Who are the best underground rappers? It’s completely normal to ask this question if you’re sick of mainstream hip-hop music. Sometimes the best stuff is not on the radio, and it doesn’t matter who’s the most famous artist on Spotify. Because that’s not how art works. You don’t like a particular type of food just because everybody else eats it, right?
That’s our point.
In the rap industry, many talented performers are not in the spotlight. The truth is they don’t need to be. These artists already have solid and loyal fanbases. Their concert venues are full-packed every time they perform, too.
But the most important thing here is the essence. Many of the mainstream rappers are plain lazy. They can create five different albums and offer you the same substance in each one of them. It’s pretty evident when you are doing it only for the money, isn’t it? You just lose interest at some point. That’s the moment when your creativity hits rock bottom, too.
That’s when we usually start to look at the best underground rappers. These men and women are doing it for the art. They are inspired, creative and different. The message is strong, and they put their soul into it. They stick to the principles of rap music – to create a mutiny with your lyrics.
Here we present 10 of the top underground rappers of all time.
Born as Sean Daley, Slug is a part of the successful and critically-acclaimed rap duo Atmosphere. He’s also a co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment – one of the most talented record labels in hip-hop history.
Slug is known for the masterful self-reflection in his music, built by his clever rhyming, creativity, and eagerness for introspection. He’s one of the rappers who are brilliant in expressing their emotions and, generally speaking – not afraid of being themselves. Listening to Slug’s music is like getting to know him in his journey and understanding him better as a person.
Atmosphere released their debut album, Overcast! in 1997, and they are still active today. Don’t miss to hear Slug’s joint albums with another underground legend – Murs. They are pretty good, too. Could someone argue that Slug is one of the amazing underground rappers?
Best songs: “Sunshine,” “Always Coming Back Home to You,” “F**k you Lucy,” “Smart Went Crazy,” “4:30 AM”
Member of the legendary underground group Jedi Mind Tricks, Vinnie Paz, is one of the hardest and most brutal rappers you can hear in your life. Rougher than you can imagine, the Philadelphia-based underground hero will amaze you with his lyrical ability and knowledge about various topics.
Since the release of their debut album, The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness (yeah, that’s the name), Jedi Mind Tricks vowed to change the rap game forever. Their astonishing style built them a super loyal fanbase. At the same time, Stoupe’s brilliant beats created the perfect environment for Vinnie Paz to show his ability. Today he’s still keeping it real and faithful to the style that made him an underground legend.
Vinnie Paz is one of the most productive white underground rappers, too. He’s constantly in the studio making new music. He keeps himself active as a solo artist when he’s not releasing new albums with the Jedi Mind Tricks. He’s arguably one of the Top 10 underground rappers.
Best songs: “Heavenly Divine,” “I Who Have Nothing,” “Fraudulent Cloth,” Keep Movin’ On,” “Heavy Metal Kings”
R.A. the Rugged Man
Born in the family of a Vietnam war hero, R.A. the Rugged Man often describes himself as a loser who somehow succeed in the rap game. Don’t get us wrong – he’s very confident and aware that he’s one of the best, but his self-irony game is on another level. It’s enough to listen to his song “Legendary Loser,” and you’d see how funny he can be when he raps about himself. He’s one of the sick underground rappers.
On a serious note, we didn’t joke when we said he’s one of the best. Despite his self-irony, R.A. the Rugged Man is one of the most talented rappers you’d ever see in your life. His groundbreaking lyrical ability makes him a monster with words. At the same time, he’s very educated about pop culture, and his references are brilliant. He often raps about his dad and his family members, making his music personal, too.
Rugged Man’s verse in Jedi Mind Tricks’ “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story” remains one of the best performances in the history of hip-hop.
Best songs: “Chains, “”Definition of a Rap Flow,” “Shoot Me in the Head,” Still Get Through the Day,” “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story”
Chino XL is among the rappers mentioned in the most popular diss song in history – 2Pac’s Hit ‘Em Up”. But he’s much more than that, too. Being a member of Mensa, Chino is respected by the underground hip-hop community for his high intellect and stunning lyrical ability. The New York-born rapper can create shocking metaphors that leave listeners utterly speechless.
Although Chino XL has released just four studio albums so far, he’s enjoying a reputation as a legend among underground rappers. You can be sure that nobody would like to start a lyrical war with him, too.
Maybe you have heard Chino’s name mainly because of 2Pac’s controversial diss song, but trust us – you should check his music and see how talented he is. He’s one of the contenders to be crowned the best underground lyricist.
Best songs: “No Complex,” “Can’t Change Me,” “Kreep,” “Father’s Day,” “Nunca”
How about some girls that are killing it on our list? Representing New York, Che Noir is arguably one of the best underground rappers in 2022. Not only an MC but also a producer, she’s making waves in the community with her substantial lyrical concepts. Do not look much further if you’re nostalgic about hip-hop’s Golden Era from the 90s and its classic narratives.
Born as Marche Lashawn in Buffalo, Che Noir was inspired by legendary artists such as Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. In 2016 she released her first mixtape – Poetic Thoughts, introducing herself to the underground community. A year later, she collaborated with one of the hottest names in the rap industry today – Benny the Butcher.
Che Noir is now arguably one of the nicest female underground rappers in the game. She’s also young enough to create tons of fine rap music in the coming years. Don’t sleep on her!
Best songs: “Hustle Don’t Give,” “Split the Bread,” “Ladies Brunch,” “Follow the Wisdom,” “Table For 3”
Born to an Iraqi mother and an English father, Lowkey grew to prominence as the most political underground rapper on the British scene. Impressing the public with vast knowledge about domestic and international politics, Lowkey is a fierce advocate of the “Free Palestine” cause. He’s often invited by the media to discuss different political topics.
In 2011 Lowkey entered the charts when he released his second album, Soundtrack to the Struggle, before announcing his retirement from music the following year. He decided to come back in 2019 when he released Soundtrack to the Struggle 2. He remained loyal to his fans and refused to soften his tone – he was as angry as always.
“Obama Nation” is one of Lowkey’s most famous songs. Some people see it as brutal lyrical aggression towards the United States. Still, in the song’s intro, he says: “This track is not an attack upon the American people, it is an attack upon the system within they live.”
Today Lowkey is considered one of the top underground artists.
Best songs: “Obama Nation”, “Terrorist”, “Haunted”, “Million Man March”, “Ahmed”.
Formed in the ’90s by rappers Madchild and Prevail, Swollen Members will grow into one of the most renowned Canadian acts in the hip-hop community. Despite getting mainstream success through the years, Swollen Members remained true to their style and never disappointed the public in this regard.
Rocking the booth with their gritty, street-style rap music, Swollen Members successfully created a loyal fanbase that anticipates every move they make. They have won four Juno awards in the past, an acknowledgment of their efforts to popularise the Canadian hip-hop scene.
Swollen Members have been inactive for some time, but Madchild is still creating music as a solo artist. He remains one of the hottest underground rappers.
Best songs: “Deep End,” “Watch This,” “Pressure,” “Too Hot,” Black Magic”
Diabolic was known just as one of the people in Immortal Technique’s circle for some time. Everything changed in 2009 when he released his debut studio project – Liar and a Thief. It was critically acclaimed as one of the best underground albums of the year and won the New York rapper a massive amount of recognition.
In terms of style, Diabolic never holds back. He’s a very clever lyricist who easily impresses with his metaphors and analogies. In 2016 he entered a beef with the legendary Talib Kweli, which proved he’s ready to hunt whoever gets in his scope.
As an MC, Diabolic is a perfect choice for people who love different lyrical concepts while listening to hip-hop. He’s among the popular underground rappers.
Best songs: “I Don’t Wanna Rhyme,” “Frontlines,” “Reasons,” “12 Shots”, “The Story”
Being half of hardcore rap legends Psycho Realm, Sick Jacken is one of the most popular Latino artists in the hip-hop world. His successful solo career confirmed his status among the most respected names in the underground.
One of the reasons for Sick Jacken’s success is arguably his distinctive voice, which makes him unique. Through the years, he worked with some of the biggest names in the underground such as Cypress Hill, Immortal Technique, Evidence, Swollen Members, Murs, Delinquent Habits, Cormega, etc.
True to his origins, Sick Jacken often raps in Spanish, making him one of the most influential artists in the Latino community. He’s arguably one of the Top 20 underground rappers.
Best songs: “Land of Shadows,” “El Barrio,” “Mask and the Assassin,” “The Sickside,” “Black Ships”
Representing the West Coast underground rappers, Planet Asia is a well-respected veteran among hip-hop fans. Born Julian Cullen Green, he’s been active since the ’90s. Planet Asia’s breakthrough came in 2001 when The Source awarded him the First Round Draft Pick and the Independent Album of the Year for How the West Was One, which he recorded in collaboration with Rasco.
Although Planet Asia is often not appreciated enough by the general public, he remains a big name admired by hip-hop purists. He’s everything you’d want from an emcee – he’s intelligent, conscious, and knows how to switch between different concepts. His fantastic voice makes listening to him even more fun. At the same time, Planet Asia’s sophisticated flow is another reason to check him out. We believe he’s also one of the best lyrical underground rappers.
Best songs: “The Aura,” “Stay For Credits,” “Jason Bond,” “No Apologies,” “Take It Lightly”
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