New York is often considered the quintessential “home” of hip-hop. But New Jersey has always served as a cultural and artistic birthplace centered around community, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
In the last 20 years, Jersey’s music and dance scene have risen from the shadows of bright lights and big cities as a beacon of raw and unfiltered talent. From gospel to jazz to House to hip-hop, there’s so much to uncover historically from the Garden state’s cultural impact. The business-savvy skills of Sylvia Robinson and Sugar Hill Records; the multi-talented Houston-Warwick families; and the gritty lyricism of legendary rap acts like Redman, Lords of the Underground and Rah Digga. There’s the authentic rap-pop blend of mainstream acts Naughty by Nature and Fetty Wap, the prominent Jersey club and House scene from producer Kerri Chandler and DJ Tameil, and the cosmic appeal of Queen Latifah, SZA, and The Fugees with Wyclef and Lauryn Hill that has defined eras of spirited and prolific talent.
It’s these qualities and figures that have created the prototype for a modern cohort of rappers, singers, producers, and entrepreneurs to claim the state’s cultivated throne. New Jersey is on fire and this elite group of dynamic rappers, singers, and producers are blazing a trail to redefine what we consider to be the “new” Jersey scene. Here are 10 New Jersey artists you need to know.
The level of authenticity in Topaz Jones’ artistry allows the stimulating and magical musings of his youth, home, and culture to bloom through the Garden of Jersey’s gifted storytellers. Over the course of the last few years, Topaz Jones has grown into an elite avant-garde narrator; one whose tales of generational trauma, Black culture, and identity have manifested themselves into his art. His most recent album, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, is a sonic depiction of introspection, a homage to his family and the place he calls home. The Montclair native’s journey took off after the release of his 2016 minor hit “Tropicana,” but it’s his most recent short film and album that builds upon the funk, hip-hop-inspired sounds of Parliament-Funkadelic, Childish Gambino, and the Jersey house scene to create an album filled with rich versatility in songwriting and production.
Marcus Ariah’s career has finally started hitting a fever pitch high. Released last year, his EP Mask Up has managed to allure listeners with the melodic single “Pretend” and breezy delivery on “Knowmybody.” His presence on joint album Times Up, with fellow Jersey-native Joe College, highlights Marcus’ diligent flow, compelling tone, and heavily detailed imagery through words. Partnering with his “brothers” Mal, James, and the Goodfellas Co. crew, Marcus is trying to create a legacy for himself and his friends.
Laze Cartel’s raw street tales as a young father hits harder than any pothole on I-280. His in-the-trenches subject matter is advanced by a menacing flow, effortlessly cool demeanor, and brash lyricism that adds a layer of chilling realism to his striking representation of hoods all over North Jersey. There’s the bouncy trap-radio friendly singles “Counted Out” and “Commas.” But there’s also icier album cuts like “4 Designer” and “Any Meanz.” This range showcases the duplexity and versatility entrenched in his inner-city account of never-ending perseverance.
Offering a reflective point of view to his nocturnal, minimalist production and inspired by ’90s rap titans such as Nas, Grand Puba, and The Notorious B.I.G., Joe College is fixated on being a student of the rap game who is forging a lane of his own. In 2021, he and friend Marcus Ariah teamed up to proclaim that Times Up for sleeping on Jersey. Their cinematic and confessional approach allowed for College to thrive on songs such as “Moet Music,” “MNCF,” and “Soul.”
At the intersection of swagger-filled rhymes and trippy narratives of urban survival, there’s beauty that grows along the city’s backdrop. Her name is Jhette and she’s the perfect combination of unadulterated songwriting centered around relationships, inner peace, and Black womanhood. Being from the East coast where women are often portrayed as indifferent and brazen, Jhette finds a sobering balance between transparency, firmness, and the dualism of defining what womanhood means for her. Officially beginning her music career in 2020, she partnered with Jersey songwriters and producers Kernard “Sunlight” Reid, Esai, and Tajir “TJ” Taylor to create her EP Something 4 the Summer. Songs like “Birds” and “It’s Okay” reveal a poignant declaration of independence and self-awareness that’s just in time for Hot Girl Summer activities.
What’s the best way to describe The Loop Group? If N.E.R.D. were from the Southward of Newark. Basing their presence on being “cool and cozy,” Shelt “Shotty” Brown, Dan Battle, and Fah Ahmad’s cultural taste have made them a one-stop-shop for artists in the North and Central Jersey areas. Ahmad serves as a creative director and handles apparel that’s become increasingly popular; “NORK” hoodies and shirts featuring the logo of the now-defunct Newark Bears baseball team. Dan and Shotty use their vast music knowledge and ambition to venture into the music production space. Dan, a rapper and singer himself, focuses on production and live instrumentation as a skilled guitarist. Shelt, DJ and producer, thrives in artist development and uses his study of legends like JAY-Z, Pharrell, and Andre Harrell as a basis for the vision he curates with each project presented to the team.
With consistency, an affinity for creating, and a colorful music palette, Prince Hill is easily one of the most progressive artists out of Jersey. Heavy 808s and genre-bending production allows Prince Hill to flow with ease over trap-club ready songs like “Flood It.” While “80s Track” is akin to a mixture of Cardo Got Wings production with auto-tuned vocals that make it a fun skating rink ready joint. “Biggie,” a song that’s roughly a minute and 30 seconds, leaves you wanting more from the rapper whose style is nearly reminiscent of North Carolina’s Morrary or Houston’s Don Toliver.
Jersey City, NJ
Albee Al has untamed sense of creative freedom that allows him to voice the affliction and suffering of the streets. Throughout the 2010s, Al turned his tribulations and conflicts into music, creating mixtapes like Koba and songs such as “Feeding the Streets,” “Since You Been Away,” and “New Jersey Drive” that flooded the streets while battle rap rose up the ranks in Jersey’s music scene. However, juxtaposed to the rise of his name for his proficient lyricism and intense storytelling are the constant legal dilemmas he’s faced over the years. (He’s currently incarcerated fighting murder charges after a 2019 shooting.)
East Orange and Newark, NJ
The history of Jersey House and Club deserves a full length Netflix documentary of its own. From its roots with DJ Tameil and DJ Tim Dolla (Brick Bandits) to the mainstream appeal of the production from DJ Jayhood, DJ Wallah, and Nadus that has captured the attention of DJ Khaled and Ciara. In an era now run by Tik Tok and viral dance crazes, it seems like the rest of the world is late to the cultural party Baltimore and Jersey has fostered for decades. Jersey’s own Killa Kherk aka Unicorn used his fashion background and well connected image to venture into Jersey’s music scene. He began his career in 2015, but it would be the 2018 hit “Heartbroken Unicorn” that would make him a hometown celebrity with worldwide appeal.
Underneath the heavy veil of toxic masculinity and sexism, women MCs and singers all over Jersey have been thriving, innovating and elevating artistic approaches towards creating music. PineappleCITI is one of them. Her animated videos only further elevate the lyrical content, which is focused on spiritual growth, defeating the odds, and lucid imagination. With the space in hip-hop daily expanding to include more women, it’s important to also make sure it’s vision of a more feminine participation includes those a part of the LGBTQ community — like PineappleCITI, who is gay. The melodic tone, spirited delivery and made for radio friendly tunes like “Dance” and “Balance” exhibit versatility. But, it’s well-crafted and experimental tracks like “Overseas” and “Phoenix” that display how much potential PineappleCITI has to truly blow into something bigger.
Kia Turner is a freelance journalist and music historian from Newark, New Jersey. Managing her album-based series Deconstructing or talking about Pussy Rap, you can find the Hoodaville princess at @ChasingKia on all platforms.
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