Many people believe the best rap music comes from the Northeast. Cities like New York, Baltimore, D.C., and Philadelphia tend to define the perception of the “classic rap” sound. While certain elements of classic rap music surely come from these areas, other regions have produced rappers who are just as talented and influential. In fact, there is a wide collection of rappers from the Southern region who have influenced various aspects of modern day rap, whether it’s rhyme schemes, delivery, beats or just their overall style.
Southern rap has grown from a regional form of music to being heard far and wide and remains one of rap’s best regions, as well as one of its most recognizable. Southern rappers have had an immeasurable impact on the genre and will continue to influence rappers for generations to come. Cities like Houston, Atlanta and Memphis have producing creative forces like UGK, Outkast and Three 6 Mafia, all groups with few equals in rap history.
There is no longer a question of whether Southern rappers hold their own against the best in the game, as the south is clearly and consistently producing some of the best rappers around.
Today, we’re shining a light on some of the lesser known Southern rappers, artists who are getting lots of love in their respective regions but haven’t yet become household names. For those who love the Dirty South sound, here are 10 of the best up-and-coming artists from the region who you may not have heard of yet but are all well worth your time and attention.
If rap music is a form of poetry, then Dallas rapper Lord Byron fits the mold. As a kid, he won poetry recitation competitions in part due to his ability to memorize verses after just one reading. As a rapper, he melds his penchant for wordplay into an approach that vacillates between traditional southern styles and the cutting edge of hip-hop. His music is as beautiful as it is ominous—tight flows laid atop sample-heavy, ambient-laden beats that creep at a codeine crawl—and his songs have a classical quality to them but with a much darker aesthetic. Listening to his music, it’s clear he’s taken lessons learned from years of listening to rap and other kinds of music and applied them to his own work; in doing so he’s created something wholly individual but with echoes of many different styles — from Houston-style chopped and screwed to Memphis lo-fi to the east coast experimentations of iconoclasts like Roc Marciano.
North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham examines urban decay through the prism of his hometown Albemarle, where the blocks he grew up on are crumbling like so many other aspects of the American dream. Lyrically, Solemn is an endlessly creative verbal acrobat, capable of shifting from styles and themes in a matter of bars. He can craft a story with lyrics that blend fantasy with realism, or dive into an extended screed on the state of society, then pop off into esoteric asides with ease. But what makes him truly special isn’t just the way he paints stunning pictures with rhymes—though he certainly does that—but rather the way he crafts a narrative that is specific to where he comes from. In addition to solo work, Solemn also raps alongside North Carolina producer L’Orange, who together form the duo Marlowe, a project that blends boom bap drums with Asian psych rock and a barrage of obscure sounds to craft some of the most exciting rap out today.
A new crop of Memphis rappers is making waves, and Lukah is leading that charge. He’s the rare artist who combines the lyrical dexterity of New York rap with the dark imagery for which Memphis rappers are known. The result is a raw and potent mix that’s unlike anything out right now. His raps channel the energy of his surroundings into powerful, complex lyrics that honor nuanced storytelling through song by complementing his bleak lyrics with beats and melodies in the same vein. Even though his sound is dark, it doesn’t glorify or romanticize a life on the street. Instead, he warns of its pitfalls without seeming preachy or hopeless. Case in point: his 2021 album Why Look Up, God’s In The Mirror, an album with a menacing aesthetic and deep-seated aversion to cliché that’s enthralling from the first bar to the last.
79rs Gang is a musical collaboration between New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians Romeo from the 9th Ward and Jermaine from 7th Ward. Big chiefs of two of the most historic Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans, they came together to create music that combines rap with traditional New Orleans sounds and share it with the world at large. Featuring a fusion of rap with Mardi Gras Indian rhythms, brass music and electronic elements, the music is deeply connected to the city and the members’ respective tribes. The resulting sound preserves the rich traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians and their music, while also pushing local rap culture forward — taking it to dance floors in New Orleans and around the globe.
A lyricist who can churn out lyrical flows with elegance, Tampa rapper Rahim Samad’s music carries a story-telling sense of smoothness that grips the listener. With roots in hip hop and jazz, the producer and lyricist has gained attention for his signature style of hip-hop that blends jazz and soul influences, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, witty lyrics, and a charismatic delivery. At the heart of it all is an appreciation for classic hip-hop—the assertive and intelligent style found in the wordsmiths of rap’s golden era. Rahim’s versatility shines through on Nubian Tapestries, an album with charged punchlines, rich soundscapes, and hard-hitting grooves.
Atlanta-based rapper Dorian Arielle pays homage to classic rap and R&B while paving her own lane. She’s been singing and writing songs since she was a young girl. As a rapper, Dorian Arielle emits smooth vocals intertwined with powerful notes, a mixture that can be compared to a combination of Brandy and Lauren Hill as she puts it on with a great combination of rhythm, harmony, and melody. Dorian shares her story on her recently released debut album, Black Girl Experience, a body of work that tells personal tales of pain and joy through poetic verses about life experiences.
With hard-hitting lines and vivid storytelling that captures his gritty environment and unbothered veneer, Houston rapper Maxo Kream is one of the most exciting voices to come out of the south in recent years. Consistently pushing Houston rap forward since his very first mixtape, Maxo’s career trajectory has seen him step from the shadows of other local talents to establish himself as one of the best southern rappers out today. Through it all, Maxo’s message is clear: he’s been nothing but himself since day one. In an industry defined by musical movement often encouraged by trendy sounds, Maxo’s continued rise lies in timelessness and his realization that the best rappers tell honest stories.
Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon
Charlotte MC Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon has one of the best flows among any of the southern rappers out today. He has a high intonation and a strong presence, with a deep voice that cuts through the mix. He is able to convey the messages of his songs without seeming overbearing, showing a good understanding of the medium he’s working with. His rhyme schemes present his topics in an interesting manner, and he does an excellent job building up to the climaxes of his songs. By showing his versatility and playing to his strengths, Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon has become a formidable force in rap, as showcased on recent work like his 2022 album Here, There and Everywhere—a project brimming with charisma, soulfully stellar beats, and hooks that will stay with you for years to come.
One of the most unique southern rappers out today, Birmingham native Pink Siifu is anything but typical. His music is vibrant, genre-defying and packed with life. He delivers his flows in a staccato style, reeling off machine-gun-speed verses and then pausing to draw breath before continuing his rapid-fire delivery. On his new album, GUMBO’!, he proves his unpredictability is by design, showcasing a versatility that’s still miles ahead of most other underground artists. His dance background can be heard woven into his music, which prioritizes movement and feel above traditional song structure. At first what he’s doing may sound uncharacteristic and unrecognizable, but soon you’ll find yourself bobbing your head involuntarily just from listening.
Nashville rapper and multi-instrumentalist Namir Blade carries on the extraterrestrial tradition of artists like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, finding a way to infuse his unique brand of hip-hop with a cosmic perspective that turns reality into a cosmic fever dream. His music blends together in a hazy, bleary-eyed trip that verges on psychedelia. Despite his wandering mind, his songs swirl beautifully and gel into complete albums that tell compelling stories. Case in point—Namir’s recently released, self-produced Metropolis, a dystopian concept album that glimpses into a not-so-distant future where late-stage capitalism has crumbled and tech oligarchs dominate the world.