People often complain about the lack of lyricists in Hip Hop’s new generation. The problem is that those people are wrong. While the lyrically proficient MCs might not be getting the major looks like their melodic counterparts, they’re still out there and dropping excellent music worthy of recognition.
With back-to-school season in full effect, HipHopDX has donned the teacher’s cap and put together a lesson plan on some of the new school’s finest lyricists. While this isn’t the definitive lineup of the best lyricists of this generation, it should give readers an idea of who’s out there. Plenty of rappers deserve some shine, so think of this as the opening chapter of the Hip Hop fan’s textbook on the new class.
Standout lyric: “Transaction complete and she went back to the streets/ Back to the cash at the leash, she back to get back on her knees/ And she don’t like how this shit make her feel/ But you gotta do what you gotta do when it’s time for paying bills, for real”
Massachusetts is far from the first state that comes to mind when talking Hip Hop but it has produced its fair share of talented MCs. Joyner Lucas is a shining example of what the scene has to offer, having built a rep for his lyrical prowess over the past few years. 2017 marked a new step for Lucas with the release of his major label debut, 508-507-2209. He showed listeners that he’s got much more than bars, unveiling new levels of songwriting to put him among the best in the game today. Past gems like “Backwords” show off his raw skill but cuts like “Keep It 100” have helped Lucas join the elite storytellers in Hip Hop.
Standout lyric: “I am so sorry that I was so tardy/ And all of these fledgling acts thought that they made it/ And my throne was taken and they would be safe from attack”
“Why haven’t they blown up yet?” is a question often posed about rappers who have all the talent in the world yet haven’t received their big break. A prime case of such an artist is 3D Na’Tee, who has all the makings of a star but hasn’t experienced the singular moment to make her part of the rap zeitgeist.
It’s a shame she hasn’t broken through yet because the New Orleans MC is, without exaggeration, one of the best rhymers in the game right now. She routinely puts her technical prowess on display in her Morning Exercise YouTube series, and last year, the depths of her pen game could be experienced on The Regime album, her finest work so far. The LP’s opener, “The Return,” is just a sample of what she’s capable of on the mic as well as a fitting introduction (or reintroduction) to fans.
Montana of 300
Standout lyric: “Beef with anybody, I love my nigga, you dead meat/ And I don’t mean to brag, but pardon me like the Red Sea/ And I ain’t grocery shopping but I’ll be where the bread be/ I got this rap shit on lock, that’s why they dread me/ Ask Satan who he fear most of all and that nigga said me”
Chicago’s drill scene has often been criticized (or dismissed) for its lyrics but it has produced some skilled MCs. G Herbo and Lil Bibby are probably the best known drill lyricists, but Montana of 300 is arguably the crown jewel of this subset.
Montana made a name for himself by jumping on the hottest songs and making them his own, much like Lil Wayne in his prime. These “remixes” were only a taste of his capabilities as he’s proven to be a lyrical dynamo on original work, such as his Fire in the Church debut album. “Angel With An Uzi” is the most astounding cut on the LP with Montana putting on a tour de force of rapping.
Montana has continued to spit gems on subsequent releases, which include his follow-up album Don’t Doubt the God and a collaborative tape with his FGE crew, who are more than capable of keeping up with their crewmate’s ferocious rhymes.
Conway The Machine
Standout lyric: “The Nike Kanyes tan, he whipping eight yams/ The cook smoke, he whipped this shit for eight grams/ Forty in the waistband/ Pussy nigga I ain’t playing, no, we ain’t playing/ Wait, you got hit, devil’s something/ You ain’t playing, now you need an escape plan/ Wait, I know a snake, we don’t shake hands/ He got his face blan’d then I went to Ruth’s Chris and ate lamb”
Westside Gunn has been the face of Griselda Records but even he will tell you that his brother, Conway The Machine, is the superior rapper. That’s no knock on Westside though — it’s just the reality of how good Conway is. The Machine is a godsend to fans who miss the glory days of grimy, New York street rap. Unlike the similarly styled Roc Marciano or Ka, who were both vets that experienced a career resurgence, Conway is a new entity bringing back and evolving a classic sound. And he’s delivering it all with bars that’ll give listeners severe screwface.
“Cooked In Hell’s Kitchen,” which gained new life thanks to a music video, is the perfect crash course for what Conway brings to the table. But to get the full lesson, 2016’s Reject 2 is essential listening, with the Buffalo MC unleashing an array of witty punchlines to satisfy any fan of lyricism.
IDK (formerly known as Jay IDK)
Standout lyric: “They ain’t tryna build till they see the hammer/ Nigga, I got bills, I can’t see Havana/ While you in Miami, I’ll be Peter Panning/ Planning how I’m bout to shine like a piece of patent/ Money low, on my grind, gotta keep it stacking/ Heat off, cold as fuck, light the stove with matches/ Wake up, turn to robbing like I’m friends with Batman”
IDK, which stands for Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge, has been one of the most conceptually creative artists to emerge in Hip Hop over the past five years. The Maryland rapper has subverted popular tropes in Hip Hop on his past two albums, 2015’s SubTrap and 2016’s The Empty Bank, to use what’s hot and still be lyrical — think Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank).”
The latter LP, Empty Bank, hides tales about the pitfalls of money under the guise of boastful bangers about the almighty dollar (e.g. the above track “A Boy’s Innocence”). IDK recently inked a deal with Adult Swim, so his come-up could be imminent. But in the meantime, there’s plenty of great work in his back catalog worth exploring.
Standout lyric: “Can’t see the floor, elevator where the steps at/ James Bond, nah, James Harden with the step back/ No D, Niggas playing foul, where the techs at?/ That’s cool, wave the 30 round, where the TECs at?/ Better get back, better get you a jetpack/ They shoot where the ref at/ They shoot at your Jefe/ They leaving ’em stank like Pepé Le Pew/ They just put a hole in his Pepe/ I go where the check at/ Margiella gorilla, they kill a nigga for a thrill, they feel it now, cool”
J. Cole caught plenty of observers off guard when he signed J.I.D earlier this year. Although the Atlanta rapper was little known to most of the Hip Hop world, anyone who’d experienced the work of his Spillage Village collective could see why Cole wanted to make him part of the Dreamville family.
J.I.D is a wizard with the pen. And with his nasty flow, he regularly creates magic. For a sample, just listen to his opening verse on “D/vision” featuring fellow SV members and Dreamville signees EarthGang. J.I.D’s always had the technical acumen, but he finally got a chance to expand his wings on his Dreamville debut, The Never Story, and did so with great results. For anyone in search of bars, J.I.D is a must-add to a Hip Hop head’s listening rotation.
Standout lyric: “Born with a man-made disease God couldn’t diagnose/ Fat lady singing in the nursery room I’ve been dying slow/ They saying maybe it’s all in your mind, maybe it’s all in your mind/ You went away to get yours, and now you’re all into mine/ I call it a glitch in the Matrix, a flaw in design/ When the laws of the land and the laws of man intertwine”
The artist formerly known as YC The Cynic has deftly crafted intricate bars since he first stepped onto the scene. But when he changed his name to Kemba, it seemed like there was an added spark to his work. The Bronx MC went from just being a good rapper to being a fully formed artist, as shown on his 2016 album Negus.
His rhymes were no longer just impressive from a technical standpoint. Now, they’re provoking visceral reactions and sticking with listeners for days, weeks and months. Kemba’s development has led to him getting shouted out by Kendrick Lamar, which prompted speculation that he might be the next man to join the TDE roster. While this wasn’t true, Kemba’s skill level has unsurprisingly made people take notice and opened the door for rumors like that one to emerge.
Standout lyric: “I’m a crescent king/ The bestest things/ I’m always seen in the freshest things/ Rock shows and that’s all I gotta say, yo/ Next tour just a phone call away, yo/ Break it down then you better get Macco/ You gonna need a cast but it ain’t no stage show/ She loving my style every time I come around/ Put my balls on her head, Jose Canseco”
If there’s one thing fans can expect from Alfred Banks, it’s stunning lyrics. His rap moniker used to be Lyriqs, so they’ve always been a priority. Throughout his young career, the grind king has toured hard and pushed his writing game even harder with snappy punchlines and witty wordplay.
But on his latest album, The Beautiful, he showed new maturity by delving into the death of his brother. The lyrical prowess was paired with content that tugs at heartstrings, explores mental illness and looks at the aftermath for families of suicide victims. And even with the heavy subject matter, Banks managed to add levity (and a cavalcade of bars) on cuts like “Uptown.” With a Volkswagen commercial already on his resume, it feels like just a matter of time before the world discovers Banks.
Standout lyric: “And I ain’t leaving no options/ Not a mobster just conscious stomping your face off/ Million dollars hits like baseball, so take off/ And I been getting cake, dog/ You fake ball for eight songs with a cape on, I’m super cool”
Chicago’s Chris Crack is a throwback to when it was cool to be a rapper. He’s got an undeniable swagger that’s completely tied to being an MC. He’s not a guy playing a part as a means to an end. It’s his entire reason for being and he’s gonna make you respect it. His rhymes are potent. His lyrics are brazen. He’s living proof that Hip Hop hasn’t “gone soft” and not nearly enough people are recognizing it.
Crack has countless amounts of quality cuts — “Armani Silverware,” for instance — piling up on various streaming services, but his collaborative albums with fellow Windy City native Vic Spencer are the cream of the crop. The duo made for a great team on their debut, 2016’s Who The Fuck Is Chris Spencer, and finely tuned their dynamic on their newest project, Blessed. Spencer is no slouch on the mic, but Crack consistently grabbed the brass ring with world-class lyricism on both releases.
Standout lyric: “All them trials and tribulations, bail enhancements and arraignments/ Affidavits and them statements, waiting game, so I waited/ The numbers double up when niggas labeled gang related/ Plus I’m in and out of family court for dooters, shit was brazy”
Mozzy might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of “lyrical,” but it should. The Sacramento rapper has risen up the ranks thanks to his harsh tales of street life and a distinctive West Coast sound, which have overshadowed just how formidable his rhymes are.
Mozzy has proven to be adept with the pen even though he’s churned out music at a ridiculous pace over the past few years. Since 2015’s Bladadah project, his lyrical prowess has only become more evident, with his most recent album, 1 Up Top Ahk, being a crown achievement of his rhyming ability. Although Mozzy will probably continue to release new music at a relentless pace, any lyric-first fan should do their best to keep tabs on him.