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.