Despite pronouncements from such hardcore thug digests as The New Yorker that 2009 was the year that hip-hop finally, spastically, died, you'd be hard pressed to find proof of rigor mortis in Nashville's underground rap scene. With new joints dropping from old favorites like All Star, Kidsmeal and Quiet Entertainer, and young kids droppin' hot shit left and right, this year saw a flurry of activity from the city's beat freaks. The sounds range from pop to hardcore, backpack to electro and the classic Southern style—proving that Music City is not ready to sign off on hip-hop's toe tag just yet. Here are four artists at the forefront.
Future the Unknown
It's hard to talk about Nashville's new school without mentioning Future the Unknown. Best known as the frontman for local live-rap troupe The Biscuits N Gravy Band and for the two mixtapes of clean-cut, positive hip-hop he released in 2006-7, Future came into his own as an artist this year. Starting with The Sci Fly EP—six songs of electro-influenced, club-banging rap that isn't afraid to indulge his affections—and then followed by six (count 'em, six!) volumes of the Overnight Mixtape series—a mammoth undertaking that finds Future running roughshod through the late summer's Top 40 and freestylin' like no fool had ever touched them tracks—this was the year the Unknown conquered Music City. Future also gets a big huzzah for introducing us to the super fresh skills of Open Mic, the city's best hype man and a talented artist in his own right. As of press time we hadn't heard about any plans for the twenty-ten, but if this dynamic duo keeps on track we can probably expect 8 bajillion units of dope material in the coming months.
Already on our radar for next year is Japanese Lunchbox, the first solo record from MC Chancellor Warhol of NOBOTS (No Other Band Offers This Sound). Their four-track demo of amped-up electro has been banging in our ride for months, so we're a wee bit anxious about getting some new tunes from these talented artists—one or both, it doesn't matter, we just want it. That shit is tight. Early indicators show the Chancellor moving into more nuanced territory, broadening the spectrum of sounds from four-on-the-floor, bass-for-ya-face party jams like "Rock Her" and "Dance, Dance" to more atmospheric, heady rump shakers like "Comatose" and "In a Dream." Not content with just keeping the fresh jams pumpin', Chancellor Warhol's also been hard at work on his Marti Mcfli clothing line featuring retro-futurist T-shirts for the discerning hipster.
King D and DJ Jimmy Neutron
Down I-24 a bit, the new hotness is coming from the place you'd least expect it—high school. Fifteen-year-old King D and his partner DJ Jimmy Neutron have been chillin' in the Boro working up classic, Southern-style hardcore rap that, frankly, gives the genre some freshness that's been missing for a while. And though they aren't breaking much in the way of new ground, they do have a grasp on songcraft and quality control that the average rapper twice their age lacks. King D has the authoritative timbre and self confidence to make you believe he's been running the hip-hop game since Kool Herc hooked up his first system—even though that would be, oh, 20 years before he was born. The duo's debut mixtape The New Generation Vol. 1 is an airtight exhibit of young, energetic artists with skills to spare and hints at the monster sounds that we can expect in the future.
New Block Order
Less of a musical group and more like a sovereign nation, the sprawling 15-plus member New Block Order collective is a loose association of rappers, disc jockeys, producers and graphic designers hell bent on doin' their own damn thing—on any given night, one if not all of the members are probably rockin' a stage in the 615. Their sound is grimy and dark, with thick, meaty synth stabs over Jeep-beat kick drums, lending credence to the MCs' hard-as-hell tales of street life. All veterans of Nashville's hip-hop scene, MCs187-Blitz, Ha Himself, Top Notch, 28, et al. speak with authority rather than the artifice of so many rappers hoping to get a ghetto pass to the top of the charts—these cats aren't frontin' to get famous, they're just tellin' you how it is. In their solo work, each artist is as likely to drop a bangin' back-pack joint as crunk club cut, which makes this crew an endless font of freshness.