At the start of this month, someone in our office commented that they were “seriously struggling” to find good current hip-hop – Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky aside. They suggested that we should write a piece on the best hip-hop out there right now. And we think they had a point.
There’s plenty of good hip-hop around right now, but as with anything, if you’re not looking you’ll struggle to find it. And with hundreds of mixtures uploaded to websites like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes every week – if not every day – and lists like MTV’s Hottest MCs in the Game doing little beyond reminding you why you don’t watch MTV anymore, that process of looking can feel like tackling a deluge or a desert depending on your perspective. Either one’s intimidating.
If you spend every day on DatPiff, or even on FACT (with special mention of our weekly Mixtape Round-up), you’ll likely be aware of the MCs covered in this article (we’ll be dealing with the producers in Part 2). But for those of you who’ve fallen out of love with hip-hop over the years and have retreated to a healthy distance, these are the 13 acts (in alphabetical order) that you should be following if you want to restore your love. Below, we’ve uploaded a mix from Modern Love’s Jack Dice that features a track from each of them, which should soundtrack the piece nicely.
1. Rome Fortune – Get the Guap
2. Gunplay – Definition of a Plug (feat. Yo Gotti)
3. Gucci Mane – Re Up (feat. Young Dolph)
4. Young Thug – Nigeria (feat. Gucci Mane and PeeWee Longway)
5. Future – Karate Chop (feat. Casino)
6. Le1f – Spa Day
7. Kevin Gates – Neon Lights
8. Cat Power – Manhattan (Ryan Hemsworth remix feat. Angel Haze)
9. King Louie – Michael Jordan
10. ScHoolboy Q – Yay Yay
11. Juicy J – Show Out (feat. Young Jeezy and Big Sean)
12. Danny Brown – Kush Coma
13. Earl Sweatshirt – Whoa (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/14)
See also: Iggy Azalea; Amber London; Tink
Battle-ready with a flow that can be cranked from languid to semiautomatic (depending on her mood), the technically-skilled Angel Haze stands apart thanks to a confessional streak that runs throughout her lyrics. Her most notable moment came with a staggering reworking of Eminem’s ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’, on which she opened up about her history of sexual abuse. It was territory she had touched on before, but this was truer, harder to stomach, and the type of truth-telling that has defined some of rap’s greatest figures. But Haze isn’t content to just be a victim: her finest tracks (‘New York’, ‘Werkin’ Girls’) are no-holds-barred statements of purpose. Currently working on her debut for Universal Republic, Haze has an opportunity to take a different path than the last promising female rappers (she appears to have little interest in trading in rap for dance music) and could look to Drake – who she’s covered before – as a model for walking the line between brutal honesty and hip-hop braggadocio.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 2/14)
See also: Bodega Bamz; Flatbush Zombies; Cities Aviv
The undisputed darling of the indie-leaning blogosphere, Detroit MC Danny Brown has two golden qualities: charisma to burn and a try-anything-once attitude. The former is evident in his look – a gap-toothed, skinny-jeaned Shockheaded Peter – and his voice – a manic, wonderfully elastic bellow that sounds as if it might short circuit at any minute. The latter has been showcased in collaborations with, amongst others, grime producer Darq E Freaker, electro-pop duo Purity Ring, and Mike Skinner side-gig The D.O.T. 2011’s manic, unflinchingly introspective XXX was one of the decade’s most striking rap full-lengths; if he’s able to capitalise on his momentum, forthcoming LP Old should see him go stratospheric (and a tour with opinion-splitting teen rapper Kitty should keep the chattering classes occupied).
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 3/14)
See also: Tyler, The Creator; Hodgy Beats; The Internet
DIY hip-hop collective Odd Future – or, to give them their full title, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All – built a fevered web following in 2008-9, issuing a slew of self-produced, crudely packaged, endlessly scatological mixtapes. Tyler, The Creator was the group’s centre of gravity, but the most incandescent talent was barely pubescent pup Earl Sweatshirt. 2010’s Earl provided a showcase for his remarkably dense and complex flow, suggesting an unusually fierce love of language. Then, nothing: the teenage prodigy abruptly disappeared, leading to rumours he’d been imprisoned, killed or abducted by aliens (some online grubbing eventually revealed that his mum has sent him to a camp for troubled juveniles in Samoa). Sweatshirt’s 2012 reappearance was a genuine Prodigal Son moment, and he seized it hard, dropping the confessional ‘Chum’ and the dazzling waterfall-of-consciousness ‘Woah’. His forthcoming LP Doris remains arguably the most anticipated studio debut of 2013.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 4/14)
See also: Rocko; Casino
Common sense would inform us that, after dominating 2012 with the quirky and divisive autotune-laced Pluto, there’s no way Future could carry that over into another year. Waka Flocka Flame couldn’t follow up Flockaveli, so what chance does Future have? Well, so far he’s proved us wrong, dropping huge hit after huge hit – and do we even need to mention that he’s become involved with R&B queen Ciara, forming yet another rap / R&B power couple?
Musically, he was responsible for the hook on arguably 2013’s biggest (and certainly most controversial) tune ‘U.O.E.N.O’; he co-wrote Ciara’s ‘Body Party’ (which was favourably reviewed in our Singles Club); and brushed off shots garnered from Lil Wayne’s difficult Emmett Till reference on the huge ‘Karate Chop (Remix)’. That isn’t even taking into account his FBG: The Movie mixtape, where the rapper stepped back from the spotlight to offer a springboard for fellow Atlanta artists Young Scooter, Casino, Rocko and more. His autotuned hooks and muddled rhymes are still incredibly polarizing, but if we were looking for an artist who could stand as the figurehead of the 2013 set, it would be Future.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 5/14)
See also: Young Jeezy; Yo Gotti; Waka Flocka Flame
You may ask why we’re featuring such a veteran on a list dominated by freshmen, but in just the year’s first quarter, Gucci has so thoroughly dominated the rap conversation that this is a no-brainer. He’s dropped five mixtapes at a breakneck pace, and while consistency has been lacking, menacing standouts like ‘That Pack’, ‘Breakfast’, and the masterful, Future-tuned ‘Hell Yes’ show signs of resurgence. While he’s had a falling out with protege Waka Flocka, he wasted no time on anointing the next generation of trap stars, teaming with newcomers Young Scooter, Young Dolph, and PeeWee Longway. It’s been an uneven year, where his latest incarceration is juxtaposed with his big-screen debut, but Big Guwop started this trap shit and he looks poised to remind you of that. Free Gucci!
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 6/14)
See also: Waka Flocka Flame; Alley Boy; Fat Trel
In an age of fakers, Maybach Music Group associate Gunplay stands out as nothing less than real. Sure, that’s not necessarily something to be praised when Gunplay’s real life antics have ranged from stupid (snorting cocaine on camera metres away from Columbian policemen) to, well, armed robbery, but you get the impression that Gunplay’s rap persona couldn’t exist without his real one; and as rappers go, he’s just about the most intense out there. Last year’s ‘Fuck Shit in My Life’ and ‘Jump Out’ blew the competition out of the water, and he delivered arguably the year’s best two guest appearances on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ and MMG’s ‘Power Circle’. He’s also incredibly overlooked as a lyricist (again, check ‘Cartoon’ and ‘Fuck Shit’ for proof), and although his mixtapes to date have felt like foreplay, as focused on freestyles over hip-hop staples as orginal material, his forthcoming debut album Medellin should be sheer hellfire.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 7/14)
See also: er, Juicy’s Juicy.
The stars have really aligned for Juicy J in recent years: not only has the club-friendly Southern hip-hop sound that he helped to spread through the ‘90s with Three 6 Mafia found itself more popular than ever, but lyrically, he couldn’t be more suited to 2013 – about half of his raps reference drugs, and it’s usually done in the most hashtag-friendly style possible (see the constant references to “getting trippy” and that “SHUTTHAFUCKUP!” ad lib). Juicy’s always been ahead of the game though – he took an early punt on Lex Luger, teaming up with the young producer on the Rubberband Business mixtape before Lex’s sound had taken over the hip-hop landscape, and 2011’s Blue Dream & Lean mixtape already sounds like a classic. Last year’s Mike Will-assisted single ‘Bandz a Make Her Dance’ gave Juicy his first solo number one, and whether this year’s album lives up to expectations or not, there’s no way it won’t be one of the year’s most debated.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 8/14)
See also: Future; Webbie; Drake
Future didn’t just breakthrough in 2012 — he kicked down the door for artists who favored Auto-tuned vulnerability and heart-on-sleeve melodrama in their rapping. While Louisiana’s Kevin Gates has been on the mixtape circuit for a few years, he didn’t reach a larger audience until he embraced a Futuristic approach on last year’s Make Em Believe and February’s powerhouse The Luca Brasi Story. Gates is already a better pure rapper than his ATLien forebearer, melodically painting vivid pictures of drug dealers both world-weary (“Extended clip on the nine milli, a lot of hollow tips no refill / Imagine how the fuck we feel, in the winter time no heat here”) and lovelorn (on ‘Arms of a Stranger’, Gates admits that his favorite book is Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, surely a rap first). Plus, his ear for a hook is unparalleled: trance-rap ballad ‘Satellites’ is built for the sing-along. Call it “right place, right time” — or smear it as bandwagoning — but Gates is going to be a star.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 9/14)
See also: Chief Keef, Katie Got Bandz, Lil Durk
We’ve given the Chicago drill pioneer plenty of column inches on FACT before, but it’s 2013 that’s set to be the year of King Louie. The rapper has already dropped a massive thirty-one songs in March alone, leaking one per day as part of his #Marchmadness project, and really this only comes mere moments after December’s Chicago Gospel Drilluminati mixtape. The much-delayed Dope & Shrimp has now been transformed from a mixtape into an album proper, and with any luck that will be all the push he’ll need to go from regional star to a genuine worldwide success. Certainly the tracks we’ve already heard (some of which were leaked for #Marchmadness) suggests he’s on the right track.
For us Louie’s always had a little more pizzazz to his flow than fellow Chicago breakout Chief Keef, and while the Chicago scene’s on a high at the moment with Katie Got Bandz, Lil Durk and Sasha Go Hard all making waves, it’s still King Louie who retains the ability to actually surprise with each drop.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 10/14)
See also: Abdu Ali; Mykki Blanco; Cakes Da Killa
“Queer rap”: the phrase responsible for countless column inches, messageboard skirmishes and muddled think-pieces. Whether or not you consider it a genuine scene or a glib media construct, it’s certainly true that a glut of (primarily New York based) experimental LGBT rappers have caught particular notice in the last 18 months. Best of the bunch is rapper / producer Le1f, responsible for 2012’s essential Dark York mixtape. The record’s a synthesis of vogue house, high-energy electro and wot-u-call-it hip-hop, carried by Le1f’s triple-time flow and sinister rasp. A priapic EP with collaborator Boody and the Fly Zone tape followed; if you’re looking to check in with hip-hop’s lunatic fringe, Le1f’s your best bet.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 11/14)
See also: GrandeMarshall, IAMSU!, Antwon
Atlanta’s Rome Fortune turned in-the-know heads last year with the dusty, melancholy gem LoLo but it’s with 2013’s Beautiful Pimp that his star really began to rise in earnest. Produced mostly by young beatsmith Childish Major (the producer responsible for Rocko’s ‘U.O.E.N.O.’) the mixtape is an unexpectedly coherent meeting of minds, pitting Fortune’s unique voice and recognizable tone against a selection of original and unusually playful beats. Where LoLo was a cloudy, sample-based affair with one foot in the late 1990s, Beautiful Pimp both captures the contemporary zeitgeist with its bright synthesizers and tough 808s, but flips it, sounding at times closer to an experimental record than a representation of Atlanta’s toughest hoods. Fortune has revealed himself to be savvy and ambitious, taking firm control of his distinctive style (just check those album covers) as well as his musical direction, and this bodes very well for his future. The rapper was repped hard on local don DJ Spinz’s HPG and HPG 2 mixtapes, so with that in mind – and another mixtape, Rights for Wrongs, on the horizon – we’re predicting he’s going to go from strength to strength.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 12/14)
See also: Ab-Soul; Jay Rock
You’ll know Kendrick Lamar by now – 2012’s biggest breakout, MTV’s Hottest MC In The Game and the man behind FACT’s favourite album of the year. L.A. rapper ScHoolboy Q is part of Lamar’s Black Hippy clique, and, although following in his compatriot’s sizeable footsteps is a massive ask, he’s expected to have a massive 2013 with his studio debut Oxymoron. Q’s flow is compelling rather than jaw-dropping, but he’s a must listen for rap fans with with catholic tastes and short attention spans: last year’s Habits And Contradictions saw him spitting over walloping party rap (‘Hands On The Wheel’), cascading digital bleeps (‘Sex Drive’) and fey indie types Menomena (‘There He Go’). There’s also a disarming frankness to his flow – sex, drugs and violence are on the menu, but they’re described without a jot of hollow braggadocio. Q’s other Black Hippy associates are well worth your time, too: Ab-Soul’s eloquent Control System was one of last year’s best-reviewed underground tapes, and Jay Rock’s gruff, urgent flow is always a welcome presence.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 13/14)
See also: Young Scooter, Trinidad James
You can’t talk about rap in 2013 without mentioning Atlanta, and you can’t begin to talk about Atlanta without giving a shout out to 1017 Brick Squad. Gucci’s boys are as big a part of 2013’s rap landscape as they ever were, and they have an apt ambassador in fresh signing Young Thug. Picked up after a charismatic turn on Gucci’s Trap God 2, Thug is lumped in as part of the New Atlanta movement (along with the far less talented Trinidad James), but we get the feeling he has the personality to wrench himself out of the local scene without having to be part of some tenuous ‘scene’. What sets the rapper apart from the rest of his crew is simply his ability to sound like nobody else in the game. With a high pitched, off-kilter flow he blows collaborators out of the water, blending Danny Brown’s unpredictable urgency with Kevin Gates’ ratchet sing-song and Lil B’s batshit insanity. He might be the one rapper on this list who’s the hardest sell to fans on the fence, but we have a feeling that with a tape as strong as 1017 Thug already in his arsenal, he can only go from strength to strength.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 14/14)