We know what you're thinking: There are too many rappers these days, too many releases to keep up with. Every week there's some new dude you gotta check out. "Hey man, have you heard this new kid from Atlanta?" "Yo this new dude has been like the hottest kid in the city for like the last 12 minutes." "Some guy who is totally a tastemaker that you never heard of says this new rapper is gonna be the next to blow." "Yo, you gotta check this kid out." And then, even when you find someone you like, they just hit you with so much music it's hard to tell if you should listen to their pre-album mixtape or the mixtape that made them hot or their lackluster album that sucked because they wasted all their good songs on their mixtapes.
There's no reason to feel bad because trust us, no one could possibly keep up with everyone and every release. However, we do feel bad for the slept on rappers who—for whatever reason—don't get the props they deserve. This doesn’t just go for new rappers either—hip-hop is very “What have you done for me lately” and some of the biggest names from a few years ago are still dope but no longer have the same hype. So, if you're looking for some rappers that might actually be worth your time, or some names you've maybe seen but have overlooked, check out The 13 Most Underrated Rappers Right Now.
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Recent Project: My 1st Chemistry Set
Boldy James is tied for being the oldest rapper on this list, but unlike the other 31-year-old, he's not exactly a veteran. Boldy James has been kicking around for years but he's so underrated that he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. We were impressed with Boldy when we happened to catch him tearing up the beat to "JIMBO," a song his cousin Chuck Inglish produced, back in 2011. He recently released his Alchemist-produced album, My 1st Chemistry Set, which has helped his buzz a bit, but not like we were hoping.
We'll admit, he has an uphill climb as he's a bleak street rapper. His raps are as cold and hard as concrete in an era when rappers would rather be singing a chorus than telling tales of slinging rocks. But Boldy is a throwback rapper, build in the image of '90s stalwarts like Prodigy, though he isn't obsessed with reliving the old days. The Detroit rappers' voice and lyrics are reminiscent of of another Midwest spitter, Freddie Gibbs. But unlike Gibbs, he raps at a much more controlled pace, spacing out his words for maximum impact. He's got style too, check out "Moochie," a song in the vein of Big L's "Ebonics." But he's at his best when he's most direct, using an economy of words to tell the story of a murder on "Surprise Party" he ends his verse flatly stating, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it/Could have paid a nigga to do it/But I'd rather I do the shooting." —Insanul Ahmed
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If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Moochie"
Recent Project: Nostalgic 64
Denzel Curry exists at the intersection of Internet culture and the real world that helped to birth "cloud rap," Clams Casino, Raider Klan, and A$AP Mob. With the exception of A$AP Rocky, few of the denizens of this aesthetic universe have managed to transcend their status as "Internet music."
Denzel Curry—along with his Raider Klan cohort Yung Simmie—seems the most likely since Rocky to transcend the online stew of Memphis revivalists and Tumblr enthusiasts. His most recent project, Nostalgia 64, may have already done just that. While Raider Klan, in particular, gained a reputation for Memphis revivalism, Curry's recent work shows both originality and an increasing focus on honing his talents. His best work has both an aggressive physicality and an increasingly dexterous narrative flair. And although his rise is in its nascent paces, it's clear that he's moving past the phase of reciting clichés that consumes his competition. —David Drake
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Parents"
Recent Project: The Golden Age
Dizzy Wright is captivating the moment you hear him. The Las Vegas rapper has managed to hover under the radar, due in part to his dismay for major labels or over-extending himself to pander to the mainstream. Dizzy's music doesn't feature contrived imagery or gimmicky lines about the trendy drug of the moment, instead he spits considered verses about a plethora of topics. Maybe that's why he leaves listeners with questions about what box to place him in. But the absence of those surface level elements give him leeway to touch on the details of his life.
His most recent project, The Golden Age, is a cohesive version of those exchanges. Now, he isn't without the traditional ode to chronic or ballads dedicated to simplistic women, but he tends to add another layer of thought and analysis. Many of his songs contain nuggets of wisdom that urge his listeners to be conscious of their behavior and take action. When he's not dissecting his own thoughts, he's willing to turn up and boast with the best of them, flexing the constraints of his flow. —Brandon Jenkins
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If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Killem With Kindness"
Recent Project: Get Home Safely
Dom Kennedy is the only person on this list that was on last year's list as well. But hey, if you're underrated, you're underrated. That's not to say that Dom hasn't taken some positive steps forward in the last 12 months. For starters, word of mouth for his absolutely excellent The Yellow Album has spread. He recently followed it up with his project, Get Home Safely—it might not be quite the accomplishment The Yellow Album was, but it's still a solid record. He's also made some strides on the business side by cutting a unique deal with Best Buy.
Despite all that, he just can't seems to have the kind of moment his homie Nipsey Hussle recently had with his Crenshaw mixtape, where everyone is talking about him. But here's the thing, Dom has so much mainstream potential and an everyman appeal. There's no reason why a song like "My Type of Party" can't chart on Billboard, yet it never did. For now, he's still one of those names that rap fans keep hearing and say, "I've been meaning to check him out." We said it once, we'll say it again: Check him out, you won't regret it. —Insanul Ahmed
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "South Central Love"
Recent Project: Kismet
It's been quiet for Crown Heights rapper eXquire (formerly known as Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire) since his 2011 breakout mixtape Lost In Translation. While he's still looked upon fondly for his "Flava In Ya Ear" homage "The Last Huzzah" featuring equally eccentric rappers Despot, Das Racist, El-P, and Danny Brown, the continually undelivered promise of his follow-up tape, Kismet, cost him a lot of attention.
When it finally dropped back in June, it flew under the radar. But the project is mature and meticulous thanks to eXquire's commitment to crafting revealing rhymes. He raps about his mother's cancer, recent heartbreak, and going sober, but with the narrative precision only someone who name-drops his favorite authors in a verse can achieve. Kismet's sonic textures also help bolster the immersive lyrics. eX may not be buzzing, but it's only because no one's listening. —Claire Lobenfeld
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "The Cauldron"
Recent Project: Signed to the Streets
Though he emerged alongside a few other drill pioneers, Lil Durk's take on the sound was always a bit different. While his coevals put emotion on the back burner and focused on delivery, Durk was always able to blend the two. Once Young Chop started handing out beats to everyone in the rap industry, only Durk (with the exception of Johnny May Cash) was able to make Chop-produced records that approached the same energy as Chief Keef while still doing something a bit different ("52 Barz Pt. 2" and "One Night," for example).
At the same time, Durk was making cold ballads like "Dis Ain't What U Want." He uses Auto-Tune in a way that validates its involvement, it adds to his emotionally restrained yet melodic style. Plus, he's intent on making you aware that he can really rap in the traditional sense (i.e. bars), by making multiple songs that consist in a single, long verse. His relatively recent mixtape, Signed To The Streets is excellent, and foreshadows an even more compelling debut album. —Alexander Gleckman
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Dis Ain't What U Want"
Recent Project: Heir Apparents
"When Chief Keef broke through last year," begins every single article about a Chicago rapper in 2013. The more talent pours out from the middle of the map, the more ridiculous it seems that the media struggled to see the depth and shading of Chicago's creatively fertile underground. From Chance the Rapper to Vic Mensa to Tree to Lil Durk to Lil Herb and Bibby, the scene has a wide variety of perspectives and talents beyond the breakthrough star who first drew attention to the city.
Herb comes from a similar street context to the kids in GBE, but has more of a technical focus, rapping with a more formal attention to style. He weds the same harsh street edge to a propulsive, rapid-fire delivery. He's gotten a wide array of attention in the industry, Drake Instagrammed himself rapping along to Herb and Lil Bibby's "Kill Shit" earlier this year, and notable Chicago rapper Mikkey Halsted has been helping mentor the young rapper as he prepares his debut mixtape, due out in December.
That release will be a big proving moment for the young rapper, who's dropped a series of notable singles but no official project. (Fake Shore Drive did put together a compilation of Herb and Bibby tracks called Heir Apparents that is worth hearing for those unfamiliar). —David Drake
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Play They Role"
Recent Project: F.N.O. (Failure's No Option)
Every year, a vet or two will make their way onto a list like this. Sometimes, it seems like the list could be half vets. Prodigy's Albert Einstein is an undeniable record from a legend, and any time a rapper of Prodigy's stature gets behind the mic this many years into their career, it's bound to make people wonder if they're really being recognized like they should. But although Prodigy's latest is a great album, he's still, after all, a legend. It's hard to be underrated when that's your indisputable position in the game.
The same wouldn't, necessarily, be said of Lloyd Banks. While his early tapes are rightly celebrated among the G-Unit canon, even calling G-Unit's debut a classic is controversial at best. But his latest tape, the DJ Drama-hosted F.N.O., is one of the year's best tapes. The production, helmed primarily by Doe Pesci, has a gritty melodicism that perfectly complements Banks' tightly written bars. Those lyrics unfurl with effortless motion, as if the words were simply spilling over from inside of him, each verse billowing into perfectly formed shapes.
Banks doesn't do much press, so it's unlikely we'll figure out all of the mysteries he's speaking on. But there's a density to his ideas that should leave listeners pondering the source of the hard-won wisdom he drops throughout. For a rapper who no doubt does alright for himself, performing overseas and banking off of his older music, it's refreshing to discover that he still feels that he has something to say this late in his career. —David Drake
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Failure's No Option"
Sage the Gemini
Recent Project: Gas Pedal EP
Sage the Gemini is the most successful rapper nobody's talking about. His song "Gas Pedal" landed in the Top 40 earlier this year, peaking at No. 29 on the Hot 100. His second single, "Red Nose" reached No. 52 on the chart, and both have been fixtures on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts for months. That success is grassroots. He's still treated in the press and by rap blogs as the second-tier guy (to IamSu!) in a moderately well-known West Coast rap collective (HBK Gang) that he technically is.
This stance is ridiculous. If someone from New York had one song as big as either of Sage's hits, it would be getting praised as the harbinger of the city's rap renaissance. But a popular song isn't everything. Having the ability to craft an actual song counts for a lot, and it's definitely a factor that prevents many talented lyricists from ever becoming more than that.
Sage isn't the hottest lyricist in the world—comparisons to Tyga or Big Sean might be apt—but he has an ear for funny metaphors that translate to great hooks, as well as a taste for punchlines that are both too obvious and just weird enough at the same time, "Her dude mad 'cause I spoon/I don't give a fork."
His songs perfectly fuse the current California aesthetic of minimal beats and laconic rapping with the libidinous club appeal and hooky infectiousness needed to elevate that sound past boilerplate regional curiosity. That quality suggests a vision that goes beyond simply being a rapper with dope rhymes and suggests that Sage has a level of sonic creativity that could serve him well for the long haul. —Kyle Kramer
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Gas Pedal"
Recent Project: Step Brothers 2
Starlito has become one of the most respected and most slept on rappers in the industry simultaneously. A thoughtful, considered lyricist, he's too Southern to make waves among true school heads, and too unconcerned with radio and club play to make inroads in the South's industry machinery. He's also unconcerned with cheap technical pyrotechnics so often employed by novice MCs, preferring a vulnerable, honest perspective.
Subtle and unassuming, his work seems intended to draw as little attention to how truly creative and clever it really is, at once dense with artful wordplay, but emotionally naked and open. One hesitates, even, to call it "wordplay," since the purpose of his writing seems more interested in conveying complex, nuanced, true ideas in a poetic manner, rather than hitting listeners over the head with how clever he can be. His recent project, Step Brothers 2, garnered he and his frequent cohort Don Trip—another rapper whose profile nationally doesn't match the quality of his music—more press, but they remain your favorite rapper's favorite rappers. —David Drake
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Leash On Life"
Recent Project: INNANETAPE
For Vic Mensa, the spotlight has been on him without much talk being about him. He was part of a band, Kids These Days, that received label attention and even performed at Lollapalooza in 2011. Earlier this year, he announced the decision to turn into a solo artist as part of the Save Money collective. But while the entire crew has been buzzing as part of Chicago's hip-hop renaissance, Vic has—at least in the media's conception—played second fiddle to the much more popular Chance the Rapper.
Vic may not be as big as Chance, but sleep on him at your own risk. His latest mixtape, INNANETAPE, was as sonically ambitious as Chance's Acid Rap. He may not possess Chance's natural gift to weave back-and-forth between different melodies and harmonies, but he has the innate ability to rap his ass off. Vic's flow bounces over each beat like a restless three-year old, but never once does he completely come unhinged and miss the beat.
Vic uses these skills to open up on a variety of different topics in his first solo mixtape. He's unashamed of injecting his own story and experiences, but he's also adept at thinking beyond himself to talk about society. More important is his ability to tone down his rapid-fire flow somewhat, to create catchier celebration songs like "Orange Soda" or "Hollywood LA."
Vic may not have received the overwhelming accolades that Chance has received in the last six months, but to dismiss INNANETAPE would be a mistake: Good music is good music, and Vic Mensa knows how to make it. —Dharmic X
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Orange Soda"
Recent Project: Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2
Vince Staples is a challenging listen for the average rap fan. His strength comes from a sense of wisdom beyond his years, the product of growing up fending for himself in the streets of Long Beach, one that allows him to tell cold, brutal truth about society in his lyrics. Consider his guest appearance on the song "Plottin" by A$ton Matthews. Taking the first verse, Vince starts off by saying, "Hug the hammer like a proud parent/'Cause I done heard more gunshots than crowd cheering/Followed up by loud sirens, moms crying/Nonviolence just means you're scared, nigga." (Yikes!) Powerful stuff.
This is what separates Vince from his peers who've grown up in similar environments. Where some try to sugarcoat and create a facade through braggadocio, Vince's descriptions of past exploits are tinged with regret. Not only that, he has thus far refused to change up his content to offer listeners a false sense of optimism. All three of his projects—including the Mac Miller produced Stolen Youth—are notable for their cohesive starkness. This project is a testament to how committed Vince is in sharing his vision: Who else would use a collaboration with Mac Miller to say things like, "Now his oldest bastard son sitting in that casket young?"
Vince's music has been somewhat inaccessible to most thus far, which might explain why he has not attained the same level of buzz as some of his friends in the Odd Future crew. However, after his show-stealing guest verses Earl's Doris, and Jhene Aiko's Sail Out, and with his own Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 on the way, his profile should be growing in the months ahead. —Dharmic X
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If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Guns And Roses"
Recent Project: 1017 Thug
The name "Young Thug" isn't particularly memorable or original. In fact, it's kind of the opposite of those things. But the man behind the name is much more critical to the evolution of Atlanta trap rap than you think. Bubbling in Atlanta's underground, Thug has grown from a mere anomaly in Gucci's 1017 Brick Squad camp to one of the most experimental and surprisingly entertaining rappers out right now. Taking a page from Lil' Wayne's 2007-2008 experimental stage, Young Thug has turned himself a human science kit filled with lean and weed, but his favorite addiction is Auto-Tune.
He uses Auto-Tune on many of the standout songs from his 1017 Thug mixtape. But he brings the robot-voice to life, mixing irreverent lyricism with an emotive, comedic flow. Unfortunately, he may be a little too out there—which is why he's underrated at the moment. But it says here that Young Thug is destined to be a star, the people just have to catch up to his vision for rap. —Justin Davis
If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "2 Cups Stuffed"