This year, the following artists are destined to win hearts and minds alike.
The rap game is in a constant state of flux. Each passing day, new voices and personalities rise to the occasion. Some emerge in a mere blink, thanks to the powerful nature of viral vitality. Others rise from paths hard fought, with expansive discographies forged from years of grinding. One consistent throughline aligns both camps: talent.
Interestingly enough, there appears to be two camps of generalized listener. Those who abide by the timeline mentality, retaining attention as long as long as an artist is “of the now.” Listeners of this variety spend their time in constant search of new discovery, though might find it difficult to build any semblance of sustainable loyalty. The latter camp is somewhat of a creature of habit, stubborn to invest in a rising act, or put in the work required to comb through their often busy mixtape catalog. For both, adding new artists into their collection can be a difficult task, albeit for different reasons.
Yet “the future is now,” as Non Phixion once said. It is our duty to keep the art form alive, and if that means shining a spotlight on some of the game’s best emerging voices, then so be it. And rest assured, there are many young talents in the mix. Varied in nature, with something to offer all manner of selective fan. Here are some artists you would be wise to keep an eye on throughout 2019.
The streets are ultimately what keeps hip-hop alive. Despite the commercialization of the genre and the decline in popularity of street rap, every few years a new artist emerges and becomes the voice for the unheard. Roddy Ricch is currently here to fill that role. The Compton native made a huge impact with the release of “Die Young” -- a song that was written and recorded on the night XXXTENTACION tragically passed away in June 2018; the track was later included on Feed The Streets 2, along with “Every Season.”
Both songs served as the lead singles for the project which peaked at #68 on the Billboard 200. Ahead of the project's release, Ricch was officially presented a Dreamchasers chain by Meek Mill, which in turn sparked rumors that he signed a deal with the label. With his soulful melodies and accentuated pain in his lyrics, Roddy Ricch has taken the mantle as a new voice for Compton. He’s not solely showcasing the realities of the streets, but also juxtaposing them with “Project Dreams” and presenting them in a digestible form.
- Aron A
At the end of each year, we issue a list of the most powerful breakout artists of the previous yearly campaign. The culmination of 2019 may very well see a tally with Blueface leading a roster of young and prominent up-and-comers.
With his unconventional rapping style and already so much momentum on his side, people have taken notice of the Los Angeles rookie. Co-signs from Drake, Lil Uzi Vert and YG have helped him gain respect in a short matter of time and he’s set to make a big splash this year. Already, songs that are clearly not the highest quality mixes in “Bleed It” and “Thotiana” have become favorites. As long as it’s marketed and mixed correctly, Blueface’s first album of the year will likely be met with equal amounts of fanfare and criticism. Think of him as a possible Tekashi 6ix9ine shadow for 2019, except with far less trolling.
- Alex Zidel
2018 brought new heights for 21-year-old Key Glock. The South Memphis-bred emcee currently sits on a pedestal as the prince of Daddy O and Young Dolph’s Paper Route Empire. Within the first listen, trying on tracks like “Russian Cream” and “Dig That” for size, instant comparisons can be drawn from Glock and his cousin-through-marriage, Dolph, as he packs on obscene amounts of swagger.
His last release was the long-awaited Glockoma mixtape. With the ability to glide over any beat he touches, Key Glock sticks to a formula that calls for no guest features and leaves for star power behind the boards. At such a young age, Glock shows promise for reasons that range from his work ethic, reportedly recording nearly 40 songs a week, to his calculated decisions to pace himself, opting for longevity over the allures of overnight success in today's rap game.
- Milca P
Flipp Dinero is a name you’re going to see a lot of this year. The Brooklyn native’s single “Leave Me Alone,” which he recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel, was a summer smash. Not only did it get heavy co-signs from the likes of Kim Kardashian and Odell Beckham Jr, but Drake also included the track in a list of songs that inspired Scorpion.
Following the success of “Leave Me Alone,” he announced that he inked a partnership deal between Cinematic Records, DJ Khaled’s We The Best Music Group, and Epic Records. “He had a certain vibe to him that I knew the world would gravitate to and I’m proud to work with tomorrow’s brightest superstar,” DJ Khaled said about the signing.
His upbringing in a church inspired the melodies in his music, but he’s still a New York native at heart that takes notes from artists like The LOX. With a major label standing behind him, there’s no doubt that he’s going to be making waves.
- Aron A
Pardison Fontaine recently broke through with his “Backin’ It Up” cut alongside collaborator Cardi B. But before that single arrived, Pardi made substantial waves when footage leaked of his reference track for Cardi B’s “Be Careful.” As it turns out, the New York native had his hand in helping to craft a great majority of Cardi B’s Invasion Of Privacy, including her "Bodak Yellow" smash; he and even penned "Violent Crimes" on Kanye West's Ye outing, proving himself to be a formidable contender in the background. “Backin’ It Up” merely serves as a translation of that talent under the public spotlight.
Managed by Neil Domonique, the same man heading Bryson Tiller’s camp, Pardison Fontaine is poised to take 2019 by storm should his penchant for catchy hooks and automatic club bangers persist. As he adjusts to being at the forefront, Fontaine has been vocal about his insistence on shedding the "ghostwriter" label. When pairing such strong songwriting abilities with such a potent presence on his solo releases, the task should be an easy order to follow.
- Milca P
The cult of Young Nudy grows with each inference of slime. Before the expressions became properly edified in the minds of the general rap public, it was Young Nudy who best envisioned a portable version of “slime” for daily use. Next, Young Nudy quickly acted on the buzz generated by “Since When,” a single he drafted with cousin 21 Savage. But Nudy wasn’t about to wait for cuzzo to pass him the buck.
After going dutch with P’ierre Bourne for much of 2017, with whom he credits his breakout, Nudy proved himself deserving and ready for the training wheels to comes off, once and for all. And with that, Nudy undertook his turnaround of his own accord, with an adherence to his self-taught “Slimeball” logic.
While Nudy still has resources to fall back upon if need be, it’s through his own hard-fought efforts that he’s earned his place on the Zone 6 Totem - especially with consideration to the trials and tribulations that arose from him dropping out of high school in the tenth grade. But much to his credit, the pitfalls have done nothing but strengthen his resolve - his improved work rate on Slimeball 3, a perfect example of his “zero regret” mentality in beating the odds. It stands to reason, the Target employers who fired the Zone 6 Rapper at the veritable low point of his “career,” will be on his mailing list for years to come, fingers crossed.
- Devin Ch
The problem of determining Shady Records’ long term viability cleared up immediately with the absorption of Buffalo’s Griselda Records into the fold. An Indie powerhouse in their own right, the label spearheaded by real-life brothers Westside Gunn and Conway, is largely credited with defining Buffalo’s gruff “rap identity” within the region.
For starters, Conway is the type of character Eminem identifies with on a range of cultural issues related to their MidEastern comeuppance. Judging by his immense pull in Buffalo, and the consequent pipeline created through the region in its entirety, Conway is showing the industry the secondary cause of an A&R’s job: the recruitment process doesn’t always begin or end on the shoulders of an unexploited entity. Sometimes all an artist needs is the opportunity to showcase their skills on the national scale. While Boogie remains Shady’s best commercial find in the post-50 Cent era, Conway will be doted on by Eminem to map the lineage of MidEastern rap, one stopover at a time.
- Devin Ch
Florida’s been a hot spot in the rap game over the past few years, as many “Soundcloud Rap” leaders predominantly come from the Miami region. And while YNW Melly is an artist from the surrounding MIA area who came up off of Soundcloud, he can’t be simply classified as a “Soundcloud rapper.” A noted descendant of Future and Young Thug, Melly uses his delivery to soften the blow of the harsh themes in his music.
Melly began building a buzz in 2017 with his EP Collect Call but August 2018’s I Am You is really what helped kick things off. Along with singles like “Butter Pecan,” “Virtual (Blue Baleniciagas),” and “Melly The Menace,” Melly gained a serious buzz that ultimately led him to a studio session with Kanye West. Melly kicked off the year with his new project, We All Shine, which included the Kanye West collaboration, “Mixed Personalities.”
Of course, Melly has already dealt with some legal issues in the past that have both hurt and helped his career in a way. If he stays out of jail, there’s no doubt he’ll become a superstar in his own right.
- Aron A
The resident siren adorning J. Cole’s Dreamville roster, Ari Lennox soulfully crept into the hearts of many in 2018, especially with her “Whipped Cream” outing. Listeners were treated to a host of singles from the D.C songstress in 2018 and new listeners were effectively introduced to one of R&B’s most prolific voices to date.
Ari Lennox is a talented songwriter who just can’t write for other artists because her content always consists of “super personal shit.” Her candor ended up being a blessing in disguise, carving out a lane of her own with her details of unrequited love and personal fantasies. The result is a catalog of endless bops that couldn’t be performed any better and leaves a strong impression on anyone close enough to overhear any of Lennox’s selections. This year fans, new and old, will be on the lookout for a full-length package after the onslaught of singles, including the J. Cole-assisted “Shea Butter Baby.”
- Milca P
For a lot of people, it felt like Tierra Whack was a name that popped up overnight, but that’s not the case. The 23-year-old Philadelphia MC created a buzz as Dizzle Dizz -- her former alter-ego -- and received praise at 16-years-old by A$AP Rocky who was impressed by her “Kendrick Flow.” Fast forward to 2018 and her multi-media debut album, Whack World was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of any genre to drop that year. The album consisted of 15 one-minute long songs that were each accompanied by their own visual treatment.
“Mumbo Jumbo” from Whack’s World ultimately earned Tierra Whack her first Grammy nomination for Best Music Video. Tierra’s received public praise from Vince Staples, Solange and has unreleased music with Meek Mill, who dubbed her as his favorite new artist in the game right now, and Childish Gambino. Whack is paving her own lane in hip-hop and receiving praise by some of the biggest in the game while she’s at it.
- Aron A
The TDE stamp of approval has come to mean a great deal. In that sense, Reason’s pedigree has already been established, to an extent. A lyricist to his core, the Carson rapper caught the ear of Top Dawg through his There You Have It Project, which ultimately spurred an official re-release. Since then, Reason has been leaving his mark on the masses, whether it be through delivering exceptional radio freestyles, poignant visuals, or integrating himself in the Dreamville camp as a trusted associate; look for him to make an appearance on that upcoming Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 joint.
While There You Have It stands as a worthwhile aperitif, fans still have his TDE debut to look forward to. For now, Reason has been keeping busy, hitting the lab and finessing his live development. The rapper can currently be seen at the Catch Me If You Can tour alongside J.I.D, and word of a collaboration tape has already kicked off. For those looking for depth, west-coast sensibilities, and a sharp lyricist’s mind, Reason checks off all the boxes.
- Mitch Findlay
Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot may very well be two of the game’s most creative entities. Their eternally slept-on arrival offering Shallow Graves For Toys remains an essential capsule of underground Atlanta hip-hop, the golden point where skill and sauce masterfully coalesce. Now, several projects later, Venus and Dot stand on the verge of true greatness; their new album MirrorLand remains highly anticipated, and their contributions to the Dreamers 3 album will be bountiful. The scope of their potential has yet to be realized, but given the nature of their workload (from musical endeavors to a nonstop string of tour dates), the duo will likely close the year that much closer to ubiquity.
As versatile as they are clever, EarthGang brings an abundance of skills to the fold. Penning complex verses ripe with vivid imagery and hilarious bars, Venus and Dot navigate their way through instrumentals by forsaking the scenic route. Do yourself a favor and create a playlist spanning Rags, Robots, and Royalty together. A strange, surreal, and insightful journey can work wonders for the body and mind.
- Mitch Findlay
The newly anointed Scam King of Scamsnetticut, Guapdad 4000’s potential equals that of his charisma. With an effortless charm, the young rapper has managed to blend into the new school’s graduate class, navigating social media with a practiced touch, all while peacocking with the best of them. Yet his talent should not be undervalued. 2017’s Scamboy Color revealed a rapper on the verge of greatness to come, with singles like “Scamboy” showcasing his technical prowess, from flow to rhyme scheme innovation.
You might find Guap popping up in a studio near you, a hired hand to lend a hint of sauce to any occasion. You might find him honing his own craft, piecing together the next project; should the pattern continue, are we to expect Scamboy Advance in the near future? From blessing the Dreamville studio to smoking blunts with Wiz Khalifa, Guap has solidified himself as a genuine “locker room presence.” The full scope of his potential has yet to be revealed, though I reckon 2019 will be kind to the Scam King, should he decide to go legit.
- Mitch Findlay
If 2018 was the breakout year for Jorja Smith, this year may be marked by the rise of a fellow R&B artist from the UK. Ama Lou, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from North London, caught the public attention with her very first single "TBC" in 2016. She penned the pro-Black anthem after living in America for a while and finding herself discouraged by the political climate. The track clearly resonated with many of its listeners and set high expectations. Lou’s debut also caught Drake’s attention. The rapper told the up-and-comer he was a fan and copped some of her merch. He also used some of her "TBC" lyrics in a caption to one of his Instagram posts, although his following may not have known where the phrase had come from at the time.
They will find out soon considering Ama Lou’s latest project DDD, released in late March of 2018, along with a sensational 13-minute video. The lyricist’s husky tones are hypnotic. Viewers are likely to find themselves enamored with both her vocal performance and her acting skills, as the entertainer plays the role of a gold-tooth criminal.
“MF+G” has been on repeat for a minute. Still, two song offerings only reveal the smallest extent of Mez’ full range of talents. As it happens, said talents have already been realized in equal measure by Dr. Dre and J. Cole, who extended a hand to Mez during the historical Dreamers 3 sessions. Of course, you might remember Mez’ presence from Dr. Dre’s Compton album, where he contributed several highlight verses to the project, including star turns on “Darkside/Gone,” and “Talk About It.” Now, Mez continues to work behind the scenes, quietly preparing his 2019 blueprint, which is set to include a new installment of his Data Plan series.
Yet Mez is liable to pop up wherever the action is. Last we saw, the Fort Campbell lyricist was putting in work alongside Dre, 2 Chainz, Anderson Paak, Dem Jointz, and more, his songwriter’s touch likely playing a pivotal role behind the scenes. Capable of shining over all manner of instrumental, whether trap bangers, stripped down, sample-driven minimalism, or west-coast head-bangers, Mez has honed his craft accordingly. Should we receive a full-length project in 2019, and all signs point to yes, expect plenty of converts.
- Mitch Findlay
The young Delaware product has been working with some of the hottest names in the production realm. Take A Daytrip have taken a liking to his style and veteran rappers Rich The Kid and 21 Savage have also extended their co-signs. The often genreless vocalist can move in so many different directions, flaunting his versatility as an artist on several occasions last year. We’re excited to witness Lil West conquer new heights in 2019 during his climb to the top.
- Alex Zidel