Here is our list of the underground MCs who had the biggest come up in the last year: The AFH Torch Bearers list. These MCs include Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, A$AP Rocky, Childish Gambino, Chuuwee, Dom Kennedy, The Jets (Tradeamark Da Skydiver, Young Roddy, Sir Michael Rocks), The Kid Daytona, Rittz, Schoolboy Q, Smoke DZA, Stalley and XV. Click here to see why we chose these MCs and to hear some of their music.
There have been a lot of lists declaring top MCs lately; some for the mainstream and some for the underground. In our opinion (and each list is just that–opinions) each list left some things to be desired. So…we decided to take matters in our own hands. Partly in response to these lists (though this is something about which we’ve been marinating for the last several months), we decided to create our own list to recognize those MCs that we believe are already carrying the torch for hip-hop–bringing heat to the game and shining a bright light on quality music–but who have not yet gained the full recognition they deserve. This list will not include MCs like Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., J. Cole, Curren$y (though they are some of our favorite MCs) or anyone that’s had a major label release (Yelawolf, Slaughterhouse, etc.). In our opinion, those MCs “got now” (though not everybody knows it yet). It also will not include underground legends like Phonte, Evidence, Pharoahe Monch, etc. Those MCs’ legacies are already cemented among Heads in the know. Instead, this list is dedicated to those MCs who haven’t received mass media attention yet but who have taken their games to a different level over the past 12 months (or so) and are poised to set the hip-hop world ablaze (even more). But, be clear. These MCs are not freshmen. Each has been grinding for years. However, the momentum each has gained in the last year deserves formal recognition. There should not be many surprises. We celebrate these artists monthly, weekly and sometimes daily. As the furor around the recent lists has shown us though, sometimes it is important to officially shout out those who are feeding the culture we know and love as hip-hop.
Without further adieu, our 2012 Torch Bearers are (in alphabetical order):
Ab-Soul – Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock get a lot of shine (deservedly so) but ALL of the Black Hippy crew has skills. Ab-Soul has established himself as the more abstract cat of the group, so it may take folks a little longer to recognize his talents, but his Longterm Mentality album was one of the deeper ones to drop last year. And, he showed incredible range in his flow from the laid-back, slinky one on All Feelin’ to the syncopated style he rocked on Picture That. Here are a couple of his songs that show his diversity.
Action Bronson: Action Bronson is part Ghostface (his tone and flow), part Raekwon (he’s an actual chef) and fully dope. He’s managed to pay homage to his legendary influences, yet carve out an identity that is uniquely his own. He dropped a TON of bangers over the last year–solo, as features and teamed with Statik Selektah. Here are just a couple of his many burners.
A$AP Rocky – A$AP Rocky has combined a Southern Flow, Cali Style and Harlem Swag all into one. The result is he has very loudly become one of the hottest MCs in the game. We have posted some, but not all of his music.
It is still growing on us He is getting better with every record and . However, we have the deepest respect for his grind which is yielding big dividends. Here are a couple of his tracks that showcase why he may be one of the biggest names in hip-hop in the coming years.
Childish Gambino – Like Drake, Childish Gambino has had to overcome a career in television that did not necessarily scream “hip-hop.” After ripping the stage on the Rock The Bells tour, creating one of the strongest social media games around and, most importantly, releasing a ridiculously hot album, there is no question. Dude has talent as a rapper. Don’t take our words for it though…Check these out.
Chuuwee – Chuuwee’s song JJ Evans is an open letter to DJ Premier letting the legendary producer know Chuuwee is ready to f*ck with him. That’s balls! But, when you hear the track, you realize he’s right…This MC from Sacramento studied hip-hop from the 90’s (many say the Golden Age) and attacks beats in the same way as some of the best MCs from that era. Late last year, he took aim at The Throne with his album Watching the Throne. MCs may act like they don’t know about Chuuwee, but they will.
Dom Kennedy – Dom Kennedy is the bridge between West Coast rap of yore and West Coast rap of today. You can hear the influence of Eazy-E, Dre, DJ Quik and others in his flow and beat selection. But, his subject matter and style are all contemporary. With an appearance in the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher and a new album last summer (From the Westside With Love II), Dom had a big year last year. It will only get bigger from here.
The Jets – Curren$y (Trademark Da Skydiver, Young Roddy & Sir Michael Rocks) – Curren$y is the biggest name in The Jets but Trademark Da Skydiver, Young Roddy and, recent addition, Sir Michael Rocks are stars in their own right. Like Curren$y, each has a penchant for blacking out on soulful beats. Tradmark Da Skydiver and Young Roddy are a dynamic duo who began to soar on their Jet Life to the Next Life project with Cookin’ Soul. And Sir Michael Rocks, while part of The Cool Kids, made a real name for himself on the solo tip with The Rocks Report. Whether as a collective or solo, The Jets are getting it in for hip-hop one track at a time.
The Kid Daytona – The Kid Daytona dropped The Interlude 2 last year and had a number of ridiculous features, each of which increased his shine. His flow is so laid-back and in the pocket it sounds effortless but don’t be fooled. A true sign of greatness is when the difficult looks easy. His lyrics from Padma say it best: “So Buttery put it in the pan let it sizzle, Cook up, watch it come back official, Dish it out let them eat it up till there’s nothing left, Respect the top chef.”
Rittz – Rittz is ill on so many levels. Think about his name…Then think about his album title (White Jesus). Clearly, dude has a sense of humor. Beyond that, he has a sick flow that sounds like a combination of Yelawolf and the late, great Pimp C (think on that for a minute). In addition, he tackles subject matters ranging from the battle of the sexes (Fulla Sh*t) to the battle within (Wishin’). His music speaks for itself though.
Schoolboy Q – As we said about Ab-Soul, the ENTIRE Black Hippy crew has skills. Schoolboy Q rounds out the foursome that also includes Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock. Each Black Hippy member tackles his environment in different ways. Kendrick is the philosopher, Jay Rock is the reporter, Ab-Soul is the abstract and Schoolboy Q is the embodiment. As the title of his album Habits & Contradictions suggests, he gives you the raw and uncut of life as it has affected him. And, he has a start and stop flow that is uniquely his own and is incredibly adventurous in his track selection. Here are a couple of his songs.
Smoke DZA – Riiight. Like A$AP Rocky, Smoke DZA was also born and raised in Harlem and it shows in his hustle. He is all business. You can hear it in the way he methodically slices up tracks (Wu-influence noted and saluted). Not a second of space is wasted. Even the pauses are calculated to create maximum effect. Like many of the other MCs on this list he also has a penchant for selecting diverse tracks that perfectly fit his flow. In the last year, his grind produced his mixtape The Hustlers Catalog and countless features, all solid. Check out 2 of his many hot joints.
Stalley – Stalley had a BIG year. He released one of the best albums of the year (Lincoln Way Nights), released more than 10 videos, participated in the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher and signed to Maybach Music Group. Yet, it was all in a day’s (okay a year’s) work for this talented MC. During that time, he also introduced the world to intelligent trunk music–music of substance that still bumps the trunk–and put Massilon, Ohio on the hip-hop world map. Post MMG signing, Stalley has shown no signs of letting up, having released 5 songs in February 2012, alone. Substance + Dope Music + Incredible Work Ethic = #winning.
XV – We’ve been a fan of XV’s music for a while. It wasn’t until we interviewed him, however, that we realized what a star he is. Beyond having great songs that cover a wide-range of topics that are authentic to him, he has a personality that just makes you like him. Personality aside, over the last year he released one of the best mixtapes (Zero Heroes) and some of the most innovative videos in hip-hop. Now that he has the Warner Music Group machine behind him, he is poised to fully realize that star potential. Here are a couple of his songs.