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Pay Homage: 10 Unsung Innovators In Rap

By / 06.05.13
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There is a constant ebb and flow in the Hip-Hop industry. Trends surface, and then disappear. Flows are bitten and reworked into something brand new. What was once underground becomes mainstream. By the time a production style is all over the radio, or a new lyrical pattern is being utilized by seemingly every emcee, we have no idea where it began.

We want to take a moment to salute those Hip-Hop innovators that don’t always get the credit they deserve. Each artist listed has left his fingerprints on the game in a tangible way that is not always easily traceable back to them. These social media dynamos, creative engineers, forward thinking businessmen, and lyrical revolutionaries have helped to form some of the most visible trends in Hip-Hop today.

sean price

1. Sean Price

Many people see Sean Price as a throwback to an era where there was a greater emphasis on lyricism and pure rhyming ability. While it may be true that Sean P is one of the hardest spitters in Hip-Hop today, he doesn’t get enough credit for perfecting, if not pioneering, a lyrical style that reached critical mass on Drake’s “Forever” in 2009.

Hashtag rap. Super Duper Flow. Whatever you want to call it. Sean P was doing it well, and well before his contemporaries, at least as early as 2007 on Monkey Barz. You don’t have to believe me. Just push play and listen.

Lil B

2. Lil B’

Your favorite rapper owes Lil B a debt. Though, no one may ever match his encyclopedic catalog of mixtapes, many up and comers took more palatable bites out of B’s blueprint (his ingenious use of social media, for example) to create or enhance their own movements.

Think of how many songs named after public figures that dropped after B made noise with tracks like “Ellen Degeneres.” Think about how B’s adlibs and sleepy cadences, migrated from the West Coast to Chicago to Atlanta. And what would rappers do with their hands in videos and on stage if the cooking dance didn’t exist?

mixed by ali

3. Mixed By Ali

The four emcees of Black Hippy aren’t the only thing special coming out of the TDE camp. Mixed By Ali is the architect of the unique sound that has leaped ahead of the curve and propelled his four-man wrecking crew into the stratosphere. His unique manipulation of pitch and vocal stacking are a big part of the reason why TDE sounds like nothing else in music right now. You can already hear some of his techniques being used today, and, as his crew’s profile grows, Ali’s name and sound will become ubiquitous.

T-Pain lead

4. T-Pain

We could argue the merits of Auto-Tune all day and maybe even fool ourselves into thinking it's dead, according to Jay, but clearly it's not. We've seen and heard the voice-altering function create stars (or at least recognizable figures) out of the likes of Kevin Gates, Kirko Bangz and Future. And any current day use of the warbling sound can be traced back to T-Pain.

joe budden

5. Joe Budden

50 Cent made the mixtape a viable tool to promote an unsigned artist. Joe Budden helped make the mixtape a viable alternative to proper albums. After his relationship soured with Def Jam, Regular Joe took to the studio to vent his frustration and began the Mood Musik series.

The second tape is where the real magic happened. Budden found his voice: stunningly raw honesty, almost bordering on self-loathing, over gloomy, original, production. His album like approach to the free release was the predecessor to the So Far Gones, Dedications, and Live.Love.ASAPs of the world.

phonte eternally video

6. Phonte

Beginning with Little Brother’s debut album The Listening, Phonte has frequently injected a much-need dose of realism into the Hip-Hop discourse. His relatable, everyman, approach stood in stark contrast to many of his more well-known peers, and served as early inspiration to artists like Kanye West and Drake.

dj-drama

7. DJ Drama

DJ Drama’s single artist mixtapes were a revolutionary turn in that sub-genre of music that changed the landscape forever. He helped launch the career of Young Jeezy with Trap or Die, put a major speedbump in Lil Flip’s clover lined road to the riches with T.I.’s scathing Down With The King mixtape, and it became a measure of success to be deemed worthy of a Gangsta Grillz tape.

DJ Burn One by Diwang Valdez 700

8. DJ Burn One

A hybrid of Joe Budden’s approach to mixtapes, and DJ Drama’s single artist model, Burn One actually produces most tracks on his mixtapes, and essentially plays the role of A&R and executive producer. Every aspect of a Burn One tape has his stamp on it.

9th wonder

9. 9th Wonder

Remember when 9th Wonder was either being touted as a maverick or being raked over the coals on messageboards for his use of Fruity Loops? Back in 2003, the idea of using an easily *ahem* attainable software program, as opposed to the more expensive hardware production suites like Akai’s MPC or the famed SP1200, was often seen as a novelty or a slap in the face to “real” producers.

9th’s success with the program, and consistently high level of quality lead to, for better or for worse, a legion of bedroom producers joining the Hip-Hop community, and tearing down yet another barrier to entry for aspirants to become active participants in Hip-Hop music.

peanut butter wolf

10. Peanut Butter Wolf

The line between indies and major labels grow ever fainter each day. Peanut Butter Wolf, as founder of Stones Throw Records, oversaw seminal releases by Madlib, Jay Dilla, and Planet Asia, and was the precursor to labels like Fool's Gold that are making big noise today with a similarly eclectic stable of artists.

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