If you’re familiar with my work, you know how much I enjoy criticizing today’s commercial music. It’s damn near become a hobby! But the truth is, there’s an overwhelming amount of incredible new Hip Hop music coming from the underground. Despite my strong disgust for much of mainstream rap, hundreds of independent and unsigned artists keep Hip Hop music fresh with innovative concepts, conscious lyrics, complex production, and original content. A matter of fact, I might even say that many of today’s underground artists are just as good, if not better, then their golden age predecessors. Yeah…I said it!
I can’t possibly list the number of incredible artists who keep the art of rap fresh and exciting. Contrary to what some old and disgruntled Hip Hop heads may think, rap music is in good hands, thanks to a slew of gifted lyricist. Currently in heavy rotation every time I get in my car are Narubi Selah, Jean Grae, and Ill Camille, who have all dropped new material in the last couple of months.
Narubi Selah’s sophomore album, “Architect: Sacred Geometry” is what fans of conscious Hip Hop crave. All 11 tracks (plus two insane skits you’ll have to hear for yourself) contain thought provoking content sandwiched between a powerful intro and outro featuring Public Enemy’s Professor Griff.
If you’re in the mood for sarcasm and dark humor combined with brutal honesty, Jean Grae’s new releases “Gotham Down” part one, two, and three, deliver the goods. Although the production is more eclectic then what Jean’s usually spittin’ on, lyrically, she’s as sharp as ever.
If neo-soul styled Hip Hop is more your cup of tea, LA’s own Ill Camille keeps it fresh by regularly dropping singles with “Touche” being her most recent offering. Camille’s warm vocals and introspective lyrics are a perfect complement to the smooth-as-butter production.
Rounding off my list are Madd Mary and Miss.She.iLL. Since her 2011 release, The Kitchen Press, Madd Mary has dropped sporadic projects with “Houtem-Geki (Demonic Cuisinart)” as her latest single. If her ferocious flow is any indication, Ms. Mary’s forthcoming album is going to have MC’s running for the hills. Miss.She.iLL introduced herself to the Hip Hop world a few years ago with various collaboration and freestyles but has been hard at work on her long-awaited “the iLL.troduction” slated for a 11-12-13 release. A fan of Gangstarr and Big L, Miss.She.iLL is a force to be reckoned with.
While iconic Hip Hop producers continue to put in work such as Pete Rock’s new collaboration with Roc Marciano or DJ Premier’s recent announcement regarding a forthcoming album with Nas, a new crop of amazing beat makers is giving our beloved veterans a run for their money.
Mello Music Group’s roster includes a few of my personal favorites such as Oddisee and 14KT. Respectively, they’ve been putting out quality music for years now but I still find too many self proclaimed Hip Hop heads who have never heard of them. For the uninitiated, these two producers have crafted sonic landscapes for a host of underground MC’s but shine the brightest when releasing instrumental projects. Hard kicks, crisp snares, and soulful samples is what you’ll get from 14KT with “Nickle and Dimed” and “The Beauty in All” by Oddisee. Both producers’ projects are so full of life, no MC’s are even needed.
Four albums deep, Black Milk’s newest, “No Poison No Paradise” has the producer/MC once again blessing his own beats with the help of a few friends including Black Thought and Dwele. In typical Black Milk fashion, he spits fire with wit and confidence over hard drums and psychedelic melodies.
If you’re looking for an escape from mainstream rap’s tired, formulaic, Casio keyboard audio nightmare, free of triple time hi-hats, look no further.
Not having a million dollar video budget shouldn’t prevent an artist from creating innovative visuals. Homeboy Sandman proves this with “Men Are Mortal”, a seemingly plain video made magic by the slow motion effect affecting everything but the real-time movement of Sandman’s mouth. Simple but guaranteed to keep you glued to the screen.
Vic Mesa’s “Lovely Day” lives up to its title by showing Vic and a friend enjoying the company of two lovely ladies at the beach and by the pool. Although a simple concept, the visuals work due to the vivid colors and the carefree spirit Vic and crew capture so well on screen. It’s also refreshing to see a rap video free from the same tired tropes most videos have overdone to death.
I was extremely happy to see Guru being remembered on Marco Polo’s aptly titled video “G.U.R.U.” Featuring Talib Kweli & DJ Premier on the cuts, the MC’s touching tribute to Guru melds perfectly over Marco’s nostalgic boom bap. The video is simple but heartfelt as pictures of Guru pop up around Talib concluding with grainy footage of the legend speaking about Hip Hop culture. As a huge Gangstarr fan, this definitely brought tears to my eyes.
Last but not least, I want to shout out ZotheJerk who followed advice I gave him regarding an MC’s social responsibility, and recorded “School Clothes”, a hard-hitting song about the nation’s educational crisis. Artists like ZotheJerk as well as those mentioned in this article remind us that new rap music with substance is alive and well…something I need to remember when I go into my endless rants about the sad state of today’s rap music.
Sebastien Elkouby is a Hip Hop Culture historian, freelance writer, consultant, and award-winning educator. Check out his educational program, Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture and his blog,SebIsHipHop.wordpress.com. For more info about his services, contact him at [email protected]or on Twitter @SebIsHipHop (Although he rarely uses it!)