Ab-Soul, a member of The Black Hippy collective which also boasts the likes of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock, spits some different ish when it comes to hip-hop. There's only so much variety in topics when you listen to your mainstream hip-hop music, but Ab-Soul thinks outside the box. The L.A. rapper isn't at the forefront of Black Hippy like K. Dot currently is, but don't underestimate him. Soulo is definitely the most creative in the crew. He talks about sci-fi-type shit (“Pineal Gland”), religion, education, anything really-- no topic is off-limit. Often just one song will touch on all these topics (“Turn Me Up,” “Gone Insane”). On top of this, he has the lyrics to live up to the discussion, whether it be politics (“Terrorist Threats”) or weed. Ab-Soul has an extensive vocabulary and you can tell he's a well-read dude. Soulo also chooses some trippy ass beats to flow over, which help paint an image in your mind, or maybe just heighten your high. Either way, you'll have to listen to his records more than once to get the full effect, as there is so much to absorb in one song.
Atmosphere, consisting of rapper Slug and DJ/Producer Ant, burst onto the underground scene in the early 90s. Slug brought imaginative and thought-provoking lyrics, while Ant brought an original yet truly hip-hop sound. The duo shy away from the mainstream rap talk and instead turn to some every day life ish. Clever metaphors, wordplay (not the Weezy F kind) and anecdotes abound in Slug's bars, while Ant has been known to provide live instrumentation for a beat (not just samples and drum machines). Atmosphere created a hip-hop genre of their own, where a rapper is allowed to be an every-day man, he's not put on a pedestal, and he's not idealized. Slug can turn his average day into a masterpiece when he makes a song about it (“Yesterday”), and the same can be said of his experiences with women (“The Woman With The Tattooed Hands,” “Molly Cool”). He can also write an entire song as a metaphor (“The Skinny”-- you may think it's about a pimp and his girl, but that's just a metaphor for his relationship with cigarettes). But his story-telling is his greatest strength, whether it's a story from his own life, or someone's else, he conveys it amazingly well (“In Her Music Box,” “66th Street”). Atmosphere's consistency in the underground hip-hop scene proves their creativity.
Sir Michael Rocks & Chuck Inglish have a fashion sense bar-none. The Cool Kids were way ahead of the curve when it comes to any of your favorite hip-hop looks. The duo are not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to clothes but the same can be said of their music. Chuck Inglish brought a minimal production style to the rap scene, which many producers now attempt to emulate. This style was first brought onto the scene with their many free tapes, particularly the stand-out, The Bake Sale. The Bake Sale was critically acclaimed for good reason. The duo at their prime pumped out sick, basic beats with laid-back flows about the shit they do, even if it's just going to the grocery store (“What Up Man”). Mikey Rocks, who has since gone the solo route as of late, shows growth as an artist on his latest mixtape Lap Of Lux. The tape was leaking creativity, from the photograph of Mikey used in the cover art, to the tracklist. Sir Michael Rocks mixes in a bit of auto-tune with his laid-back flow over smooth, synth-filled beats, and it's like nothing you've heard before. Chuck Inglish, on the other hand, has taken his beat-making talents to the mixtape scene, with the release of WRKING & WRK OUT, which finds him expanding on his minimal sound with the introduction of new effects, and the rare sample, creating soothing beats you can simply chill out too.
P.O.S. is another one of those independent-label-rappers on their grind. However, unlike the average independent-label-rapper who tries to create a 'new-age' or 'indie' sound to appeal to 'hipsters,' P.O.S. creates a very particular sound, unlike one in any mainstream or indie rap. His influences are obvious-- punk, metal, and hardcore music. There are not many a rapper who would take on metal music to sample in their beats, but P.O.S. does. His rapping is loud, as well as his beats, and you have to really listen closely to grasp everything he says, because there's a lot of meat packed into 16 bars. P.O.S.'s characteristic lyrics can be reflective on pop culture (“Half-Cocked Concepts”), educative, extremely well-written (“Purexed”), and not too mention clever. It's not often you'll find all that in a singular rapper. He somehow blends punk and rap to create a genre all to himself. He also founded a hip-hop collective called Doomtree, which is distinctive in it's diversity of artists and sounds.
The-Dream is definitely not underground, but he's also not given all the credit he deserves when it comes to a song's creation. The-Dream can hold it down on his own as an r'n'b singer, but he can also create a smash hit for another artist, and we don't even know about half his work 'behind-the-scenes'. The-Dream has released three albums of his own thus far, and they are all cohesive projects with illy beats. His mixtape, 1977, which he put out under his real name Terius Nash, is probably my favorite project of his though. He has chops as an artist and he also creates meaningful lyrics (when he wants to-- he can do the pop fluff easily as well). Man, I just wonder how his brain works. He can create a hit for a woman (Beyonce “Single Ladies,” Rihanna “Umbrella”) as well as a dude (Justin Bieber “Baby,” Diddy “Change”). He can work in the pop genre, the hip-hop genre, the r'n'b genre, and each time it's impressive. To be able to do that you gotta have some imagination flowing through your brain. AND on top of his song-writing skills, he can also produce.
Hopsin is a multi-talented rapper, who did everything on his own on the come-up. While he was first signed to Eazy-E's record label, when things didn't work out, he went and founded his own label, Funk Volume. He soon turned into his own music video director, producer, rapper and sometimes singer. Hopsin's plethora of talents aside, the California native can rap. Although many compare his flow to that of Eminem's, that isn't a fault. He also may take a similar approach to lyrics as Em, as he branches out onto topics that are very rarely, if ever, touched on in hip-hop. It's not weed rap, in fact it's the opposite, as Hopsin is the rare advocate against weed in rap. Hopsin spits the truth about the bad effects weed has on you (“Ill Mind Of Hopsin 5”), the stupid shit women do for men, and more realities rappers don't like facing. Hopsin also doesn't mind taking shots at any of the current rappers (“Sag My Pants”), and point out their obvious flaws, which not many others will do.
Tech Ninna has got to be one of the hardest working rappers in the game, even if he's not plastered all over your favorite blog everyday. The Kansas City rapper has been working from the underground up, yet remains true to himself and his sound. And that sound is quite strange. “Strange Music,” the title of his independent label, pretty much says it all. But strange isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Tech proves. Tech flows over many different sounds and creates strong projects with crazy lyrical content touching on just about everything. He tends to use choruses backing his raps (“Strange Music Box” or any of his hooks really), which creates an impressive and ominous effect. He's also one of those spitters who can speed up his flow at any moment, so much so that you might get lost in his words. His wardrobe can be described as just as strange as his music, as he's told HNHH before, he doesn't need to dress up for Halloween because of it. For Tech, strange is creative in a way not many rappers can pull off.
For those who don't know about the Detroit spitter Boldy James, let this be your introduction. Boldy James is probably the dopest rapper you don't know about. He has rhymes schemes and flows that are almost like poetry, and he seamlessly puts words together. His low voice and mumble-like-rap create a unique listening experience. Plus, he spits real shit, like, actually, real. You all know rappers who claim to be “real” but don't even have a slight grasp on reality, but King James is not one of them. Boldy actually lived the drug-dealing-all-consuming life, and kinda still is, just to make ends meat. While his dreams of being a rapper are slowly coming to the forefront, we get to hear him expand on his style and diversify his lyrics. Although Boldy may be considered an old-school gangster in the content he spits, this is in contrast to his modern beats (“Jimbo,” “For The Birds” ), thus blending two different worlds in a way you've never really heard before (although Freddie Gibbs' recent Baby Face Killa takes a stab at this, somewhat). Boldy's creativity in his approach to the rap game is what makes him a must-listen. He actually has intricate lyrics and he even throws in some math (drug dealers gotta know their numbers) when he raps, which keeps things interesting.
The duo known as Chiddy Bang is comprised of producer Xaphoon Jones and rapper Chiddy. The two started creating music together in 2009, and since they've developped an underground following. Xaphoon Jones has to be given props as the producer, he creates eclectic beats, often sampling from classic songs and turning them into new-age masterpieces. But his sampling skills don't stop there- Xaphoon Jones isn't afraid of sampling anyone, from Passion Pit (“Truth”), MGMT (“Opposite of Adults”), and Sufjan Stevens (“All Things Go”). Xaphoon covers it all, and turns it into an ill beat. Xaphoon creates beats you can just listen to with any lyrics-- as seen on his solo mixtape efforts; but with the addition of Chiddy, you get the whole package for hip-hop group. Chiddy provides the bars. And bars, indeed. Chiddy Bang broke the Guinnes World Record for Longest Freestyle Rap, with a 9 hour, 15 minute and 15 second freestyle in '09. Obviously the emcee of the group has a few lines up his sleeve. Chiddy's slight lisp creates a distinguishable voice, and his flow and rhymes make him memorable.
Check out a list of nine rappers who are unique and exceptional at what they do.
In the age of the internet it seems everybody can be a rapper, or at least make a feeble attempt at so doing. It may seem hard to find real talent with the game cluttered by generic, wanna-be, or insignificant rappers. That's not to say that ill emcees don't exist out there-- they obviously do, but sometimes they get overlooked 'cause some mainstream fish overshadow them with their big, flashy scales. But don't get blinded by the flash of the big fish! So what makes an ill emcee anyways? Creativity is definitely one of the key qualities, 'cause as we know, hip-hop is constantly changing. To keep up, and re-invent, and be different, and fresh, and not just repeat the same old shit over and over...you gotta have creativity.
Today HNHH takes a look at nine rappers who create extremely dope music but may not be at the forefront of the game we call rap. This shouldn't discredit their above-par skills on the mic and their creative approach to hip-hop, which is what makes them real gems in a world of cubic zirconias. Thus, we present 9 Creative Rappers You Should Know About.