Photo for the bizZarh single “Pangaea”

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. 

1. bizZarh

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.”


4. Noname Gypsy

Noname Gypsy is a Chicago-based rapper who catapulted to fame after she was featured on the song “Lost” by Chance the Rapper on his watershed mixtape, Acid Rap. She has said that she wants to be an “important voice for young women in hip-hop. Artist that helps push the culture forward. Rapper who writes something that changes somebody. Or something like that.”


5. Akoko

Akoko is a Washington, D.C., band and hip-hop duo. Consisting of Sloane Amelia and Sugg Savage, the group describes its sound as influenced by “rock, hip-hop, the ’90s, consciousness and Caribbean upbringings, with a dash of peculiarity.”


6. Saba

Described as the “next big thing out of Chicago,” Saba is a rapper and producer. To describe his music, he has said, “My raps are a front-porch kind of perspective.”


7. Matt Vista

Matt Vista is a hip-hop beat-maker based in Washington, D.C. Like Forte Bowie, Vista is among a growing number of young, experimental, hip-hop-inspired beat-makers, sound curators and designers who are blurring the lines between sound designer and music artist.


8. Jean Deaux

Jean Deaux is a talented singer and rapper from Chicago. Her highly awaited project, Soular System, has been rumored to be released by the end of this year. In the meantime, Deaux has been making moves. She’s a member of the Village, a collective of Chicago-area music artists, and has released a song with Sampha. Her work has been called “an expansionary subgenre that infuses Amy Winehouse singing and Missy Elliott’s innovative rhyme pattern.”


Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.