The Noisey Guide to Rappers to Watch in 2013
Art by Meaghan Garvey.
The main problem with most “Rappers to Watch this Year” lists is that they suck. They’re dictated as much by Trojan Horse PR buzz, social media favoritism, and plain hedged bets as much as actual taste, and at Noisey, we think that’s no good. In 2013, hip-hop is as diverse, fun, and straight-up incredible as it’s ever been, and we want to tell you who’s worth your time this year. Some of these guys you might not know about yet, others are already your new favorite rapper, and others still might be names you’ve written off who you should really reconsider. As such, this isn’t as much a bunch of predictions as to who we're guaranteeing to blow up this year as much as it’s a survey of what we find interesting, weird, and worthwhile in the realm of rap.
Special thanks to Davey Boy Smith of Southern Hospitality and Frances Capell of Real Gold Plated for going above and beyond with helping compile and write this list, Meaghan Garvey for contributing art, and Martin Spasov for jumping in and helping at the last minute.
Berkeley’s 100s came through on a strong West Coast pimp rap revival tip with his September debut Ice Cold Perm, which gets more impressive with every listen. With lines like, “Bitch I’m finna slide through/ Fix a nigga Thai food,” and, “I’m sippin’ on yak/ Not textin’ hoes back,” his lyrics are even colder than his impeccable, impossibly cold perm. Underscored by Joe Wax’s slick production, he totally nails an iconic, undeniably Californian sound without sounding cheesy or dated. As someone whose entry into the rap world was Snoop Dogg and Too $hort, it makes me giddy to see a fresh young talent laying the pimp hand down. Plus, I can finally leave Danny Brown alone as I have a new head of rapper hair to obsess over. —Frances Capell
If the rap game were a John Hughes film, San Jose’s Antwon would be the dude from the wrong side of the tracks wearing cut-off Pantera T-shirts and scheming on Molly Ringwald’s virginity. With his deep, powerful voice and dark inclinations, his songs are best suited for a house party where shit gets broken and girls get naked. On his latest mixtape In Dark Denim, he raps brazenly about freaky sex and rocking a broken Motorola phone over beats resembling the warped soundtracks of a box of dusty VHS tapes. The 26-year-old rapper got his start in punk bands and I just found out he still lives with his mom, but somehow, that makes him even more real in the not-giving-a-fuck sense of the word. Isn’t that pretty much what being hardcore is all about? —FC
The Houston rapper, producer, and grand supreme ass-quaking authority's emphatically acerbic baritone launches into U Ain't Bout That Life with, "It's Beat King Strip Club Kong, got yo bitch naked in my muh'fuckin phone." Punctuated with adlibs unleashed from uncharted depths of the diaphragm, your mouth and eyes can't help but water and widen before the monstrous bass kicks in and floors you. This is par for the Beat King course, and it's some of the most intensely satisfying and dramatic rap music being made. Central to the brilliance of the self-proclaimed Club God, though, is his Larry David side. An infinitely better Internet user than most rappers, he's created his own method of real-time social commentary, a WSHH-fuelled strategy that simply boils down to him waiting for stupid shit to happen and then freestyling about it. And his #TeamChoppers hater-culling trending topic slash online lynch mob is a brutal spectator sport that often ends in the deserving victim deleting their Twitter. The fact that Beat King's instrumentals drop like Felix Baumgartner and are turned to by Europe's rap-loving, "EDM Trap"-phobic electronic DJ set as the connoisseur's big-room alternative, only means that when he does penetrate outside of Texas this year the world will be close behind. —Davey Boy Smith
North Carolina is not necessarily known for its rap scene. There’s J. Cole, who doesn’t really count, and Little Brother, who don't really exist. But there is a third way. Much like late-period capitalism produced Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, North Carolina and the Internet helped produce Deniro Farrar, one of the few rappers to be both on the block and in the cloud. Which is to say that Farrar is as hard as they come, but he just so happens to talk his shit over pillow-fluffy beats from a murderer’s row of producers such as Ryan Hemsworth, Keyboard Kid, Friendzone, and Flosstradamus, creating an ambiance that contributes to the gravitas of his verses. When I interviewed Farrar a couple months ago, he shared with me exactly how grave his situation is: he’s got a brother on trial and two kids, and so he’s gotta make it happen for himself, like, now. He’s released three essential projects: The Kill or Be Killed EP with Shady Blaze, Cliff of Death with Blue Sky Black Death, and his recent solo shot The Patriarch. Oh, and if you didn’t hear he kinda killed SXSW. —Drew Millard
Okay so yeah, this one's kind of a gimme, but we'd be pretty remiss to not include Earl on this list. After returning from the wilderness, Thebe's return to rap has been limited but pointed—a well-executed guest verse here, a gut-wrenching solo track there, culminating in the recent "WHOA," which combines Earl's unmatched wordplay with his newfound commitment to not rapping about overtly terrible things. Flying Lotus has been serving as his live DJ lately, and by all accounts Earl's upcoming album Doris is gonna be nothing short of mind-blowing: rumored collaborators include The Neptunes, Alchemist, Thundercat, RZA (apparently), as well as the usual Odd Future gang. Still, it's important to remember that Earl's still developing as both a rapper and an adult, and though he may very well bring balance to The Force (or rap music, whatever), the most we should really be asking of him at this point is to follow his bliss. However, as this recent live footage can attest, Earl's new shit is sick, and Mac Miller is becoming mostly pretty alright. —DM