Out of curiosity, I asked a friend in what context Mac Miller would be considered the best rapper. He quickly and confidently responded, "Never," but I wasn't satisfied. Although it is an absolute reach to call the Pittsburgh rapper the best in any feasible category, I continued to search for criteria that would warrant such a discussion. "What about the best rapper under the age of twenty-five?" I challenged back. He was quiet for a moment. Struggling to counter, I knew I had stumbled upon an interesting topic.
On any given day, several artists could drop full-length projects while another handful could release any number of single tracks for fans and critics to scrupulously devour. Add on the fact that Drake and Kendrick Lamar's reign over radio waves limits the amount of space available to emerging rappers, and you can understand that is has become increasingly more difficult to keep track of every artist and every development in the rap scene.
Rather than attempt to justify who I think the best rapper under twenty-five is, the thought provoked an intrigue to highlight some of the genre's budding talent and emcees who have proven to display elements of versatility and characteristics that are unique to their own aesthetic. I think the unfortunate truth for some of these young rappers is that their art is being misperceived as an assimilation to mainstream or popular music. It's almost as if to say artists like YG, or Chance the Rapper, who are (a) all under twenty-five and (b) making music that can be considered commentaries on their social environment, are creating different sounding music that is somehow not real rap music. If rap is an art form, which I'm a firm believer that it is, shouldn't we respect or at least consider the projects some of the game's youngest talents are producing? I mean, as much as it is important to have varying viewpoints on today's current output, who's to say My Krazy Life or Acid Rap won't be of some cultural significance thirty years from now? Contributions from guest writers and InTheRough staff members help accentuate the variety of styles within modern hip-hop, as well as the divide that has arisen between rap purists and those heavily influenced by the current rap environment. In essence, the following statements are representative of those hip hop artists under twenty-five years old who have particularly grabbed the attention of some of its most avid listeners.
Tyler the Creator
The scope, popularity, and saturation of rap has never in history been as large and geographically decentralized as it is right at this moment. The internet has played a key role in translating hip hop culture into an accessible genre to a much larger group of people than ever before. Tyler the Creator was able to pioneer his own success online by building his image, brand, and status and tapping into this fan-base that would have otherwise been unaccessible to him and his idiosyncratic sound. An anti-hero to hip hop industry and even societal norms and guidelines, Tyler is the poster child of one of the first international hip hop subcultures built almost exclusively on the internet. His social media prowess, creativity, and vision for change makes him a very influential force in the development of how hip hop is created, marketed, and consumed.
~Alex Hersh, InTheRough staff
Born in ‘92, Pittsburgh local Malcolm McCormick has flourished from a rebellious dank smoking wordsmith to the multi-talented, multi-millionaire superstar he is today. Since 2008 Mac has been building on his noteworthy repertoire of mixtapes, studio albums, EPs, and live albums. While his style has changed throughout the years, his artistic ability has thrived from the dedication and hard work he puts into each production. Mac’s music is a strong example of true artistry in today’s game that is often hard to find. What sets him apart is that he is not just a rapper, Mac is a versatile musician who plays “a bunch of instruments, like piano, drums, guitar and bass.” He even shares with thedrop.fm that he plays the kazoo every now and then and is trying to learn how to play the trumpet and the saxophone. On top of that, under the pseudonym of Larry Fisherman, Mac has become a noteable producer appearing on nine projects including Lil B’s "05 Fuck Em," SZA’s "Z," Vince Staple’s "Stolen Youth," and Ab Soul’s "These Days…." Whether it be his classic, weed infused 'The High Life,' the smooth and jazzy 'You,' or the comic, animated haze of 'Watching Movies with the Sound Off,' Mac places no boundaries on his music and his ability to drop countless first class projects. I look forward to watching the once high school hallway freestyler known as EZ-Mac continue to grow and succeed as a rapper and artist.
~Justin Berk, guest writer/hip hop aficionado
Effortless style, swagger, and a mesmerizing presence to match: G Eazy is on the path to take over the industry, with the Bay Area on his back. With the likes of Stevie Wonder reiterating that he is the "future of our generation, it is truly his destiny." After his album, 'These Things Happen,' dropped last summer, his name has been in the mouths of various hip hop heavyweights from various generations. With a unique talent of mixing samples from every genre, his album is full of bangers. His brand is even more unique: focusing on channelling a 1950's vibe with an essence of class, poise, and suave. His image portrays a mix of lady killer and a young guy who makes enthralling music for college raves throughout the nation. I suggest you check out his songs: "I Might" and "Let's Get Lost" (featuring Devon Baldwin) to get a taste of his variety and what makes him truly mesmerizing.
~ Sydney Vann, founder of The Artistic Playground and The Kickback Series
So this kid is only 18 years old, but his vision is strong. He’s foreign as f*ck and looks kind of like an Aryan teddy bear. He has a pale baby face with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. He looks 100% Swedish which makes sense because he’s from Stockholm. Yung Lean is an influential rapper under the age of twenty-five not necessarily because of his flow but because of his aesthetic and overall vibe. His music is basically slow, auto-tuned verses about lean and Gucci over cyber ghetto trap beats. All of his album covers and merch are real wavy with a 2003 feel and bright neon. You can get a hot pink ski mask if you want.
This sort of trippy music is up and coming. Travi$ Scott, who is featured on a Yung Lean song, has a music video for “Hundred Bottles” that has the same dark 80’s-videogame-on-acid feel. I think Yung Lean is the founder of that concept and has been doing it since he started rapping. What's more, his shit is produced by Yung Gud, a member of his Sad Boys squad. So the vision and the final product is entirely his.
I’m also a fan of Yung Lean because he just doesn’t give a f*ck in the most low key way. He wears Uggs and Fendi together and is touring around the country hitting small venues that have a lot of local recognition. Keep your eye on him. He doesn’t have an agent or a manager that’s constantly pushing his sh*t for publicity. He’s just doing his thing and people that are real about music notice. That, and his song “Leanworld” is dope.
~ Emma Ashworth, guest writer/Coachella 2015 attendee
Travi$ Scott in my opinion leads all contemporary artists in terms of performance. Present for his March 17th Rodeo Tour show with Young Thug, I was immersed in Scott's world. The show's venue, Fillmore, generated an intimate atmosphere that was loud, sweaty, packed, and excited. There is a dark aspect to the Houston rapper. Deep bass hits, eerie auto tune, and melodies that inspire movement all surround the ethos that a Travi$ Scott show is parallel to the craziness of a rodeo. VIP and backstage access are largely looked down upon, all the action happens in General Admission: water bottles fly into the crowd, expect a foot to the face because of the crowd surfs, and be prepared for the raging mosh pits all of which are encouraged by La Flame! It is easy for the crowd to match his intensity because it is welcomed by the music and his grounded personality. When Scott took the stage it was apparent he simply wanted to give his fans a good time. He stopped various times to shame the Snapchatters in the crowd proclaiming the experience is what mattered. While his G.O.O.D Music affiliation is impressive, what has hooked me to Travi$ Scott is his ability to embody his work; what you hear is what you get.
~Alex Young, InTheRough staff