Lately, I’ve been checking out a lot of underground rap. I love the latest albums by Kendrick Lamar and A$AP ROCKY, among others, but there are thousands of insanely talented rappers who’ll never get the attention or accolades that they receive, this even though they well-deserve them. Thus, instead of plugging artists you’ve likely checked out already, I wanted to draw your attention to a handful of underground releases that I’ve been very impressed with recently.
5. HEZEKIAH: DREAMS DON’T CHASE THEMSELVES
“There’s always gonna be some type of obstacle in the way / All those things will go away / If you really focus on what makes you happy,” says Philadelphia rapper Hezekiah during “Sweet Dreams,” the trippy intro track to his new album Dreams Don’t Chase Themselves, which is his fifth album if you count the European only release This, That, & the 3rd. Given that he’s put out so much material — over a span of 10 years — I suppose he’s not entirely underground, but, hey, he’s hardly a household name and I haven’t seen any major magazines covering him, so that makes him underground enough for me. In any case, Dreams Don’t Chase Themselves is an album that means to inspire the listener, not only to elevate one’s spirits but to encourage one to chase their dreams. He uses his charismatic voice to rap about moving past bullies, stepping out of your own way, etc., all over excellent self-produced music goes from starlit and dreamy to urgent and hard-hitting, relying more on potent drum loops than electronic beats.
4. A-1: THURLIAN
A-1 would seem to be a new rapper, as he doesn’t have a wiki page and he isn’t on Amazon. He does, however, have his own site, where he’s giving away this sweet, sweet mixtape. “This ain’t a modern day trap banger / It’s the life of a modern day rap singer,” he declares during the perfectly laid back “Sunday Love.” Where many rappers can sound ungrateful for what they have, or brag about it too much, A-1 raps about being grateful for things. He doesn’t diss anyone or portray violent imagery, but, rather, sticks up for parents who can’t afford vitamins for their kids. In other words, he’s a very positive guy and he truly wants to make the world a better place. If you’re looking for the antithesis of gangsta rap then A-1 is your fix. (He also gets kudos for sampling Lana Del Rey on his very own “Summertime Sadness.”)
3. APATHY: WEEKEND AT THE CAPE
Connecticut rapper Apathy is another fellow who’s been around for roughly a decade yet remains underground. The only two of his releases that I’ve heard are Baptism By Fire — one of his first mixtapes, which you can still find on datpiff — and this new release, Weekend At The Cape. And the difference between them is like night and day. They’re still on the same planet, yes, but Baptism By Fire is much more in the gangsta (or at least aggressive) vein than Weekend At The Cape. Back then he did songs like “Fuck You” and “Ugly Bitch,” but now he’s simmered down a bit; his fine flow is still full of energy, but less angry. His big thing these days is rapping about New England. He always did that a bit, being from here — Love is Pop is based in Massachusetts, smack dab in the middle of NE — but now he does it far more often, his songs full of references you almost have to be from here to appreciate. Musically, his beats are rather old school, reminding me of RUN DMC more than, say, Eminem. There’s nothing wrong with that though; I find it refreshing. Better than another trap album, right?
2. FUTURISTIC: THE RISE
Futuristic is as modern as they come, both in terms of his exhilarating, fresh beats and hip, pop culture referencing lyrics. Many of his songs consist of serious bragging — like “The Greatest” and “Man On A Mission” — but I don’t see anything wrong with being self-promoting. On the contrary, his confidence somehow makes him seem that much cooler, giving him a contagious vibe. Besides, it’s very well-deserved. He can rap as fast as Eminem and does so frequently. In fact, he often raps so fast that it’s difficult to follow his explicit lyrics. Impressive stuff, indeed.
1. BISHOP NEHRU: NEHRUVIA: THE NEHRUVIAN EP
One of my favorite rappers right now is Childish Gambino and, musicially, that’s who New York rapper Bishop Nehru most reminds me of with his oh so savvy beats, which incorporate a lot of clever electronic elements, samples, loops, etc. Looking at the producer credits for his previous releases on Soundcloud, it seems that he doesn’t produce most of his music himself, but ultimately his dazzling rap skills are what captivate you the most anyway. To that end, Bishop could easily hold court with the best of them. Whether he’s going for an intoxicating, almost syrupy vibe (“MellowWithMe”) or higher gear (“Somebody Waits”), he grabs hold of you and makes you feel something as he rides his smooth, silky beats. He also makes you think. So, it should come as no surprise that Bishop’s name is taken from Tupac’s character Bishop from 1991’s Juice and Jawaharlal Nehru, a former prime minister of India. And while I have no idea what Jawaharal Nehru’s opinion about rap music might be, I do believe The Nehruvian EP would make Pac proud.