Hometown: Chicago, IL
True to the title of “Pissed Me Off,” Shoebox Baby arrives on the sinister beat sounding mad as hell. “This not no diss track, it’s just a evil ass song,” he clarifies early on, as the towering beat stands tall behind him. Shoebox Baby is the latest rapper from Chicago’s Parkway Gardens—the home of Chief Keef, King Von, and more—to catch a buzz. The neighborhood has produced its share of stars over the past decade, and Shoebox Baby sounds perfectly suited for the moment, shifting between animated yelling and hoarse whispering on a track that’s a statement in itself.
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
There’s something about the spare, twinkling piano melody of SleazyWorld Go’s “Sleazy Flow” that lends itself to menacing raps. The instrumental for the song has been used by up-and-coming Chicago rappers to similar effect, and has also been repurposed for a Philly club-inspired rap track that somehow still sounds equally as threatening. Though SleazyWorld Go’s version starts out with shots sent toward his enemies, the Kansas City rapper soon veers into another territory that hints at his sense of humor and range. On the last line of the song, he memorably references a clothing brand no one has heard from in years: “Once I get my nut off, bitch, I’m skatin’ like some TRUKFIT.”
Hometown: Providence, RI
Though he’s been making music for several years now, LA-via-Rhode Island artist JELEEL! seems to have recently become a fan favorite online due to his appearance—he’s extremely muscular and tends to rip his shirt off and scream his name, which has become a sort of meme. The music itself also, at times, presents a funny contrast to his physique. On tracks like “JULY!,” his voice is pitched up, creating a disorienting effect when the visuals and audio are put together. His most recent single “RAIN ON YOU!” is a pretty straightforward rage beat affair and JELEEL! does what he does best: bring the energy.
Hometown: Columbia, SC
Litty Vuitton’s “Velocity” begins as a love song for the internet rap era. What’s more romantic than talking about waking up next to each other over a Pi’erre Bourne type beat? The South Carolina artist reels the listener in with her Auto-Tune melodies before taking the song to a new place altogether: she pitches her voice up until it’s almost a high-pitched squeak and raps the second verse in Spanish, finally bringing it all back to where it began with the song’s irresistible hook.
Hometown: London, UK
You’ve probably heard this song by now, either on TikTok or on the radio. It’s an objectively catchy song made for viral success: its sample is taken from a remix trend involving Bruno Mars’ “To The Moon” with drill’s skittering drum pattern laid underneath. London model-turned-artist Jnr Choi provides a familiar-sounding vocal that hints at drill’s more recent breakthrough with the late Pop Smoke in New York as well as its growing international appeal. “To The Moon” seems to signal that even as it continues to be a hot topic in misguided discussions of violent crime, for better or worse, drill is becoming absorbed by the mainstream in a completely different context.
Hometown: Johnstown, PA
As the last two decades of rap history have shown us, producers tend to have a different sensibility when it comes to stepping out from behind the boards and getting on the mic. Eem Triplin is mostly known for producing songs like “REVENGE” and “STRANDED *” for Florida rapper $NOT. On his own breakout track “AWKWARD,” Eem Triplin clearly has a penchant for putting a catchy, internet-friendly song together; there’s humming, heartbreak, pitch changes, and beat that samples Tyler, The Creator’s 2013 track of the same name. “AWKWARD” might be getting the most attention so far, but the Pennsylvania artist’s growing solo catalog seems to suggest he’s more than just a beatmaker.
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Kenzo Balla first began gaining traction in the Bronx’s increasingly crowded drill scene with a collection of features before setting out on his own at the end of 2021 with “Let Me Know,” a song that coasts off a sample from one of the past year’s biggest global hits in CKay’s “Love Nwantiti.”
Like other drill artists before him, who first found their footing on group tracks before carrying songs themselves, Kenzo Balla has quickly found his, relying on familiar samples to buoy him like many in the scene. The original version of his latest release, “Pray 4 Me,” included a sample from Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity,” but the official version instead includes a similar string melody that lends the song a recognizable but somewhat distinct flair. Kenzo Balla’s commanding voice makes the new single an immediate standout.
Hometown: Broward County, FL
Draft Day is the Broward County-born recent signee to Lil Yachty’s Concrete Boyz label. The two rappers have contrasting styles and inflections and they tend to complement each other well on tracks. After connecting on the uptempo “Demon Time,” from Yachty’s Lil Boat 3.5, in 2020, the duo has slowed down the pace on their latest team-up, “How Far Will I Go.” Over a smooth sample beat, Draft Day delves into his family history and his own ups and downs, before passing it off to Yachty to complete the come-up narrative.
Hometown: Houston, TX
Guapo introduced himself to the world last year with “Mr. Put It On,” a swaggering anthem for anyone looking for a little extra motivation to get dressed in the morning. “SRT,” the Houston rapper’s recent follow-up single, sees him joining forces with fellow Houstonian OTB Fastlane. Guapo opens the song picking up where he left off—“Every day I put on all this drip just to go trapping”—and brings a lackadaisical flow to the song’s ominous instrumental, before trading off bars with a more turnt up-sounding OTB Fastlane to great effect.
Hometown: Memphis, TN
Memphis is the origin of much of the lo-fi sound that online rap has adopted over the last decade or more, so it’s only right that staysie atoms continues in her hometown’s rap tradition. But with her conversational song titles (one recent track is called “I GET SUPER FLY TO GO GET GAS ON EVERY WEEKEND”) and cover art often lifted from video games and cartoons, it’s clear that, perhaps more than anything, staysie atoms’ main influence is the internet itself. In that vein, clicking play on one of her songs can be a grab bag of vocal pitches, flows, and tempos. On “SHEESH,” the spaced-out, bedroom sound of her vocals makes for an interesting contrast with her braggadocious lines.
By Ben Dandridge-Lemco for Audiomack