Akron, Ohio is a factory town just south of Cleveland. There are two reasons for Akron’s hard luck. One is industrial restructuring, which blew a hole in the city’s tax base. The other is a vicious austerity regime, carried out jointly by Republicans and Democrats over the course of 50 years.
Needless to say, the version of Akron put forth in a Tucker Carlson monologue doesn’t accord with reality. This is not a city of stouthearted white people who would be living high on the hog were it not for the evil machinations of Black and brown folk.
Akron is on the mend — has been since 2003 when a certain two-sport high school phenom was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Today that West Akron kid is the world’s most exalted athlete. But even before LeBron James gave the place a good name, Akron had a quietly flourishing hip-hop scene.
Akron hip-hop evolved codependently with the mob music scene in Northern California. Akron and the Bay Area are still joined at the hip, but their deeply interlocked supply chain was interrupted by the 2015 murder of The Jacka, a pioneering NorCal rapper who shepherded many Akron rappers.
The list below points to a generational schism. There are young Akron rappers of every philosophical orientation. Some are “trap” rappers; others are “conscious” rappers. But most want nothing to do with the mournful, celestial funk of mob music. (Which is not to say mob music has gone anywhere; it hasn’t.)
Here are 10 Akron rappers you should check for.
Another year, another brutal summation of the carceral experience. Ampichino’s latest jailhouse blues rendering is Quarantine Part 2, his 16th solo album. Quarantine Part 2 will have you clutching your pillow — partly in sheer terror, partly in thanks for what you don’t have to put up with every day.
A keenly observant memoirist, Chino is best known for his work with deceased Bay Area legend The Jacka. Together they made three great albums (the Devil Rejectz trilogy) and countless great songs, all the while gallantly withstanding the challenges inherent in any long-distance friendship.
Ren Fetti is the hardest rapper you’ve probably never heard of. He raps with the subtlety of a hydraulic jackhammer. Whereas Ampichino is a doctrinaire professional — a professional in the literal sense; he treats rap like a 9-to-5 job — Fetti gives the impression of someone with one foot in the game and one foot out. He can never leave the street life fully behind because he’s too used to it.
How to describe Fetti’s production? You could call it sample-heavy, demonically amped-up robo-soul, interspersed with glum church bells and flecks of acoustic guitar. With Fetti, there’s no ying to cancel out the yang. His beats are as boisterous as he is.
Young Bossi wrings truth and beauty from the juxtaposition of divergent forces. You can catch him superimposing the vilest possible threats on top of the tweest possible instrumentals. On “Funny Business,” he is rapping over wispy harpsichord plucks: “We ain’t doin’ drive-bys; we doin’ walk-ups/Tryna get your bread right? Nigga, boss up/We at your mama front door tryna off her.”
Notice his preferred pronoun (“we” instead of “I”). Every so often Bossi is murdered on his own shit; he’s yet to get the better of frequent collaborator Gap, an Akron rapper with a much more conspicuous vocal presence. But it’s always in pursuit of a higher goal. Bossi is a team player who wants Akron rappers to flourish no matter the cost to him personally. In 2018, he curated “Authentic,” one of the toughest posse cuts in recent history.
Flames OhGod gives new meaning to the phrase, “Get it out the mud.” His videos — many of them filmed in disheveled, muck-splattered parking lots — are extra low-budget and knowingly silly. Fortunately, OhGod has much to offer beyond his constricted visual imagination. He’s got a gruff, booming voice (like 8Ball if 8Ball were a creature of the Flats).
The other cool thing about OhGod is that he’s emancipated from competitive pressures in the marketplace. He refuses to adopt an offbeat flow despite having every incentive to do so. (That flow has become popular with Akron rappers.) In fact, OhGod’s beat-riding abilities are second to none. Check out his limber, wiggly flow on “Rolling Loud.”
Everything about D.Hilla — from the squawking timbre of his voice to the bobbing cadence of his verses to his shoulder-length dreads to his teetotaling lifestyle — suggests Lil Durk as a vicarious role model. To that end, songs like “Freddy Krueger Flannel”and “Say My Name” are in the Durkian tradition of Auto-Tuned sing-speak.
Hilla’s ear for beats is another matter entirely. That shit is anything but derivative or negligible. “Soulless” sounds like a trapified “Mr. Ice Cream Man”; the beat evinces melancholy, succeeding where Hilla’s vocal does not. And anyone who lives in a high-rise will recognize “Leanin Freestyle [You Know]” from that vibrating sound your building makes in high winds.
Before he moved up North, Floco was the grand poobah of an otherwise desolate Macon, Georgia hip-hop scene. His best-known song, “Cherry Street,” has the propagandic sheen of a tourism jingle, with its perky piano line, martial drums, and metronomic strings.
Floco’s rapping style is prim, proper, syllabically generous, and largely obscenity-free. Back in the halcyon days of pre-pandemic America, Floco would sometimes perform with the backing of a live orchestra. More recently he’s been overheard rocking an MC5 sample. His ambitions transcend genre, but Flacco is, by his own diagnosis, a painfully average schmuck. “I book my own shows and I make my own coffee,” he raps on his 2017 EP, Again.
Hecava Mecca’s 2020 LP, Young God, exhumes the spirit of late-’90s neo-soul. Low-pass filter on the drums? Check. Orotund, syncopated basslines? Check. Flavorsome vocals? Check. An unreconstructed disdain for Eurocentric beauty standards? Check.
If she ever ran for office, Mecca would find herself enmeshed in frivolous litigation and struggling for ballot access. She wants to fight white supremacy, but not necessarily on terms acceptable to the Black political leadership or the US security state. Think of Young God as an unfolding love letter to the Nation of Islam and the wider Pan-African movement. “Joshua (His Song)” literally credits Louis Farrakhan for having waged “the battle of Jericho.”
Every city needs a Scarface. King Locust, a streetwise Gen Xer who’s been putting in work since at least 2001. (There’s footage of a durag-wearing LeBron James vibing to “Factor,” one of Locust’s earliest tracks.) Locust has long since established a covenant with God. Part rapper, part faith leader, he’s in the business of communicating absolute truths. And he has a voluminous baritone to match the clergylike rhetoric.
Once you’ve heard “Blood on My Hands,” a layered synth cacophony with some delectably cheesy add-ons — like blooz guitar — you’ve heard most of Mack Bloan, Locust’s ever-so-cinematic new album. Out-of-town listeners beware: Locust is the most Akron motherfucker of all-time. It’ll take some light research to appreciate his music in all its regional splendor. (Only a local would recognize Dumas Meats as the name of a metro Akron farm market.)
Minus the Alien is a force of nature: a jazzista; a locally recognized communitarian; a purveyor of short films; and a body-positive role model for the huskier among us. He even has a toehold in the NGO sector.
As you can probably surmise from “Organic,” Alien is a sweet-natured lover boy, but there’s more to him than that. His mixtape from last fall, The Evolution Will Be Televised, demonstrates a flair for the dialectic; on the tape, he trades quips and observations with female rapper La Butterfly (herself multitalented).
Looking at Shakur Moss, there’s not a lot to drink in. Unlike his glamorous namesake, Shakur is the archetypal street rapper: bony, heavy-lidded, and slightly stooped, with brow-grazing dreadlocks. But don’t get caught up in appearance. Despite his diffident exterior, Shakur has friends in high places, and can adapt to accentuate their vibe. On “Kind of Nigga” and “I Ain’t Gonna Lie,” he shows out alongside Mozzy and Sada Baby, respectively.
It is axiomatic that the best poets are anal retentive. That’s certainly true of Shakur. Even when he’s shooting from the hip, his words reflect a careful consideration. “Keep the ratchet on me like a thot bitch/Square-ass niggas get boxed quick/I’m a mophead with a mopstick,” he raps on his 2020 debut, Poetic Justice.
M.T. Richards is a Chicago-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Consequence of Sound, Brooklyn magazine, City Pages and other publications.
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