Baltimore has long been one of the country’s capitals of underground hip-hop. Though it may be overshadowed by the more significant commercial success and national spotlight enjoyed by some of its musical peers in New York and Los Angeles, Baltimore’s independent and DIY hip-hop scene is nonetheless a bastion of pure and unadulterated hip- hop creativity. With that in mind, today we take a look at 10 Baltimore rappers who are worth your time and attention.
With a classic approach that hearkens back to hip-hop’s golden era, ILL Conscious has gained praise from audiences up and down the east coast. The Baltimore MC has been likened to AZ, Big Pun, Big L with the consciousness of Talib Kweli and the passion/word choice of Tupac. His lyrics are introspective and conceptual, and his beat selection is laced with a grimy edge that perfectly compliments his style. His latest offering, Acre of Diamonds, is a tour de force that puts his lyrical prowess on full display alongside choice guest appearance from fellow rising stars like Rome Streetz.
Jay Royale is Baltimore’s own king of lyrical muscle, cranking out raw and uncut verses that are packed with rhymes and compacted with the full-on force of the city’s signature beats. He’s a rapper’s rapper, someone who throws up a ton of punch lines without ever looking to dish overkill. In other words, he’s one of the best rappers in Baltimore. With an impressive catalogue of projects already under his belt, Jay represents the peak of local talent and is carrying on Baltimore’s long tradition of great emcees. His latest album, Baltimore Housing Project, is a prime showcase of his hard-hitting style, featuring guest appearances from some of the underground’s finest emcees, including ILL Conscious and Skyzoo.
While Baltimore-based duo Dirt Platoon represent a throwback to 90s-era rap, one listen to any of their EPs reveals a much richer rap sound that rings with a classic Baltimore vibe. Their sound sees production quality and lyrical content rise to the top, taking a golden era feel and adding a bit of gutter and grit to it to create their own vibe. The result is a fresh sound that makes Dirt Platoon one of Baltimore’s most exciting rap duos to emerge in recent years.
Guy Grams is part of a new crop of Baltimore rappers bringing the grime to your speakers. With a loyal following of fans, a successful solo career and a trail of open mics in the city’s battle rap circuit, Grams has released a crop of EPs and singles with a classic sound that slots perfectly into the raw and gritty east coast underground movement. His run of stellar solo projects includes War Medals and Gramzilla, and he continues to raise the bar with each successive release.
With off-kilter flows, intricate rhyming patterns, and unconventional beat selection, Baltimore rapper STEEZA is 100% in his own lane. STEEZA consistently keeps listeners on their toes while delivering gem after gem of experimental hip-hop. Bounding into the scene with a unique blend of complex wordplay, technical flows and experimental production, BLAST4ME finds the rising emcee looking to take his place among the ranks of the best rappers in Baltimore. Made in collaboration with the great Baltimore producer eu-IV, STEEZA employs a number of different flows on the project, showcasing his versatility as a rapper while complimenting each beat he touches.
Al Rogers Jr.
Al Rogers Jr. is a man of many talents, but one of his most unexpected is his ability to surprise you throughout the course of a full-length record. His heart-on-his-sleeve authenticity has made him one of the best rappers in Baltimore. On 2015’s Luvadocious, the local rapper showed off an Outkast-inspired side in which he delivered track after track of deft wordplay with ease. And with his later work, he’s becoming more confident and deliberate than ever before.
A true lyricist and a jack of all trades within the rap game, Labtekwon has been rapping for nearly two decades and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Easily one of Baltimore best rappers, Labtekwon has a knack for brain-twisting rhyme schemes and a talent for scathing commentary from nearly any angle. He not only creates songs that are lyrical, but creates a very strong atmosphere for his listeners to be absorbed in. His rhymes command your full attention; you’re captivated for the duration of each track, and his rhymes demand repeat listening to capture the hidden meaning in between the lines.
UllNevaNo is one of the best up-and-coming rappers in the underground hip-hop world of Baltimore. An artist who honors the past while staying ahead of the curve and experimenting with all aspects of hip hop, each of UllNevaNo’s songs showcases his versatility and effortless skill behind the mic. You can hear him dropping bombs over nothing but Kev Brown instrumentals on his color-themed mixtape “Color Brown,” and rhyming over tracks of original material on albums like “Confidence Is Everything,” and his latest “No Blood No Foul” EP, a gritty affair which hearkens back to rap’s golden era.
MC Altered States
MC Altered States has been rapping and producing for over a decade. After taking a lengthy hiatus from music, Altered States has been creatively rejuvenated by Baltimore’s contemporary underground hip-hop scene, returning with some of his best work and cementing his place as one of the top rappers in Baltimore. His latest album, The Usual Suspects, demonstrates new found drive and focus through its lyrical content and musical identity as a whole – from beats to lyrics, in both content and delivery – hard hitting drums coupled with complex bars.
Hailing from Northeast Baltimore, YTK sets himself apart from his peers through his storytelling ability and unique mix of R&B and hip-hop. His latest track “WOE” is a prime example of the songwriter’s top-notch lyricism, painting a picture of the little things in life that could go unnoticed by many. His flow and wordplay is impeccable and witty, whether he’s rapping over catchy singalong piano and strings or spitting rapid-fire on a hard-hitting boom bap instrumental. Each track finds him pursuing various paths and on different tracks, carrying his listeners with him.