Getting a record deal used to be the marker of success for any up-and-coming rapper—but there’s a new crop of experimental artists who are bending the rules of hip-hop. Without the help of major record labels, these up-and-coming rappers and producers are forging their own path into the limelight. Many of today’s biggest stars have remained unsigned on purpose—think Chance the Rapper—as they want to maintain independent control over their music and image. Get to know just a few of these unsigned new faces who are making a lasting impact on the genre.
Some have predicted that the native-to-Toronto soul-and-rap duo bizZarh will inspire a rebirth of ’90s-style neo-Soulquarian music—think Erykah Badu. With their hip-hop-influenced tracks, members Charli Champ and Dollar Paris are expanding the boundaries of the genre and doing it all while remaining independent.
2. Tomorrow Kings
This eight-member collective consists of seven rappers and one DJ who are based in New York City, Claremont, Calif., and Chicago. Officially formed in 2008, Tomorrow Kings’ members include Gilead7, Malakh El, Wizard Jenkins the Great, Jyroscope (I.B. Fokuz, Collasoul Structure and DJ Seanile), Lamon Manuel and SKECH185. Regarding the title of their album, N–ger Rigged Time Machine, Lamon Manuel says, “N–ger-rigged is just a way of saying creative or innovative, but with a negative connotation. We wanted to address the historic dismissal of achievements by marginalized people based on those achievements not meeting superficial standards set up for the sole purpose of discrediting them.”
3. Forte Bowie
Bowie is an Atlanta-based rapper and beat maker of Cameroonian descent. When not making beats for others, he produces his own songs, including those for his latest mixtape, Vice Haus. This artist describes his music as “Southside Atlanta like you’ve never heard it before.”