It’s hard to imagine a better time to be a young MC than right now. Older rappers are putting the kids on in a big way, and you can produce, record, and distribute tracks from anywhere in the world. No more pushing mixtapes in Times Square, no more sending demos into the depths of the A&R mailbox. It’s made the musical landscape more democratic. Taste is king and talent rises to the top. Here are five young artists on the rise including two rappers from the frozen north and an MC bringing lyricism back to NYC.
Who: Jazz Cartier
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
The Music: So you saw that Jazz Cartier is from Toronto and you figured he’d be a Drake clone, right? Not even close. Cartier growls through huge, marching beats dipped in something sinister and he’s been doing it since before he could vote. “Everyone in the States compares me to Drake,” he snarls on “Talk of the Town,” the cavernous opener to his 2016 LP Hotel Paranoia. Those comparisons are on the verge of stopping, though, as Cartier is drawing his own map of his hometown.
Why You Should Listen: Cartier’s 2016 LP Hotel Paranoia lives up to its title. It’s claustrophobic and anxious, like a darkened hallway in a haunted mansion, and Cartier floats inside the tracks like an angry specter. (The chilly, techno-flecked trap beats on Hotel are courtesy of Cartier’s longtime collaborator and fellow Canadian Lantz.) Cartier makes music for long, dark nights that spread over Toronto for the better part of the year and has the rare ability to distill his affinity for his hometown into something exceptional and raw.
What’s Next: Cartier is in the midst of a 40-date North American tour with Post Malone with stops in Montreal, Detroit, and New Orleans next month.
Listen to This: “Wake Me Up When It’s Over”
Who: Nef the Pharaoh
Hometown: Vallejo, California
The Music: Be honest, the first thing you think of when you hear “Bay Area rapper” is that booming, rubbery hyphy sound made famous by MCs like E-40 and Keak da Sneak. The genre has dominated the Oakland and San Francisco rap scene for years, but Nef the Pharaoh isn’t one for staying in his lane. Even though the young artist was put on by hyphy godfather E-40 back in 2014, Nef dedicated his 2015 debut EP Big Tymin to another regional flavor: New Orleans bounce. The geographic expansion has treated the 21-year-old well, and he’s well on his way to being the next big thing out of the Bay.
Why You Should Listen: Bay Area artists have a tendency to succeed on a massively local scale, but Nef seems to have his eyes on a career defined by his eclectic appetite. He’s already been an opening act on a national tour with YG, another Cali-native that made it big by grafting his own broad tastes to a thoroughly local sound. Nef’s energy is unmatched and, given his co-signs from Bay Area icons like E-40 and L.A.-native Ty Dolla $ign, it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon.
What’s Next: Nef just dropped a mixtape, Straight Outta Space 3, and is working on his debut LP My Great Impression.
Listen to This: “Everything Big”
Who: Dot Demo
Hometown: Bronx, New York
The Music: New York City casts a long shadow when it comes to gritty lyricism. Grandmaster Flash rhymed about the ravages of crack and crime, Rakim put the Black experience to poetry, Biggie and Nas gave us imagery of New York as living, breathing organism. The Bronx-born MC Dot Demo is attempting to add his name to that illustrious list of wordsmiths by taking on contemporary issues like detachment and technology over smoky, jazz-flecked beats. His smooth flow on songs like “Indigenous Man” belies Demo’s biting observations about life in the Bronx just like the spare, piano-drive production on “Sinister” softens his caustic lyricism.
Why You Should Listen: Demo has the rare talent that will satisfy hip hop purists pining for the golden age of the early 90s as well as millennials who pack Joey Bada$$ shows. There’s a bridge between eras in his songwriting as well as his production, the latter of which sounds equal parts Gangstarr and J. Cole. He’s the latest in a developing line of NYC artists who are well-versed in the history of their local scenes as well as those in Houston, Atlanta, and Chicago. That manifold appetite will take him far.
What’s Next: Demo dropped (O.B.E) Outer Body Experience on September 20th and is already back in the lab writing and recording. Keep your eyes open for a tour in early 2017.
Listen to This: “Me Pt 2”
Who: Mick Jenkins
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
The Music: There can be times when you wonder where Mick Jenkins’ seemingly bottomless energy source comes from. The 25-year-old Chicago MC spits every line like he may never see a mic again, adding an emotional sheen to his already imposing baritone. On his 2015 LP Wave[s], Jenkins, along with Haitian-Canadian producer Kaytranada and the music collective THEMpeople, crafted an album that reflects his own sense of urgency. It has all of the hi-hat hallmarks of a contemporary hip-hop album, but keeps adding layers of styles until the whole thing brims with different influences and genres and lets Jenkins cook.
Why You Should Listen: If Kendrick Lamar’s anthem “Alright” is the opening track to the Black Lives Matter movement, chances are Jenkins will be writing the follow-up. He’s part of the growing cohort of poet warriors who have taken different tacks in addressing social and racial inequalities through music. Jenkins strategy is direct and uncompromising, an approach to the world that only serves to bolster his already towering talents.
What’s Next: Jenkins is slated to drop his new album, The Healing Component, on September 23rd and begin a big North American tour shortly afterwards.
Listen to This: “Your Love”
Who: Allan Kingdom
Hometown: St. Paul. Minnesota
The Music: It’s clear immediately why Kanye chose St. Paul MC Allan Kingdom to sing the hook on “All Day.” There’s something tropically gothic in his voice, and Ye’s harsh, needling beat complemented Kingdom perfectly. But that howl only scratches the surface of what Kingdom can do. His strikingly honest 2016 LP Northern Lights is kaleidoscopic, shifting between airy trap on “Monkey See” to the Chance-style funhouse of “Hypocrite” to the dark, digital title track in all of 10 minutes. St. Paul’s finest is only getting better.
Why You Should Listen: Minnesota isn’t really known as a hotbed of hip-hop but Kingdom has made the most of it by drawing in influences from all over the map and giving them an icy sheen. (The stripped down funk of album closer “Outta Pocket” is a frozen 40 Shebib beat wrapped in warm synths.) Also, that Kanye co-sign is like gold in the rap industry so rest assured “All Day” won’t be the last time you see Kingdom sharing the stage with some heavy hitters.
What’s Next: Kingdom has dropped hints that he’s completed a new set of songs and is ready to drop them soon. But in the meantime he just dropped a new single “Froze” and a music video for “The Ride,” a standout track from Northern Lights.
Listen to This: “The Ride”