Rap Game Vanguard

By Kareem Samuels

Am I alone when I say that I’m sick and tired of seeing the same 20 “eccentric” rappers on a blog? Thirsty for buzz and a major label deal, these money hungry parasites siphon the work of established experimentalists in a desperate attempt at courting the weird rapper trend. Just look at Trinidad James, the dude is a breathing Venn Diagram of blog buzz totems.

Arguably, Lil B and Odd Future are the two most successful fringy, experimental rappers to emerge in recent memory. I love them to death, but those guys get more than enough press. There’s no need to contribute another think piece to the echo chamber.

It's easy to dismiss the term "experimental hip hop" as nothing more than a redundant microgenre. Hip hop already experiments with technology, persona, story arc, rhyme scheme & meter, and vocal layering. Hip hop is its own avant garde.

That said, sometimes artists take a massive plunge and indulge their whimsy to make something that is so novel, so alien, you have no choice but to concede and slap the "avant garde" tag on the final product.

In no particular order, here’s a gathering of rappers who’ve mutated from their genre’s margins. I know that some of these artists have gotten some acclaim, but it’s nowhere near what it should be. A few of these artists have been (mostly) ignored by both independent and mainstream press. Which is a shame, especially when you consider the art world’s continuing love affair with DJ Spooky. Don’t allow DJ Spooky to be the figurehead of experimental hip hop. Besides, this article is more about authenticity, so proceed and hate anyway comment lurkers.

ISSUE

Who: E-40 and Lil B sired a son. E-40 is Issue’s literal father; Lil B is his aesthetic forefather. He raps about tea, Sega, and luxury cars over hazy, electronic beats

What makes them experimental: Sometimes I wonder if it’s even accurate to call Issue a rapper. He falls somewhere between the sloppy, stream of consciousness rap that defined Lil B’s Based freestyles and the home recording of R. Stevie Moore. Oh, and did I mention that he likes tea?

Where to start: Go to his site and download The E

How to stay updated: https://twitter.com/IHEARDISSUE

B L A C K I E

Who: Hailing from Houston, TX,  B L A C K I E, all caps with spaces, occupies the same territory as Death Grips. Abrasive, industrial-noise rap that makes you want to punch walls. Except, B L A C K I E’s been doing it longer. Also there’s a palpable degree of tension to B L A C K I E that’s sort of missing from Death Grips. If you’ve been to one of his shows, you know that he puts his heart into each song. 

What makes them experimental: Noise music is essentially meditation music. It takes a lot of focus, and even more patience to make it through a single track. Let alone an entire album. However, if you’re willing to subject yourself to the sonic onslaught, the experience can be really cleansing. It’s why we all loved those Whitehouse records. Add B L A C K I E’s aggro rapping to the equation, and you have music tailor made for exorcising your demons. Listening to his B L A C K I E is like a worm’s eye view of manic self-destruction. Never underestimate the power of violent catharsis.

Where to start: B L A C K I E’s compiled his four previous releases on one tape. So that’s a convenient place to start. When you’re done with that buy his album, Gen, if you’re feeling adventurous.

How to stay updated: https://twitter.com/B_L_A_C_K_I_E

Blunt Fang

Who: Formerly of the Atlanta rap trio Supreeme, and an associate of Fat Tony, Negashi Armada aka Blunt Fang now raps about slavery, lesbians, and crystals over disjointed lo-fi Casio beats that are equally inspired by shoegaze, Dinosaur Jr, and sounding nothing like OutKast.

What makes them experimental: Blunt Fang’s a genuine eccentric. His persona is his experiment.There’s nothing forced or contrived about his presentation. His wild imagination is evident through his lyrics, and he slathers his voice over beats that parallel his personality. It sounds like you’re on a carnival ride inside of a schizophrenic’s Tumblr. Anyway, it’s refreshing to listen to an ATLien who isn’t Fabo or Dungeon Family affiliated. Word to Future.

Where to start:Try the Crossburner EP. He’s been pretty silent, but I hear he’s planning to collab more with Fat Tony, some of the Supreeme guys, and B L A C K I E.

How to stay updated:https://twitter.com/FANGLIFE777

Fabo

Who: Formerly the craziest member of D4L who has now gone into hiding. He’s so high that he can see spaceships on Bankhead.

What makes them experimental: Fabo’s been MIA for some time, but you should still listen to him anyway. Fabo is that one Southern weirdo who wears argyle socks with his Nike’s, is perpetually stoned out of his mind, and rap-sings in a warble about extraterrestrials and other assorted oddities. What I’m saying is that Fabo, like ODB before him, is a genuine eccentric who's probably holed up in some bunker deep in rural Georgia making the greatest mixtape the world will never hear.

Where to startGik Tales, definitely.

How to stay updated: https://twitter.com/FaboGeek

Metro Zu

Who: Yeah, I know these guys have made the rounds on a few blogs. But given their prolific output, their coverage has still been pretty scant. Florida’s Metro Zu consists of Lofty 305, RuebenSlikk, Freebase, and Mr. B the Poshtranaut and together they make psychedelic, vulgar rap that sounds like it’s from the future. Uncle Luke would be proud, but also a little confused.

What makes them experimental: Remember cloud rap? The name was stupid, but musically there was much to marvel. The ethereal production wouldn’t be out of place at a planetarium, despite being made for headphones. The one issue was that the music always devoured the rapping. It was like chasing voices through a fog, which I guess was the point. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you want to the rappers personality to complement the production. No matter what lane a rapper chooses, charisma is a must. Metro Zu updates cloud rap’s production and bathes it in non sequiturs about sex and drugs that reference androids and Pokemon.Their personalities consume the beats. Not vice versa.

Where to start: This one is tough. They’ve released a ton of material, so distilling their work to one essential release is tricky. Some guy on Tumblr decided to curate their entire catalogue, so start there

How to stay updated:https://twitter.com/MetroZU

NRK

Who: A ten member (Pyramid Vritra, Gloomy Pyramid, KC 2.0 aka Lombardi, Pyramid Murdock aka Heterochromia, Tyler Major, Jay Cue aka JQ, Mr. Northstar, Andrew McCloud, LuiDiamonds aka Luwees, and Pyramid Mables) collective who are tangential cousins of Odd Future. They make jazzy, space raps and are really into pyramids.

What makes them experimental: I’ll let them speak for themselves: “NRK is made up of 10 artists with one goal, to open your mind to our experimental realm. We represent your awkward tendencies. Your low self esteem. Keep your head up. We represent the you that only shows when you’re alone.”

Where to start: Start withThe NRK Compilation. Or you can just start with their newest release, Gloom Pyramid’s Joy, and pretend like you were a fan all along.

How to stay updated: http://nobodyreallyknows.com/

Pyramid Vritra

Who: Pyramid Vritra is a the most developed member of NRK. You also know him as Hal Williams; one half of Odd Future’s Jet Age of Tomorrow/Super 3. He’s the thread that connects the two collectives.

What makes them experimental: As with NRK, the beats are very spacey and warped. And there layers on top of layers of vocal distortions. Despite this looseness, his music is pretty focused and intricately composed. VICE should start using this as the background music for those ...on Acid videos.

Where to start: Try The Story of Marsha Lotus.

How to stay updatedhttps://twitter.com/PYRAMIDVRITRA

Zeroh

Who: Zeroh aka Zeroh G7 aka Blaqbrd is a member of the Wedidit Collective (which boasts insipid producer Shlohmo among its ranks). Soaking up the bugged out sounds he heard at LA hot spot, Low End Theory (Mecca for the city’s instrumental, “Beat Scene”) Zeroh began rhyming over. He has the spirituality of Gonjasufi, minus the pretension and the futurism of Shabazz Place. Sans the coldness.

What makes them experimental: His topical domain is pretty esoteric and his wordplay is downright bizarre. I mean, the guy spits mind-melting tongue twisters like: “I felt the rise/ It was a journey toward demise/ And when I died, a light emerged from the sky/ Had no body, just a head that could fly/ Swimming through the void of all else it was comprised/ I realized that the fall from me had always been/ Exercising my survive from my will would always bend”. There are lines about Aristotle’s Poetics, Kemeticism, bending space-time, System of A Down, and lacerations that bleed like tree sap. He crafts his lyrics to accommodate the otherwise unrappable production, half sung voices are pitch-shifted and dragged through layers of reverb, and claims to compose with the moon and is the “young Helios of prose.” It all sounds like the soundtrack to an insane monk’s mystical episode.

Where to start: Zeroh usually releases mixtapes through his Tumblr, but that’s become a ghost town. Dude is as cryptic as his music. Start with More Throwaways.

How to stay updatedhttps://twitter.com/_zeroh

Left Leberra

Who: Leberra is a rapper/producer/graphic artist from Connecticut, who’s the closest thing to a normal rapper on this list.

What makes them experimental: His beat selection is forward thinking, but the ideas that permeate his writing are beyond adventurous. Every track is like a travel sized concept record. His innovation lies more in raw lyricism than it does in his trippy production. Which isn’t that unusual, but he exhausts the concepts of each song to the point of entropy. On some tracks, Leberra comes across more like a confessional spoken word artist in a trance than a rapper.

Where to start: His album SlayR is a good entry point.

How to stay updated: https://twitter.com/LeftLeberra

Honorable MentionsKilo Kish, The Underachievers, and Personal (Last year, he made the best experimental rap tape that no one heard.)

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