Baltimore’s music and arts scene has been reinvigorated. Rappers, singers, poets, and visual artists from different corners of the city have steadily been garnering recognition from across the country for their unique stories and incredible talents. With the rise of local legends such as Young Moose and the late Lor Scoota, a music scene that had experienced sporadic spotlight in the past has since become a proving ground for all of the DMV, providing inspiration to a new crop of artists who didn’t think making it off rap was possible and demanding more attention and respect.
Los Angeles via Baltimore-based rapper JPEGMAFIA has helped shine a direct spotlight on the city the last couple of years while Northeast Baltimore native Tate Kobang has been racking up writing credits for the likes of K Camp and Mulatto. (He also has a Billboard Hot 100 placement with 21 Savage’s Drake-assisted hit “Mr. Right Now.”) Whether on the frontend or the backend, there has never been a better time to be a Baltimore artist. Though resources aren’t as abundant compared to major music hubs like Atlanta and New York, there is still a copious amount of rookie and veteran rappers from the city’s hardnose yet community-driven music scene poised to leave the avenue and break through the stratosphere in the coming years.
Here is a list of 11 Baltimore rappers you should check out right now.
4kMicheal (East Baltimore)
If you googled “work ethic,” you’d find 4kMicheal staring into your soul while flipping the bird from inside a recording booth. The Nigeria born, East Baltimore raised rapper and producer spent 2020 standing tall on the results of his nonstop work and well-received 2019 project Forgive Me, I Am Alive — an amalgamation of his high octane, braggadocious rap style, unique vocal timbre, and sincere songwriting. The Ghostie produced intro, “Memories,” is a barbed wire wrapped bare-knuckle uppercut that opens the project. On “Life Story” the rapper ruminates on the pain and regret that comes with the wicked sting of betrayal. When asked about his motivations, he keeps it simple and straightforward, telling Okayplayer, “I want everything this world has to offer.”With his latest video “Hell” racking up career-high views on Youtube, 4K looks to ascend in 2021.
Shordie Shordie (Northeast Baltimore)
Shordie Shordie has been riding a wave that hasn’t been seen by a Baltimore artist in quite some time. His breakout hit “Bitchuary (Betchua)” catapulted him straight into the mainstream limelight and secured him a slot at the 2019 Rolling Loud Bay Area festival. His 2020 album, >Music, is a testament to his consistency, with songs like “FDP” and “Save A Little” putting up strong numbers. His one of one nasally delivery and affinity for writing hooks have made him one of the biggest cheat codes in modern music — an instantly recognizable voice that listeners should be kicking themselves for being unaware of.
Miss Kam (West Baltimore)
Miss Kam is a rapper’s rapper. First starting in 2017, she’s spent the past couple of years— initially through her series of Friday Freestyles — molding herself into a burgeoning lyrical powerhouse. In the time since, she’s been steadfast in developing her craft with the kind of consideration for bars and wordplay that the old guard swears is no longer present amongst new rappers. Her 2020 output, Birthday Pack EP and Tew Face, are exhibit A and B for anyone trying to understand how multifaceted this woman is behind a mic. Whether it’s gritty, hard hitting lyricism or certified twerk anthems, Miss Kam displays a level of versatility and intensity that promises a long and healthy career.
Baby Kahlo (West Baltimore)
Finding inspiration in the emotive colors and art of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Baby Kahlo has come a long way since dropping her first freestyle in 2017. Her playful but emphatic brand of “Top Bitch” braggadocio fits right at home in the current woman-dominated hip-hop soundscape. Her 2020 release, Queen of Swords EP, finds her still fine-tuning her sound while showing glimpses of true star power. “Talk My Shit” acts as a standout on the EP, with Kahlo’s slow but easily repeated flow making the shit-talking in question incredibly infectious.
Bandhunta Izzy (Northwest Baltimore)
50 Cent’s “How to Rob” is still one of the most classic examples of making a gang load of noise via name mentions and controversy. It’s no wonder that when Bandhunta Izzy released a modern version of the song in 2019, featuring the same Madd rapper from the 1999 release, it did numbers and caused commotion of its own. While it stands as his most viewed video to date, “How to Rob” was just the right song to help capitalize on what had already been a slow and steady grind on Izzy’s part. The grind continued in 2020, with Izzy dropping two new projects: Invite Only and 24 Hours.
Butch Dawson (West Baltimore)
A constant and influential presence in the city’s DIY music scene, the West Baltimore luminary Butch Dawson has spent over a decade building his fanbase brick by brick. If you juxtapose his most recent albums — 2018’s jazzy Swamp Boy and 2019’s hard hitting Ollieworld — it’s clear his sound exists in multiple lanes at once. This made his spot on JPEGMafia’s sold out 2019 tour ticket more than appropriate. Butch’s music has taken him from Division street to New York Fashion Week, and established him as Baltimore’s underground king. The next phase in his prospering career is right around the corner.
YTK (East Baltimore)
If there was an award for “Best Music to Soundtrack a Road Trip” YTK would be the automatic winner. Spending a lot of time in a space of experimentation early in his career, YTK has developed a penchant for delivering breezy yet emotionally in-tune raps that live amongst the clouds. With his 2020 release, From Grace, For Grace, YTK showcases a number of warm, diligent flows and beautifully easy going production. “Gilligan” is an example of the nimble lyricism he has on tap, while “Roulette (Acoustic)” is a guitar centered reflection on love that shows his desire to sing and his continued dedication to creating outside the box. Couple this with his emerging directorial eye — he directed the video for 4kMicheals’ “Hell” — and you have one of the city’s brightest creative talents.
YG Teck (West Baltimore)
YG Teck stands as one of Baltimore’s most emphatic and compelling voices. Initially garnering attention with his absurdly good 2017 DTLR freestyle, Teck is currently making good on his assertion that he is destined for the top. Eyes Won’t Close 2, the follow up to his 2017 mixtape, is a collection of bombastic records and heartfelt accounts surrounding loss and lessons from his time navigating the streets. The hard hitting bass on “Shootout” can be heard rattling car trunks across the city. On “Laid Out,” an impassioned Teck speaks on the fickleness of the streets and the need to stay grounded, rapping, “Only thing you getting from the streets is ‘send em my love.”
Al Rogers Jr. (West Baltimore)
The multi-hyphenate Al Rogers Jr is a beacon of creativity, style, and positivity. A student of André 3000 and Big Daddy Kane, his raps exude an effortless cool capable of making a Soulquarian’s ears perk up, alongside a bright and gentle singing voice reminiscent of early 2000’s neo-soul. His 2019 release, SwoozyBaby, is a short but comprehensive roadmap for his diverse artistic approach. The live drums and trumpet of “This Ain’t a Love Song” acts as the perfect companion to Al’s musings on love and it’s many “what ifs.” “U Ain’t Shit” lives up to its title, with Al Rogers and Dee Dave diving deep into their womanizer bag.
STEEZA (West Baltimore)
While boom bap may not be Baltimore’s bread and butter, that doesn’t mean there aren’t practitioners of one of hip-hop’s oldest sound residing within the city. Stressing the importance of bars, STEEZA nestles gems on black enlightenment, self discovery, and balance between old vocal samples and spacious yet textured drum loops. Ellipsis, his 2020 released project, acts as a stream of consciousness that stresses the accrual of knowledge and safeguarding of black identity, without treating either as an esoteric concept.
Chris Cassius (East Baltimore)
Versatility will forever be the difference between those who last, and those who fade away. This is something that Chris Cassius has kept in mind since penning his first rhymes at 16. Almost 10 years later, that mentality has resulted in a level of comfort that allows for exploration and proficiency at multiple sounds at once. His 6 Tape Vol 1.5 project delivers on that proficiency, with Chris fearlessly kicking out melodic hooks alongside his impressive rapping. “Thug Life” has Chris and La’Matic exchanging mile-a-minute flows over high-speed production. “Baby Steps,” featuring Scotty Banx, is a heartfelt reflection on survival and what is lost as a result. Catering to multiple audiences at once can be a gamble, but Chris plans to make good on whatever side the dice land on.
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