ProblemE-40’s “Function” single was perhaps the biggest break for West Coast acts IAmSu and Problem, though they’ve both been steadily gaining buzz across the nation for years. Both make raunchy party music while working with Snoop, Wiz and E-40, but it was Problem who made waves when footage of him and Dr. Dre recording together surfaced. The Compton rapper is helping keep the hyphy sound alive, and he would have blossomed alongside the enterprising E-40 during the '90s.
Earl SweatshirtEarl has the unmistakable Slim Shady rub-off that so many young rappers seem to radiate these days. Muddled with internal rhyme schemes, self-loathing and drug-induced visions, Earl’s early and late work both sound rooted in the powerful lyricism that allowed rap to flourish in the mainstream during the '90s. His startling efficiency catches your attention, but it’s the brutal honesty that makes you stay, and his upcoming album Doris is shaping up to distill those talents alongside RZA, Pharrell, Vince Staples, Mac Miller and more.
Big K.R.I.T.As a musical cousin to UGK and 8Ball & MJG, Big K.R.I.T. has managed to keep southern funk alive without compromising his lyrics. He rarely seems to aim for the strip clubs, opting for spiritual guidance instead of sexual deviance at his most powerful. His music strikes the balance between ratchet and reverend, oscillating between the dance floor and the confessional. His latest project King Remembered In Time is ideal for rattling drop-top trunks in the summer and would have fit right in with Southern '90s rap.
Sir Michael RocksMikey Rocks (initially of Cool Kids fame) seems poised to provide the effortless designer charm that Ma$e imposed in the glory days of the Shiny Suits. It has less to do with his sense of fashion than with the buttersoft delivery of his raps, depicting uber luxury with a blithe sense of expecting all the trappings of wealth. He seems to be a great fit for Curren$y’s Jets crew, but time will tell how high his popularity can reach.
Clear Soul ForcesDetroit’s Clear Soul Forces manage to feel retro while sounding updated. Almost like the next iteration of Tribe, Slum Village and Black Moon all rolled in one, the group sheds light on the area’s unique history in hip-hop while continuing to develop that approach. They sound more organic than previous Detroit rap acts, while maintaining traces of that hard-hitting metallic quality that makes Detroit hip-hop so gritty. If they’d been around in the '90s, they might have found themselves with one foot in Native Tongues and the other in the Boot Camp Clik.
WikiRatking headman Wiki might be the future of hip-hop, but he doubtlessly draws parallels to '90s rappers like Jay-Z and Eminem. His snarling style sounds as if he’s hocking rhymes like loogies, and Ratking as a whole looks to throw '90s New York rap in a blender with more daring sonic risks in order to emerge as new leaders in a crowded yet mild East Coast atmosphere.
SpaceGhostPurrpFlorida rapper and producer SpaceGhostPurrp owes more to Memphis and Three 6 Mafia’s grungy aesthetic of the '90s than to neighboring Atlanta, home of Lil Jon’s urban/pop radio domination in the early 2000s. He’s always mentioned the legendary group as an influence, and the lurking, woozy sounds of Juicy J and DJ Paul beats are immediately apparent in tapes like NASA Tape and Blackland Radio 66.6. He often seems to draw from the deadpan refrains, chopped and screwed samples, and mellow tones of Mystic Stylez, making for a beautifully drugged out listen every time, whether you’re sober or not.
Joey Bada$$For better or worse, Joey leads the pack when it comes to echoing the sound of '90s MCs. He stuffs syllables into every line with a style heavily reminiscent of Cormega’s rhyme barrages and DOOM’s scruffy mystique. His debut mixtape was even titled 1999, and it’s got old beats by Dilla, DOOM and Lord Finesse. If the '90s influence isn’t blatantly obvious by now, his latest single (“Unorthodox”….right) also features the trademark piano chops and cuts of vintage DJ Premier production. The Ecko deal should have included a time machine.
The DoppelgangazThe Doppelgangaz make slick, dark, sketchy hip-hop. They talk about health problems candidly and wear black cloaks to symbolize their isolated lifestyles. They’re like Mobb Deep, only from Orange Country, NY instead of Queens, and decidedly more masturbatory than violent. So not really like Mobb Deep. At all. But their music is terror-tinged and clean in a thunderstormy kind of way. We didn’t know dope '90s “underground” rap still existed in 2013.
The 100'sPimping at its finest, The 100’s does not fuck around. His debut tape Ice Cold Perm borrows its cover inspiration from Snoop’s Doggfather, and plenty of the project’s sheen harks back to Doggystyle. Breezy songs about Cali, bathrobes, selling drugs and manipulating minds is what 100’s is about, and he’d fit right in with Too $hort and Eazy-E in their primes.
Mac MillerIn his latest single “S.D.S.” Mac says he falls asleep watching Dawson’s Creek. So there’s that. Maybe he belongs in the '90s because he looks like one of those kids from Nickelodeon’s All That who makes dumb jokes and always has a goofy smile on his face. He also made a hauntingly unoriginal song with DJ Premier and broke through with a song over (gasp!) a Lord Finesse beat (from the mixtape named after Harmony Korine’s cult classic film from the 90’s). “S.D.S.” and his recent beatmaking alias Larry Fisherman have given me new hope in his creativity, as long as he’s not going down slides anymore.
Ab-SoulIf Ab-Soul had been around during the Soul On Ice days, he and Rass Kass would have made an entire album about conspiracy theories. Soul’s a razor-sharp dude with the capacity to make heartbreaking songs (see “Book of Soul”), and his reflective tendencies make for an intricate personality with multiple dimensions. Instead of adhering to the niche markets of today’s rap industry, Ab-Soul would have had much more exposure in a 90’s mainstream that caught on to intelligent rappers faster.
Action BronsonYeah yeah, we’ve all heard that he sounds like Ghostface, but Bronson is much more than a fat white dude parroting nonsequiturs and obscure slang. His first official LP Dr. Lecter showcases him busting both quickpaced rhymes and tender slow burns, and every official project of his has been handled by a single producer (Tommy Mas, Statik Selektah, Party Supplies, and Alchemist, respectively). His magnum opus Blue Chips is named after the classic '90s sports movie, but it’s Bronson’s no-bullshit approach to making music and being his undeniably weird self that makes him so undeniably '90s.
Bishop NehruHe’s (partially) named after a character in Juice. He identifies with 2Pac’s fatherless background. His top rappers are Nas, Jigga, DOOM and KRS-One. His mixtape Nehruvia has him spitting over Dilla and DOOM beats….oh no, not this again. He’s basically Joey Bada$$ 2.0 (even though Joey is kind of like Big L 0.25, which would make Nehru…ah forget it.) He fits the bill for '90s rappers in a young and troubled kind of way.
Bodega BamzIf the '90s had Fat Joe and Terror Squad, we’ve got Bodega Bamz and the Tan Boys. The Spanish Harlem rapper with A$AP affiliations hopes to unite Hispanic New Yorkers with his Tan Boys movement, and his most recent video for the infectious “Navy” has Bamz donning a tan flag while he brings troops through his stomping grounds. One can only imagine what him and Tony Sunshine could have cooked up.