Free Agents: 10 Independent Rappers Who Could Use An Upgrade

Thanks to a certain Mr. West, Chief Keef is one of Hip-Hop’s most sought-after talents. The 17-year-old emcee has hardly been in the public’s eye for more than a couple of months, but he has some very big decisions ahead of him. With everybody from Birdman to Rick Ross preparing large, novelty checks to send his way, Keef’s future will be determined in large part by the team that drafts him.

As such, the following 10 rappers have all experienced some degree of success in rap without the bump of a major record deal. Call them employees of smaller, local labels, but technicalities aside, all share a level of success earned without the help of a big-name co-sign. And, since speculation is fun, we paired the artists with major labels that seem best-equipped to help the rappers thrive.

A&Rs, consider this your heads up.

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1. Jon Connor

Who Should Sign Him: Shady Records

Bolstered by a team of staunch supporters and the drive of a factory worker with a house-full of kids to feed, The Con man has slowly but surely made his way into the public eye. However, despite being able to craft any type of song you can think of, it almost seems like his penchant for murdering mics and speaking the truth holds the Flint native back from making major moves. That’s why a boost from Marshall’s crew would be a perfect fit. The label’s built on turning lyricists into stars and a hard-nosed Michigan kid like Connor would thrive with guidance from a team who turns talent into hits. — Beware

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2. Chip Tha Ripper

Who Should Sign Him: G.O.O.D. Music

Chip already has an established history with some of G.O.O.D.’s finest, putting out a number of tracks with Kid Cudi and Big Sean. His merits run deeper than association, though; fans know that Chip is a very talented lyricist with a radio-friendly voice. And he’s done his part as an independent act over the years, slowly but surely building a fan-base. Toss a Chip verse on the next G.O.O.D. Friday release and watch the heads turn. — AJ

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3. Action Bronson

Who Should Sign Him: Fool’s Gold

Let’s face it, Bronson is a niche rapper. He doesn’t have radio songs and he probably couldn’t care less about making them. So, finding a legit label that can secure a long-term career for his selective menu of unadulterated Hip-Hop would be key. That’s why Fool’s Gold would be wise to put together some paperwork for Flushing’s favorite wrestling fan. Following the same formula they did with Danny Brown, A-Trak’s label can allow Bam Bam to do Bam Bam, while still watching him flourish in front of an astute audience that can appreciate his wit, as well as the occasional crossover joint he’d inevitably end up on. — Beware

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4. IamSu!

Who Should Sign Him: Interscope Records

Seeing as the Richmond rapper has already shown his knack for crafting hits, more than likely a few major labels are already looking to break off the Heartbreak Kid. However, it’s Jimmy Iovine’s cover-all monster that could actually help this kid blossom into a star. Instead of trying to rush out a debut album right away, Interscope could afford to let Suzie marinate with a substantial signing bonus and plenty of placement opportunities, while an LP properly materialized and the relative new jack’s charisma cultivated. — Beware

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5. Don Dada

Who Should Sign Him: CTE

The wildcard of the bunch. G said it best: “A regular dude in South Carolina? Wearing Coogi? Rappin’ in between bites? He’s definitely not coming to you so book a flight, bring a check or cash in advance in small bills only, sign him and look like a genius.” It’s going to take a street label to bring out Don Dada’s best, and even if his style isn’t the same as Young Jeezy or Gangsta Gibbs, whew lord can Dada spit. Any label would be lucky to have him, but CTE would in all likelihood understand him the best, and allow him to keep doing his thing. — AJ

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6. Mac Miller

Who Should Sign Him: Columbia

Despite the disappointing coming-out party that was Blue Slide Park, Mac’s most recent work, Macadellic, was one of the more daring projects to drop in 2012. Showcasing a darker, more creative side that few thought the young Pittsburgh MC had, it represented significant growth. If there’s one producer out there who seems capable of working with Miller and taking his craft into even bolder directions, it’d have to be Columbia co-head Rick Rubin. The Double-R has the most diverse catalog on the market, working with pop stars, rock bands and rappers. Wherever the hell Mac wants to take his style over the next 10 years, Rubin seems the man with an eclectic enough background to make it happen. — AJ

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7. STS

Who Should Sign Him: Jet Life Recordings/Warner Bros.

If you let him tell the story, all STS knows is “women, weed and what to wear.” Sugar Tongue, meet Spitta. The Philadelphia emcee would feel at home in the house that Curren$y built, but his rapid flow would separate him from the Young Roddys and Michael Rocks of the team. And, seriously: look at the way dude dresses. His style screams “Jet Life.” — AJ

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8. Hoodie Allen

Who Should Sign Him: Atlantic Records

Truth be told, after turning online support into the number one album on iTunes and millions of YouTube views on his own steam, Hoodie might not need big label help. But, if the All-American did decide to take the money and run with his pop flow, Atlantic would probably be a good fit. The label always gets knocked for turning applauded artists like Wiz, Lupe and Bobby Ray into radio stars. Yet, if they took on someone who’s already leaning in that direction, all they’d essentially need to do is plug in their promo, let the Long Island kid do his thing and watch the hits pile up. — Beware

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9. LG

Who Should Sign Him: Cinematic Music Group/Def Jam

Can someone please introduce LG to Big K.R.I.T. as soon as humanly possible? The next big thing out of the NO, LG is more of a storyteller than anything else, sharing more DNA with Nas and Common than Juvenile and Soulja Slim. Bringing LG aboard Jonny Shipes’ Cinematic Music Group would allow for him to grow and prosper by allowing for maximum creative freedom, following the same blueprint that made Krizzle a star. Really though, anything to get LG and K.R.I.T. on the same team seems appropriate. — AJ

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10. Chief Keef

Who Should Sign Him: Cash Money

As mentioned before, Keef might be the hottest commodity on this list. Yet, what makes him such a talking point these days isn’t so much his skill set, as much as it is the unwavering reality raps that have him turned into a teenage superstar-in-the-making. But, while there have been many suitors looking to paper up the Windy City kid, it would be in everyone’s best interest if he signed with Cash Money. Not only would his bank account blossom, but Baby’s been turning teenage aggression into radio love for over a decade, which is guidance Keef needs. Plus, considering Chi-Town’s current war-zone status, watering down his music wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. — Beware

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