While a lot of the ongoing celebrations of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop have focused on where hip-hop has been, it doesn’t make much sense to focus only on the past. No Hip-Hop 50 celebration should be considered complete without taking a look at where hip-hop is going.
As The Notorious B.I.G. once pointed out, no one could have seen where rap music and hip-hop culture would have ended up at the outset, but in the same vein, even he couldn’t have seen how things would turn out 30 years after he recorded “Juicy.”
That makes it a fun and unique challenge – it’s impossible to predict where hip-hop could be in another five years, let alone fifty. Still, if these young rising stars have anything to say about it, the genre should be in great hands.
Here are 10 rising rappers who have the potential to dictate what hip-hop could look like in the future.
Rap fans have often been ambivalent about embracing the avant garde. For every Young Thug who blows up, there are a dozen rappers with squeaky or slurred voices who never gain traction among hip-hop heads, who can be as fickle as they are loyal. But when they do decide that they love a new artist with an original ken, they can be as devoted as they once were skeptical.
Cash Cobain is one of those artists who has a chance to go either way. The self-declared “sample God” of New York drill, the Queens native has a flow that is slippery in ways we haven’t heard from trap rappers who have earned the same descriptor. His unabashed pillaging of millennial R&B hits certainly makes him more likely to earn fans than foes, and even if he never hits it big in the traditional sense, his style is guaranteed to influence someone who does.
As much as stateside rap heads have held the UK’s grime and drill artists at an arm’s length in the past, that reticence to embrace hip-hop’s extended family from across the pond has slowly eroded in recent years. Part of this may be due to the clever backdoor those cousins have utilized; drill production, which originated in London’s underground rave scene, is now a familiar fixture on the streets of New York.
Be that as it may, Central Cee doesn’t water down or hide his Shepherd’s Bush, London origins or influences. And while he hasn’t crossed over to US radio, those in the know have accepted him as the future of the British rap regime. It helps that he’s closely associated with a prior favorite in Dave, with whom he collaborated on an EP, Split Decision, earlier this year. It was well received, with its single “Sprinter” peaking at No. 1 on the UK charts. And just in case there was any doubt about his viability with a Yankee audience, he’s got that coveted Drake co-sign via his “On The Radar” featuring The Boy himself.
An indie rapper who doesn’t sound like an indie rapper, East Orange, New Jersey’s Chris Patrick has gained a small but extremely vocal following blending the sort of cerebral rhymes commonly associated with artists on the independent scene with thumping, anthemic beats that wouldn’t sound out-of-place in a crowded club or blasting out of car stereos on a sweltering summer day.
Patrick’s 2022 album X-Files is much like its namesake; it started out a cult favorite, but now, a wider audience is curious to see what all the fuss is about. Patrick’s next project will undoubtedly have a larger impact, proving that there are more directions that independent rappers can still go.
In Uproxx’s profile of the viral sensation rap duo, group member Bobbi LaNea asserted that they are “paying tribute to what hip-hop truly is.” Their clever use of nursery rhymes in their lyrics harkens back to Run-DMC’s use of the old “Peter Piper” tongue twister, and Flyana’s back-and-forth flow recalls the intricate routines employed by classic pioneers like the Furious Five and Beastie Boys.
Though Flyana Boss burst onto our timelines with the splashy social smash “Miss Me,” they are no one-hit wonders. They have a solid discography that proves that the well of ideas runs deep – but past that, their lasting legacy will be kicking open the door for future “weird Black girls” to express themselves through hip-hop in unconventional ways. Whether that’s wearing elf ears, name-checking Kanekalon, or just being willing to cause a commotion in the local convenience store, there’s value in what they’ve already done.
Rap and rock go hand-in-hand. From “Walk This Way” to Collision Course, the shared rebellious spirit of the two in-your-face genres has made magic throughout the past five decades. And sure, there have been some missteps – nu-metal, anyone? – but in recent years, the covalent bond between rap and rock has generated some truly compelling combinations courtesy of acts like Rico Nasty and Trippie Redd.
Kenny Mason’s music, on the surface, seems to stem from that tradition, but shot through with an undercurrent of indie sleaze – the sort of shoegaze-y, fuzzed-out rock that took over pop culture throughout the late aughts. Mason is equally comfortable collaborating with festival rap faves like Denzel Curry and JID as he is imbuing his output with the alt-rock vibes of My Bloody Valentine and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how crowded and repetitive festival lineups have gotten. With so many events in the space and only so many rappers around with the sorts of followings that justify their placement, it stands to reason that a lot of the same names have been popping up on many different rosters.
LaRussell, who hails from Vallejo (just like fellow indie rap pioneer E-40), could easily be a standout of one of those lineups. Instead, he’s more likely to pull up in your neighbor’s backyard to play a show for a few dozen folks at a time. His backyard tour concept is just one of the innovative spins he’s putting on the independent rap hustle. He’s kept up a steady stream of self-released projects and singles, punctuated by semi-regular appearances on your favorite radio freestyle shows. He’s perking up a lot of eyes and ears, proving that there are alternatives to same-old-same.
If you’ve ever found yourself complaining about the prevalence of so-called “pussy rap” among today’s flourishing cadre of female rappers… Well, first of all, stick a sock in it. That complaint’s old, dusty, dried-up, and overdone, in addition to being terminally untrue. Today’s buffet of talents offers such a wide range of voices and styles that whining about a bare handful of modern rap artists – especially when they’re nothing compared to some of the genre’s pioneers – is a waste of your own time, in addition to being pretty annoying to everybody else.
But, it also makes it obvious that you haven’t been looking for alternatives like Lady London, who has recently received co-signs from the likes of Ciara, who tapped her for the remix of “Da Girls” with Lola Brooke. She’s exactly the sort of lyrics-focused MC that critics of female rappers say they want, and she’s only getting more popular by the day. She’s the proof that there are plenty of bars-first women in rap, and she’s kicking open the door for more to follow.
He’s been called the coolest teen in hip-hop, but Tyler’s success portends something larger. For years, hip-hop was all about cool; rappers exaggerated their fashion sensibilities, material possessions, and successes with the opposite sex first and foremost. Somewhere along the way, it became more important to have a good story; “keeping it real” was paramount, but only so long as “keeping it real” meant “keeping it gangsta” or baring some gut-wrenching trauma.
Luh Tyler is too busy talking to girls and telling you about his income for all that. And while that’s not exactly new, the way he does it, with laid-back panache and subtly clever lyricism, is refreshing. He doesn’t try to impress you, so he does. With that as his calling card, he’s helping swing the pendulum back the other way. Think of him as a Larry June for the zoomer set.
For a decade, Top Dawg Entertainment felt like the premier hip-hop label thanks to its core artists, which included Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, and of course, Kendrick Lamar. But lately, that core has been less visible than ever as it feels a little bit like Jay and Q have lost interest in music and Kendrick has moved on from the label. Sure, the remaining members are still working on new music, but it’s been a long time coming, and the label could use some fresh blood to energize the buzz around itself.
Enter Long Beach’s Ray Vaughn, who brings a level of passion and hunger to the same sort of street-centric, philosophical music the original TDE roster was known for. But while they were enamored of lo-fi, moody production that highlighted the heady material, Vaughn emphasizes energetic street bangers – exactly the sort of sounds needed to revitalize and anchor TDE as it enters its new era with a fresh cast including Doechii, Zacari, and Reason.
Yes, “FreakyT,” the breakout single from North Carolina rapper TiaCorine, is representative of the Winston-Salem native’s talents. But that’s not all she has to offer. Thanks to a colorful presentation – like a lot of today’s young talents, she counts anime as foundational to her artistic identity – she’s got an eye-catching style that makes her impossible to overlook. But past that, she’s got a wide variety of approaches, as demonstrated on her 2022 mixtape I Can’t Wait.
The diversity of style she embraces is very emblematic of her generation. From the video game-glitch-hop to pop rock to dreamy pop, she’s willing to try anything – and she sounds great doing it. There will soon be more artists like TiaCorine than not, as hip-hop kids continue to embrace the breadth of popular culture and weird internet movements, incorporating them into rap standards and transforming both sides of the equation.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.