My apologies that thoughts about the rap acts at SXSW written by Kevin Ritter is late to the table…
In 2018, it is no secret that many rappers claim to be independent when in reality they are signed to a major label. One primary reason for this façade is the belief that audiences will root for artists who turn down the resources that come with major label backing, in order to create music without corporate influence. This misleading phenomenon makes it even more difficult for artists that genuinely are independent. For this reason, Emerging Indie Bands is shining the spotlight on the best truly independent hip hop acts of SXSW 2018.
Best of SXSW Emerging Indie Bands
Derez De’Shon has been making noise in the south for a while now but his wave is finally spreading nation-wide, thanks to his hit single Hardaway, which just peaked at #61 on the Billboard Top 100 charts last week. Although he is technically “signed” to the urban music collective Commission Music and is frequently seen with Cash Money’s Birdman, De’shon does not appear to have any label backing, making his charting even more impressive. Although De’shon only had one major show at SXSW, his performance was one of the best of the week.
Shah reportedly rejected the record deals that came after he was named Trap’s Newest Star by Complex magazine following the success of his breakout hit Just Text. His SXSW included sold out shows on some of the festivals bigger stages, and more raucous overflowing pop-ups that had Austin buzzing. He’s already received many SXSW awards ranging from Top New Artist of SXSW to SXSW’s Best Canadian artist. Hood Illustrated also named him one of their Breakout Artists of SXSW. Shah’s commitment to his fans and genuine independence is why he’s our Best New Artist of SXSW 2018.
Sonny Digital is a name that is probably familiar to hip hop fans as a producer. Sonny is signed as a producer to Universal and Gucci Mane’s label 1017 Records, but he recently began rapping himself and is has his own independent label to which he is the only artist signed, making him technically an independent rapper. Although one can argue that he must have access to connections and has the benefits of a signed artist through his production deal, Sonny put in the work during SXSW this year and performed at several shows. He deserves much more shine than he’s been getting, and is our Best Artist/Producer of SXSW 2018.
YBN Nahmir has a huge following so it might surprise some but he is also unsigned. His hit single Rubbin Off the Paint peaked at #46 on the Billboard Top 100 charts and #9 on the Emerging Artists Chart. Only 18 years old, Nahmir’s successes are impressive without any label backing. Perhaps it will come out that he is an industry plant as well, but for now it appears that he is truly independent. Nahmir had several shows at SXSW and was one of the fan favourites this year.
Some other notable mentions that are also independent artists are: 24Hrs, Blocboy JB, DJ Luke Nasty, Kemba, and Killy. The last few years of SXSW have been more commercial, so it was nice to see a return to celebrating independent artists this year.
With thanks to Kevin Ritter for this article – who will appear from time to time with a particular focus on Hip-Hop.
A look at the emerging indie artists destined for rap stardom in 2017.
1 – YE ALI (USA)
The buzz surrounding Indiana native Ye Ali actually began well before 2017. His self-described “TrapHouse Jodeci” sound has successfully been bringing together the passion of soulful R&B with the captivating darkness of trap. While the Los Angeles-based artist has already attained a loyal soundcloud following, it’s his latest single What To Do – featuring K. Camp and produced by Bizness – that has the potential to rise through radio and clubs.
2017 Prediction: Ye’s breakout could organically be achieved through teaming up with other rising rappers whose sound would mesh well with his own. From our own list, collaborations with Jaquáe and Shah could bring Ye enough East Coast love to push him out of the underground. Given his Moroccan heritage, it would also be compelling to witness Ye team up with French Montana to take a stand against Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim stance.
Not surprisingly, hip hop’s capital city of Atlanta is home to many artists on the verge of national stardom. The Atlanta artist with the most palpable buzz at the the beginning of 2017 was Dae Dae, whose 2016 single Wat U Mean (Aye, Aye, Aye) amassed 30 million plus plays on Spotify and was followed up by club anthem Spend It, which went on to be remixed by 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne. In fact, Atlanta readers may be surprised to even see Dae Dae described as an emerging artist. While Dae Dae has yet to conquer the Northeast and West coast, he does appear destined to do so in 2017.
2017 Predictions: While a major marketing campaign could likely be enough to propel Dae Dae nationally, the same could be said for countless other emerging artists. In order for Dae Dae to organically fulfil his potential he would be wise to collaborate with another emerging rappers with a broader fanbase to get him the international love he deserves. If he can manage to do this with another Atlanta artist, it could be the start of a very powerful tandem.
Jaquáe has steadily been releasing music for the past few years but it was the re-release of his track My Pieces Hittin that propelled him to becoming the rising New York star that he currently is. The Harlem-born, South Carolina raised artist originally dropped the audio-only track back in August 2015 but it wasn’t until the visual came out in April of 2016 that his career started to take off. Jaquáe is firmly a part of New York’s rap comeback, as demonstrated by collaborations with A Boogie With The Hoodie and Dave East. While Come On, Jaquáe’s track with A Boogie did not attract the audience that some had hoped, it has been steadily doing numbers on Spotify. Jaquáe appears poised to become the next New York rapper to blow.
2017 Predictions: Life’s a little different for New York rappers. Ascending through the city’s ranks is probably harder in New York than any other city, given the sheer volume of competition. However, once you have risen in New York, you have the eyes of a city longing to take back hip hop’s crown, along with more journalists than any other city on earth. Jaquáe is on the right path.
An alluring buzz has followed Toronto’s Shah since his May 2016 debut single Rookie Card, which was embraced both by tastemakers scouting the next wave of hitmakers and also hip hop traditionalists longing for the lyrical depth embedded in his music. Shah’s stock continued to climb following Atlanta’s A3C Festival last October, garnering him major label attention, which Shah has reportedly been turning down. However, Shah appeared to accept the embrace of Atlanta’s underground influencers, including some of the city’s most renowned stripclub DJs, leading to comparisons between Shah and Future, who followed a similar path to achieving stardom with a fresh sound.
2017 Prediction: Throughout January, Shah’s new tracks have led to a new wave of buzz at Atlanta institutions like Magic City, yet they remain unavailable online. Once these tracks are released, we can expect Shah to realise his full potential. As for as collaborations from this list, a track with Dae Dae would help reinforce Shah’s support in Atlanta, as the city has taken him in as one of their own. A track with Lola Brooke or Kodie Shane would also make sense given Shah’s vocal support for feminism particularly in the track Pay Day 71.
Similar to Shah, 24 hrs is an Atlanta based rapper with the tools for superstardom who still resides in the underground, given his low key social media presence and his desire to let the music speak for itself. 24 hrs has already accumulated over fifty six thousand followers on Soundcloud and has collaborated with more established artists such as Ty Dolla $ign, Wiz Khalifa, and Gucci Mane. His R&B flavour and “cuffing” themes attract new mainstream audiences, while his youthful persona help maintain his connection to the streets.
2017 Predictions: It is somewhat difficult to predict 24 hrs rise, given his unique public persona. However, given the successful response to his mainstream collaborations, it seems 24 hrs just needs to keep putting in that work. As for as collaborations from this list, we’d love to see 24 hrs connect with Dee-1 for a more light hearted track.
Yet another artist with relatively online anonymity, Brooklyn native SAINt JHN is adding a unique sound to the New York renaissance. His audio-only video for his single Reflex has over 300,000 views on Youtube and over 4 million plays on Spotify. His sensual delivery and smooth flow bring out the meaning in his lyrics and he not only conveys the emotion but enables the listener to feel as if they are experiencing it as well. The relatability in his bars is what makes SAINt JHN’s music enjoyable to men as well as women, which is rare for an R&B artist.
2017 Predictions: SAINt JHN, who actually wrote Usher’s 2016 single Crash, should strive to release a full project of his own in 2017. While he appears to be a relatively enigmatic artist, he should beginning collaborating with other artists. From this list, we would love to see SAINt JHN collaborate with Ye Ali or Shah. A song with all 3 of them would be dripping with genre-crossing hit potential.
Our next artist comes from the hip-hop capital of Atlanta as well. Kodie Shane is a dope MC ready to make a name for herself. She’s a part of Lil’ Yachty’s squad “Sailing Team” and is giving a female perspective on the new wave of hip hop. Her music videos are quality and she holds your attention without even having the extras in her videos, especially in Drip On My Walk, a heavy bass, swag-filled track. Shane also has the hit Hold Up<, featuring XXL’s 2016 Freshmen Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty.
2017 Prediction: Kodie Shane is making waves in the next few months and will be coming at you with no apologies. With Atlanta pop rap icons like Yachty behind her, Kodie is set to be the Nicki Minaj of the south. As for collaborations, while it’s dope to see the big names supporting this new female artist, we’d love to see her do a track with other emerging female rappers like Lola Brooke or even Angel Haze.
The third New York artist on the list gives tangible hope to the city’s longing for a meaningful return to relevance, if not dominance. It’s been quite some time since NY held the crown but with Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s triumphant comeback with All The Way Up paving the way for new artists like Young M.A, A Boogie With Da Hoodie, and Don Q, it won’t be long before the NY scene is major competition for Atlanta. Don Q is on the rise but it’s his collaborations that are putting his career on the fast track. He’s working with A Boogie With Da Hoodie heavily, having done several songs with him including Bando and Floyd Mayweather, which was remixed by Young Thug. Don’s also collaborated with established artists including Meek Mill, Dave East, and Fabolous.
2017 Prediction: Don Q just needs to stay on the path that he’s on and his career will continue to climb. He’s working with the right artists and if he continues to ride with A Boogie, he’ll be set. We’d love to see him and Jaquáe do a song with A Boogie and unite these NY forces to take on the Atlanta scene.
Dee-1 is the sole New Orleans artist on our list, another city that has fallen victim to Atlanta’s dominance. He’s been doing his thing since 2008 and has had a relatively steady stream of successes over the last few years. His track Against Us was remixed by Lupe Fiasco and Big KRIT in May of 2016 and his single Sallie Mae Back from last year has over 1 million views on YouTube. It’s respectable that Dee hasn’t compromised his art and stays true to himself by incorporating positive social messages as well as his faith into his lyricism.
2017 Prediction: We don’t want Dee to stray away from who he is, so the way that his career can finally take off is through collaborations, specifically with artists that have fanbases outside of New Orleans. Working with Atlanta based artists like 24 hrs could help propel Dee’s career to another market. Additionally, it would help if Dee works with artists that have a younger demographic, like Kodie Shane.
Lola has only released one song officially, 2017 Flow and she’s starting the year off right. She has a few freestyles on her soundcloud but her video for 2017 Flow has done surprisingly well for a relatively new and unknown artist. She’s getting radio play in NY which is no easy feat, but what’s most respectable about her is how she defies stereotypes for women in rap. Her flow and lyrics go hard and she has the ability to go up against gangster male rappers and hold her own. Lola has the commercial look (i.e. she’s sexy too) and is just at the beginning of what’s about to be a successful career.
2017 Prediction: In order to take advantage of this early buzz, Lola needs to be prolific and put out more music as well as get on top of the business side of things and properly distribute her songs so that listeners can stream on Spotify and Apple Music, not just Soundcloud. We’d love to see some female collaborations with NY veterans like Remy Ma and Azealia Banks to solidify Lola as a boss female artist that we need more of in the hip hop industry.
With thanks to Kevin for his considered thoughts on emerging hip-hop artists.
If you would like to add your thoughts on musical styles and musicians for which you have a passion please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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A slightly different article by a guest writer – Gary Lin about the Rap scene in Toronto, Canada. Gary Lin’s – Top 6 Rappers From The 6ix – July 15th 2016.
6. Derin Falana Derin Falana, formerly known as The Flan, has only been on the scene for about a year. He had a few breakout hits on soundcloud last year, one of them being the fan favourite, Bet.
His newer material isn’t getting the same amount of love but his videos are quite well shot for an independent artist. In his most recent track, The Pick Up, the usage of drone footage takes an otherwise typical rap video to the next level. Derin’s come up may be slow but he’s definitely on the rise.
5. Sean Leon Sean Leon is becoming one of the most talked about independent rappers in the Toronto scene. Killin Mind (Killin’ Mind – Single – Sean Leon is available on iTunes*) has been out for about two months and the track is slowly picking up steam. With bars like ‘When I close my eyes, I see dolla signs’ Sean is in the pocket through the whole track.
Sean’s most recent song, Game 7 Flow/Court Tomorrow deserves a listen as well. Leon also deserves recognition beyond his own bars, as he produces and is also the founder of the IXXI Initiative, home to fellow T.O emcee Daniel Caesar, who just barely missed making this list.
4. Shah Shah, the newest rapper on our Top 6 list, might also be the one with the greatest potential for stardom. His début singles Rookie Card and Don’t Do It Mandela have been both critically praised and steadily been putting up impressive numbers since their May release.
The buzz surrounding Shah is also palpable outside of Toronto. He was recently named one of the world’s top 10 desi rappers (the only Canadian on the list). Through the backing of a New York and Los Angeles production collective, Shah has created a music video series that’s provided fans with cinematic visuals that we’ve just never seen from an independent rapper. The next video in his series drops later this month and will be for his recently released track Ridin Shotty With God, his strongest song to date.
This new Toronto rapper was recently signed to Cash Money so Birdman is featured at least once on J-Soul’s tracks off his new EP Jane 2 Miami that dropped last month. The aptly named Cash Money is the most banging song on the EP
and is an impressive follow up to his breakout single Toronto Plaza Motel.
Given the Cash Money connection, it is interesting that J-Soul hasn’t attempted to leverage his connection to Drake. In this day and age where a cosign means everything, I love how J-Soul is doing his own thing. With his ability to drop bars and skillfully sing, J-Soul is another Toronto name you’ll soon be hearing everywhere.
2. Roy Woods
As soon as there’s patois you know it’ll be the next big Toronto hit. It looks like Roy Woods is staying true to his sound since being signed to OVO with Gwan Big Up Urself (Gwan Big Up Urself – Single – Roy Woods is available on iTunes*).
With Drake featured on his first single Drama (Exis – EP – Roy Woods is available on iTunes.*), it was no surprise that Roy blew up as quickly as he did. Now opening for Drake and Future on the Summer 16 tour, Roy is without a doubt a rapper on the rise and his newest track is fire.
1. Jazz Cartier
Undoubtedly one of the biggest names in Toronto’s rap scene, Jazz is surprisingly not as well known outside of Canada. While the other artists on this list are largely independent, Jazz has benefited from being signed to Universal, and his most recent releases reflect his transition to a more mainstream, but still respectable, sound. His style is notably versatile from his aggressive delivery and flow on Lil Wayne (Lil Wayne – Jazz Cartier is available on iTunes.*)
to his more melodic and tuned verse on Ring with Ye Ali (Ring – Single – Ye Ali & Jazz Cartier is available on iTunes*). Other than Ring, one thing that Jazz hasn’t done much of is features. His last album was only released in February but fans were already clamouring for the follow up and our wishes have been granted with this new summer hit.