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Music
21 Rappers 21 And Under Who Are Shaping Hip-Hop
Old heads take note — this crop of talented young artists is redefining the sound of modern hip-hop.
Written by Yu-Cheng Lin, Sarah Mackenzie
Published on
Slick mainstream rap has always found its raw analog in the underground. But in a time when over-the-top melodrama (Drake) and conceptual narratives (Kendrick Lamar) dominate the airwaves, where even recent pioneers like Young Thug have smoothed out any rough edges, perhaps it's no surprise that the new vanguard of rappers have once again upped the ante, offering new sounds, new flows, new moods, new everything.
Many of the rappers listed here favor energy over intricacy, viscerality over logic and flow over lyricism. They are descendants of Chief Keef, Lil Wayne and Lil B, preferring not canonized albums like "The Blueprint" but anomalies like "808s & Heartbreak." Even rap's perpetual claims to authenticity present themselves here in hybrid forms, as influenced by the collective power of Raider Klan and Sad Boys as early-00s emo and obscure 1990s mixtapes.
A bulk of the most visible of these young artists are unfortunately labeled "SoundCloud rappers." While there is truth to this description — many use the streaming technology to reach their audience — it's also true that they still benefit from their location, with cities like Chicago, Atlanta and especially Miami playing crucial roles (This is why the city in which these artists first made their impact is most often listed here, rather than the city they were born in or have since moved to).
But however they're labeled — SoundCloud rap, emo-trap, mumble rap — one thing's for sure: These rappers are forging new paths, once again pushing the boundaries of what rap is, who it's for and how it's distributed. In an era that values SoundCloud play counts, social media communication and the primacy of viral memes, there's nothing stopping the blazing forward-momentum of these 21 rappers under 21.

1. Lil Berete

Age: 17
City: Toronto, Ontario
Why he's important: Citing Young Thug, Akon, and T-Pain as influences, Lil Berete stands out from the Drake clones, and his music videos have racked up millions of YouTube views. He might rep Toronto’s Regent Park, but last year’s debut mixtape "Icebreaker" (released on XL Recordings imprint New Gen), also featured producers from London and LA.
Essential listening: The upbeat, dancehall-inflected "Time Flies", which received a Saint Vincent-shot visual.

2. Bhad Bhabie

Age: 15
City: Boynton Beach, Florida
Why she's important: Love her or hate her, there’s little middle ground when it comes to Bhad Bhabie, who turned a viral appearance on Dr. Phil into a rap career that’s now well past 15 minutes. YG, Lil Yachty, and Ty Dolla Sign are some of the established names who appeared on her 2018 debut mixtape, the appropriately-titled "15".
Essential listening: The star-studded "Hi Bich Remix" featuring Rich The Kid, Asian Doll, and MadeinTYO.

3. Molly Brazy

Age: 19
City: Detroit, Michigan
Why she's important: She might call Atlanta home now, but Molly Brazy still puts on for the Motor City, spitting dexterous, hard-nosed rhymes second to none. Her 2018 debut album "Queen Pin" took a page from J. Cole’s book and purposely had no features.
Essential listening: "Outro", a quick-witted cut that flaunts Brazy's ostentatious flow.

4. Rich Brian

Age: 19
City: Jakarta, Indonesia
Why he's important: Formerly known as Rich Chigga, the Chinese-Indonesian rapper has been featured everywhere from XXL and Playboy. The 88rising affiliate might have got attention from his meme-ready videos, but his 2018 debut album "Amen" proved he’s in it for the long haul.
Essential listening: "Dat $tick", the viral single that started it all, and the song that Ghostface Killah liked so much he asked to hop on the remix.

5. Clairmont The Second

Age: 21
City: Toronto, Ontario
Why he's important: Clairmont The Second is a producer and rapper with a perspective well beyond his years. At 21 years old, he’s already self-released several bodies of work that embrace neo-soul, R&B, gospel and jazz, including 2017’s JUNO Award-nominated "Lil Mont from The Ave" and last year’s "Do You Drive?". A former RBMA Bass Camp participant, he’s collaborated with artists including Harrison and Shi Wisdom, and shared stages with GoldLink, NAV, Keita Juma, and more.
Essential listening: "Grip" clocks in at less than three minutes, but Clairmont manages to say more than most rappers do in songs twice as long, and the simple-but-colorful accompanying video shows him touring his neighborhood.

6. CupcakKe

Age: 21
City: Chicago, Illinois
Why she's important: Her raunchy lyrics and exuberant personality have earned her legions of diehard fans, who call themselves “slurpers,” but CupcakKe’s music also tackles heavier topics including LGBTQ issues, police brutality, and sexual assault. One of the more prolific MCs on this list, last year she released two albums Euphorize and Eden, and continues to put out hilarious, frequently NSFW videos.
Essential listening: Charli XCX’s bubbly pop banger "Lipgloss", which was produced by PC Music crew A.G. Cook, SOPHIE, and Lil Sim, and features one of CupcakKe’s most ferocious verses to date.

7. Dave

Age: 20
City: London, England
Why he's important: Heralded as one of the next big stars of UK hip-hop, and winner of the 2017 MOBO Award for Best Newcomer Act, Dave recently released his debut album "PSYCHODRAMA". A quasi-concept album about him attending a therapy session, it’s no wonder Drake is a fan and brought him out during his recent European tour.
Essential listening: The politically-charged "Question Time", named after a BBC news show, sees Dave confronting former UK prime minister David Cameron.

8. Adamn Killa

Age: 20
City: Chicago, Illinois
Why he's important: One of the most idiosyncratic MCs on this list, Adamn Killa has worked with everybody from Swedish rapper Yung Lean to electronic producers like Ryan Hemsworth and Shlohmo. The Chicagoan also put a six-song project "Lover Not A Killa" with his girlfriend Killavesi in 2017 - can you say “relationship goals”?
Essential listening: "Roof Roof", a UV boi-produced standout from Killa’s album "I Am Adamn", which was recently featured in Steven Soderbergh’s NBA lockout drama High Flying Bird.

9. MIKE

Age: 19
City: New York City, New York
Why he's important: While you probably won’t hear MIKE’s dense, lo-fi raps on Top 40 radio any time soon, but he’s a torchbearer for a new scene of New York MCs including Navy Blue, Medhane, and others. He released four projects last year and Earl Sweatshirt shouted him out "Some Rap Songs".
Essential listening: "Greed" featuring New York City experimental jazz outfit Standing on the Corner (who contributed production to Solange’s "When I Get Home").

10. YBN Nahmir

Age: 19
City: Birmingham, Alabama
Why he's important: The most recognizable member of the YBN Crew, which also includes YBN Cordae and YBN Almighty Jay, Nahmir was named to XXL’s 2018 Freshman Class. He’s yet to release a solo album, but last year’s "YBN: The Mixtape" hinted at his overwhelming potential.
Essential listening: "Rubbin Off The Paint", which samples SpongeBob SquarePants, and got a Vince Staples remix.

11. Rico Nasty

Age: 21
City: Baltimore, Maryland
Why she's important: With a discography that ranges from fierce diss tracks to intimate confessionals about her experiences as a young mother, Rico Nasty boasts an unprecedented range and versatility. She grew up in New York and Virginia, but today calls Maryland home and has numerous alter egos including Tacobella and Trap Lavigne.
Essential listening: "Countin Up", a standout from her 2018 mixtape "Nasty", which interpolates N.O.R.E.’s The Neptunes-produced 1998 hit Superthug.

12. Lil Pump

Age: 18
City: Miami, Florida
Why he's important: One of the most polarizing rappers to come out of Florida, Lil Pump first got attention by uploading his raw songs to SoundCloud, where they racked up millions of plays. He signed his first record deal two months before turning 17 and hasn’t slowed down since, recently putting out his star-studded sophomore album "Harverd Dropout", and announcing his new supergroup Gucci Gang (Gucci Mane, Smokepurpp, and Pump).
Essential listening: "Gucci Gang", which has over 880 million views on YouTube, hit number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and popularized Pump’s ubiquitious “Esketit!” ad-lib.

13. Lil Reek

Age: 17
City: Atlanta, Georgia
Why he's important: Atlanta has one of the most fertile rap scenes anywhere, and Lil Reek’s "The Graduation" showed why he might be the next to carry the touch. Now signed to Republic Records, expect big things from the young rapper in 2019.
Essential listening: The Brodinski-produced trap anthem "Rock Out".

14. Trippie Redd

Age: 19
City: Canton, Ohio
Why he's important: Another artist who used SoundCloud to launch his career, Trippie Redd possesses an incredibly versatile voice, which has made him stand out from the emo rapper pack. He’s collaborated with everybody from Australian electronic producer Alison Wonderland to Travis Scott, and released his debut album "Life’s a Trip" last year.
Essential listening: The ominous "Dark Knight Dummo", which was produced by Atlanta’s Honorable C.N.O.T.E., and sees Redd and Scott playing zombie killers in the video.

15. 070 Shake

Age: 21
City: North Bergen, New Jersey
Why she's important: While Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music 2018 album blitz left plenty to be desired quality-wise, it did introduce a wider audience to 070 Shake. The New Jersey rapper and singer was featured on Ye songs "Ghost Town" and "Violent Crimes", as well as appearing on Pusha T's "Daytona" and Nas' "Nasir".
Essential listening: Proving she’s comfortable on any type of beat, "My Night" is a collaboration with Canadian electronic duo Keys N Krates.

16. Kodie Shane

Age: 20
City: Atlanta, Georgia
Why she's important: Kodie Shane is quickly becoming the most visible member of Lil Yachty’s Sailing Team crew, and her music blends unapologetic raps and bittersweet R&B hooks. She’s currently wrapping up a North American tour in support of her excellent 2018 album "Young HeartThrob" and recently dropped an EP "Stay Tuned".
Essential listening: "Hold Up (Dough Up)", a DJ Spinz-produced banger featuring none other than Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert.

17. Lil Skies

Age: 20
City: Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Why he's important: Introduced to music by his father, who also rapped under the moniker Dark Skies, Lil Skies has toured with Lil Uzi Vert and appeared on songs by Juicy J, Gucci Mane, and more. He’s had three songs in the Billboard Top 100 and recently put out his second album "Shelby".
Essential listening: "Red Roses", which Skies has called his favourite song to date.

18. Smokepurpp

Age: 21
City: Miami, Florida
Why he's important: A dual threat as a producer and rapper, Smokepurpp has worked with many of the artists on this list, including Lil Pump and Lil Yachty. The cover artwork of his 2017 mixtape "Deadstar" references infamous punk rocker GG Allin, which is fitting because songs like "Audi" are the aural equivalent of a punch in the face.
Essential listening: From their collaborative 2018 mixtape "Bless Yo Trap", "123" finds Smokepurpp linking up with Canadian hitmaker Murda Beatz.

19. Juice WRLD

Age: 20
City: Chicago, Illinois
Why he's important: The crown prince of emo rap, Juice WRLD isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, and he’s drawn comparisons to the likes of Lil Uzi Vert and the late Lil Peep. Since June 2018, he’s dropped three projects, including the collaborative Future tape "WRLD on Drugs" and "Death Race for Love".
Essential listening: "Lucid Dreams", which samples British singer Sting’s 1993 track "Shape of My Heart".

20. Wifisfuneral

Age: 21
City: Palm Beach, Florida
Why he's important: A spot on XXL’s Freshman of 2018 list? Check. Instagram shoutout from none other Erykah Badu? Uh huh. The Bronx-born, Palm Beach-based rapper has accomplished all these accolades and more - not bad for somebody who has yet to release a debut album.
Essential listening: "Tic Tac", an intro track featuring booming 808s, skittering hi-hats, and Wifisfuneral at his highest level.

21. Lil Yachty

Age: 21
City: Atlanta, Georgia
Why he's important: The “veteran” of this list, Lil Yachty’s beaming positivity, and distinct style made him a household name. The red-headed rapper has worked with everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen to Kanye West, but he remains intimately linked with the young guns blazing new paths alongside him. He’s also set to star in this year’s How High 2, the sequel to Method Man and Redman’s 2001 stoner comedy.
Essential listening: His 2016 mixtape "Lil Boat", which introduced most people to Yachty’s acrobatic, AutoTuned melodies, and included guest spots from Young Thug, Quavo, and more.