While MCs like Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore and Chance the Rapper are running the game right now -- and will likely continue to do so until the next batch of hungry rappers rises up to give them a run -- there are a number of MCs who are poised to grab the spotlight, many of whom are still flying beneath the mainstream radar despite having made significant moves in the past year. Here are the ten rap acts worth keeping an eye on in 2014.
See also: The fifty best rap lyrics of all time
10. Tree Packing more personality into each of his slurred words than maybe any artist today, Tree shares a home town (Chicago) with recent stalwarts Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef, but he sounds much more like a Lil Wayne or T.I. What he does share with his fellow Chicagoans is a penchant for vocal musicality, which allows his music to stand out even when his lyrics are nearly intelligible. With a top-of-the-line producer, it's easy to imagine Tree growing to new levels.
9. Nitty Scott, MC Since first emerging after releasing Doobies X Popsicle Sticks in 2011, Nitty Scott, MC has evolved from a good freestyle rapper to a potentially game-changing soulstress. Lauryn Hill is an obvious influence, and though Scott doesn't yet have the skill that Hill had, she has Hill's confident elegance and a unique style that is unlike anything you'll hear in rap right now. She didn't have a major release in 2013, so she's due in 2014. She is a definite wildcard.
8. Vic Mensa After coming up with indie/rock/hip-hop band Kids These Days, Vic Mensa has parted ways and begun his exodus as a solo MC. Helped immensely by his feature on "Cocoa Butter Kisses" and his delivery of one of the very best verses on Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap, Mensa's own mixtape INNANETAPE, which in turn featured Chance, generated considerable buzz. Now touring with J. Cole and Wale, Mensa will surely expose himself to an even larger audience, which should place any 2014 release of his under the microscope.
7. Rapsody A protege of legendary producer 9th Wonder, Rapsody is often burdened with a heavy qualifier -- one of the best female MCs in rap -- when in reality she is one of the best up-and-coming rappers, period. Rapsody's writing style is eloquent and full of meaning, laced with wordplay that functions as lyrical adornment rather than an end in itself. Her debut release, The Idea of Beautiful, was well received but not exactly a commercial hit. Her 2013 mixtape, She Got Game, was a statement release, generating even more heat. If she can capitalize on that momentum, 2014 could be her coming-out party.
6. The Underachievers A part of the Beast Coast movement with the A$AP Mob, Pro-Era, Flatbush Zombies, Smoke DZA and more, the Underachievers remain among the less well known of their associates, but not for a lack of talent. On their outstanding tape, Indigoism, AK and Issa Gold rap about metaphysics, auras and other topics that don't cross the mind of your typical rap fan. It's not surprising, then, that fellow oddball Flying Lotus decided to sign them to Brainfeeder after hearing twenty seconds of one song. The talent and execution are already there with these guys, despite an underwhelming followup in Lords of Flatbush. The question is whether the alternative crowd will come around to them.
5. YC the Cynic YC the Cynic has lyrics for days, the type that an unprepared listener can get lost in, for better or for worse, but he also knows how to put together a song, a talent that is surprisingly rare in rap circles. GNK was one of the most successfully ambitious and cohesive albums released last year, and, as YC is only 23, you know the sky is the limit for him. His greatest barrier to greater success may be that he's too smart and incisive for radio, but if he can generate some singles, there's no reason he can't gain some steam.
4. ¡Mayday! Taking the independent-label route has its advantages and drawbacks. With greater artistic control comes a less calculated formula for instant success, and this group's genre-bending will likely sacrifice hard-core hip-hop heads for a broader audience. ¡Mayday! has already won over its own label, Strange Music -- co-founder Travis O'Guin praised 2012's Take Me to Your Leader more than he had any release since Tech N9ne's 2001 Anghellic -- and critics, scoring universal praise. All that remains is for more people to discover ¡Mayday! for themselves.
3. Jon Connor Jon Connor has been riding the crest of the underground for years, and he has always seemed a wildcard to explode at any given moment. After signing with Dr. Dre and Aftermath last October, he might finally have the backing to make some big moves for himself. Aftermath has an incredible record for generating huge audiences for its albums when it actually releases them, so if Connor has enough of whatever it takes to satisfy the perfectionist in Dre, he could be sitting pretty very soon.
2. Flatbush Zombies The widespread snubbery of the Flatbush Zombies' Better Off Dead from most of the year-end lists already has many a rap fan incensed at mainstream critical outlets. Flatbush Zombies posses an off-the-wall energy and boast containable but fully distinct personalities. Erick Arc Elliott is already one of the best hip-hop producers around, and the group's chemistry is solid. If their next release can make that step up from solid to explosive, the Zombies certainly have the audience to catch fire in a hurry.
1. Vince Staples When Vince Staples, one of the less popular, borderline members of Odd Future when the group began making waves, fell out with charismatic leader Tyler, the Creator, he was left to recreate a name for himself -- albeit with the advantage of some already made contacts. Despite his split with OF, Vince was featured on two of the best tracks from Earl Sweatshirt's excellent Doris album. In addition, Vince released one of the best mixtapes of 2013, Stolen Youth, with production help from Larry Fisherman (aka Mac Miller). Staples is a vicious rhymer with understated lyricism and a quick wit. He has yet to release his debut album, and he just signed to Def Jam, so this could be a huge year for him.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - The fifty greatest rap groups of all time - The ten best East Coast rappers of all time - The ten best West Coast rappers of all time - The ten best Midwest rappers of all time - The ten best Southern rappers of all time
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!