Mainstream hip-hop is without question important to the rap game, but it’s the underground artists who have a knack for pushing everyone to be better. Let me state that by no means does ‘underground’ discredit the level of talent an artist has, but rather displays the ‘presence’ they have in the ever-changing hip-hop hierarchy. Of course, it could also mean that these guys are simply the next in line to become the baddest holding the mic. Whether signed to an indie label, working with well-known names or simply killing the mic, these artists have made an incredible impact on 2012 so far.
- Jon Connor
Location: Flint, MI
Co-sign:Nas DJ Kay Slay, Busta Rhymes, Scarface
Jon Connor emerged in 2005, but only received recognition and praise starting last year. After covering Nas’ “Poison” on Vinnie Chase: Season One, it’s become evident that a possible collaboration between Connor and Nas will emerge sometime soon. Aside from that, Jon Connor made headlines when he remixed Jay-Z’s Blueprint series with a mixtape called the Blue Album, and now, paying tribute to Eminem through the remake of his first two albums (including the Marshall Mathers LP, through The People’s Rapper.) Connors’ flow is effortless, allowing rhymes to roll of his tongue and compliment any beat behind him. He has a bright future ahead, that’s for sure.
Recent Mixtape: The People’s Rapper LP (drops April 13th aka tomorrow!)
- Robert Akins III
Location: ATL, GA (via way of everywhere)
Just as the first quarter was ending, Robert Akins III threw a wrench in everyone’s Q1 lists and dropped Exuent on his birthday, March 31st. There’s a phenomenal amount of talent hidden within his music, whether that’s being an emcee, a producer or sound engineer and mixing his own project, Robert is a triple threat. He’s signed to 88 Keys’ label Locksmith Music and is in good company with fellow label-mate (and perhaps more known) ‘underground’ emcee Nemo Achida. With Robert being born in Cali, raised in Alabama and living in ATL, the best of all worlds solidify themselves into great music, which is ultimately pushed by an amazing flow and lyrical power.
Recent Mixtape: Exeunt
- J. Pinder
Location: Seattle, Washington
Co-sign: Black Milk, Rhymesayers, Jake One
Fresh off the ‘Slaps and Claps’ tour with Black Milk, Nat Turner (Band) and A.Dd+, it’s easy to say I was blown away by J. Pinder’s stage presence at the Toronto show. He’s not a new face to the game, but definitely a new appreciation for this artist has been found. He has the ability to present his music in the manner than an matured OG would, on any given day. Beyond delivery and style, J. Pinder is capable of transforming a simple rhyme into an incredible story. Having worked with artists like the Rhymesayers and Jake One (White Van Music, anyone?), J has already made a statement in terms of genre and musical direction. With that being said, there’s a balance within J. Pinder’s music in terms of concept and strength, creating a very well-rounded artist and a silent killer in the game.
Recent Mixtape: Code Red 2.0
- Boldy James
Location: Detroit, MI
Co-Signs:The Cool Kids, Asher Roth…and basically the rest of Detroit
Boldy James is that new school rapper with the old school attitude and a cold Queens, NY flow, except, he’s from Detroit, MI. He first ‘broke out’ on The Cool Kids’ When Fish Ride Bicycles, standing side by side with his cousin Chuck Inglish. With that being said, he is nothing like The Cool Kids or Chuck Inglish. Boldy’s been described as someone who spits real trap music; unapologetic and truthful. Boldy’s delivery is strong, his presence is relaxed, and his lyrics are vivid enough to capture your attention and sink in. Though familiar sounds and eras of hip-hop are mimicked within his work, Boldy layers these classic sonic landscapes with his own experimental thought. It’s rare to find an artist who reserved but poignant, and that’s what Boldy James is. My only knock on Boldy is that his 20+ song mixtapes scare listeners away, despite being great projects worth checking out.
Recent Mixtape: Consignment: Favor For A Favor (Redi Rock Mixtape)
- Chief Keef
Location: Chicago, IL
Co-Signs:Soulja Boy, Lil B
An article recently came out entitled “Hip-Hop’s Next Big Thing is on House Arrest at his Grandma’s”, and quite frankly, since the release of that article, the buzz and word surrounding this artist has grown exponentially. I can’t necessarily say I like his music, but it is evident that many people do. I’d also be ignorant to fail to mention Keef’s impact in 2012 or how the internet can create the ‘next big thing.’ At just 16, Chief Keef has a really gritty, in-your-face, unapologetic style that mimics those before him when gangsta rap emerged. Another interesting thing is that Keef’s main producer is a guy named Kenn, who hails from Tokyo, Japan. Kenn found himself in the South Side of Chicago and Keef’s uncle questioned why he was in the predominantly black neighborhood. Fast-forward: Keef’s uncle helped him out settling into an apartment and the duo was created.
Recent Mixtape: Back From the Dead
ON MY RADAR:
- Lo Keys
Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina
Having worked with Mister F.A.B., Fred the Godson and French Montana (amongst many others), it’s almost impossible to say Lo Keys adheres to a single audience. He released a mixtape last year entitled The Green Hornet, but has stayed steadily pushing out songs and feature verses over the past few months. The two most interesting facts about this artist: 1) when speaking about inspiration, he dropped words from Van Gogh, Basquiat and Andy Warhol and 2) his dream collabo would be with Kanye and Slick Rick for a storytelling joint.
Upcoming mixtape:American Greed (Scams, Schemes, And Broken Dreams)
- The Cranberry Show
Location: Milwaukee, WII definitely don’t know much about these guys, other than the fact that this mixtape is pretty solid, the members are named Arcane and Young Focus, and their biggest influences happen to be “Bay Area artists” and Smokey Robinson.
Recent Mixtape:Paranormal Karaoke