By Oliviero Zanalda
Hip-hop has become an extremely fast-paced genre, with people constantly blowing up at a moment’s notice and fading into irrelevance just as quickly. This is a list of four rappers (one honorable mention) who are currently gaining popularity and could eventually break into the mainstream. Should they achieve mainstream success, I’m confident they will be able to maintain it. That’s why I wrote this article. All of these artists bring something new to the table and I think that they should be recognized for this. In this article, I delve into the artists’ background, their rise to fame, and what they’re doing that makes them stand out from other rappers who similarly haven’t achieved mainstream success just yet. Again, the artist’s future is not determined, so take this article with a grain of salt, but if any of them become household names, don’t forget where you heard them first.
Although these artists haven’t necessarily influenced the genre, I believe that they have the possibility to do so if they are able to continue growing their fanbase and artistic capabilities. This is why I’ve included this article in the Artist Spotlight series.
BabyTron is one of the most entertaining rappers gaining traction right now. Hailing from Detroit, BabyTron is a perfect representation of the unique sub-genre of Michigan rap. BabyTron started rapping in high school, forming the group ShittyBoyz with fellow Detroit natives StanWill and TrDee. ShittyBoyz started gaining some attention with the short-lived popularity of “Scam-rap”, a genre of rap that focused on internet scamming and credit card fraud. BabyTron stood out in the group though, with his casual delivery mixed with comedic lyrics that contain clever wordplay. Additionally, once Scam-rap started to lose its popularity, he was able to adapt and quickly change the focus of his lyrics from scamming to other illicit topics while maintaining the same entertaining flow. He was also signed to a local Detroit label, The Hip-hop Lab, which has helped him develop this unique style even further and improved the quality of his music. The production of his songs is also something that will stand out to a first-time listener. Most of his beats are lively and extremely fun to listen to as they utilize samples from songs from the ’80s and ’90s blended with unconventional 808 placement. This is also what makes BabyTron so special and what might make his music appeal to people who tend to stray away from modern rap music. His nostalgic production and epigrammatic delivery and bars could interest people who aren’t fans of the autotune heavy, futuristic-sounding music of Yeat and Ken Car$on. Fortunately, BabyTron doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia, which means he can innovate if he has to. BabyTron is set to be one of the leaders of the Michigan rap scene, but his success is also reliant on the growing popularity of the sub-genre. Only time will tell as the sub-genre still needs to grow and reach more listeners outside the midwest, but I believe that BabyTron is going to be one of the bigger artists of this sub-genre if Michigan, and specifically Detroit, becomes a more well-recognized capital of hip-hop innovation.
Ken Car$on is continuing the tradition of heavily autotuned Atlanta trap that was pioneered by Young Thug and Future while taking inspiration from Playboi Carti’s often criticized simple delivery and lyrics. It’s safe to say that Playboi Carti is one of his biggest inspirations, with the Atlanta rapper signing Ken to his Opium label and introducing him as the opening act throughout his 2021 King Vamp tour. However, Ken Car$on is not another Carti clone. Ken Car$on reminds me of youth. He coined the name “Teen X” for his brand, short for “Teen Ecstasy”, or “Teen High”, which is meant to represent the ecstasy and excitement of one’s youth. While youthfulness is a recurrent theme in pop culture, concurrent with the obsession and romanticization of teenage years in movies and TV shows, Ken Car$on reinvents this often played out concept. His music is genuinely fun to listen to; his lyrics that regard partying and youthful ignorance are complemented by his child-like voice and appearance. His production is just as spry as his delivery and lyrics. Utilizing 8bits and other similar plug-ins, Ken’s production is reminiscent of early-90’s video games music. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the youthful concepts surrounding his music, video games are often associated with young people, so this actually adds to his youthful essence. What makes his youthful appearance genuine is that it isn’t a facade. He started making and releasing music online at around 17. This contrasts with the “Netflix Teenagers” who are almost always played by adults well in their thirties reciting scripts written by people who think they know what 18-year-olds are like, but will just end up making Vine references 6 years too late. Ken’s appearance isn’t just a stage act either. People who have met him have stated that he is a genuinely funny person who does what he pleases, no matter how silly it makes him look. Ken Car$on is gaining popularity at a decent rate. Hopefully, a future collaboration with Playboi Carti can help gain him some recognition for his reinvention of youth representation.
If you don’t know who Yeat is yet, you will soon. With a simple name and simple lyrics, his music is so simple that you won’t be able to forget his innovative simplicity. The Portland (Oregon) rapper is set to be the next big thing, with cosigns from Drake and Kanye West, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more of his static, slurred flow on mainstream rap songs in the near future. As a matter of fact, you may have already heard his music without knowing it. His song “Sorry Bout That” blew up on Tik Tok last year, and is still one of the most popular Tik Tok sounds today. What makes Yeat stand out is his voice. The best way I can describe it is as if someone was attempting to melodically growl in the best way possible. His lyrics are nothing to write home about, but lyrics are not the focus of his music- as angry as it might make certain people. His futuristic-sounding production relies heavily on loud bass, very little sampling, distorted synths, and, most importantly, bells. He admitted to not knowing a thing about producing music and that the only production he ever does is when he adds the bells into the song himself after he receives his beats. With a record deal with Interscope in the books and his recent 2 million monthly Spotify listeners milestone, Yeat is hip-hop’s next big star who will help usher in an even simpler subgenre of trap music. He is the lyrical rap fan’s worst nightmare, for better or for worse. His music is modern. Modern art forms, such as visual arts and architecture, are often very simple in appearance, even if they took a lot of time and effort to create. This form of modern has now been adopted by hip-hop, with simplicity becoming a key element in how the music is presented by innovative artists like Yeat. Hip-hop is a living, breathing genre, and it’s constantly innovating and reinventing itself. The only way it can do this is by allowing rappers like Yeat to push the boundaries of the genre.
Honorable Mention: Sematary
Sematary is who Chief Keef could’ve been if he had grown up listening to black metal and had access to the experimentalism of Bladee’s music. The Northern Californian’s music relies heavily on extremely distorted guitars fused with twisted vocals that sound like they were growled into an Xbox 360 mic and heavily autotuned afterward. His lyrics mix black metal and Chicago drill, two of the most lyrically aggressive genres, putting him on track to becoming a very controversial rapper should he make his way into the mainstream. Low-quality is also Sematary’s image, whether it’s his purposefully poorly designed album covers or his Instagram page many of his posts look like they were taken in 2015 on an iPhone 5. His music isn’t for the faint of heart as it focuses on satanic imagery and one can find heavy distortion over almost every part of a Sematary song. Whether his satan worshipping is an attention-grabbing tactic or not is yet to be seen. Additionally, his music also attempts to reverse the reputation that black metal has gained as a genre that attracts neo-fascists. His lyrics are extremely anti-fascist, with many of his obscenely aggressive threats directed towards those groups; and when I say aggressive, I really mean it. While these topics can be shocking to some people, they could help him gain attention. The reason I give him an honorable mention is that I’m not sure if this type of music can gain enough popularity to thrust him into the mainstream. While it’s very unique, it will also turn a lot of people away as some of his songs are genuinely hard to listen to if you’re not used to the type of lyrical content or production. He could gain more popularity in the underground scene, however, which might be what he’s going for. While some may view Sematary as a bit cringe-worthy, which he no doubt is at times, I think that it’s part of the absurdity of his character. A kid who’s obsessed with 2013 Chicago drill, black metal, satanism, anti-fascism, and looks like he’s in need of a shower could be an underground sensation, or he could be the driver of a wave of nostalgia and experimentalism that will soon fade away.