Here at Uproxx, we try to cover the best hip-hop with features like our weekly rap roundup and our preview of upcoming albums, but we can’t get to everything. The rap game is flooded with talent, but not all of it gets the light it deserves. That’s especially so for independent artists. That’s why I’ve put together this list of music from indie rappers.
There’s a little something for everyone. The diversity of the list exemplifies that “underground” or “indie” doesn’t have a sound. Whether you’re a fan of jazzy boom-bap, industrial experimentation, or smooth genre-bending, that sound is probably represented on this list. I’ve tried to focus more on up and coming acts. Show this to the people in your friend group who swear the radio is the end-all of what hip-hop is. They’ll come away with at least one artist they’ll want to check out and commend you for putting them on. Don’t we all love looking smart?
Rory Allen Philip Ferreira, formerly known as Milo and Scallops Hotel, is a quintessential independent artist. We spoke in 2017 about his desire “to be as free as I can when I’m rapping,” and since then he’s been creating on his own terms with the Ruby Yachty label and Soulfolks Records shop in Biddeford, Maine. The rapper-producer has released music under various names, with each project offering a different layer of his artistry. These days he’s going by R.A.P. Ferreira, and recently released the introspective, impeccably-crafted “Doldrums” from his upcoming Purple Moonlight Pages album.
Multi-hyphenate artist Ojay Morgan, AKA Zebra Katz, achieved acclaim with their bouncy “Ima Read” single in 2012. They’ve released occasional singles since then, but are finally ready to release their debut album Less Is Moor. Earlier this week they dropped “Ish,” an experimental single from the project. Katz tears through a sparse, cavernous soundscape with a double-time flow that dramatically shifts speeds and tone. The track meshes elements of industrial, electronic, and drum and bass with seamless skill that bodes well for the rest of the project.
Rapper Cambatta may be most known by many from his 2016 “Tupac Murder Confession” track, but that just scratches the surface of the ambitious lyricist’s ability. The self-proclaimed “Teacher. Philosopher. Scholar. Shaman. God on Earth And Greatest Rapper Alive,” aims to be a little bit of all of those things in his music, as evidenced by his most recent Holy Ghost 2 project. The well-studied MC explores spirituality, existential purpose, and societal ills like racism with a seer-like quality.
On “Seaworld,” Queens MC-singer Akinyemi discussed the ever-relatable longing to “float away” from phonies, fakes, and opportunists. The track is a strong example of the burgeoning MC’s ability, with sharp lyricism, a harmonious cadence, and a mastery of mood. He recently released a deluxe edition of his 2016 Summers EP, a project that he told us doesn’t “stand with where I’m at today artistically” as he finalizes a debut album that should be out in the next couple months.
Brooklyn-based MC Sidewalk Kal is stepping into the U.S. government’s Black Identity Extremist label, acknowledging that any condemnatory categorization by the powers that be must be something to affirm. His 17-track album is a soulful indictment of the status quo and call for self-love that also serves as an impressive introduction to his considerable lyricism.
Duncecap’s “Waste Of Money” is a fiery — literally and figuratively — exploration of capitalism, where he acknowledges “privilege is as privilege does” then explores the manners in which material excess can still have you feeling like a “waste” with no other purpose but consumption. The thunderous track is from his recently-released Miserable Then EP, which was entirely produced by ELUCID (and also released on his Backwoodz Studios) label.
Vader The Villin & Rothstein
On “Tell Me Twice,” Rothstein and Vader Villin (with the help of Jordan Bratton) display the smooth, genre-bending sound that their growing fanbase has come to expect from their upcoming “Wish You Were Here” project. “Tell Me Twice” boasts live instrumentation, whereas the previous tracks “Jet Lag” and “Mia Wallace,” are smooth, trap-influenced compositions. All three tracks coalesce to set a smooth vibe for their mastery of melody and vulnerable, confessional lyrics.
Cambridge, Massachusetts rhymer Connis is an artist to watch. The prolific rapper-producer’s relatable confessionals and slick braggadocio have earned him a steadily growing fanbase. His skills were on display throughout SESSIONS: 001, a 12-track project with producer bby._j. The two fused their skills with great success, as with bby._j provided Connis with a spacey canvas to unleash his myriad flows on tracks like “Keep It To Myself,” “Check Up One Me,” and “Bottles.” SESSIONS is a good place to start with Connis, as is his Conn(is) album.
Shootergang Kony is poised to follow in the steps of current Sacramento king Mozzy with his own dose of raw reality rap. The 20-year-old previously told Billboard he feels like a “hood hero,” but reaching that status was no easy feat. Records like the poignant “A Sinners Story” reflect on his plight, as his perilous life story explains how a rise in the streets is often an existential descent.
Brooklyn rapper Akai Solo and his Tase Grip partner, producer Iblss, are Mad Moon. The frequent collaborators have a well-honed chemistry that manifested in impressive fashion throughout their 16-track effort, which is described as “A Void Black Tearing Cut Through Thus Persistent Turmoil” on the album’s official Bandcamp page. Akai is at home over Iblss’ majestic, soulful chops, unsheathing barbs of insight and calls to action like “algorithm set up to reveal demons” on album standout “Kingdom Koi.”
On the affirmatory “Lord Of The West,” Adonis states his case to be a future West Side king over a thumping Thelonious Martin beat. It’s the latest offering from the steadily buzzing artist who recently released “Logan” Adonis X DJ Skizz with DJ Skizz. The nine-track project is an exhibition of his slick, confident flow that makes him “simply…chosen to give out moments that were golden,” as he rhymed on “Logan.”
Dayton, Ohio rhymer Yellopain would throw off most rap traditionalists with his yellow hair (and name that references it), but his “My Vote Don’t Count” track drops the kind of knowledge about the American government that so-called conscious rap is made of. His 2018 I’m Still Here Because I Didn’t Give Up is full of similarly honest, reflective rap that marks him as a needed voice in the game.
The upstate New York hip-hop scene is thriving like never before. Most fans associate the area with the booming Griselda movement, but there are more artists to be heard there, such as Buffalo’s Che Noir. The talented MC is a frequent collaborator of rapper-producer 38 Spesh, who she often trades bars with while offering a woman’s perspective of the dope game (“a drug dealer was my soul mate / road to riches, flippin’ birds, I always knew he had road rage”). Che is set to drop a 10-track project next week which is sure to have plenty of dirty talk and slick rhymes.
Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon
Rappers have been talking about their capers since rap’s inception, but it’s rarely been as unforgettable as the Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon’s experience. It’s best to suspend all disbelief when listening to politically incorrect projects like Teejay’s Black Air Force Activity 1. Any given song is a scatterbrained whirlwind of absurd, obscene quotables that veer from the intricacies of internet scamming to random observations “like seen a n**** who owe me I just blew up his Cadillac / drove him to da hospital cause dat n**** had a panic attack.”