After being one of the lesser-known faces of XXL's 2012 Freshmen Class, Seattle native Macklemore and his partner Ryan Lewis have had the best year ever. The duo has smashed charts with catchy and provocative singles like "Thrift Shop," "Same Love" and "Can't Hold Us," as their independently released debut album, The Heist, continues to inch toward platinum status. This is a huge moment for independent hip-hop, but it's an even bigger moment for Mack's proud hometown of Seattle, locally known as The City.
A disclaimer: Seattle's hip-hop scene is a weird place. While some of its most well-known vets (Common Market and Blue Scholars) are alternative acts who embraced a melodic boom bap sound, the scene today is really a hodgepodge of ideas and influences, more unified by a mutual love and respect than by any one sonic identity. Some have said it's that lack of identity that's been the reason for Seattle consistently getting overshadowed by movements-marked by one specific sound or production style-out of Atlanta, Houston and the Bay Area. Knowing this, Seattle rhymers have still continued to experiment and explore different sounds, so even with a Macklemore-approved spotlight on them, chances are The City's rhymers aren't going to change now.
With the New New, XXL tries to spotlight burgeoning acts who we feel haven't gotten the shine they deserve, but what makes this edition special is that we feel the entire city of Seattle hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. Speaking on the talent coming out of his city, Seattle mainstay producer Jake One had this to say: "As an elder statesman, a.k.a. old head, of the Seattle rap scene, I'm extremely happy to see the spotlight finally coming to our city. We have an extremely diverse group of artists that are primed for national exposure."
With that said, it's Seattle's time to shine, so click through our staff-compiled guide to the city's up-and-coming rappers you need to know. This is The New New.
Notable song: "Dear Friends"
Sounds like: A conscious rhymer who touches on hip-hop staples like love, weed and life with a new and vivid perspective.
Why you need to know him: He recently returned from a 10-month trip around the world (India, South Africa, Brazil), where he gathered new insights and creative approaches to making music. Last year, Sol released Yours Truly, an independent LP that featured standout tracks "Stage Dive" and "2020." Also, his new single "Dope" is a perfect representation of his recent journey, as he boasts a confident flow over some breezy production. The Zilla is back.
Notable song: "Big Bro"
Sounds like: Street-smart gangsta rap that would fit right in with the likes of The LOX, Guilty Simpson and Big Twinz.
Why you need to know him: Although he was originally born in Chicago, Fatal represents Seattle's Central District, dubbed the "Crime District." Fittingly, his sound embraces hard-hitting gangsta rap that he infuses with a street-tested authenticity, all without skimping on the lyricism.
Kung Foo Grip
Notable song: "Growing Up In The Future"
Sounds like: Lyrically inclined cloud rap with booming old-school kicks.
Why you need to know them: With a sound that merges influences from 1990s West Coast acts like Hieroglyphics and the burgeoning cloud rap subgenre (Flatbush Zombies, Main Attrakionz), Kung Foo Grip offers a distinct blend of new and old. Still, despite the cross-generational sonic mash-up, Grips ground their tunes in nimble and witty lyrics.
Notable songs: "Numbnuts" and "Dean Martin/Rat Race"
Sounds like: A drugged-out cocktail of a clear-voiced SpaceGhostPurpp and Lil Wayne in his heavy lean-drinking days.
Why you need to know him: It's really hard to peg Nacho because he's a versatile MC who sounds really different on every song, even though the majority of his catalog is produced by production duo Blue Sky Black Death. He's also got hints of Southern swag in his raps and his look (tattoos and gold fronts), which makes him a bit more accessible than his NW counterparts.
Notable songs: "Cool Kids" and "Feel The Music"
Sounds like: A more lyrical Curren$y, without the extra-smokey content.
Why you need to know him: He has all the makings of a rising star, thanks to his ability to flip witty wordplay with ease and make radio-quality records. The video for his "Cool Kids" cut is dope and offers just enough of a reason for him to be someone to watch in coming months.
Hometown: Seattle by-way-of Bremerton, WA
Notable songs: "Wake Up" and "The Reason"
Sounds like: An introspective Mac Miller, cut from the cloth of 1990s East Coast rap.
Why you need to know him: Listening to his catalog, it's clear that Shelton is looking to bring a sense of honesty to the game. His subject matter is positive and upbeat, and with Macklemore paving the way for guys like him it shouldn't be too difficult for Shelton to find crossover success. A fun fact: He was also one of the stars in the video of Mack & Ryan Lewis' hit song "Same Love."
Notable songs: "Banana Goo Pie" and "Liquor Store"
Sounds like: Somewhere between a super-stoned Macklemore and much-cooler Hoodie Allen.
Why you need to know him: Lachow's just 22 years old and has some amazing crossover appeal. He's not as earnest as Mack or as corny as Hoodie Allen, finding a middle ground that works really well for him. He's a capable rapper with a great grasp on beat selection, and he shoots/edits his own videos. He also produces a video series called "Young Seattle," where he and a crew of other Town locals cypher. Lachow definitely puts on for his city.
Hometown: Seattle by-way-of Michigan
Notable songs: "Big Or Small"
Sounds like: A perfected version of Chiddy Bang's sound, equipped with actual rapping ability and a lack of corniness.
Why you need to know them: The upbeat tandem embraces electro-influenced production, making their live show a sight to see. The duo is currently prepping their Running With The Bulls Tour, so be on the lookout for them to come to a city near you.
Brothers From Another
Notable song: "Beeba Vision Part II"
Sounds like: Feel-good rhythmic vibes filled with relatable narratives.
Why you need to know them: BFA's Cole Deleon Jones and Isaiah Sneed met in high school and since then have caught a lot of attention for their style of laid-back cuts repping the easygoing lifestyle of the Northwest. While they're still in the early stage of their career, the young duo has already opened for Seattle standouts like Blue Scholars and Macklemore. Their upcoming EP, Tacos On Broadway, is set for a summer release.
Notable songs: "Four Horsemen" and "Hollywood Shampoo"
Sound like: A cool cross between The Knux and Bad Rabbits.
Why you need to know them: Champagne are definitely the weirdos of the New New group, but they represent a funkier, more versatile interpretation of whatever Seattle hip-hop is right now. Their music is tailor-made for a really fun and interactive live show, and the group's lead vocalists sound like punk frontmen who took vocal cues from 3 Stacks and a younger Childish Gambino who grew up listening to soul tunes.
Notable song: "A Learning Game"
Sounds like: With an ability to speak on a range of personal issues in a graceful and charismatic tone, he sounds like a young Lupe Fiasco.
Why you need to know him: The young Seattle spitter has worked with a ton of Northwest talent, from Jake One to Vitamin D to Kuddie Fresh. He's also been featured on national tours with the likes of Black Milk, Talib Kweli and Slum Village. His poetic flow and conscious psyche display the mental inner workings of someone wise beyond their years, and he has a true presence on records, keeping listeners on-edge without ever employing intimidating verbiage.
Notable songs: "Less Is More"
Sounds like: A boom-bap traditionalist who's unafraid to step outside the box.
Why you need to know him: Half of the Seattle duo Helluvastate, Thaddeus David has been kicking around the city's scene since catching looks with 2011's "Brain Champagne." Be on the lookout for his upcoming currently untitled LP, slated for release later this summer.
Notable song: "I Love My Life"
Sounds like: A fun blend of soul and hip-hop with clear influences in groups like The Fugees and The Roots.
Why you need to know them: Stax's collaborative sound is really interesting, as they mix bass-heavy beats with soulful sounds, which serve as perfect backdrops for intelligent lyricism. On standout tracks like "Abandoned" and "Black Headsets," the trio sounds like a 1970s-era soul outfit with clear jazz influences.
Notable songs: "I Just Wanna" and "Status"
Sounds like: Chance The Rapper, if he grew up listening to OutKast and Scarface.
Why you need to know him: Jarv's an interesting cat because he's a physically large and seemingly aggressive dude, but he openly raps about his insecurities and is far from a jock. Throughout his relatively small catalog, he explores real life issues with an openness and honesty that's funny even when it doesn't mean to be, all over a backdrop of Southern-tinged instrumentals. It's a great juxtaposition that's reminiscent of Big K.R.I.T.
Hometown: Seattle by-way-of Estonia
Notable songs: "Never Cool Off" and "It Ain't On Me"
Sounds like: A$AP Rocky rhyming over Gucci Mane's beats from the late-2000s.
Why you need to know him: His story is crazy. He's an Estonia (yes, Estonia) native who transplanted to Seattle with his parents and became a fully integrated rhymeslinger who aggressively raps about syrup, fucking your bitch and his mom being a Russian spy. It's super dope.
And bonus pick:
Notable song: "The City"
Sounds like: Introspective, conscious hip-hop with a battle-rap edge.
Why you need to know him: With a compelling backstory-he's a military veteran-and sharp, battle-primed edge, Mack brings a level of dark and brutal honesty to his music that's relatively rare in the NW community.
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