For many young rap fans, “boom bap” is a dirty term, associated with dusty beats, old heads, and the wave of the past. Everyone from pseudo-journalistic “pundits” to rap artists themselves have written off traditional hip-hop as passé as if boom bap no longer has a place in rap’s future.
Frankly, that type of thinking is trash. Love it or hate it, boom bap is here to stay.
Even with Future and Drake dominating the airwaves and rap moving in dozens of new directions, and even with NY artists like A$AP Rocky and Desiigner proving that outside influences are welcome, boom bap still rules in hip-hop’s birthplace. And no, it’s not just established legends from the golden era holding it down for that classic sound.
Here are 10 young, hungry, and innovative underground rappers from New York City keeping the boom bap tradition alive.
Chris Rivers (@OnlyChrisRivers)
Rivers is hip-hop royalty, the son of the late, great legend Big Pun. But far from leaning on lineage, Chris Rivers has made a name for himself in the indie scene as an elite spitter that could go toe to toe with any MC from any era.
His two projects from 2016, Medicated Consumption 1 and 2, are filled with old school production that showcases Rivers’ elite technical skills. With some recent high profile radio spots and a handful of notable cyphers under his belt, Rivers is on the come up and getting better and better with every drop.
Brooklyn may be the most storied locale in hip-hop’s history and there’s no shortage of dope rappers from Biggie’s borough making powerful music today. While he doesn’t yet have anywhere near the name recognition that he deserves, Radamiz may just be the nicest of the bunch.
With his 2016 release Writeous, Radamiz put together one of the most cohesive projects from front-to-back to come out of New York’s underground scene in a minute. Radamiz does it all, from flashy double-time flows to deeply introspective writing, and he isn’t afraid to mix in trappier influences to complement his predominately boom bap sound.
Hailing from Harlem, Crimdella is one of the more political and culture-forward MCs on our list. His music is firmly rooted in African-American history and the struggle for black liberation, with rhymes reminiscent of the “conscious” strain of traditional New York hip-hop.
Far from sounding dated or stuck in the past, Crimdella has wholeheartedly embraced modern, trap-influenced sounds on his most recent drops. Don’t get it twisted, though: from cadences and patterns down to the drum samples, all of Crimdella’s music is deeply rooted in boom bap's storied tradition.
Marlon Craft (@marloncraftny)
A buzzing prodigy among a recent wave of young, talented, retro-inspired MCs, Marlon Craft has already caught our ear. Bar for bar, this 24-year-old from Hell’s Kitchen has already proven he belongs in the discussion for hottest underground spitter in NYC.
Thanks to a breakout year in 2016, Craft won TeamBackPack’s annual “Mission Underground” MC competition and gained a head-spinning amount of online traction with a spree of viral Facebook videos. It’ll be exciting to see if Craft can transform that youthful energy and technical virtuosity into a quality catalog of music.
Ever since Kendrick pulled him onstage during a late 2016 concert, the artist formerly known as YC the Cynic has steadily built up a nice buzz as a thoughtful, deeply intellectual MC. Just one listen to any of his recent releases—like his 2016 album Negus—and it becomes abundantly clear why the Kendrick co-sign was certainly deserved.
Like many of the other artists on our list, Kemba isn’t shy about diverging from the formula of golden era boom bap sounds, flowing over 808s and trap patterns with ease. But again, the boom bap backbone is impossible to miss, even with the mix of modern production Kemba integrates.
Oswin Benjamin (@oswinbenjamin)
Press play on his new project Hueman, and it’s immediately clear that Oswin Benjamin has an X-factor that could take him far. Sway certainly seemed to think so, which is why he recently brought Oswin into the studio to rap for Big Sean and prove his skills.
Oswin has some very dense content that certainly appeals to more backpack, hardcore lyrical heads, but he complements his complex bars with a variety of creative flows that are more widely approachable. Having already demonstrated a wide versatility both content and delivery wise, we're excited to see how he mixes up his sound and innovates his style further in the weeks and months ahead.
Keysha Freshh (@freekeysha)
She’s currently based in Toronto, but Keysha Freshh’s music drips vintage New York, which makes sense since she grew up in the boroughs and has her artistic roots there. With a powerful and aggressive delivery, Keysha’s take on boom bap is high octane fire.
2016’s In Samadhi EP garnered Keysha recognition stateside on the blogs and on underground hip-hop stations, but it’s clear that she hasn’t even come close to hitting her ceiling. As a member of the all-female Toronto underground supergroup The Sorority, Keysha is taking over the Six’s indie scene on the strength of a sound that’s traditional boom bap in it’s purest form.
Don Mykel (@_donmykel)
Another TeamBackPack cypher alumni who has been making a name for himself in NYC for years, Don Mykel has a flow that’s incredibly energetic and truly innovative. Mykel also has a very unique voice, which makes it easier to stay locked in and focused on his often dense bars.
Mykel possesses an intangible New York City hunger that has driven so many to success in the past, and he’s definitely got the talent to make a career in hip-hop in his own right. So far, he’s yet to drop the right project to break out of the underground, but he’s got plenty of time left for his crossover moment.
Hardcore underground heads who have been following the state of the NYC scene since Pro Era’s come up recognize Dyme-A-Duzin, thanks to his early association with Joey, CJ Fly and Steez. Today he’s signed to Atlantic, but hasn’t managed to make a splash commercially.
Much like Pro Era’s success, Dyme-A-Duzin’s major label deal proves there’s a place in the mainstream machine still for boom bap artists representing traditional New York style. While the exact size of that place is still to be determined, if Joey’s success is any indication, boom bap and album sales aren’t mutually exclusive.
Loaf Muzik (@LOAFMUZIK)
New York’s always been a bastion of hip-hop done crew style, and Loaf Muzik’s four-MC collective proudly carries on this tradition. All of the samples and sounds on their tracks are vintage boom bap, but the rhyme patterns are denser and the beats have a younger, wavier feel.
A perfect example of classic sounds meets modern energy, Loaf Muzik brings something fresh and different to the table when each MC plays off of one another. As long as they can keep the releases coming and keep growing on each track, the sky’s the limit for Loaf Muzik.
Hip-hop’s future is uncertain, and trying to predict where this culture and music is headed is foolish. However, it’s clear that there’s still a place in the current rap landscape for classic boom bap and the traditional aesthetic rooted in the history and music of New York City.
As long as young artists like the ten above keep innovating, and keep pushing the ways that the boom bap umbrella can meet modern sounds and contemporary lyricism, there’s always going to be a place for the vintage roots of hip-hop in rap’s evolution.
By Cassidy Kakin. Follow him on Twitter.