Welcome to the premiere episode of Uncharted, an UPROXX Original series highlighting the best artists you haven’t heard of, yet. With the support of our friends at Honda, we’ll be following some of the best emerging talent as they follow their dreams and make great music.
Hip-hop is possibly the largest cultural force on the face of the planet. Its fingerprints are everywhere: not just in art, but in politics, news, sports, food, business, tech — it’s in every aspect of our lives. So, if rap music’s influence is so massive, why are its origins not held in that same regard?
True cinephiles not only know the directors of today, they study the Truffauts and Goddards and Hitchcocks and Kubricks, even the Spikes and Spielbergs of more recent history. Maybe trendy foodies only look to what’s next, but true fans of haute cuisine look back to older gourmands and recipes as building blocks. From visual art, to rock ‘n’ roll, to television, to dance to theater, the past is equally important to what’s contemporary, if not moreso.
While there may not be a clear answer as to why hip-hop is the outlier in remembering its past, there are some people who want to shift that tide. One member of this new generation is Los Angeles’ own A-F-R-O. If you speak with the 17-year-old rapper, he’ll paint you a picture of modesty about how he’s just a young guy trying to stay humble and pay respect to those who he’s admired in the rap game all his life. And yes, that would be honest. But he knows that the art form is much larger than himself.
Rapping from as young as 11, A-F-R-O has truly spent his life preparing for the moment he’s about to embark on. “When I was 9, I heard Rakim, I heard the song ‘Microphone Fiend’ and that was the one where I was like, Damn I want to do that.” The young L.A. rhymer’s booming voice and backpacker swag is a potion concocted from years of dedication to and fandom of hip-hop’s originators.
Despite having never left Southern California until this year, it’s easy to hear the young kid’s influences, but there was one in particular who means the world to him. “R.A. The Rugged Man… he’s been my favorite since I was 13,” he told Uproxx of the New York emcee, who came up in the ’90s alongside the city’s other greats of the era. Though R.A. never experienced the commercial success of his peers, he is considered a vital part of hip-hop’s history. R.A. became aware of the young emcee when A-F-R-O entered a freestyle contest on YouTube hosted by R.A., and now the two are partners in restoring a pride and respect for the rhymers who built it all up.
Both A-F-R-O and R.A. share a vision of what they want the future of hip-hop to look like, and it’s one that acknowledges the past with the honor they feel it deserves. “He makes all of us feel good, because a lot of 17-year-olds only know a lot of garbage that they’re being spoonfed on the radio,” R.A. said. “They don’t know the Rakim, DJ Premier, Kool G Rap, the GZA. So, when I introduce him to GZA and Kool G Rap and Premier in person and he knows their entire biography – stuff that they’ve done 10 years before he was born – they’re like ‘Wow, there’s youth out there like this. We’re not going to be forgotten. We’re being reborn into another generation, our music will live on through dudes like this.’ ”