media and music platform, already racking up over 20 million views on YouTube alone, and the attention has brought newfound success to everyone involved with it. Unfortunately, it’s lost on some casual fans that these are real people and situations mentioned in the music.
“The fans make this shit even deeper, and it turns into a pride thing,” Ace says, commenting on fans who involve themselves with issues that have nothing to do with them, which can escalate situations and lead artists to feeling like they have something to prove. He explains, “These folks don’t care that we’re talking about real people because this is the entertainment industry, and they just want good music.” Acknowledging his own role in the situation, he adds, “I cant even be mad they feel like that because we made it to the point where they feel like that.”
When I tell Ace that I personally can’t listen to “Who I Smoke” because I understand a lot of the real-life situations that are being discussed in that song, he acknowledges, “I don’t always make music like ‘Who I Smoke.’ I try to make different music that everybody can enjoy because I understand why you can’t listen to it and what’s behind it. That’s why my goal is to make real music.” So far, his goal is working. He always manages to make listeners feel what he’s feeling on each of his songs, and every verse is delivered with passion. Ace recently dropped the lead single “Back Like I Neva Left” off his upcoming project Life of Betrayal 2x, which he plans to release sometime in 2021. Yungeen Ace has a bright future ahead of him after proving to be very consistent over the past few years. If he stays on that path, he’ll continue to be one of the main faces in Jacksonville rap.
Nardo Wick is a rapper who seemed to come out of nowhere recently, but he’s actually been studying the music industry and figuring out how to maneuver his way through it. At only 19 years old, his songs have already gone viral multiple times, and he has co-signs from artists like Lil Bibby, Future, and G Herbo. “I Declare War” was even featured in one of the biggest movies of the year, Judas and the Black Messiah.
At the top of 2021, Nardo dropped “Who Want Smoke,” which has become one of his biggest records. The song is very dark, with production that sounds like it’s ripped from the video game DOOM. Nardo floats over the track in a way that almost comes across as lethargic, but that’s what gives it such a menacing feel, which is reminiscent of early 21 Savage. Don’t get it mistaken, though. Nardo has his own original style, distinguished by the way he delivers punchlines and utilizes his environment to create sounds. There’s even a part in “Who Want Smoke,” where Nardo puts the microphone by his foot and starts to stomp on the ground, emulating how he steps on rappers.
Nardo tells me he’s always been a leader in life, never a follower, explaining, “I thank God that he gave me this brain because I know a lot of people don’t have the mind discipline that I have.” This rings true in his music, as Nardo isn’t one to hop on the latest music trends. He’s focused on sticking to what he thinks sounds good.
Out of all the rappers mentioned on this list, Nardo has released the least amount of music, but he’s already made a large impact. The first time I heard of him was in late 2020 when G Herbo played “Who Want Smoke” on his Instagram Live before the song was officially released. Fellow Chicago native Lil Bibby even said that after not making music in years, the first thing he recorded over was a Nardo Wick song. One of the biggest looks he’s received in his young career so far is the inclusion on the Judas and the Black Messiah soundtrack, but he says he’s not a big fan of it, explaining, “It’s hard, but it’s not some shit I would listen to if somebody else made it. It’s not something I’d usually make, but the executive producer of the soundtrack texted me the trailer and the beat and I wrote about what I had seen in the trailer.”
Right now, Nardo wants to continue to improve, and he says he isn’t comfortable with his current position in the rap game. He says he wants to work on building harmonizing skills to capitalize on his already unique voice. “When I’m in the car, I don’t always want to turn up,” he notes. “I want to learn how to make chill music. If I learn how to make that type of music, it won’t sound like anything else because my voice is so different.” So maybe we’ll hear more of that on his debut album, which he says he’s gearing to release in the coming months.
Foolio is from one of the most notorious hoods in Jacksonville. Growing up in the north side of the city in Moncrief, Foolio says he was inspired by Lil V, who was a popular Jacksonville rapper before his career took a pause due to a 10-year prison bid. Foolio gained early attention with songs like his Soulja K collab “Dirty Sticks,” which he made when he was still a teenager. At the time, his voice hadn’t matured completely, but his vocals have become gravellier and more aggressive with age.
In 2018, he put out an album produced by Zaytoven called 6Toven, which is where you can start to hear him implement the style of rap that he’s known for today. On songs like “Crooks,” he attacked classic Zaytoven production with a hard-edged flow, finding his own sound. Then in 2019, he perfected this style with the song “Rough Rider,” which is a great place to start if you’re just now getting into his music.
Foolio began to receive national attention a couple of years back when the beef between him and Yungeen Ace became public. He went from being a fan-favorite to one of the most hated rappers in the city among certain crowds. He’s released his fair share of diss songs over the years, including the recently released “Beatbox Remix” and “When I See You,” which have given him exposure, and caused him to receive heat as well.
Beyond the beef, Foolio also raps a lot about his friends who were murdered and how it affects him mentally, to the point that he pops pills. While discussing this with him, he shows me one of his Instagram captions that said, “MDD. MAJOR DEPRESSION DISORDER,” and explains that he feels like that’s what he’s suffering from. “The fans ask me why I pop all these Percocets all the time, and it’s not because I want to feel the high,” he tells me. “It’s because I don’t want to feel the shit I’m going through.” Talking about music being his therapy, he adds, “I love music because I can hear a beat sometimes and I feel like it’s talking to me. When I heard the beat for ‘Bibby Story,’ I already knew what I was going to say.” On that song, Foolio raps about his friend who was murdered, delivering his most emotional record to date.
Foolio usually freestyles his songs, but last year he wrote a whole bunch of raps when he spent time in county jail. “They revoked my bond so I wrote so many raps and they were some of my best raps because I was going through real shit,” he says. But he adds, “I’m a punch-in rapper. I like to come off the top of my head.” Previewing his next mixtapes, he says, “If you liked ‘Rough Rider,’ imagine me rapping like that for 13 songs.”
Seddy Hendrinx is one hit away from being one of the biggest Jacksonville rappers out right now, in my opinion. He’s been building an impressive catalog since the release of his debut mixtape, The Roots, hosted by DJ Shab. “Where I Kame From” was the first song I came across that showed me the true talent he has. It remixes Future’s “Where I Came From,” and I’m someone who holds Future’s music in high regard, so when people try to remix his songs, I usually think it stinks. Not Seddy, though. He added his own swag that spiced up the original and did justice to the beautiful Zaytoven beat. A lot of artists rely on AutoTuned harmonizing to carry their songs, but Seddy has shown he can put together a really strong hook with great lyrics, making him the complete package.
Seddy’s follow-up tape, Death B4 Dishoner Loyalty Over Everything, features “Safe,” a song that would’ve dominated a social media platform like TikTok if it made it in front of the right people. Then he signed with DJ Drama’s and Don Cannon’s Generation Now label and dropped Roots II, which showcases his song-making gifts and includes standouts like “FEEL,” “LOWKEY,” and “DICKIES & VLONE.” On tracks like “904,” Seddy also goes out of his way to spotlight the love he has for the city he grew up in.
He says that two of his biggest inspirations to make music were the late Jacksonville rapper Lil Jug and his friend Johnnel, a high school football player who was fatally shot at a prom after-party. Seddy often references Johnnel’s football jersey number 29 as a way to honor his late friend. “Twenty-nine is the reason I wanted to start doing music, and Jug was the first established artist to pull up to my studio session,” he tells Complex. “I’m like, ‘Woah, that’s Jug in the studio,’ so RIP to him. He was a legend.”
Another thing important to Seddy is fashion. Floridians love wearing Dickies, and Seddy’s showed that to the world by wearing an impressive collection of Dickie ’fits over the past few years. “I am 100 percent the reason rappers wear Dickie ’fits,” he claims. “I’d say that in front of anybody’s face, and they won’t deny me. I brought Dickies back.” If you ask me, Seddy isn’t exaggerating when he says this, and he explains that when people in the industry approach him, it’s either to compliment his music or to tell him that his dress code is always on point. Seddy reveals that Benny the Butcher is a fan of his, and when they met, Benny told him, “I’ve been listening to your shit, plus you always fly as hell.” Not long after they met, they made music together.
Looking toward the future, Seddy says he’s going to be more mindful of how he utilizes AutoTune. “Projects like Sayless is me easing up on the AutoTune because I know I’m approaching stardom. I’m about to be a household name soon.” Being signed to a label like Generation Now, which has a track record of launching the careers of Lil Uzi Vert and Jack Harlow, Seddy’s career is heading in a great direction.