Ten Colorado Rappers to Watch in 2023

Jelie names Missy Elliott and Tech N9ne as some of her inspirations.
Jelie names Missy Elliott and Tech N9ne as some of her inspirations. Anthony Chavez
Colorado's hip-hop scene has long been overlooked, but those who have ventured out into the community know about the diverse talent the state has to offer. There's no shortage of exceptional MCs, and more are consistently cropping up. In the tradition of XXL's Freshman Class, we've assembled a list of ten Colorado-based hip-hop acts who are about to make big moves in 2023. Each of these artists has yet to release a debut full-length project, so add them to your playlist now, and one day you'll be able to say you knew them before they were famous.
The members of A$cension met while attending Overland High School in Aurora.
Halley Prince Films
This Aurora-based trio, made up of Isaac Sarles, Dontay Augustine and Miguel Acevedo, revives the phenomenon of the old-school rap group in a way that feels both classic and thoroughly modern. Combining jazzy instrumentals and boom-bap drums, A$cension’s music is catchy and danceable while still maintaining the grit popularized by ’90s-era rap. Each of these three MCs brings their own flavor to the collective, and the result is a cohesive yet expansive sound. This year, they had several chances to show off their group dynamic on stage, released their second EP, The Party Pack, and started working on another EP called Paradise Island, due in early 2023. Listen to “A-City,” A$cension’s stark portrait of its hometown, for a glimpse into the daily life of young and hungry up-and-coming rappers.
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Chris Cart3r's first live gig was at South by Southwest 2022, and he's played nearly twenty more shows since then.
Trey Karson
Chris Cart3r
Chris Cart3r moved to Denver last January just to be a part of the city’s music scene. The Louisville, Kentucky, native has since done roughly twenty live performances in Colorado and beyond. The self-described “music nerd” draws inspiration from a variety of artists and genres, from Drake and Travis Scott to Radiohead and Nirvana. On his latest release, the six-track EP Forever Lost, he displays his impressive range by rapping and singing over uptempo and moodier melodies alike. In 2023, he plans to drop several music videos, at least ten singles, and work his way up to bigger venues like Cervantes', Mission Ballroom and Red Rocks.
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Forty $even took his stage name from Walter Mosley's novel 47.
Desert Sage
Forty $even
Forty $even, born Christian Angelo, is a rap wunderkind. He started recording as a teenager, and before he was old enough to attend most venues in Denver, he was booking himself to open for national acts such as DaBaby. At nineteen, he was recruited by Denver rap veteran DNA Picasso to help build Picasso Gvng Records. After stealing the show on the label’s collaborative album, he released his debut EP, Summer 20/20, one of the best hip-hop projects to come out of Colorado in 2021. Now 21, the Aurora native continued to dazzle audiences this year (he’s one of the few rappers in Denver who performs without a backing track), released a second EP with DNA Picasso, and teased an upcoming R&B project that  will be released under his real name.
HOLIDAY just turned eighteen, making him the youngest artist on this list.
Morbid Megan
As the son of musician Azma Holiday (of Rebel Tongue and U.S. Pipe), Bomani Holiday, who performs as HOLIDAY, has been surrounded by music since childhood. He started engineering and producing songs for himself at the age of ten, and by fifteen was producing for other artists. Holiday can deliver soft, soulful vocals, as evidenced on “Where Ever You Go” and “See You,” just as easily as punchier bars, like those on “HA HA” and “vibrations.” He may have only just turned eighteen, but in 2022 he nabbed a coveted feature slot on DNA Picasso and Forty $even’s EP, put out seven singles and cut his teeth on stage. In the new year, he’s aiming to put out a single every month, and also has joint EPs on the way with Chris Cart3r and Trippy Moe.
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Jelie names Missy Elliott and Tech N9ne as some of her inspirations.
Anthony Chavez
Denver native Jelie, born Bradlie Jones, taught herself to freestyle as a kid by listening to instrumentals from 50 Cent’s video games. With a formal education in music production (she has her bachelor’s in recording arts from the University of Colorado Denver), Jones acts as her own producer and sound engineer, making her a jack of all trades. She also creates music-production tutorials, has done a TED Talk about the business of being an artist, and volunteers with Beats by Girlz, teaching music production to girls and gender non-conforming kids. After putting out four singles (plus several features) in the last year, including the anthemic "Black Is Beautiful," she's likely to release her debut album sometime in 2023.
According to King Zo, his forthcoming EP will show how one can "Let the greed motivate the gratitude and the gratitude humble the greed."
Jonah De Oliviera
King Zo
Lorenzo Wilburn, who goes by the stage name King Zo, was raised just outside of Denver. The 21-year-old, who started recording in 2019, sees music as a way to spread love, unite the community and build connections with his audience. Known for his work ethic, drive and focus on family, Wilburn headlined his first show this past summer and is looking forward to doing more performances. In 2022 he released the single “F.O.E. (Family Over Everything),” a musical manifesto of sorts, affirming his dedication to the people who have always supported him. His upcoming EP, Gratitude Vs. Greed, will explore themes of vulnerability and sacrifice in relation to the pursuit of a career in music.
Raised in Denver by two musicians, Luna Luna grew up in recording studios and concert spaces, and attended the Denver School of the Arts as a vocal major.
Luna Luna
Luna Luna, born Sebastian Kole Luna Salazar Gonzales Paradis, brings a fresh, untapped perspective to Colorado hip-hop. The Two-Spirit Indigenous singer and rapper is keenly aware that queer folks have historically been dismissed by hip-hop, but they are more than up to the challenge. Never one to use their identity as a gimmick, Luna Luna is ready to break barriers using their impressive pen, stage presence and sheer talent. Luna Luna's sound is a blend of rap, pop and R&B that plays with the contrast between masculinity and femininity, demonstrated beautifully on the single “Kitty.” We’re anxiously awaiting their debut EP, which is predominantly produced by queer people of color and due for release in early 2023.
Malcolm Whyz3 makes conscious rap inspired by artists like J.Cole, Nipsey Hussle, and Erykah Badu.
Anthony Chavez
Malcolm Whyz3
Malcolm Whye, better known as Malcolm Whyz3 in the Denver hip-hop scene, wrote his first song after his grandmother passed away in 2019. The emotional track, “What You Make It,” landed him a show with his friend Hyp3, and he wrote most of his 2021 debut EP, Before the Streetlights Come On, specifically to build a set list for the performance. That first time on stage affirmed that music was his true calling, and he’s been vigorously pursuing it ever since. In 2022, the 29-year-old headlined his first show and appeared on a few singles, including two stellar collaborations with ReSrface — “DRUNK & LONELY” and “Sunsh!ne.” He plans to drop singles on a regular basis in 2023, and possibly (we hope!) record a full EP with ReSrface.
Ralphy Sway is back with a vengeance on his new EP, Ralphy MVNSON.
Courtesy of Ralphy Sway
Ralphy Sway
Ralphy Sway is on the cusp of a renaissance. He’s been making music for at least five years, but with his latest project, Ralphy MVNSON, he ushers listeners into a more alternative era of his artistry. The EP, which was released in late December, is darker, moodier and grittier than his past music, with distinct rock and metal influences throughout. Sway is propelled by a new vision to create something akin to a church among his audience. Under the mysterious persona called V, he aims to convert listeners into believers, not just fans. With his signature straw hat and experimental fashion, this multifaceted creative is one of the most unique characters in Colorado rap. We hope to see him on stage in 2023, shaking up the scene with his goth-metal swag.
Rev. da IV at the Greeley Stampede, opening for Chingy and the Ying Yang Twins.
Tayz Enriquez
Rev. da IV
Greeley-based Rev. da IV, born Havea “Harvey” Tukutau, is a hip-hop triple threat: a singer, rapper and poet. The soulfulness in his vocals is arresting, often causing audience members to do a double take when he roars into sustained vibrato notes. But his bars have the same impact, musing on themes of family, friendship and authenticity. And during his live performances, he also mixes in poetry readings to further prove his lyrical prowess. After a hiatus from releasing music, he returned triumphantly this year with “TOAST,” a single addressing his absence, and a slew of live performances. Stay tuned for more new music from Rev. in 2023, including a joint EP with his friend and collaborator Bleak Sidian.
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Cleo Mirza is a real-life Daria Morgendorfer who worships at the altar of Missy Elliot. She left the East Coast to live vicariously through Colorado's drag performers, and only returns for the pizza. Cleo has been a contributing writer for Westword since 2019, covering music, arts, and cannabis. She loves white wine, medical marijuana, and her possessed chihuahua, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza

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