We’re lucky to be in this era, where fans of rap and hip-hop are watching as the genre expands beyond the East Coast/ West Coast epicenters. Now more than ever, incredible rap music is coming out of the Midwest, Seattle, and Toronto. Largely thanks to Chance the Rapper, there has been a surge on the Chicago rap scene, bringing forth some of the most unique and conscious rap voices since Lauryn Hill and Nas. Similarly, The Weeknd and Drake have built a strong foundation in Toronto for aspiring rappers to do what they didn’t think was possible before, to create and compete in a very inclusive rap industry. But with the internet and social media’s ability to connect artists directly with their fans, it’s much more doable for musicians to accrue popularity without a label behind them. Here are 10 Rappers to Watch in 2016, packed with both independent and signed, male and female artists.
We cannot contain my excitement for Noname and her upcoming debut. Though we’ve already been familiar with her poetic verse and uncompromising, velvety delivery thanks to Chance the Rapper, the Social Experiment, Saba, and other Chicago-natives who have warmly admired Noname in their prolific community. Noname’s soundcloud only has a few tracks available, including “Freedom Interlude”, which, according to the tracklist she released last month, should make an appearance on her forthcoming debut, Telefone. Look for Noname on Chance the Rapper’s tracks “Lost” and “Israel Sparring” to get a delicious taste of who we consider one of the most authentic and inspired female rappers on the rise.
Gateway Track: “Sunday Morning“
Though Allan Kingdom debuted his first mixtape back in 2011, it was after Kanye West’s performance of “All Day” at the 2015 Brit Awards, where Kingdom appeared—on stage, out of nowhere—that truly made his presence known. Allan Kingdom’s verse on “All Day” is only four lines, but it serves as the backbone to the track, propelling Kingdom into the rap industry limelight. Kingdom kicked off the year by releasing Northern Lights, the follow up to 2014’s Future Memoirs, featuring appearances by D.R.A.M, Chronixx, and Jared Evans. Without the help of a label, PR, or investors, Allan Kingdom continues to explore his unique brand of melodic, conscious rap.
Gateway Track: “Wavey” feat. Spooky Black
Simbi Ajikawo, known by her stage name Little Simz, has taken on the roles of rapper, singer, and actress by the shy age of 22. But Little Simz has been anything but timid in her artistic journey, as evidenced by her tough, hard-hitting and undeniably empowered rap style. A favorite of Kendrick Lamar and echo of Lauryn Hill’s merciless lyricism, Little Simz impressed critics and DJs alike with her first four EPs, and even further with 2015’s independent release of A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. Little Simz exhibits a complex understanding of rhyme and rhythm, and alongside other inspired rap voices to come out of London, continues to shape the industry as we once knew it.
Gateway Track: “Wings“
If you listen to Kevin Abstract, not only in tone but in rap content as well, the 19 year old rapper comes off as a direct, nuanced echo of his biggest influences: Kid Cudi, Tyler the Creator, Kanye West, Future, and Frank Ocean. His lyrics, specifically on his only single off the forthcoming They Shoot Horses, show just how tortured Kevin Abstract was by the rejection and displacement of his early adolescence and his ongoing journey to find a place he can call home. Before releasing his debut solo record MTV1987, Kevin Abstract belonged to the “All-American” hip-hop collective Brockhampton, who first formed via likemindedness on a Kanye West internet forum. Look out for Kevin Abstract’s sophomore record, due sometime this year.
Gateway Track: “Echo“
In 2014, Little Rock rapper Kari Faux grabbed the attention of Childish Gambino with her single “No Small Talk”, which may be the single most important step in this young artist’s career. Not only did he remix and re-release her smart and contagious single, he then proceeded to arrange for her relocation to California where she would gather the material for her debut LP, Lost En Los Angeles. Though Lost En Los Angeles immediately reveals that Kari Faux didn’t find the L.A scene appealing, the album is hardly melancholic or regretful, and instead uses jazz, funky double bass lines, and 70’s psychedelic vibes to show us what she learned amongst the angels. Lost En Los Angeles is a real masterpiece, driven by sophisticated nods to the 70’s and Kari Faux’s smooth, melodic rhymes of unabashed realness.
Gateway Track: “Fantasy“
We first came to know D.R.A.M through the Drake/”Hotline Bling” controversy, which introduced us to the single “Cha Cha”, a track oddly similar to Drake’s incredibly contagious single. Though we have no verdict as to if Drake really did steal from D.R.A.M, this singer/rapper/music producer is definitely a voice we can’t help but pay attention to, specifically because he has a beautiful voice. Having appeared on Chance the Rapper and Donnie Trumpet’s two latest records, we’re now familiar with his gospel inspired vocals, and laid-back, one of a kind rap style. His second mixtape, Gahdamn!, dropped just last year, but according to D.R.A.M’s SoundCloud, we could be seeing a follow-up album soon.
Gateway Track: “Okden“
In 2009, when she was only 17, female rapping prodigy Angel Haze released a series of free, downloadable mixtapes, all leading up to the 2012 release of Reservation, the EP which finally landed Haze the recognition she had her sights set on. In 2013, fans finally saw the release of her debut record Dirty Gold, which led with singles “Echelon” and the philanthropic anthem “Battle Cry”, featuring Sia. In terms of rappers who have a pop sensibility, we think Angel Haze is the perfect candidate to cross genres, an ability which certainly helped her garner the nominations following the release of Dirty Gold. We appreciate Angel Haze for her tight rhymes, socially conscious lyricism, and fiery cadence.
Gateway Track: “Echelon (It’s My Way)“
Hailing in from Oakland, Kamaiyah’s sound has clearly drawn from the 90’s era of female rap artists such as Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, Conscious Daughters, and TLC. She launched her rap career through the Oakland collective Big Money Gang, and just this year released her debut LP A Good Night in the Ghetto, featuring YG and members of BMG. The vibes on her first record perfectly articulate the title: reminiscent of the 90’s funk-rap with a poppy, contemporary twist which echoes the current Bay Area sound, Kamaiyah successfully created the exact tonal palette for a 18-25 year-old soundtrack. Her latest single, “How Does It Feel“, captures Kamaiyah’s current position in the rap industry, but more importantly, where she is destined to go.
Gateway Track: “How Does It Feel”
Nef the Pharaoh
Among the many rappers coming out of the Bay Area scene is Nef the Pharaoh, who, in 2014, was declared the “Bay Area Freshman of the Year” by his compadres. But his rap career has much deeper roots, having won rap contest since the age of four. After he released the single “Big Tymin” in 2015, the track received remixes by YG and Ty Dolla $ign, solidifying Nef the Pharaoh’s growing presence in the rap industry. His latest full length, Neffy Got Wings, is another impressive display of rap prowess, truly making him one of the most exciting voices to have recently debuted from the exciting Bay Area rap scene.
Gateway Track: “Big Tymin“
Nitty Scott MC
Sure, she’s been on the scene for awhile, but we thought we’d remind you about the Brooklyn based rapper Nitty Scott MC, who, back in 2011, attracted the admiration of Kendrick Lamar and even went to feature him on her hit single “Flower Child”. This past January, Nitty released a freestyle on the beat “Hieroglyphics”, an incredible act of lyric showmanship and a quick way to reassert herself on the current rap landscape. She’s released consecutive singles this year, most recently the track “All the Flowers”, and hopefully a follow-up to 2014’s The Art of Chill will hit soon. Smoother than Iggy Azalea and witty like the best MCs we’ve ever known, Nitty Scott MC is definitely a rapper to watch in 2016.
Gateway Track: “Hieroglyphics“