Hip-hop was born in New York City, and for those who count 1970s Bronx as the cradle of the hip-hop movement, the city is a mecca. And the tradition is still alive. The city is still, arguably, the epicenter of all things hip-hop. New sounds and new artists are constantly coming out of the city’s boroughs—and it can seem impossible to keep up. But for hip-hop fans who are looking for the next coolest thing before it blows up, Culture Trip did the hard work and clicked SoundCloud links, went to shows, and asked people in the know. Here are 10 of the coolest up-and-coming hip-hop artists living and working in New York City at this very moment.
Caleb Giles mixes old-school jazz sounds and modern flow to make summer-worthy soundtracks. He hails from the Bronx and reps his borough while rapping about identity, growth, and staying true to your roots.
Why he makes the list: mixing old and new.
Listen to Giles here.
This 23-year-old rapper (who grew up in Jersey and went to NYU) has funk aplenty. Whether he’s rapping about Winona Ryder or winning a fortune in the lottery, Jones’s infectious rhythm will equally satisfy partygoers and people who love to sit alone and analyze lyrics.
Why he makes the list: cultural references and funky grooves.
Listen to Jones here.
With rhymes so fast they’ll make your head spin, Quincy Vidal, a Brooklyn hip-hop duo, throws it all the way back to the golden days of hip-hop. Together, they explore the loss of childhood innocence while infusing a jazzy vibe that has garnered comparisons to A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets.
Why they make the list: rhythmic lyrics and jazzy undertones.
Listen to Quincy Vidal here.
Khan may have started as “an immigrant that moved to Queens, New York City” from Bangladesh, but now he’s “making music in Manhattan.” The Queens-based rapper rhymes through idyllic scenes such as smoking weed in the parking lot with friends, but he also raps about relationships and building an identity in a cross-cultural space.
Why he makes the list: repping Queens’s vibrant Southeast Asian community.
Listen to Khan here.
DonMonique lives in the internet age, and she raps with crystal-clear precision on modern icons (“Got Kendall, Got Kylie, Got Mylie,” she drawls in her track “Pilates”) while cleverly disguising them as drug references. People have hailed her as New York’s queen of “thirst trap,” a term which DonMonique coined herself—basically her way of saying her music exists somewhere on the trap spectrum that’s still “cute” and feminine.
Why she makes the list: up-to-the-minute cultural references, girl power.
Listen to DonMonique here.
Based in Queens, 21-year-old Deem Spencer may be young, but he raps with impeccable insight into issues that plague humans from the cradle to the grave. Whether it’s about relationships or outgrowing friends you thought you’d know forever, Spencer makes haunting music that’s perfect to get lost in.
Why he makes the list: chill tunes perfect for bobbing your head.
Listen to Spencer here.
Bronx rapper Quay Dash is flirtatious and sexy—and all the more intriguing when you factor in tracks such as “Transphobic” and her experiences as a trans woman. Dash’s music is defiant and powerful, but it somehow manages not to take itself too seriously. Dash is one of the most fun performers on the scene today, and every song seems to be delivered with a wink.
Why she makes the list: representing transgender experiences.
Listen to Dash here.
Zebra Katz—a.k.a. Ojay Morgan—broke out of Brooklyn in 2012 with his single “Ima Read.” It was featured at Rick Owens’s Paris Fashion Week show and remixed by people such as Azealia Banks, Tricky, and Grimes. Today, he’s become a fixture of New York’s queer rap scene. You may also recognize him from his appearance on a few different tracks on the new Gorillaz album.
Why he makes the list: tracks that are perfect for late-night debauchery.
Listen to Zebra Katz here.
Yoh the Shaolin
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Yoh the Shaolin has an appreciation for old-school hip-hop. But beneath the words, there’s also an appreciation for old-school jazz, blues, and funk. For those looking to experience Yoh the Shaolin live, he performs in residency with hip-hop/jazz improv group Poetic Thrust at Williamsburg joint Loosie Rouge every Wednesday night.
Why he makes the list: blending classic beats, new sounds, and smooth rhymes.
Listen to Yoh the Shaolin here.
“Look at the glow on my melanin / it’s sweeter than melon and cinnamon,” Pat RZL raps in her single “Melanin.” She vibes all about black empowerment over a memorable and sultry trumpet line. Originally from St. Kitts, Rizzle relocated to Brooklyn where she now raps uplifting lyrics over beats that can fuel the party.
Why she makes the list: feel-good tunes for when everything seems terrible.
Listen to Pat RZL here.