Hip-Hop

Eleven of the Best Denver Alternative Hip-Hop Acts — 2016 Edition

Denver has had a healthy underground hip-hop scene going back to the '80s, including significant acts like Legion of Doom, Apostle, Future Reference, the Strange Us, the Pirate Signal and Ground Zero Movement. Newer artists like Jimmy V are keeping that world vibrant and breaking ground in establishing an audience for the music among the city's youth. What follows are eleven of the most interesting and/or influential artists in alternative and underground hip-hop in Denver today, listed in alphabetical order.

11. Ancient Mith
Braden Smith has pushed his own musical envelope with each of his projects going back more than a decade. His latest is YAWL, which reconciles his thoughtful, ferociously intelligent lyrics with his interest in composing with synthesizers and more conventional methods of hip-hop beatmaking.

10. Bianca Mikahn
Bianca Mikahn's experimental electronic compositions underneath her commanding vocalized poetics delivered with intensity and conviction is a winning blend of intelligence and emotional power.

9. Calm.
Time and Awareness bring together masterful beatmaking and hyper-intellectual literary lyrics for some of the most impactful hip-hop songs ever to come out of the Mile High City. Founders of the Dirty Laboratory label, Calm. helped bring respectability to an underground hip-hop scene that had been lacking. Though the act hasn't performed in years, Calm. is coming out of retirement for Extra Kool's album-release party at Mutiny Information Cafe on August 6.

8. Curta
This experimental hip-hop duo brings a direct influence from late '90s and early 2000s alternative hip-hop into its soundscaping. Its 2015 album Replica weaves in science-fiction narratives to comment on the state of the world. Few hip-hop acts cite Pere Ubu as a significant influence, but Curta is more than a little different.

7. Extra Kool
Extra Kool is one of the founding artists on the long-running Dirty Laboratory imprint. Kool's deeply insightful lyrics are like a master course in personal therapy; his creative use of childhood media figures as a path to making sense of the world and his struggles with dark times has been consistently brilliant. He'll be releasing a new album called Eight later this summer.


6. Key Lady and the Front Strangers
Combining inventive soundscaping and beats with a sort of gangster-rap aesthetic, Key Lady and the Front Strangers are equal parts challenging and accessible in both their music and their messaging.

Read on for five more of the region's best alternative hip-hop acts.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.