Rappers to Watch in 2021


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Rappers to watch in 2021

Each year, there are new variables that shape the success of up-and-coming artists. And as we enter 2021, there are more questions than answers about what will unfold in the next 12 months. Will a new app like TikTok pop up and change the way people share and consume new music? How will virtual events evolve as the pandemic continues? Will festivals and major concerts return by the end of the year? Despite the uncertainty, however, there are clues that indicate which artists are closing in on their big breakout moments. Throughout 2020, new rappers figured out ways to make a splash during an extremely tumultuous year, and many of them show signs that they’re about to level up in 2021.

For the purposes of this list, we excluded artists who have been featured on our Rappers to Watch lists in past years. So, while we expect to see rappers like Baby Keem (2019’s list) and Flo Milli (2020’s list) have big years in 2021, you won’t see their names here. We also tried to avoid artists who were all over our Best of 2020 lists, like Sada Baby and 42 Dugg, so we could leave more room for rappers who we expect to break through and reach much larger audiences on a national level than they have in the past. So, if you want to stay ahead of the curve on what’s happening in rap and get a preview of what the future of the genre will sound like, here are the artists to keep an eye on. These are Complex’s picks for the rappers to watch in 2021.

$NOT

For fans of: Denzel Curry, Xavier Wulf, Tyler, the Creator
Listen to these songs first: “GOSHA,” “Mean,” “Like Me”

“Some people say my sound is dark, but I don’t really see that,” $NOT told Pigeons & Planes. “It’s hella chill.” He’s right. Separating himself from fellow Florida rappers who exploded on SoundCloud with loud and aggressive songs, $NOT uses his naturally deep voice in a more laid back way, effortlessly gliding over bass-heavy production as he delivers deceptively catchy melodies. The 300 Entertainment signee has been steadily building momentum over the past couple of years, earning a placement on the Euphoria soundtrack, releasing viral hits like “GOSHA,” and tapping director Cole Bennett for Lyrical Lemonade’s first back-to-back videos with the same artist. Pulling a hoodie over his head whenever he steps outside, $NOT presents the image of a rapper who likes to keep things low-key and mysterious, but if he keeps making addictive hits like “Mean” and “Like Me,” he might have to adapt to life as a superstar. —Eric Skelton

Morray

For fans of: Roddy Ricch, Rod Wave, Drake
Listen to these songs first: “Quicksand,” “Switched Up,” “Big Decisions”

If you watch any of Morray’s music videos, you’ll see he has the kind of natural charisma it takes to become a major star. Busting out dance moves and flashing a gold smile, he commands the spotlight, most noticeably in the video for his breakout hit, “Quicksand.” It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the North Carolina rapper writes screenplays in his free time and has plans to become an actor someday. For now, though, the quality of his music is more than enough to hold our attention. Possessing an exceptional ear for melody, Morray writes songs that will get stuck in your head after just one listen. And as you keep playing them over and over, you’ll pick up on his knack for storytelling, too. With each new track, Morray lets us in on a new chapter of his life story, while proving himself as one of the best new melodic rappers out. He really has it all. Now, we can’t wait to see what he can do over the course of a full-length project. —Eric Skelton

Popp Hunna

For fans of: Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, Don Toliver
Listen to these songs first: “Adderall (Corvette Corvette),” “I’m Single,” “Take Off”

There weren’t many newcomers who closed out 2020 as well as Popp Hunna did. His song “Adderall (Corvette Corvette)” blew up on TikTok, thanks to its catchy intro and bouncy production, before the release of a remix featuring Lil Uzi Vert poured gas on the viral fire. Soon, the song was everywhere (even Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster couldn’t help but dance along) and Popp Hunna became one of the most buzzed-about new names in rap. Digging into the rest of his 2020 project, Mud Baby, it’s clear this isn’t a case of an artist who lucked out with one fluky viral moment, though. Songs like “I’m Single” and “Take Off” show he has the ability to churn out upbeat, addictive songs on a consistent basis. Like his collaborator Lil Uzi Vert, it’s very clear how much fun Popp Hunna has making music, and that energy is infectious. No wonder so many people danced and made TikToks when they heard his music last year. It’s impossible to sit still whenever Popp Hunna comes on. —Eric Skelton

Hotboii

For fans of: Kodak Black, YNW Melly, YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Listen to these songs first: “Don’t Need Time,” “Noun,” “Goat Talk 2”

The world has been very unpredictable lately, but one thing that remains a constant is that Florida keeps pumping out stars. And who’s up next? Hotboii. Everything about him, from the sound of his music to his two incredibly long wicks, makes it impossible to mistake him for being from anywhere but Florida. The 20-year-old Orlando native received major attention last year when he dropped the video for “Don’t Need Time,” which was shot at the funeral of his friend who had passed away. Then he released Kut Da Fan On, which was one of the best tapes to drop in 2020. Near the end of the year, he dropped his major label debut, Double O Baby, which is full of songs that seem primed to become big hits in 2021, particularly “I Don’t Want.” A natural at singing, rapping, and crafting hooks, Hotboii can do it all. —Eric Wells

CJ

For fans of: Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign, Sheff G
Listen to these songs first: “Whoopty,” “Exposed,” “Understood”

If New York bars and clubs were open in 2020, CJ’s “Whoopty” would have been inescapable. Building on the Brooklyn drill movement ignited by artists like Pop Smoke, Sheff G, and 22Gz, the Staten Island rapper jumped on an explosive beat from Pxcoyo and delivered one of the biggest songs to come from New York City all year. He recently revealed that “Whoopty” was his first attempt at making drill music, after focusing on a more melodic style earlier in his career, so now there’s one big question following CJ: Can he follow it up with another hit? Based on the recent announcements that he signed a deal with Warner Records and French Montana will executive produce his forthcoming EP, it appears he’s building a strong team around himself. We like his chances to build on the “Whoopty” momentum in 2021. —Eric Skelton

Armani Caesar

For fans of: Lil’ Kim, Griselda, Foxy Brown
Listen to these songs first: “Simply Done,” “The Nasty Song,” “Mac 10s For Everybody”

Armani Caesar was discovered by the Griselda crew’s late elder statesman DJ Shay, and she rhymed with the rap crew when they were all moving as Buff City Records in the late 2000s to early 2010s. After some time away from Buffalo, she signed to Griselda last March and turned heads with features on “Lil Cease” with Westside Gunn (one of the best rap verses of the year) and two tracks on Gunn’s WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE. Then, her debut album, The Liz, showcased Caesar imbuing the crew’s coke rap cipher with a feminine touch. Armani Caesar is affirming her power in the male-dominated rap world, and doing it with sharp lyricism and an ear for beats that purists have to love. —Andre Gee

Navy Blue

For fans of: Earl Sweatshirt, Gil Scott-Heron, Yasiin Bey
Listen to these songs first: “Higher Self,” “Moment Hung,” “1491”

You may know Navy Blue by his real name, Sage Elsesser, as he is a professional skateboarder sponsored by brands like Converse and Fucking Awesome. More recently, though, an increasing amount of attention has been put on his music. After releasing standout songs like “never thought i’d be one to cry like this” on SoundCloud, he released 2020’s Àdá Irin on streaming services, before following it up with another tape called Song of Sage: Post Panic! Both projects showcase his poetic style of rapping, as he mixes in singing and soulful loops. Showing his range, he also produces beats, putting out a 2020 collab album with AnkhleJohn called As Above So Below. At a time when the world is hurting from so many things, Navy Blue makes music to heal the spirit. —Eric Wells

SSGKobe

For fans of: Don Toliver, Roddy Ricch, Gunna
Listen to these songs first: “FNF,” “Sandlot,” “Wyd?”

SSGKobe is only 17 years old, but he’s already showing signs of a potential takeover in 2021. In the final days of 2020, the Louisiana rapper hit a buzzer-beater with “FNF,” a hypnotic track that displays his knack for writing catchy melodies. It was just the latest in a string of standout singles—including “Sandlot,” “Wyd?,” and “Feelings”—that SSGKobe released throughout the year, as he turned heads with his ability to make addictive, upbeat songs that demand repeat listens. It’s nearly impossible to play an SSGKobe song just once. When you encounter a melody like the one he lays down on “FNF,” it will invariably end up bouncing around in your brain until you give in and play it again (and again). With the backing of Zack Bia’s Field Trip Recordings, the rapper has surrounded himself with a strong support system, setting himself up for an explosive year as he gets ready to drop a new project. Don’t be surprised when you see his name all over your Spotify playlists (and Triller and TikTok feeds) over the next 12 months. The future is bright for SSGKobe. —Eric Skelton

Lil Eazzyy

For fans of: G Herbo, Polo G, NLE Choppa
Listen to these songs first: “Onna Come Up,” “Finally Rich,” “Feeling Different”

The new movement of voices for the Chicago streets is in full swing, and Lil Eazzyy is chief among them. The young rapper has been on the rise since performing “Onna Come Up” as a freestyle that he put on his Instagram page. Since then, he’s steadily gained fans who appreciate his nimble flows and gritty reflections, which were most recently on display next to G Herbo on the “Onna Come Up” remix. He just graduated high school, and now it looks like he’s poised to skip college and head straight to the league of rap stardom. —Andre Gee

Toosii

For fans of: Rod Wave,Roddy Ricch, YK Osiris
Listen to these songs first: “Sapiosexual,” “Poetic Pain,” “Love Cycle”

Toosii first caught buzz in 2017 with his EP Why Not Now, a collection of melodic records that featured personal lyrics detailing his life and struggles. And by 2020, he has released a series of projects, including 2020’s Platinum Heart and Poetic Pain. Like those titles might suggest, Toosii wears his heart on his sleeve, often creating soothing tracks that draw on experiences from romantic relationships and his personal life. Though many of his songs appeal to female audiences, he has the range to reach all demographics. Toosii can do everything, and if he keeps the momentum up from 2020, he seems primed to have his best year yet in 2021. —Jessica McKinney

Erica Banks

For fans of: Asian Doll, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby
Listen to these songs first: “Buss It,” “Trip Out,” “Toot That”

Erica Banks’ “Buss It” was one of the first viral sensations of 2021. Like so many hits of the last few years, it became a hit on TikTok, surrounded by a dance called the Buss It Challenge (you can read a primer here). While the single has brought her a lot of casual fans, her future as an MC is more exciting than one viral craze. The Texas rapper favors bass-heavy, club-ready beats, and her taunting flow is ferocious. Banks’ delivery is hypnotic, and she populates her songs with layers of vocals, making it sound like she’s attacking the beat from multiple angles. It’s easy for viral sensations to fall into the abyss, but Erica Banks has more than enough skill to turn her breakthrough moment into a long-lasting career. —Will Schube


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