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50 Innovators Shaping Rap’s Next 50 Years

From Ice Spice to Kenny Beats, Druski to DD Osama, these are the rappers, producers, fashion designers, and creators helping point the way to hip-hop’s future

Ice Spice


HIP-HOP WAS BORN IN THE BRONX IN THE summer of 1973. To celebrate the music’s 50th anniversary, Rolling Stone” will be publishing a series of features, historical pieces, op-eds, and lists throughout this year.

In 50 years, hip-hop has transformed, evolved and taken on any number of different shapes and contexts while remaining an undeniably distinct art form. You don’t quite know why something is hip-hop, but it strikes you as immediately as any physical quality. The rap world has invented new forms of expression as its adapted to the internet and other technological changes, all while remaining true to its essence, the indomitable spirit at the heart of this culture. More than just artists, today’s rap world is a constellation of figures all interlinked by the lineage they share with hip-hop’s forebears. Whether they’re rappers, producers, fashion designers, or online creators, hip-hop is as stuffed with talent as ever.

While the genre remakes itself too rapidly to predict far into the future, we decided to highlight 50 figures who are changing the game — and who will help shape rap’s next 50 years. While there are hip-hop movements bubbling up all over the globe, our list centers on figures in the English-speaking world and, to keep things fresh, avoids names who were featured on Rolling Stone’s recent Future 25 list. This unranked survey is focused on the younger generation coming up (as opposed to veteran superstars) and is in no way exhaustive, as the number of people shaping the multifaceted world of hip-hop extends far beyond 50. But it’s a glimpse of good things to come. —Jeff Ihaza

From Rolling Stone US

Lil Yachty

It’s easy to imagine a middle-aged Lil Yachty accepting some kind of lifetime achievement award in the not-so-distant future. The Atlanta-born MC entered the rap game at the ripe age of 18, introducing the then-ascendant genre of “mumble rap” to the mainstream. It didn’t come without its fair share of detractors, but over the course of the past decade, Yachty has proven more steadfast in his creative vision than most, releasing an album of psychedelic rock as a follow-up to a formidable mixtape honoring the talents of Detroit’s vibrant rap scene. More than just a diligent MC focused on getting better, Yachty is one of hip-hop’s foremost nurturers of talent, known to create opportunities for up-and-comers just getting their start. In many ways, Yachty represents the collaborative spirit of hip-hop in the internet age: -endlessly curious and open to trying new things. His efforts haven’t always been understood. His announcement that he was more than just a rapper ahead of his recent album Let’s Start Here was met with criticism from some who saw it as turning his back on the genre. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. “I’m not speaking on all SoundCloud rappers. I’m speaking on me. This is for me, because everybody don’t have that work ethic,” he told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Everyone ain’t going to put the hours in to understand a new genre and how to execute something the right way.” —J.I.


When you think of what it feels like to be young in the 2020s, it’s hard not to conjure an image of a scene from a Bktherula video. Girls doing kick flips, fluorescent hair colors, impeccably baggy jeans. All set to spaced-out synths perfect for tripping mushrooms in a field. In other words, Bktherula feels “right now” because she is. She first rose to prominence with the 2020 single “Tweakin’ Together,” which had the ethereal, in-the-cosmos sound of internet-born subgenres like cloud rap, except with a trap-inspired cadence delivered with the confidence of a hip-hop prodigy. The song’s chorus (“And I know these niggas mad as fuck/Bitch I’m in the trap, with TM we throw it up”) landed on SoundCloud like a missile, racking up more than 100,000 plays in its first month. Bktherula says “Tweakin’ Together” is “a love song,” which fits the track’s playfully sentimental ethos, “That nigga just like me, I ain’t know I had a tether,” she sings. The song, produced by Mars Beats, started as an instrumental titled “Nine9 x Duwap Kaine Type Beat 2019 — ‘Questions,’” which speaks to the track’s roots in the online underground.Born Brooklyn Candida Rodriguez in Atlanta, 21-year-old Bktherula personifies a generation of musicians who can tap into varied sounds and disciplines with ease. This year, she dropped her mixtape, LVL5 P1, which sounds like a distillation of the genre-flipping spirit you’d expect from an internet native. While rappers like Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert deserve credit for bringing the melodic flourishes of rock and hardcore to the realm of hip-hop, Bktherula seems to embody the genres inherently. “We Made It,” featuring fellow rap-rocker Rico Nasty, rides glittering synths that build into an explosion of bass and chaos that sounds like a genre unto itself, a fusion of the freewheeling mosh pit and the smooth groove of an R&B hit. She followed up LVL5 P1 with a record of acoustic takes on several of her hits, Love Nirvana (Acoustic), which offers more proof of Bktherula’s versatility. Those renditions are constructed with a ground-level understanding of the sound of hip-hop, as opposed to landing like the often-clunky YouTube-creator remixes of popular rap songs. Fitting, given how much of a bona fide rock star she is. —J.I.


“I don’t know what it is, but I feel like we got the sound that everybody wants right now. Not necessarily me, or somebody in particular, but just the state of Michigan as a whole,” BabyTron told Rolling Stone in 2021. Over the years, he’s become the Pied Piper of Michigan rap — the regional style of intense punchlines and goofy music videos. The internet adores his elastic flow and penchant for lyrical agility; real heads connect with Tron’s ability to rap about whatever is in his head — the NBA, video games, weed — and still be humorous while doing so. If Babyface Ray and Veeze are the critically acclaimed rappers from Detroit, the ones who craft albums crisply and efficiently, then Tron is the city’s king of the internet. (Though he’d probably prefer a basketball metaphor.)Tron is known to treat his raps something like a sport, opting to rhyme over complex, often multipart beats. On one end, you could say he’s pushing boundaries in the genre, except it’s hard to imagine anyone else rapping on the type of production he chooses. “You could have a person who only raps on some evil beats from Detroit. And then you got me, who does the funky techno stuff,” he said. “It’s just different bags out here.” This spring, he dropped “100 Bars,” a gauntlet of lyrical agility in which he rapped his way to the number 100.Despite the viral antics, BabyTron takes rap as seriously as it can be taken. “I’m doing it every day. So it is definitely like the gym. Basketball, mic, booth. Same thing,” he said. “I keep trying to make my punchlines more and more crazy, [add] more bits and pieces. Maybe it’s four things that all go together in one line. That’s all I be trying to do.” YouTube is where he is most effective, as he continues churning out songs that function as loosies, or albums that are sequenced like more mercurial mixtapes from the blog-rap era. Tron has also recently started to lean into his natural goofiness. When he is focused, he’s someone who not only is good at rapping, but also sounds like he flat-out loves to rap. —J.B.

Little Simz

As much of the domestic buzz on U.K. rap has focused on the drill scene, Little Simz has been steadily building a stellar catalog. The Islington, London-born rapper has become renowned for albums meshing elements of grime, R&B, electronic music, and whatever other genre she and frequent collaborator Inflo deem a fitting soundscape for her diaristic, probing lyricism. Simz dropped Stratosphere, her first mixtape, in 2010. Her album Grey Area was a finalist for the 2019 Mercury Prize. In 2022, she broke through and won the honor with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, her fourth studio album, with gems just as capable of radiating effortless cool and charisma as she is of existential urgency. —A.G.

Lola Brooke

2021’s “Don’t Play With It,” by Brooklyn-bred rapper Lola Brooke, bursts with an easy bravado inherent to the young star’s hometown. Nevertheless, the track garnered a delayed reaction, only becoming an inescapable hit, first on TikTok, earlier this year. The same could be said for Brooke, who spent close to a decade putting in the work in the same Brooklyn rap community that birthed greats like Pop Smoke. But hard work isn’t a problem for the 29-year-old MC, who, since achieving viral success, immediately hit the pavement with a bevy of formidable features — like on Flo Milli’s “Conceited” and a legendary linkup with Ciara on “Da Girls,” both tracks from earlier this year that show off Brooke’s guttural, syrup-thick delivery. She performed at this year’s Summer Jam, a set complete with choreography she learned with the help of Teyana Taylor. After all, rap is nothing if not collaborative, and Brooke belongs to a rising generation of rappers who understand what it means to be talented and humble.In the span of one year, Brooke went from citing Meek Mill as a major influence on her music to having Mill tease a collaboration between the two. Despite the long gestation period for the success of “Don’t Play With It,” Brooke was diligent in its promotion, releasing a string of remixes that capitalized on the song’s internet explosion. Her upcoming full-length is one of the year’s most hotly anticipated new releases, and she has already shown glimmers of a groundswell of skill on April’s “Just Relax,” which flips a sample of “The Choice Is Yours,” by New York’s own Black Sheep, with a kind of localized flair and reverence that sets the song apart from her contemporaries’ endeavors in classic hip-hop references. It’s why Brooke is almost certain to make the kind of impact on her borough that the late Pop Smoke made. There’s simply not an ounce of fakery in her grind. —J.I.


New York producer EvilGiane may be most known for producing Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Hillbillies” and A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti’s “Our Destiny,” but he made it clear to us that he’s not just a sample drill producer. “I’m not going to stop making drill music, but I’m not a drill producer. I have music with so many different artists and so many different genres.” He described himself to us as “a troll” because of his willingness to sample almost anything and flip it into hip-hop, trance, or whatever other sound he chooses to explore. Giane has no bounds, and that artistic avarice has made him a key component of Surf Gang, a New York-based collective of producers and artists creating some of the most compelling music in the city. Like a true maestro, Giane was the mutual link of the first iteration of Surf Gang’s first chapter, making connections with rappers and producers he crossed paths with on the scene. But several of those rappers left the crew over time, which resulted in Surf Gang evolving into a creative agency and label with artists such as Snow Strippers. “Now it’s more like a world, I feel like,” Giane says of Surf Gang. “It’s not just a bunch of people making music together.”Giane was seemingly born into music. He recalls being in a car seat while his songwriter mother and producer father worked in the studio. Eventually, his time in the family business came to pass when he started making beats on his phone, and a friend taught him how to use Ableton. At the time, music was just one of his endeavors, alongside modeling and skating. “When you skate, you see everything as an obstacle. I took that viewpoint and put it in the beats,” he told us.It doesn’t seem like anything is obstructing his artistry these days. He’s gaining more notoriety as a producer, recently sending beats to Drake and telling us he has other impending placements he can’t speak on yet. In July, he dropped FAST 5 with Florida rapper 454. He’s also working on a compilation tape with several of his rap peers as well as an ambient album.

Baby Tate

Baby Tate’s breakthrough single “I Am” gave rise to the pandemic’s most viral affirmation. TikToks and Instagram videos featuring the song’s opening credo — “I am healthy, I am wealthy, I am rich, I am that bitch” — inundated feeds as global lockdowns inspired everything but positivity. Selfie camera meditations to the track started jumping the world over. Back then, she still went by Yung Baby Tate, a moniker she’s since shortened, perhaps inadvertently signaling her music’s maturity over the years. She told Rolling Stone in 2021 that for her forthcoming projects she was planning on “going way more into an R&B space, which I’ve been kind of hinting at for a long time. You know, I’m not just a rapper. I’m an artist.” Since then, she’s had breakout success with her Warner debut, Mani/Pedi, from last year, a rousing statement from an artist entering her element. Born Tate Sequoya Farris in Georgia, Baby Tate was raised by a single mother who was also a musician, and you can hear both her fierce sense of independence and reverence for women in the rap community in her music. —J.I.

DD Osama

There is an uneasy pendulum of emotions when it comes to the violence in the communities where hip-hop flourishes, especially in the internet era. Though violence and its wretched association with Black youth has always been a discussion in the genre — the Nineties saw the rise of gangsta rap, and the deaths of Biggie and Tupac; the aughts brought concerns of music glamorizing the drug trade — today’s young people, faced with the same circumstances endemic to America’s underserved communities, have grown uniquely warped by the hyperspeed contours of social media. Perhaps no other rapper personifies that quite like Harlem drill star DD Osama. The 16-year-old has star power as large as the island of Manhattan is long. He rose to prominence alongside his brother Notti Osama, who was tragically killed in an altercation with a rival crew last year. This being the era of TikTok, Notti’s death was immortalized in a viral dance originated by the group responsible for his death, spawning a craze that spanned far beyond New York. If the origin story seems dramatic, it’s because it is. DD quickly became the frontman for the drill boom in New York, as his releases ooze the raw trauma of losing his cousin at such a young age. In some ways, DD is a symbol of the kind of fame characteristic of his generation. He was thrust into stardom by way of personal grief, a familiar condition in 2023.At 16, there’s clear development to be had, but Osama’s ability to wrangle pain and virality with an undeniable bravado is a sign of the resilience of talent in the current generation. Throughout his releases, you get a sense that Osama would have found fame regardless; “Who I Am” has glimmers of a crossover hit, and “Let’s Do It” has a chaotic swagger reminiscent of the old Chief Keef videos. His debut mixtape, Here 2 Stay, from earlier this year, is equal parts vulnerable and pugnacious, as the young MC finds his footing in the rap world while grieving the tragic loss of his cousin. For his part, Osama is comfortable in the limelight, already a magnet for collaborations among other rappers in his cohort, like NLE Choppa, who appears on “Let’s Do It,” as well as the 17-year-old phenom Luh Tyler, who Osama recently teased a collaboration with. Questions still linger about how prevalent a role gang violence plays in Osama’s and other prominent drill artists’ music. But Osama is unquestionably gifted in a world that increasingly seems built for maximum reaction. If anyone’s going to be capable of navigating such an environment, it’s him. Osama either inspires or revolts; either way, you wouldn’t want to miss out on what he does next. —J.B.

Ice Spice

We live in an increasingly ephemeral world, where it’s easy to chalk up viral success to the fleeting nature of social media feeds. And yet, Ice Spice endures. A year after her viral hit “Munch” took over the globe, the Bronx native has managed to keep the world’s attention. Her debut EP, Like…?, offered a framework for a different kind of rap star, one steeped in the snippet-driven ecosystem most young people engage with online, while retaining the bravado and with that built New York rap heavyweights like Cam’Ron. Taylor Swift was smart enough to connect with the 23-year-old for a remix of “Karma,” and Ice Spice counts Drake as a mentor. Maybe that’s why Ice Spice, despite having released only a handful of songs, is such a force in the rap world. Beyond making bops, she’s articulating a relationship to fame and social media that is decidedly Gen Z. It’s OK if you don’t get it, but don’t expect her to be going away anytime soon. —J.I.


The rapper 454 offsets his spaced-out production, replete with shimmering synths and rowdy breakbeats, with a flow that’s full of real emotion. His debut, 4 Real, arrived in March 2021 as a fully realized vision of an artist with a clear point of view. On the standout track “Andretti,” he’s effortlessly clever, delivering thoughtful bars with philosophical detachment: “Polo from the old age, feds know that it’s no case/We sped like road rage, new puffer for cold days,” he raps. Born Willie Wilson in a suburb of Orlando, 454 has garnered a robust fan base, at one point earning a spot on Frank Ocean’s Blonded Radio. Earlier this year, he collaborated with in-demand New York producer Evilgiane for Fast 5, a stripped-down and emotive take on the textured sounds that have made him one of this generation’s brightest stars. —J.I.

Central Cee

U.K. rap phenom Central Cee has certainly kept busy over the past few years. He dropped his second mixtape, 23, last February, which debuted at the top of the U.K. charts, and he’s quickly becoming the face of London’s resilient drill scene as the Chicago-born sound makes its way around the rap diaspora. Born Oakley Neil H.T Caesar-Su, Central Cee grew up in the West London neighborhood of Shepherd’s Bush, an area that’s integral to the current wave of U.K. drill, a scene that has been on the rise since the 2010s. It’s also a region with one of the highest rates of violent crime in the city. Cee’s raps have a calm and collected cool about them, but underneath, you get the sense there’s a more deeply rooted feeling. Since dropping 23, he’s gone on to release the mega-viral hit “Doja,” capitalizing on the hook-driven machinations of TikTok’s For You page. The song got so popular, with its infectious hook, that eventually Doja Cat herself caught wind, popping up in Central Cee’s comment sections joking about a reference to her on the track.That’s not the only high-profile connection the now-25-year-old MC has garnered recently. After linking up with fellow U.K. rap heavyweight Dave for the joint EP Split Decision, featuring the crossover hit single “Sprinter,” Central Cee connected with noted U.K.-rap fan Drake for a universally acclaimed On the Radar Freestyle. It was his first stop on the road to eventually becoming a household name in the States. It doesn’t hurt that his On the Radar appearance with Drizzy found both rappers firmly in their comfort zones, delivering some of the best verses in the segment’s storied history. Cench, as Central Cee is colloquially known, did more than just keep his own alongside a veteran; the freestyle could easily make for a hit single on a project from either rapper. It’s been a long time coming, but rappers from across the pond are finally becoming a major part of the hip-hop tapestry, and Central Cee is sure to go down as one of the most essential crossovers. “The music is just how I feel. It’s just like a page in my diary,” he told Rolling Stone last year. —J.I.


Recently, at a packed show in Brooklyn’s Herbert Von King Park, MIKE, 24, hosted his third-annual Young World Festival, a celebration of the borough’s vibrant underground rap movement. The rapper and producer is based out of Brooklyn and has been sharing music on Bandcamp since 2015. He’s toured with acts like Freddie Gibbs and Earl Sweatshirt. MIKE’s serene raps feel like a live broadcast from his spirit, and he’s bubbling into the mainstream with a rising generation of young fans. As a producer, he wrangles samples and textures from disparate corners of music and sensation. On his latest album, Beware of the Monkey, he balances emotional resonance with calm, soulful production. MIKE has a penchant for emotive, sparse storytelling. “I always thought about artists who have the ability to create their own world and build that from scratch or from nothing,” he told Rolling Stone on the eve of last year’s Young World Festival. “When I think about basically all the artists that are on the bill, it’s people that have created those types of worlds with music and shit, at least to me.” MIKE’s innate sense of intimacy with his fan base is part of an increasingly potent form of audience building among the current generation of rappers, eschewing the trappings of hyper exposure to creating something closer to community on the ground. Beyond being one of his generation’s most exciting voices, MIKE is laying the foundation for the future. —J.I.

Cash Cobain

Cash Cobain began teaching himself to make beats on Fruity Loops, finding his niche with FL 11. The Bronx-born artist didn’t know music theory, so he immediately started sampling — his first flip was a Whitney Houston song, though he doesn’t remember which. From then on, the 25-year-old rapper-producer started submerging anything from the Moesha theme (on “Hoeisha”) to Tame Impala (on Lil Yachty and Mak Sauce’s “Wocky My Lover”) under filters and slick drum programming. Cash’s production style was influenced by his time in the Jersey Club scene, where frantic drums and outrageous samples conquer all. He has boatloads of producer placements, but the sounds he’s deemed “sexy drill” and “Slizzy” feel reserved for him and his partner Chow Lee, who Cash released 2 Slizzy 2 Sexy with last year. The Slizzy sound is exemplified by the appropriately-named “Slizzy Talk,” a July track colored with twirling synths and a gentle backing melody laying atop an 808 drum flirting with Richter scale detection. He raps with a quintessential New York cool, chaining together raunchy, melodic lines and adding a dash of autotune over his already hazy vocals. The single is from his Pretty Girls Love Slizzy album, which will be the first release since his partnership with Giant Music in June. Cash told us that he hopes his recent signing will “[put] me in a position to do something more for other people,” including those on his Slizzy Entertainment label. He’s already doing plenty, but the “big, big, big” collaborations he promises are in the works will likely make his future even brighter.— A.G


TisaKorean started out as a dancer and a DJ, and says he only started making music because he wanted a soundtrack to match his style. His brand of rap, not unlike Lil B or ILoveMakonnen, can best be described as silly, which is the attitude he’d like to engender in his fans. On TikTok, Tisa’s dance videos rack up millions of views, thanks to the ways they remind you of how fun hip-hop can be. In 2021, he told Rolling Stone about his fondest musical memory, a collapse of generation and genre courtesy of Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z: “When I seen the ‘Frontin’ ’ video, I didn’t know about Prince, honestly,” Tisa explains of the Williams and N.E.R.D. hit. “So when I seen that ‘Frontin’ ’ video, I didn’t know that song was made for Prince.” The rap game will always need its lighthearted, playful spirit, and TisaKorean is a perfect example of an artist who taps into that sensibility naturally. —J.I.


Mavi ponders the permutations of existence like a great philosopher — except Aristotle probably didn’t have the same knack for melodizing his observations. The Charlotte, North Carolina-raised Mavi pursued both a rap career and a neuroscience degree at Howard University before releasing his brilliant breakout, Let the Sun Talk, in 2019. On last year’s Laughing so Hard, it Hurts, he combed through the grief that engulfed him over the pandemic. “I lost some fear along the way of what it would mean for me to say truly how I feel,” he told Rolling Stone last year. The world’s better for his courage. —A.G.


Blaqbonez has been declaring himself the “best rapper in Africa” for nearly as long as he’s been rapping publicly. The 27-year-old Nigerian got his start as a teen battle rapper in his native country and went on to release his debut in 2021, Sex Over Love, one of the best albums of that year anywhere. We’re not weighing in on that Best Rapper in Africa title, but Blaqbonez’s willingness to declare it, his unflinching drive to live up to it, and the skill of his execution — be it in the blazing in booth or cracking jokes on social media — is why we’re not mad at it. —M.C.

Kenny Beats

The smacking percussion of Zack Fox’s “Jesus Is the One (I Got Depression),” the electric-guitar cyclone funneling through Rico Nasty’s “Rage”, the thumping hydraulic rhythms of Vince Staples’ “Outside”–they’re all manifestations of Kenny Beats’ distinctly quirky sensibility. The producer’s growing catalog is full of odd flavors. Whether it’s dreamy study beats from his Louie album, or full-length collaborations like Denzel Curry’s Unlocked. Still, they all feel like part of a singular persona. A Kenny Beats track sounds recognizable, even as he prepares his audience to expect the unexpected. Many of those fans congregate around his sundry online outlets, from YouTube series The Cave to his Twitch stream and Discord servers, where he dispenses technical advice, drops exclusives, and encourages newbie beatmakers. “If you’re an artist and not fostering that community, I’m just wondering what you’re really getting back from that time spent on TikTok or one of these other apps,” Kenny Beats told Rolling Stone earlier this year. More than just a superior internet hustle, though, he feeds his internet peeps with unusual styles that fit into a harmonious whole. —M.R.


In 2020, when Latto titled her debut album — and herself — Queen of Da Souf, it seemed more like a hopeful manifesto than a reality. She was 21, had been grinding since she was a 16-year-old contestant on a rap show helmed by Jermaine Dupri, and had barely cracked the Hot 100. And yet, Latto has rapidly made good on that title in the three years since, becoming a rising superstar thanks to a combination of diligence, development, and strategy. “A lot of people just do this for a check: Make a catchy song, and go viral,” she told Rolling Stone as her breakthrough single, “Big Energy,” climbed up the charts last year. “But I was at the end of the real cypher come-up, the groundwork, passing-out-CDs thing.” Even now, as a budding titan, that selling CDs-out-the-trunk fervor persists in her. It’s what makes her sophomore record, last year’s 777, feel so urgent. (It was the first album she put out as “Latto,” having originally gone by “Miss Mulatto” as a kid, then simply “Mulatto,” aiming to flip the script on the identity struggles that she faced growing up with a white mother and Black father south of Atlanta.) Everything she’s put out since has been even better. You can hear how much sharper her already-potent raps are from single to single, album to album, feature to feature, holding her own beside Cardi B, Trina, Gucci Mane, Mariah Carey, Lil Baby, and Megan Thee Stallion. She’s carved out a home for herself on the charts (“Seven,” her hit with Jungkook of BTS, went to Number One this summer), charged up Coachella, scored major-brand deals, and has been nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy. The rap game is certainly starting to look like her kingdom. —M.C.

Saucy Santana

Hip-hop has been notoriously heteronormative for decades. As its patriarchal walls crumble a little, Saucy Santana has burst through them with killer attitude, snarky wit, and an insatiable appetite for a good time. “I see a lot of records that are blowing up now aren’t very calculated,” he said at a recent Spotify event in his new home of Atlanta. “It’s not like ‘We have to reach this algorithm.’ I see a lot of fun, free music is happening right now, and that’s what I’ve always been doing.” His uninhibited personality pops off his tracks, making them go viral, like 2020’s “Material Girl” and “Walk.” As a gay rapper, he follows in the footsteps of all kinds of hip-hop changemakers, from Big Freedia to his close friends Yung Miami and JT of City Girls, to assert his talent, fashion sense, femininity, and his right to express all three without remorse. “I wanna have my feet in every genre,” Santana told Rolling Stone. “Two years from now it’s giving the face of fashion, it’s giving the face of makeup, it’s giving Grammys, it’s giving movies … the shit that I can do in two more years, I can’t even imagine,” Santana says. —M.C.

Key Glock

The 2021 murder of Young Dolph was grotesquely heartbreaking, but ask Key Glock and he will tell you that you have to stay strong for the family. The Memphis rap revival has been partly led by Key Glock, a cousin of Dolph. Glock’s a traditional Memphis rapper with a slur to match and a pugnacious tone that adds to his arsenal as a rapper. See the earthy “Dirt,” off of Glockoma 2, where the number-one rule is to get the money — a rule that Dolph taught him. Glock is a rapper meant for the strip clubs and the speakers booming from trunks, especially if you are on Elvis Presley Boulevard. If Dolph was the boss, then Glock was his lieutenant. Since Dolph’s murder, Glock has been tasked with being the leader of Dolph’s Paper Route Empire label. The ghost of Dolph hovers all over Glock’s music. He’s the next one in Memphis, even though that goes deeper than the chains and money. It’s in his legacy. Glock’s latest record, Glockoma 2, his first since his cousin was murdered, is a testament to rap’s raw emotive spirit. “I just sat still. I didn’t force or rush it; I had to deal with time,” he told Rolling Stone of his process on the album. “I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t in me to record. I was grieving, bro. Ain’t no way around it.… Everybody has a date. You can’t run from it, no matter what it is.… When it is your time, it is your time. You got to wake up, live your best life, and be prepared.” —J.B.


Hip-hop is at its core protest music, born from the experiences of Black folks on the margins. While the genre’s become a cultural and commercial juggernaut, artists like Chicago-raised Noname maintain an ethos that’s adversarial to assimilation. Her catalog is a testament to rap as a tool for revolution, full of big ideas delivered in an elegantly elastic flow. And she matches her ethos with action. “I don’t do brand deals, I don’t take advances,” she told Rolling Stone in 2021. “I don’t like doing things I know are going to build on my celebrity because that’s not ethical when I’m trying to be anti-capitalist.” —J.I.


Chicago rapper Lucki built a steady fan base over the course of a decade, all while avoiding the telltale pitfalls of young artists in the internet era. His searing vulnerability — letting his tangled emotional interior unfurl over moody trap beats — has made him one of rap’s foremost storytellers. He counts Drake, Future, and Playboi Carti as supporters, which is all you really need to know about his depth and range. Lucki’s 2023 release, Flawless Like Me, is a vibrant distillation of his best talents and proof that the 27-year-old MC is only just getting started. —J.I.


Dreamville rapper J.I.D has had a cult following since his 2017 debut album, The Never Story, which drew on his autobiographical insights from growing up in East Atlanta, his ear for rhythm, his sandpaper singing voice, and his knack for lyrical precision — all attributes that have only grown more potent since. His storytelling reached impressive heights on last year’s The Forever Story, which brought J.I.D’s lore full circle with recollections of fighting and family — and at its most compelling, the literal intersection of the two on “Crack Sandwich.” He has classic panache and a modern touch, somehow reminiscent of early Eminem, Q-Tip, and Big L all at once. And sure, he has the blessing and mentorship of his label boss, J. Cole, but he has a texture, technicality, and acumen all his own. J.I.D’s manager, Barry Hefner, told Rolling Stone last year, “I think J.I.D just wants to deliver great art to the world. I don’t think he really understood what it took to be at the highest of levels. As he grows, he’s starting to realize some of this shit [he] just doesn’t care for.” —M.C.

Annabelle Kline-Zilles

Founder of the video series and curation channel That Good Sh*t, Annabelle Kline-Zilles interviews up-and-coming hip-hop artists with the level of interest and care you’d expect from a major publication. As the avenues for discovery become more dispersed via technology, her platform provides a service that seems increasingly essential, making sense of the endless stream of new music being released online. In addition to interviews, the brand hosts events and curates playlists that highlight up-and-coming talent. In a time when label executives are apparently distraught over the lack of new superstars, Kline-Zilles sees the power of grassroots movements led by young people. As the old guard continues to struggle to make sense of the changing world around us, platforms like That Good Sh*t are here to usher in the next generation. —J.I.


The breakout star from Philadelphia production collective Working on Dying, BNYX has been one of the defining rap producers of 2023, with credits on Travis Scott’s Utopia (“Meltdown,” “K-Pop”), Drake’s “Search & Rescue,” and Lil Uzi Vert’s “Aye.” (He also worked on half the tracks on Yeat’s 2022 EP Lyfë.) Contributing to “Meltdown” seems poised to bring him a new level of name recognition, as the unofficial “Sicko Mode” sequel works better than most attempts to recreate a hit, thanks to BNYX’s thunderous bass and 808s. His work with Yeat is particularly remarkable, as he crafts gritty, textured trap beats that are bizarre enough to bring out the best in the oddball Portland MC without sounding cluttered or labored over.BNYX has become a fixture on rap Twitter for his wry comedic sensibility, genuinely interesting insights into his work, and an earnest appreciation for his success — he’s an easy figure to root for. On YouTube and Soundcloud, he’s shared ambitious genre-inspired remixes of Playboi Carti and Yeat that incorporate everything from heavy metal to bachata to afrofuturist electronica. BNYX is part of a new crop of internet-savvy producers like Kenny Beats and Illmind who have established strong social media presences, helping them establish the kind of profile that in the past has been reserved for the Timbalands and Scott Storches of the world.His sonic palette is moody and dark, making him a natural collaborator with artists like Travis and present-era Drake, with woozy low ends that are punctuated by the occasional squealing synth or string line. But he’s also made beats for funny man-turned-MC Zack Fox that showcase his fluency with the ‘90s Memphis sound, Toro Y Moi-style psychedelic pop, and pumping, drum machine-driven R&B. These tracks marry the two sides of BNYX, cinematic star producer and social media jokester, always in on the joke but knowing when to play it straight. —G.R.

Martine Rose

Brands like Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, and Stüssy are lining up for a chance to collaborate with designer Martine Rose, and for good reason. Her knack for mixing modern menswear with a rebel mentality has even landed her a Kendrick Lamar shout-out. “And I’m best dressed, movin’ forward,” Lamar rapped, donning her brand while getting on his private jet in the video for “The Hillbillies,” a track with Baby Keem. For Rose, not following traditional fashion-industry systems has become a huge part of her appeal to musicians and consumers alike. “I was always a bit ambivalent. Even when I went into fashion, I wasn’t really into the industry,” she recently told GQ. “I don’t do the fashion thing. It bores me to tears.” —K.R.


Kaytranada is the missing link. For decades, artists have tried to build a bridge between dance music and hip-hop, two Black musical traditions that have spent generations positioned as opposites, and then Kaytranada came along. With a sample selection as rooted in a love for Black music as the earliest pioneers of hip-hop, Kaytranada builds a seamless connection between disco, house, and rap that can turn a dance party into a rap show, or rather, prove how the two should’ve never been separate in the first place. Recently, Kaytranada linked up with the rapper Aminé for a joint project titled Kaytraminé; the result is a bona fide proof of concept, as Aminé’s playful flow finds a comfortable home in Kaytranada’s dance-floor-ready production. As the hip-hop world contends with its place on the charts, its innovators can already see beyond the horizon where hip-hop, dance, and, according to RZA, Afrobeats, exist as one. It’s a world Kaytranada is built for. —J.I.

Tay Keith

Producer Tay Keith has created a sound signature that’s uniquely his own. You can hear it in Sexyy Red’s lascivious “Pound Town,” Travis Scott’s world-conquering “Sicko Mode,” Drake and 21 Savage’s stuntin’ anthem “Jimmy Cooks,” and several other singles that make the Memphis producer one of the hottest in mainstream rap. The bass in these tracks thrums hard with propulsion, like a musician working a stride rhythm. “I was born into this shit and raised in this shit. Memphis music is all I listened to and all my family listened to,” Keith told Rolling Stone in 2022. “The Three 6 and all that shit, like that sound.” Yet Keith’s contributions to the Memphis legacy are distinct, too, and not just because he doesn’t rely on the horrorcore keyboards that fueled so many Triple Six classics. He couches his beats in melodies that can feel orchestral and foreboding, like on Gucci Mane and Lil Durk’s controversial shooter anthem “Rumors,” or lilting and whimsical, like on Lil Nas X’s “Holiday.” They feel indisputably modern as well as informed by the past, all as he stamps each one with a tag cribbed from a session with Tennessee rapper Lil Juice: “Tay Keith, fuck these niggas up!” —M.R.


On Scaring the Hoes, the joint album between resident rap eccentric Danny Brown and JPEGMafia, the latter wrangles an almost impossible emotional texture out of distorted electronics and chaotic drum sequences. It’s a hallmark of JPEGMafia’s work, which by now spans more than a decade, first in the underground corners of the internet and more recently in the mainstream. His rise is indicative of the kind of hip-hop star that actually makes sense in this new era, where virality is a given but fan devotion isn’t. “Peggy” as he’s affectionately known by his fans is uniquely gifted in how he’s able to transmit a feeling – often something close to delirium and rage – with the authenticity of a close friend. It’s why, at a recent concert in new York City, you could hear chants of “Peggy” ring out from hordes of teenage devotees. JPEGMafia has spent much of his career on the fringes, but onlny because he was so far ahead of his time. Now, it seems, the rest of the world is beginning to catch up. – J.I


There’s no denying the appeal of punk and heavy metal to today’s rap listener, and there’s no sign that the genre-blending we’ve seen from artists like Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert is going away anytime soon. That’s why Philadelphia producer F1lthy, known for crafting sounds as guttural and crunchy as his name suggests, is quickly becoming a bonafide hitmaker. Drawing on a sonic palette replete with distorted drums and blistering 808s, the founder of the producer collective Working on Dying is largely responsible for rap’s recent push towards the mosh pit. And thanks especially to collaborations with artists like Lucki and Drake, F1lthy is helping shape the sound of modern rap.—J.I.  


The elusive U.K. designer behind the ascendant streetwear label Corteiz, who’s known as Clint419, has quickly become a major force in both fashion and music. Just as U.K. rap begins its global takeover, Corteiz has armed the scene’s biggest names, like Dave and Central Cee, with a uniform fit for hip-hop dominance. The brand’s tasteful selection of garments feels in many ways like an update on the ethos of Nineties brands like Stussy and Supreme, except where those labels found inspiration in the rap world, Corteiz is much closer to the ground level, a product of the culture itself. Drake, rap’s de facto global ambassador, even shouted out Clint in his “On the Radar Freestyle” with Central Cee, so it’s only a matter of time until the company’s slogan, “Runs the World,” becomes a reality. —J.I.

Pierre Bourne

The iconic producer tag of Pierre Bourne, a pitched-up sample from The Jamie Foxx Show, is stitched into an entire generation’s sense of the sonics of hip-hop. His early work with Playboi Carti, and subsequently as a solo artist, imbued a distinct groove to the sound of rap that is sure to endure in the coming years. Not unlike Pharrell’s playful drum constructions in the early aughts, which are still potent more than twenty years later, the rhythmic spacing of Bourne’s beats and his penchant for airy, dream-like synths is a hallmark of modern hip-hop. As his sound evolves, Bourne’s music has become more clearly linked to traditions that came before. On “DJ In The Car,” from his recent album Good Movie, you can hear his signature flare match seamlessly with the four-to-the-floor rhythm of house music. It’s that ability to translate different moods and time periods into a sound that is distinctly of the moment that makes Pierre Bourne one of rap’s foremost innovators.—J.I. 

Certified Trapper

If you hear a clapping sound in the wind, then it is probably coming from Certified Trapper, the Milwaukee rapper and producer who’s made a trademark out of beats whose hi-hats never stop ringing in your ear. As a rapper, Trapper is a light and fun, and quite nimble with the raspy voice to match. The Milwaukee scene — which is running roughshod over the Internet right now – is famous for its videos and production, and Trapper shines there, too, with plenty of videos featuring young men dancing (with or without guns) in ways that are jubilant and goofy. “Each Smoke” feels like an infomercial, with multiple Trappers appearing on the screen at the same time. To see Trapper is to see the beginning of what could have been a career of comedy and rapping intertwining like a sweet science. His recent record Trapper of the Year features rappers like BabyTron and BLP Kosher. The future of hip-hop will undoubtedly be extremely online, and Trapper is one of the people keeping things fun. – J.B. 

Murda Beatz

29-year-old producer Murda Beatz is behind some of the biggest rap hits of the past decade and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. As a collaborator with everyone from Drake to Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj, Murda Beatz iconic producer tag is a sure sign of a bonafide banger. Something like a natural heir to the expansive world of hits ushered into the rap world courtesy of DJ Khaled, Murda Beatz is proving to be among the genre’s great collaborators, his infectiously fun production style (Consider Drake’s infectious 2018 single “Nice For What“) ensures that his work will endure for generations. — J.I.


If you’re one of the millions of fans who have been drawn in by the moody, minimal sound of Destroy Lonely’s “If Looks Could Kill,” thank Corey Kerr. The Atlanta-based producer, better known as Clayco, produced that song along with many of Lonely’s other breakthrough hits, rapidly reshaping the sound of rap’s cutting edge. Clayco’s production collective Underworld Online strikes a balance between the sinister beats of early Three 6 Mafia and the melodic drama of the Cure — more evidence, in case any is needed, that rap as a genre can contain multitudes. – J.I


New York-based producer and rapper Xaviersobased is still in his late teens but is emerging at the forefront of an internet-born sound that fuses the sensibilities of hip-hop, hyperpop, and everything in between. On TikTok, his tracks have soundtracked thousands of viral clips thanks to their infectiously hazy sonic construction. His recent collaboration with Milwaukee’s Ayoolie, “Same,” sounds almost like it was made on a toy keyboard, which, in Xaviersobased’s hands, manages to feel futuristic. With runtimes typically in the 90-second range, Xaviersobased’s music feeds into a sensibility that feels particularly relevant in today’s fast-paced age. He’s able to capture your attention quickly, a much-needed skill if the progressive decline of attention spans these days is any indication for the future. Somewhere between Drain Gang and Lil Uzi Vert, Xaviersobased is a sign of what’s on the horizon for the next generation of rap stars born in the 2000s. —J.I.


Knxwledge’s production has defined underground rap for the past decade. Known as “lo-fi” for the way he filters his beats through grainy noise until they seem hazy and out-of-focus, his aesthetic has informed several standout projects, from Joey Bada$$’s 1999 and Mach-Hommy’s HBO (Haitian Body Odor), to his own instrumental classic, Hud Dreems. In 2015, he earned a Grammy for co-producing a track on Kendrick Lamar’s seminal To Pimp a Butterfly. Then there’s his ongoing hip-hop soul collaboration with Anderson .Paak as NxWorries: after a lengthy absence following 2016’s acclaimed Yes Lawd, the duo recently emerged with two new singles, “Where I Go” with H.E.R. and “Daydreaming,” as well as a worldwide tour. All that activity is just the most visible example of how Knxwledge has remained at the forefront of beat culture since emerging in Los Angeles amidst a wave of post-Dilla producers in the late Aughts. Hardcore fans are equally familiar with the countless beat collections he drops without prior notice on Bandcamp — where unauthorized remixes of Meek Mill songs eventually led to a DMCA notice from the rapper’s management — as well as his Discord and Twitch accounts. They’re a sign of his artistic restlessness as well as his deep engagement in the slipstream of internet hip-hop, where his name represents both a recognizable brand and a distinctive musical style. – M.R.

Harry Fraud

Historically, the only career with a shorter shelf-life than being a rapper is being a rap producer. Your sound might become the industry standard for six months, maybe a year if you’re lucky, and then either hip-hop moves on, or younger, cheaper beatmakers emerge who can do the same thing for half your rate. Harry Fraud has gracefully sidestepped that path by consistently varying his sound and collaborators, all without seeming desperate for relevance. In recent years, he’s worked on tracks by Jack Harlow, Westside Gunn, and Rico Nasty, even as he’s remained a go-to producer for blog-era darlings like Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, and Action Bronson. His sound can be a throwback to the luxurious era of speedboat rap and quarter-million-dollar music video budgets, but he also knows his way around a distorted 808 and the ins and outs of producing a sticky topline melody.Fraud, 36, first emerged as a name to know for his work with French Montana, helping craft the luxurious drug rap sound that eventually would make French a chart-topping star. Fast forward to 2023 and Fraud has already released a pair of collaborative projects, VICES with Curren$y and the terrifically strange Virtuoso with Valee. The latter is one of Fraud’s best projects in years, as he consistently finds fresh pockets for the Chicago MC’s hushed, oddball verses atop mafioso piano arpeggios, cloud-rap synths, and finely diced soul samples. The album illustrates Fraud’s appeal as both contemporary (RXK Nephew sounds terrific on the springy 808s of “Not Right Now”) and enduring (the signature nimble flows of Twista contrast the languid beat on “WTF” perfectly).Like all popular culture in the 2020s, hip-hop feels increasingly fractured, with few artists and producers to truly build consensus around. Fraud is an exception, not because he’s aiming down the middle, but because he has his fingers in so many pots that no rap fan could earnestly say, “I don’t like Harry Fraud.” A little like his friend and collaborator, The Alchemist, Fraud has endured not by chasing trends but by establishing his own pocket and inviting artists from across the rap spectrum to be part of it. – G.R.


There’s a trope that nobody wants to hear traditional rap beats anymore. Alchemist is helping to prove that it couldn’t be less true. If DJ Premier is the boom-bap godfather, then Alchemist is the son of that iconic sound. His patient drums and soulful loops provide a surface for rough rappers to humanize themselves, from underground classics like Prodigy’s 2007 album Return of the Mac to the full-length collaborations that Al has done more recently with Freddie Gibbs, Boldly James, Roc Marciano, and more. He’s feeding the instinctive need to hear an MC bend words and rhymes to find pockets of rhythmic gold. Here’s to 10 more years of bare-knuckled beats. —J.B. 

Dianne Garcia

“True artists often follow their intuition and instincts,” says Dianne Garcia. The L.A.-based stylist’s own instincts were on display last year when she shot 18 different looks for Kendrick Lamar’s “N95” video, juxtaposing utilitarian garb and refined tailoring. As the video shifts from reality to Lamar’s dreams, and flickers between black-and-white and color, Garcia’s looks amplify what she calls the “textures and volumes” of the film’s composition. “Very light colors were used to create godlike imagery, and very dark colors were seen in more street looks referencing guys like DMX and ODB,” she says. It’s this intuitive, intimate relationship with her clients that has led to Garcia’s prolific work in music. Along with becoming Kendrick’s go-to stylist, she’s also worked with SZA, Travis Scott, and Drake, among others. “Musicians are not actors. They’re not blank canvases. Their image speaks to their musical narrative, and you have to respect that while elevating them at the same time,” she explains. As hip-hop continues to penetrate the fashion industry, Garcia expects the results to be world-changing. “Things are changing, and they will continue to change,” she says. “With hip-hop/rap becoming the lead category in the U.S. and Canada, its influence will be undeniable, and the world will have to pay their respects.” —K.R.


“Stop playin with them Riot,” the now-infamous producer tag of the Bronx-born producer behind the meteoric rise of Ice Spice — whose voice it is on the tag — is a sure sign of a good time. It’s been a long time since a producer and artist had the type of chemistry RiotUSA has with Ice Spice. The two met in college and have since been locked in, going on a historic run of hits that have managed to alter the shape and rhythm of modern hip-hop. Earlier this year, he signed a global deal with Warner Chappell Music, and it’s only a matter of time before we start to hear that iconic intro throughout the rap world. —J.I.

Cole Bennett

27-year-old Cole Bennet, the brains behind the media company Lyrical Lemonade, is a unique character in the world of rap. An in-demand music video director known for a decidedly Gen Z visual style, he started Lyrical Lemonade as a blog while he was still in high school and has since built something of a mini empire. The company’s Summer Smash music festival in Chicago is quickly becoming one of the premier rap festivals on the already bloated festival circuit, in part thanks to the level of curation present. The young people at the forefront of today’s rap world are as entrepreneurial as ever, and Lyrical Lemonade, in many ways, represents a changing of the guard. Consider his 2022 work with Yeat on the viral hit “Rich Minion.” A student of the internet, Bennet knows precisely how to capture online attention, and it seems like he’s only just getting started. — J.I.


Jae5’s producer tag — a humble stack of vocals croaking his name — is one of the best indications that you’re listening to Afro-diasporic music of the highest quality. It kicks off songs like British-Gambian rapper J Hus’ breakthrough “Did You See,” Koffee’s joyous party ode “Pull Up,” and “Bank on It,” the triumphant finale to Burna Boy’s Grammy-winning Twice as Tall. Perhaps one of Jae5’s greatest accomplishments is helping usher amalgamations of hip-hop, Afrobeats, and Caribbean music (particularly the London-led Afroswing movement) into their rightful place in the global consciousness. Mostly reared in East London, the producer born Jonathan Mensah got his start in the smidge of time he lived in his family’s native Ghana around the ages of 10 to 13. “They didn’t have a lot of grime music out in Ghana, and I didn’t have an internet connection like that. I was trying to re-create what I could remember of grime, but everything I had around me was Timbaland, Celine Dion, Afrobeats,” he says of what led him to hone some of the sounds of the future through fusions. —M.C.

Internet Money

The producer collective Internet Money is a prime example of the new forms of collaboration sprouting in hip-hop. Founded by 30-year-old Florida producer Taz Taylor and now consisting of a slew of heavyweight beatmakers, the group is responsible for a good chunk of the biggest hip-hop songs in Spotify’s history, including Lil Tecca’s hit “Ransom,” the late Juice WRLD’s signature smash “Lucid Dreams,” and many more. Like an increasing number of figures in the rap world, Internet Money is also in the content-creation business, producing YouTube vlogs as well as offering a platform for up-and-coming producers to sell beats. As the coming generation adopts a growing set of tools to allow creatives to get their ideas out even faster, groups like Internet Money will be there to usher in the hits.  —J.I.

Danny G Beats

Detroit’s bustling rap scene relies on a style of production innate to the city. Rappers like BabyTron have a playfully robust arsenal of punchlines that match perfectly with the production of Danny G, whose production work with Tron and his early rap crew, ShittyBoyz, has come to define the Detroit sound. Known for complex beats that can run at impossible speeds and switch on a dime, Danny G is like a souped-up sports car when it comes to rap production, and he’d have to be in order to keep up with the talents of the rappers in his city. As rap’s regional movements grow more distinct, producers like Danny G are sure to be a fixture in the rap world for years to come. —J.I.


From the Madd Rapper to Katt Williams, every rap generation gets the comedian it deserves. Druski, the 28-year-old social media star born Drew Desbordes, has emerged as that figure for the 2020s, able to both rib and rub elbows with hip-hop stars, including Jack Harlow, Drake, and Lil Baby. Druski is a perfect avatar of the age where rap became the biggest genre in the world; his humor isn’t niche. It’s broad and accessible. He’s able to work as both the goofball when he’s with more serious MCs like Yung Miami and as a kind of hybrid straight man when he’s around bombastic personalities like Diddy. Druski’s comedy touches on topics beyond hip-hop; one of his successful early characters was an obnoxious frat boy, but his funniest stuff involves lambasting rap culture and the music industry at large. Some of Druski’s best work has revolved around Coulda Been Records, his satirical take on an exploitative record label in which he plays a larger-than-life head honcho in the vein of Diddy or Birdman (the latter of whom had a tense Instagram Live with the comedian and accused him of “starting to step on my toes”). He’s pitched Drake to join the label and hosted a series of hilarious auditions that effectively placed cringe comedy into an American Idol format. With a keen sense of his audience — and their fractured attention spans — Druski doesn’t rely strictly on long-winded standup jokes for his laughs. In the half-decade since he became a recognizable name, he’s hosted major shows for J. Cole, delivered some of the best one-liners on Revolt’s The Crew League, and stole the show in Drake’s star-studded “Laugh Now Cry Later” video. Along the way, he’s become one of those ubiquitous cultural forces, popping up in videos with Elle, hanging out with WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu, and making a killing in commercials for brands like Google and KFC, helping them say, “We get it.”Is Druski’s comedy as incisive as the best work of Dave Chappelle or Donald Glover? No, but it always goes down smooth, rarely induces a groan, and has a consistently high approval rating among hip-hop die-hards and casual fans alike. In essence, he’s the Rap Caviar of comedians. –G.R.

Tremaine Emory

As creative director of the streetwear powerhouse Supreme, Tremaine Emory has imbued the brand with a cultural relevance in hip-hop since coming on board in 2020. His real impact on the rap world can be seen with his brand Denim Tears, which you’ve undoubtedly seen basically every popular rap star wearing in the past few years. Emory, who was among the many creatives in Kanye’s orbit as he launched his forays into fashion, was one of the most prominent voices to speak out in response to Ye’s “White Lives Matter” T-shirt debacle. Fitting, as Denim Tears’ most iconic piece is inspired by the lineage of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Adorned on the rap world’s biggest stars, it creates a powerful statement, and one that remains essential to the culture. —J.I.

Jeff Weiss

Hip-hop media is in a tricky space right now, with fewer places than ever that are able or willing to nurture new writers. But that’s no problem for Passion of the Weiss, a hip-hop blog that has provided crucial early coverage to artists such as Kendrick Lamar, 03 Greedo, and Drakeo the Ruler since being founded in 2007. Jeff Weiss, a longtime rap and culture journalist, started the blog to give himself an outlet to write fearlessly about everything that is right and wrong in hip-hop. The site has since expanded with help from countless writers, including myself and Pulitzer finalist Craig Jenkins, among many others. Passion of the Weiss is a place where young writers can develop their voices, just as much as it’s a home for integral criticism on whatever cynical trend the music industry is promoting. –J.B.

Gabe P

This summer, Drake and Central Cee stopped time with sprawling freestyles for On the Radar. It was the stuff of dreams and memes — Drake’s saying “combination” in his best attempt at a Caribbean accent — as well as one of the few mega-moments in hip-hop culture this year that was essentially just about rap. To Gabe P, On the Radar’s creator, it was “just a stepping stone.” “Corporations have been trying to get Drake on their platforms for years,” he tells Rolling Stone. “And I did it by myself with my team.” But P is as interested in superstars as the bubbling-under acts with a fraction of the following. He began On the Radar in 2018 as a mentee of storied hip-hop media personality Angie Martinez, borrowing time from his iHeart Music social media job to record his own interviews with local New York rappers like Cash Cobain and Kay Flock in an office studio. Now, it’s not just a web series of interviews plus performances that has long caught the eye of vets like Drake and helped break artists like Ice Spice, though. They’re running an independent label, working with artists on distributing their original music onto streaming platforms themselves. With a small team of young industry professionals with backgrounds in the types of music institutions that can be stuck in their ways, Gabe P is building something new, what could become a record label that’s truly artist-centered, a common and lofty goal that can get lost in the shuffle of norms. “We often get [so] stuck in our ways in that we forget to realize that we have to always do things to innovate,” Gabe says. — M.C.

Kai Cenat

If, for a moment, you look beyond the boneheaded kids captured on video trashing police cars, one has to give Twitch streamer Kai Cenat some credit. The 21-year-old who got his start making videos on YouTube, has a level of fame capable of starting what the NYPD would consider a riot. It’s more like Beatlemania, as the current generation of youth have clearly grown tired of the prepackaged stars being served to them. Following his botched PS5 giveaway in Manhattan this summer, commentators across the board found themselves caught off-guard, most had no idea that Cenat, at one point the most followed streamer on Twitch, had the kind of pull that he did. The rap world, however, has been along for the ride from the start. Kai famously linked up with Lil Uzi Vert for the music video for “Just Wanna Rock,” shot in New York City, nearly shutting down a city block yet again; and Kai is at this point a fixture in the rap community. Guests on his stream have ranged from Ice Spice to Lil Yachty to 21 Savage. Sort of like a cross between Jerry Springer and MTV’s Sway, Cenat represents the next generation of rap media, in all of its messy glory. For his part, he’s taken the uproar that happened in Union Square to heart, telling his fans on a recent stream that he was “beyond disappointed” in the kids who came out to cause trouble and describing how the events of that day led him to think more critically about his influence. One thing that seems certain: That influence isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Like it or not, streamers like Cenat are part of the hip-hop tapestry of the new generation. — J.I.