Best New Rap Artist

As hip-hop continues down its path toward world domination, cash registers ringing loudly all the way, it seems in increasing danger of calcifying. For more and more up-and-coming rappers, pursuing their art often appears simply to be a matter of choosing a role: Gangsta thug? Macked-out pimp? Or smooth balladeer? Pick your category, don its stereotypical wardrobe -- and often its just-as-formalized set of musical rules -- and voilà! Instant rap star! All of which makes the aesthetic flowering of Lee Williams such a welcome breath of fresh air. From his hysterically surreal choice of tattoos (yes, that's a World Wildlife Federation panda emblazoned on his right pec) to his inventive, humor-laced, and honey-voiced flow (one that draws equally upon Q-Tip and Gil Scott-Heron), Williams is evolving into an original. And with his new multiculti live outfit, the Square Egg, churning out the music behind him (no rote programmed beats here, thank you), he looks fully primed to head off in whatever unique direction he wants. We'll most definitely be along for the ride.


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