With a mass influx of new rappers coming and going in the past few years, it’s a rare occurrence to witness (and experience) a truly masterful emcee among all the chaos. What makes an emcee masterful? To me, it’s the intersection of an artist’s lyrical content, live show and overall image. It’s 2014. You may or may not agree with the current landscape of rappers capitalizing the charts and websites, but if you’re a real hip-hop advocate you know the underground is where it’s at.
But we all know how hard it is to get listeners to give something new a chance; so in an ongoing series, I will be choosing five slept-on underground artists from each state (yes, every state) that deserve to be heard based on their talent level, work ethic and consistency, starting with my home state, Massachusetts.
MA is a state that rarely gets recognized for its independent artist achievements, and that’s just a shame. If rap was a power source, the amount of talent flowing through the Boston area alone could generate enough energy for an EMP to wipe out every robot rapper on the planet. It’s about time for MA to stand out. So take a brief moment to check out the MA artists highlighted below whose talent has been nonchalantly creeping in the shadows for too long – Bakari, Notoriety, Cassius The 5th, Ofats and Xcel.
Bakari (Boston, MA)
Have you ever logged onto Facebook the morning after a local hip-hop show and caught a picture of yourself staring straight at the artist on stage, as if nothing could come between the two of you? The room almost feels empty, as if they are speaking directly to you. This pretty much sums up my experience every time I have the pleasure of seeing Boston’s Bakari JB rock the mic. His music, and more specifically his live shows, have a way of captivating the audience and not letting them turn away. Conscious rappers in this day and age are few and far between, so when one is found, it’s our responsibility as hip-hop purists to spread the word and create awareness. His most recent album is entitled “Fear and Desire” and is aptly titled, giving you a hint at who Bakari is, even before you listen to his music. The kid’s got energy for days, supports anyone who breathes hip-hop and even uses his spare time to setup and host community events on the side. A strong work ethic is a trait that can’t be compared to any others. With the internet and other widely available resources at the world’s fingertips, it’s a rare occurrence to have an independent rapper in 2014 who puts in work, to further their career; on AND off the computer. Bakari is passionate about his music, his fans and his image – exactly what an artist’s profile should encompass.
Notoriety (Brockton, MA)
Notoriety is a two-man duo comprised of rapper Vydle Sinez and rapper/singer/beatboxer Incredible Chuck, hailing from Brockton, MA. The pair have been making strides in and around the east coast since early 2009, eventually touring in 2012 and even performing at Fenway Park in 2014. Notoriety has worked with such mainstays as DJ Statik Selektah, Rapper Big Pooh (of Little Brother), CR The Beast, Wordsmith, Joe Scudda and more. Notoriety is consistent, to say the least. The music is always flowing, but never overloaded. Delivering positive messages about community, race and equality is their motif, but they also know how to make a damn good party song. Notoriety’s back and forth boom-bap stylings have been compared by some to that of Outkast, which is crazy but somehow makes sense after listening. It’s not easy being a hip-hop duo in today’s music world, but Notoriety does an excellent job balancing simple/straight-up Hip Hop, with soul music, beatboxing and golden-era samples.
Cassius The 5th (Dorchester, MA)
Whew. That’s the only way to start off the rundown on Dorchester, MA emcee Cassius The 5th. She truly is the total package, a queen of the modern day stage. From her unique and flawless fashion sense to her fuego rhyming style, Cassius has been storming her way through the MA scene since she came out in 2011. She is well known throughout the city for her lyrical ability and fun-loving personality. Cassius continuously infuses soul and hip-hop together on her tracks, giving listeners something unexpected every time. Not Kim, not Foxy, Cassius – original. There seems to have been a recent influx of female emcees these past few years, and I’m not complaining one bit…when they’re talented. Cassius The 5th puts in work, but flies under most radars at the same time. Not sure how this occurs, so I’m bringing her to your attention now. A fly female who actually has some content in her lyrics? Yes, please. Cassius is true to her heritage and conveys this thoroughly in her music. Did I mention she does all this while being a single mother? Get hip.
Most recent project: Diamond in the Dirt Vol. 2
Ofats (Jamaica Plain, MA)
You know that guy around town that everybody loves…even if they've never met him? That guy is Ofats. Jamaica Plain isn’t a big city in MA, but one of its star emcees, Ofats, has enough passion and energy to fuel it for years to come. He is full of witty and comical bars but also evokes some pretty powerful messages as well. Ofats is everybody’s best friend and everybody’s worst enemy. He’ll hop on a track with you and smile in the studio, but when he hits the booth it’s all business. Still not sold? The man also works closely with Ma Dukes, the mother of J Dilla, as the Boston ambassador for the late producer’s foundation. That alone gives you some insight to who Ofats is and how his music sounds. Rap is easy, anyone can do it. BUT, not just anyone can be talented at it and have a fanbase. Ofats has had a major one growing for a few years now, listen to some of his music and you’ll hear why.
Xcel (Battle rapper) (Brockton, MA)
If you’ve been living under a rock you might not be aware that battle rap has taken over the internet. This isn’t a phenomena, it’s something to be acknowledged with pride. Battle rapping was once one of the basic/core events in the culture, but at some point faded away from getting mainstream attention. Why is that? Brockton, MA battle rapper Xcel has been doing his thing lately, quickly rising within the ranks of his competition and taking down all those who stand in his way. You’ll never question his authenticity and his original punchlines are philosophical/comedic gold. That’s a deep statement to describe a battle rapper, right? You obviously don’t know the skinny. Listen to Xcel and it won’t sound so extreme.
Notable Battle: Versus Daylyt
Hip-hop didn’t die, it’s underground - alive and well. Keep rolling with us as we hit all 50 states...
[By Matt Whitlock, he does all things hip-hop. This is his Twitter.]