Dear hip-hop, what the fuck happened?
When did hip-hop become about bogus egos, dehumanizing women, hating ourselves, and stupid, unrelatable statements like #SufferingFromSuccess? Hip-hop was a music of the people, but now it's a culture of the blind-leading-the-blind into a party full of strippers and bad decisions. The next morning, you chalk it all up to "well, that's the game, and I married it, so, oh, well."
The party-ready ratchet culture has become irresponsible. It's good to let loose once in a while, but that sort of superficial shit is not acceptable unless moderated by intelligent discourse. It's time to sober up.
Thankfully, there's a movement beginning to bubble. And we're ready for some hip-hop that speaks to our morals, our lives, and our hopes for the future. If hip-hop wants to be something more than just a parody of itself, it needs to turn the camera around, and get more introspective. We're going to need more role models emerging along the lines of these 10 trailblazers.
See also: Five Reasons Today's Rappers Are Fake
10. Danny Brown
How many rappers you know can get their dick sucked on stage without missing a line? Danny Brown is the smart-man's answer to the mindless joke. The Detroit-bred rhyme slayer has a cartoonish demeanor and party-ready delivery, but dig into his lyrics, and you'll find a message that touts word-play, critical thought, and experimentation as being just as integral to his character as weed smoke and big titties.
If we have one complaint, it's that Brown seems to rely on the same flow a little too much, but he's still one of the best live acts we've ever seen, so we can't hate. If we must get ratchet, we'd rather get ratchet with Brown than anybody else.
9. Kanye West
He may be the biggest ego in the business, but all that huffing and puffing is probably just a lot of nonsense covering a pretty insecure soul. Bro definitely has some issues, but all that personal conflict translates into some really remarkable music. He's the ultimate instigator, and he's not afraid to put himself and his music out on a limb in the name of progress.
Whether you're a fan or not, West is doing things to hip-hop no one has bothered to do before. He's taking it to new levels of musicality and complexity, especially on his last two LPs. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is probably going to go down as his magnum opus, and Yeezus is one dark-fucking monster with more angry, self-depricating attitude than Trent Reznor in '93. If Kanye continues to take risks and push himself, 15 years from now, hip-hop will find itself in a more elevated place artistically than anyone could have seen it going before.
8. Snow Tha Product
Dumb bitches, your days are numbered. Snow Tha Product's name is a reference to the famous Disney princess, but this damsel is in anything but distress.
Known in the streets for her muy rapido flow, she was raised by illegal immigrants and embraces her culture to bring a little something for everybody.
She may be adorable, but you won't see her flaunting her assets for attention. Snow makes sure the focus stays on her hard-hitting, rip-shitting lyrical tornados. Her freestyles are just as impressive as her written rhymes, and she can bring the party or get personal without skipping a beat. Originality is the name of the game for this rowdy rebel, so you can be sure Tha Product will be different and full of flavor each and every time.
7. J. Cole
From the moment we first heard "Who Dat," we knew J. Cole was different from the rest. Thankfully, he won't lose integrity as he climbs the charts and stacks his paper. He appeals to the masses without compromising his message, and that's more than most people can say.
He built his foundation on realness and discourages ignorance in all its forms. He pushes himself lyrically and delivers his rhymes like street sermons, taking time to annunciate every point clearly with an intimacy like he's talking with his audience face-to-face. He takes the time to address real issues our society struggles with every day, igniting conversation where most people are happy to inspire careless spending.
As long as he keeps making chart-topping records and doesn't succumb to the evils of stardom, he will help to inspire a new generation of rap hopefuls looking to make an honest difference in their lives and those around them.
Okay, so Hopsin has some pretty silly contacts, and he picked a fight with Tyler the Creator which we don't really agree with, but if you listen to the shit he's saying, it might be some of the most unforgivably honest things we've heard a rapper spit in almost forever.
His flow and dark character are reminiscent of early Eminem (and that's everyone's favorite, right?). This track "Ill Mind of Hopsin 5" is one in a series of eye-opening bombs taking on drug abuse, lesser rappers and every stupid lifestyle choice mainstream entertainers are so busy bolstering. He's relatable to kids from the suburbs as well as those with a little less going for them from the gate, and he's starting to get some serious attention.
We're not sure what he'd need to break on through to mainstream radio, but it's a message a lot of disaffected youth looking for excuses could stand to hear.
5. Kilo Kish
Bringing shit down a notch, Kilo Kish is the reinvention of that '90s soul revival sound. Jazzy beats melt into the beautiful cadence of her poetry. Kish brings just enough laidback attitude to the mic to give her words weight while still feeling light enough to escape the atmosphere.
Intelligent and feminine, Kish shows that women can be noteworthy rappers without having to prove they're "just as hard as the boys." She's respectable, unique, and thought-provoking, and she's from Orlando, so give it up to the Florida girl putting her own wonderful twist on a stagnant scene.
4. Angel Haze
Detroit spawned this lethal weapon that spits as hard and fast as an HK, but Brooklyn is where the little devil nurtured her hip-hop roots. Raised in a religious cult, her mother moved her to New York City when she was 15, and almost immediately, she fell in love with the beat.
Now, she's 22, and definitely one of the hottest stars on the underground. Bold and brazen, Angel Haze is not afraid to start beef and call the hacks as she sees them, but she's also not too shy to open up about some real shit that might make people uncomfortable. Her version of Eminem's "Cleaning Out My Closet" is relentlessly honest about the molestation and eating disorders in her past that shaped her. She's a strong woman with more to say than just "my ass is the fattest" who doesn't rely on her sexuality as a selling point. She doesn't need to. She spits hot fire.
3. Kendrick Lamar
Lamar is underground no longer, but he still gives off the feeling of someone hungry for a better tomorrow. His game-changing Good Kid M.A.A.D. City is still finding its way into the hearts of thousands. His appeal reaches beyond hip-hop's doorstep and his struggle resounds between the ears of those who have never known the struggle of watching your friends drop around you like rotten fruit or going to sleep starving in more ways than one.
He's not afraid to open up about himself and discuss his own fears, something rap has always had a problem doing. His honesty was rewarded with a lot of attention. We'll call it theft if he doesn't sweep the Grammys this year. Lamar is appearing on a lot of records as a guest, and we hope his intelligent discourse infect those around him.
2. Chance the Rapper
Alright. Go listen to the Acid Rap mixtape, from beginning to end without stopping, right now. Fuck this list, you need to hear the mixtape. It's one of the greatest mixtapes in history, and we're not exaggerating. We haven't been able to stop listening to it for months.
Born from the streets of Chicago, Chance wants to let you know it's okay to be you, and actually, it's your responsibility. Sure, he took a lot of acid when he wrote these songs, and thank god he did, because whatever the formula was for this genius 54-minute opus, it was divine.
He's been hustling his ass off in his hometown for years and has the city on his back while they lift him toward the stars. He's as unsure as the next 20-something, but he's got the balls to sing "nobody's nothing" and the revelatory honesty to avoid sounding cheesy while doing it. This is the kind of music that feels so good it makes you cry, but you're only crying because you know everything is going to be okay, and that feels really, really good. Plus, it's full of that Chi-town soul to help the medicine go down easy.
1. Earl Sweatshirt
Earl is only 18, but we think he might be destined to be the greatest rapper of all time. No one has ever bared their soul so shamelessly and with such grace. His words fall out of his mouth like heavy pebbles into a lake, plopping so poetically, you might have to listen to his tracks two or three times before the meanings register.
He and the rest of his homies in the Odd Future crew get a lot of flak from critics and listeners who don't bother to dig into their catalogues far enough to understand that, even when they're giving you shock and awe, they're merely verbalizing the demons every adolescent hides under their ego's bed.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Earl's self-titled mixtape is impressive enough, but his forthcoming debut studio album, Doris, is already shaping up to be a game-changer. We can't wait to see what Earl does in the future, and we hope he doesn't cave to pressure or the influence of others as he progresses.
So, there's enough good music for you for one day. Try not to drink too much and forget it all by morning.