Staff Feature: Rappers Who Own the Contemporary Game

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Nicolae Sadovnic, Digital Marketing Director:


His music is a  perfect balance of artistry, experimentation, accessibility, authenticity, and technicality. Every album cements him as one of the greats and he’s only getting better. Multi-level storytelling and tasteful social-consciousness shows just how refined his vision is especially with the diversity of his output. The Lebron James of rap: there’s no stopping him.


An icon in every way continuing to leave his massive footprint in pop culture. Has not settled a bit and continues to create top-level music and astounding/angering fans worldwide. Good press or bad press, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that he’s made some groundbreaking music.


I gotta give Danny the last spot because he’s the most electrifying force in underground rap. This Detroit dude has been on featured with The Avalances, EL-P, Rustie, A$AP Rocky, The Alchemist, among others. Oh, and his latest music video was directed by Jonah Hill. He’s just quietly supplementing his already stellar solo-career with notable contributions all around. He also once got Dave Chappelle so high before his show that he got booed off the stage in Detroit. Whoops. Brash, experimental, and toothless, Danny Brown is thuggin’ sweet.


Ben Panzeca, Sports Director:


In a perfect world, all three of these spots would be occupied by Kendrick…

  1. To Pimp a Butterfly
  2. Good Kid M.A.A.D City
  3. DAMN.

…with an honorable mention going to section.80. Kendrick. But it’s not a perfect world, and though Kung-Fu Kenny has cemented his likeness on the Mount Rushmore of Hip-Hop, he can *only* hold top place on my list. This is no disrespect to the other artists in the game right now, but Kendrick has put out three consecutive ground-breaking projects. Oh, yeah, and his B-sides are fire (see: untitled unmastered).


Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone loves him this year, and I may just seem like another bandwagon-er. *gets defensive* But I will have you know that I’ve loved this dude since I got his 10 Day mixtape off DatPiff. Coloring Book isn’t as raw as Acid Rap, or as unpredictable as Surf. But he’s risen to the spotlight faster than most artists could ever dream of, without compromising his individuality or his reputation. He deserves nothing but praise, and at this trajectory, I’m excited for what he’s going to be giving us in the future.


With three studio albums under their belts, EI-P and Killer Mike are the best hip-hop duo since Clipse. Run the Jewels’ latest, politically-charged album might not include the bangers of their second album, (“Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck”), but it sure is filled with lyrical content. Really, if you haven’t listened to these guys, check them out.

Honorable Mentions: Anderson.paak (not exactly rap but still incredible), Danny Brown, D.R.A.M, Kanye West.


Michael Reimer, Incoming Music Director:


Kanye knows himself. What intrigues me the most is his commitment to artistic vision. His consistently high quality concept albums take his music and his career to the next level. What separates Kanye from his competition is his commitment to that level beyond just “great.” One of his most crucial contributions to the music industry is that he challenged the meaning of an album as a singular work. By editing and reordering the tracks on The Life Of Pablo, he challenged the artistic notion of an album and raised a conversation about music that will forever be an insightful move, lasting longer than the relevance of any one piece he creates. That’s why he’s up here, iconic, artistic, and realistic.


Kendrick is a different beast. Kendrick moves with a consciousness of his origins and heart. His music is guided by his past and defined by his commitment to quality artistic projects. Kdot isn’t just a rapper from compton, he represents race-related issues in places across the United States. His music touches on race, religion and politics frequently, and isn’t shy of speaking his mind. Combining these vast topics in a single album with a core message is difficult, and Kendrick has not only accomplished a coherent message with his albums, but he ensures that each release is better than the last. Kendrick’s cultural relevancy and his quality gives him a spot in my top 3.


.Paak is sort of a rapper. Sort of an R&B artist. He maintains the same cultural relevancy as Kendrick minus the fame. Paak represents a different direction than the artists on this list and the lists of my peers. .Paak takes R&B sound and pulls it into the scope of millennial listeners. His work represents more than just a reinterpretation of R&B sound, it represents the movement of genres and the mobility of music as a whole. When people try to understand the way music genres ebb and flow, .Paak isn’t glossed over, his music represents the importance of genre and development in the music industry today, which is why he deserves the final spot on my top 3.


Claire Stemen, Senior Editor:


It’s true that Kendrick is both on this list consistently and hyped A LOT in the media and mainstream rap world, but it isn’t undeserved. He’s consistently been a strong lyricist, artist, and producer with the grit of a man who’s part of the real-world. He isn’t the cleaned up glam of money obsessed rappers, but the voice of reality and class/race struggles. In his most recent opus, DAMN., we see Kendrick struggle with the pressure of that role, but of course, he works through it beautifully and poignantly.


While he may seem like another obvious choice, I haven’t placed Chance here simply because of his popularity. His unique contribution to rap is revolutionary and progressive. You won’t hear degrading language towards women on his tracks (sadly, this is revolutionary even in modern times) and he operates outside of record labels. He’s the gleeful f-you to the music system that currently sucks artists dry on streaming services.


Even though the guys aren’t performing together anymore, their contribution as Odd Future (Wolf Gang Kill Them All) and as solo artists (Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, Mike G, MellowHigh, MellowHype, etc) is the most innovative I’ve heard in hip hop in a long time. When people ask me what they sound like I say “indie rap”, as their sound is so far from the current vibes on the radio and from top rappers that it needs a new subgenre. They were true innovators and continue to be as they push the boundaries of accepted vulgarity and what constitutes a beat. Look to Tyler, the Creator for provocation, but also the romanticism of “IFHY” or “F***ING YOUNG/PERFECT” or dive into the hyper-pessimism of Earl Sweatshirt’s lyrical prowess. Either way, it won’t be what you’ve heard before.

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