Last week, Maryland artist Goldlink accused Philly artist Lil Uzi Vert of using the “DMV flow” on his vibrant “Free Uzi” record. The flow in question is the melodic avalanche of triplet bars Uzi used as he kicked into the heart of his verses. It was popularized in part by PG County, Maryland artists like Shabazz PBG, Roc Nation signee Q Da Fool, and the currently incarcerated Big Flock. (It’s also worth noting that New Jersey-born rapper Hoodrich Pablo Juan uses a similar cadence on many records.)
It’s likely Uzi was just paying homage to an area he has love for. He did gloat that “when I’m in DC they call me Moe” on 2016’s “Grab The Wheel,” and recently collaborated with Shabazz on last year’s “Shells” record.
While one could debate the merits of flow ownership all day, the true wonder is that young artists in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area popularly known as the “DMV” even have a flow that’s unmistakable to the region. Though the term “DMV” refers to the immediate DC metropolitan area to locals (if you can’t take the DC Metro there, you aren’t in the DMV), the national interpretation of the term factors in Baltimore, which boasts artists like Young Moose who is also making noise for the region.
Just a decade ago, when Wale was an XXL Freshman, and other early 2010s forebearers like Shy Glizzy and Fat Trel hadn’t yet broken through nationally, the DMV’s hip-hop scene was locally confined. But the successes of pioneering artists such as Wale, Glizzy, Trel, and Tabi Bonney, which coincided with the decline of the area’s popular Go-Go sound (due to gentrification and fewer music programs), pushed a generation of DMV’s young millennials into the booth. Now, the scene is full of talented artists, and they’re making waves all over the country.
While younger artists like Logic, Goldlink, and increasingly, Rico Nasty, are becoming household names, there are still a range of other names on the cusp. Here are just a few:
This time next year, Rico probably won’t be on “up and coming” lists anymore. The rambunctious 21-year-old is gaining a cult following with an intriguing visual aesthetic and a truly unapologetic, in-your-face brand of rap that makes her live performances veritable punk shows with flying wigs and spitting-in-mouths — seriously. She first broke through in 2017 with songs like “iCarly” and “Hey Arnold,” before catching more fire with last year’s Nasty mixtape, headlined by “Countin Up” and “Smack A B*tch.” This year, songs like “Tia Tamera” with Doja Cat have her poised for an even higher plateau. More than many young artists, it’s clear that Rico has that unquantifiable something that people want from their stars, and she’s bold enough to give it to them.
Q Da Fool
Rico Nasty’s energetic sound excels with an air of playfulness. Largo rapper Q Da Fool’s, frankly, does not. The 22-year-old Roc Nation artist is at his best delivering menacing narratives of the area’s underbelly over churning trap production. He started out rapping as part of the Pakk Boyz with a slew of other young artists, including Shabazz PBG. After spending various stints in jail, he came out and broke through as a solo artist with 2017’s Hundred Round Goon project, which featured the street-money-flashing “Numbers.” 2018 saw him sign to Roc Nation and release No Competition as well as 100 Keys with Zaytoven. He recently collaborated with another in-demand producer in Kenny Beats on Bad Influence, a stellar six-song EP. He’s set to become one of the DMV’s premier voices of the streets, and he’s on the right team to project his story to the world.
PG County’s IDK is one of the most ambitious artists in any region. His 2015 SubTrap mixtape, released as Jay IDK, was an introduction to a sound he deemed Suburban Trap, or “trap music with substance.” That philosophy has served as the mandate for the rest of his work, including 2017’s IWasVeryBad. The project marked him as one of the most intriguing, creative young artists in the game. First, he collaborated with Adult Swim to visually present the album through their well-respected platform, then he created an extended visual with Noisey which turned his lyrical narrative of life in PG County into the soundtrack of a short film. Last year, he released IDK & Friends, a collaborative EP which featured “Once Upon A Time,” a collaboration with Denzel Curry that has stoked demand for a collab project from the two.
Ras Nebyu’s thoughtful, melodic sound has made his Slizzards movement one of the most visible in the area. The MC/producer has been steadily releasing quality music for years, imbuing audiences with relatable narratives and insightful lyrics inspired by his Slizzatrism movement, which he has said “is the art of finessing good energy to work in your favor by way of meditation, pure intent and acknowledgment of your ancestors.” The Uptown Lion Walkin is clearly in tune, not just spiritually, but with where hip-hop is going, as his melodic, sound fuses the best elements of trap and traditionalist hip-hop aesthetics into a package that’s undeniably fresh.
22-year-old Shabazz PBG is another artist who undeniably speaks for the streets. When Goldlink mentioned a “DMV flow,” Shabazz is one of the chief people he was referring to. He’s one of the most visible figures of the Pakk Boyz collective, and his menacing 2017 “If You Need It” track showcased his potential to excel in the trap scene. He’s been relatively quiet of late, but he collaborated with Lil Uzi last December on “Shells.” While his appearance wasn’t quite the breakout moment it had the potential to be, it reflects the access he has to talented young artists who respect the Pakk Boyz movement as well as his talent.
Talented Baltimore rapper Young Moose has seen the law hinder his promising music career at multiple junctures. One corrupt Baltimore cop in particular named John Hersl had a vendetta against Moose, who on 2014’s “Tired” reflected on Hersl’s unjust raid on his O.T.M. (Out The Mud) store. Hersl stole $8,000 and has since been convicted for similar corruption. Moose’s claims about Hersl and the BPD’s corruption were proven true, an example of how Moose’s gruff, in-the-trenches lyricism is true to life on projects like his O.T.M. mixtape series. He’s been back at it hard in recent months, releasing a slew of singles and freestyles in efforts to get his buzz back where it deserves to be. At just 24, still has time to sidestep the setbacks and have the whole world loving him like Baltimore does.
Suitland, Maryland artist YBN Cordae represents a much-needed balance in the rap game. He’s capable of holding his own with his YBN peers on records like “Pain Away” and ”Make Me Feel” but he’s at his best showcasing his lyrical gifts and compelling knack for storytelling demonstrated on records like the cop-criticizing “Target” and of course his “Old N—-s (1985 Response)” record which made people initially turn heads last year. It’s a testament to the 21-year-old’s maturity that his response was just as measured, if not more, than the 34-year-old Cole’s. It’ll be intriguing to see where Cordae goes in his career.
Lil Xan isn’t the only artist fully embracing the millennial generation’s downer du jour. PG Country rhymer Xanman made no bones about his vices on 2018’s hilarious-but-troublingly titled Luther Xandross mixtape and his recently released Like Tony 5 project. Xanman still has a ways to go, but he can get there with his sense of humor, ear for immersive beats, and versatile delivery.
People who made a fuss about 21 Savage’s “ASMR flow” on Metro Boomin’s “Don’t Come Out The House,” should check out Maryland native Goonew. The rapper presents a stark contrast to some of his intense peers with a calm, nearly-whispering delivery. His tone may be calm, but make no mistake, he’s just as gritty as the rest on his Big 64 project and tracks like 2017’s “Stain.”
Chelly The MC
DC’s Chelly The MC’s “Northeast Baby” is one of those hometown tracks that’s so catchy and powerful that you wanna be from there too while listening. Her 2017 ode to her quadrant of DC may be her best-known song, but people should get more acquainted to the rest of the 22-year-old’s catalog. She released her Halfway There EP last year, which showcased her gritty rhymes on tracks like “4am In Cali” and “Tables Turn.” She should be a go-to choice for anyone looking for intense street tales and/or affirmatory anthems women MCs.
Landover, Maryland artist Black Fortune made noise with 2018’s OsshRock mixtape, which was highlighted by the infectious title track. “OsshRock” boasted an exhilarating chorus but buttery smooth flow that showcased his ability to ride ruckus drums with finesse. That dichotomy is also present on songs like “Katrina” and “Shake,” which makes the 22-year-old one of the most intriguing names to watch in the region.
Maryland rhymer Ciscero was first introduced to the world on “Same Clothes From Yesterday” from Goldlink’s At What Cost album. Since then, he’s been steadily cultivating a catalog of dreamy, soulful tracks with the Devil’s Pie EP and a bevy of other singles. He doesn’t just excel over soul samples however, he can also commandeer bangers like he did on “Bite Down” with Black Fortune.
Lil Dude’s at his dishing intense, introspective over minimalist, keyboard-driven production. That’s the case on “PSA,” and “Magic,” which were released last year, as well as his breakout Trapnanana album. He’s set to release Trapnanana 2 sometime soon.