Wale released his debut album, Attention Deficit, a decade ago. He’s groused about feeling underappreciated in the past, but here are the bare roses: his rise to mainstream relevance is the undeniable genesis of a DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia rap scene that was rarely a national factor before him. It’s Wale’s versatility that made him the perfect pioneer. Labels saw Wale’s cosmopolitan fashion sense, his ability to hold his own in both ciphers and strip clubs, and wondered what exactly was going on in the DC area.
Ten years later, the area coined as the “DMV” isn’t just a show date. It’s the show. From Grammy-nominated artists Goldlink and Shy Glizzy to cult favorites like Rico Nasty, Fat Trel, and Oddisee, artists from all over “the urrea” have entrenched the DMV rap scene as one to be reckoned with.
Many outsiders misinterpret DMV as a catch-all term that refers to anywhere in DC, Maryland or Virginia. But locally, DMV refers to any area reachable on the DC Metro system, which links the DC metropolitan region. For the sake of spreading love to talented artists, however, those restrictions will be loosened on this list of DMV (and Baltimore) hip-hop artists to get familiar with.
Here are 11 DMV rappers you should know about.
IDK (Prince George’s County)
Before you even knew who IDK was, he was innovating. As Jay IDK, he coined the term “Suburban trap” on his standout SubTRAP mixtape. The term refers to a musical approach fusing trap sonics with substantive lyrical content. After switching his name to simply IDK in 2017, he dropped IWASVERYBAD, a cerebral, trap-influenced project he deemed “the soundtrack of his life” in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The project was matched with a 15-minute visual which chronicled the events leading up to his incarceration for armed robbery at 17. The video, like his growing catalog, was at times grim, chilling and trippy, but suspenseful throughout. He’s set to drop his Is He Real debut album next month.
Q Da Fool (Largo)
Q Da Fool, from Largo, Maryland, is at the top of the heap when it comes to delivering gritty, unadulterated street tales. His matter-of-fact, in-the-trenches storytelling on projects like 100 Round Goon and the recently released Bad Influence with Kenny Beats radiates an evocative authenticity that all the trap greats before him were gifted — or cursed — with. Q signed to Roc Nation last year, who will likely work hard to get him rhymer a bigger platform for his gritty bangers. Also, if you want to know what “the DMV flow” sounds like, Q Da Fool employs it smoothly on tracks like “For Real” and “FAX.”
Chelly The MC (Washington, D.C.)
Chelly The MC is perhaps most known for “Northeast Baby,” an ode to her quadrant of DC. But the young rapper is steadily improving her craft, as she displayed on 2018’s aptly-titled Halfway There EP. Chelly’s delivering the grimey, unapologetic music that puts her next to a slew of rappers dishing bold subversive declarations like “Never Green’s” “you’s a friendly ass nigga and I like my niggas mean.” The other half of her equation for stardom is for more people to realize that her catalog isn’t just the perfect soundtrack to a “hot girl summer.” She feeds the streets with an impassioned delivery and well-crafted storytelling like 2013’s “Set Em Up,” a track that’s about exactly what the title suggests.
YBN Cordae (Suitland)
It’s not often that Dr. Dre has reached out to this young generation of artists to help collaborate on new music (look out for Detox). But YBN Cordae got that weighty stamp last summer. It’s likely that Dre, likely many others in the know, are fans of Cordae’s thoughtful, palatable lyricism, best displayed on his “Old Niggas” response to J. Cole’s “1985.” Tracks like his Cole rebuttal, “Target,” and “Bad Idea” featuring Chance The Rapper mark the Suitland, Maryland-raised MC as the outlier of the YBN crew, a stable of young artists usually focused on either menacing or turning up. Cordae can do the latter when he wants, but his songwriting ability and thematic versatility is what makes him a name to watch.
Young Moose (Baltimore)
It’s somewhat surprising to see that Young Moose is just 25. Perhaps it’s the legal woes beget by the saga of him vs. former Baltimore Police Department officer Daniel Hersl that frame him as a weathered OG when he’s in the same age range as other young upstarts on this list. Moose, locally deemed the “Baltimore Boosie,” is a cult hero in Baltimore. His acclaim isn’t just about his gruff delivery or the pain rap displayed in his Out The Mud mixtape series, but because he called out Baltimore police corruption years before seven officers, including Hersl — who he called out on 2014’s “Tired” — were convicted of racketeering in 2017. Hersl’s shameless targeting of Moose derailed his career, but now he has more freedom to reap the benefits of being a pioneer of a scene of hungry, oppressed Baltimore rappers with something to say about a negligent system and its perilous consequences.
XanMan (The Landover)
XanMan is nothing short of a phenom in the DMV, and it seems like a matter of time before the rest of the country is on his wave. The Landover, Maryland artist delivers gun-toting lyrics like many of his generational peers, but his character shines through the nihilism with humorous witticisms and nonsequiturs stacked atop the often booming production on tracks like ”point,” “PINK,” and other “Xanstyles.” But the prolific artist is at his most impressive when he lets his melodies shine through in Luther Xandross mode on tracks like “Gucci Down” and the recently released “Midnight,” where he harmonizes over dreary guitars. Last year the 18-year-old was the beneficiary of a #FreeXan movement, which led people to flock to his catalog and catapulted him onto a new plateau. Hopefully, from here on out, it will just be the music that helps him ascend.
Abdu Ali (Baltimore)
Baltimore artist Abdu Ali can’t be contained. They rap, but they also harmonize and straight-up belt anthemic affirmations throughout a diverse catalog that culls inspiration from hip-hop, punk, jazz and more. Twenty Sixteen’s MONGO album was a fiery, cathartic work that voiced the fury and self-reflective reckoning many Black people went through in the wake of the 2015 Baltimore uprising. Their electronic leaning FIYAH!! album is perfectly titled, as they show not only their experimental ambition, but the ability to concisely explore themes of self-love, acceptance, and romance. Abdu has said they aimed to “embrace all of the facets of my identity but not let those paradigms build chains around my artistic vision” on the 14-track album. Their thoughtful music exemplifies that sometimes resistance isn’t merely about vocalizing that you’re resisting but having the courage to vocalize in the first place.
Jermaine Dupri recently made some foolish comments about today’s top rappers who are women being nothing more than “stripper rappers.” It would seem like common sense would remind JD that he does a show which features plenty of talented women rappers, but common sense isn’t all that common when it comes to thinly veiled misogynoir. Before JD was doing damage control, he was giving talented artists like Deetranada a shot on his The Rap Game show. Since her appearance on Season three, the Baltimore has stayed busy, releasing her AND YES I MEAN EVERYBODY project last year.
Ras Nebyu (Washington, D.C.)
Ras Nebyu and the Slizzards movement is one to be reckoned with in the DMV. The Ethiopian-American rapper is one of the area’s most versatile acts, just as adept at turning up with Rico Nasty on “Thirsty Packman” as he is getting philosophical on the spiritually tinged “Proper Livin.” Ras’ latest album is titled Uptown Lion Walkin, a project in which he contextualizes how his lineage affects his day-to-day and delves into social and cultural commentary over a suite of smooth, soulful beats that evoke a variety of moods.
Ciscero (Prince George’s County)
The Maryland artist occupies a lane of soulful, incisive raps like few others in the region. Unlike most gifted lyricists with a knack for soul production, he has an intriguing malleability with his approach, as evidenced by tracks like “On Track,” the bouncy “Bite Down” with fellow DMV artist Black Fortune — who just missed the list — and “Same Clothes As Yesterday” from Goldlink’s At What Cost album. He recently tweeted an implication that he’s working on a new project, which will help him further entrench himself as one of the artists who define the soul of the DMV.
Odd Mojo (Capitol Heights)
Odd Mojo describes herself on Twitter as a “hip-hop artist/emcee/rapper/whateverthefuckIwannacallmyself.” One listen to 2017’s Channel Yo Mojo album demonstrates that not only is she a talented MC, but that the journey to defining herself wasn’t easy. “Sticky Notes” is a standout song from the nine-track album, and she delivered new relevance for the reflective, affirmatory song with a recent video to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The song is indicative of her deeply confessional catalog, as she explores “insecurities, anxieties” over a jazzy, minimalist production. She hasn’t been as prolific as some of her contemporaries in recent times, but she’s nonetheless an artist to watch.
Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.
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