New Jersey is a state with plenty of unique qualities, but one thing it’s not often associated with is the greatness of its hip-hop music. Attempting to shatter that image, however, is a group of talented artists who are flexing their unique styles in the Garden State.
New Jersey has a long history of music and dance, and New Jersey hip-hop has had its share of incredible artists emerge over the years. The hall of fame of Jersey hip-hop is adorned with dazzling talents such as Redman and Naughty By Nature, fierce freestylers like Rah Digga, and elusive emcees epitomized by Mach-Hommy. Jersey’s musical lineage is anything but ordinary.
Fast forward to the present and the hip-hop stage in New Jersey is ablaze with a new breed of rhymers. They may not be front-page fixtures yet, but they’re definitely on the fast track—sparking the landscape with their distinct sound and rapidly staking claims in their hometowns. They aren’t just commanding the local stages, they’re redefining New Jersey’s place in hip-hop culture. Expect to see these names lighting up marquees sooner rather than later.
Fatboi Sharif — a name that cryptically hints at the puzzle playground this New Jersey rapper creates. It’s a whirling mash-up of labyrinthine lyrics and spectral soundscapes that defy categorization. And while some might be too keen to stamp his style as “horrorcore” (Sharif himself wholly rejects the label) his music is art that can’t be cornered by trendy genre sub-labels.
What’s crystal clear amongst Fatboi Sharif’s dense lyrical ether is his unmistakable deviation from typically trodden paths. His rhymes pulsate to their own rhythm, moving with the kind of cadence that’s only possible when a rapper is so comfortable in his mastery that he can manipulate the pace and tone of his delivery at will.
Sharif’s 2021 album, Gandhi Loves Children, alongside 2023’s Planet Unfaithful (both produced by Roper Williams), stand as mind-bending tomes that champion the art of risk taking in the domain of hip-hop. These works take the listeners on hallucinatory journeys into labyrinthine corridors of a complex mind, riveting and riveted by intricate verbal performances.
Peppered with lush production that teeters off the conventional axis, these collections more than make a case for why Fatboi Sharif is fast-tracking his way to the zenith of New Jersey’s hip-hop hierarchy. Delve into his deep, twisted, reverberating universe and you’ll be hooked by the daring eccentricities radiating from each track.
One Shot Once
Flying straight out of the heart of Hoboken, One Shot Once is sketching lyrical canvases that vibrate with style and deliberate cadence, set to the rhythm of hard-hitting beats. The New Jersey map may as well have a glittering star pinned on it, marking the birthplace of a rap phenomenon brewing in the Garden State.
Fully produced by up-and-coming producer Roper Williams, the unforgettably titled 2023 album HATCHED CAVIAR is a brilliant example of OsO’s lyrical genius — a mind-expanding fusion of words and sound that pulls you into its swirling vortex.
One Shot Once is the real rap embodiment of “homegrown,” showcasing a skill set honed by his roots and matured to a compelling artist who’s damn near impossible to ignore.
From the Garden State’s rich bed of rap talents, we’ve got Skrewtape – a relentless emcee who’s stacking up a dedicated fanbase as he continues to churn out tunes with a laser-focused commitment to quality.
Skrew’s music is a throwback to the golden era of East Coast hip-hop – gritty, grimy and unapologetically real, reminiscent of the apex predators of rap from back in the day like Kool G Rap and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. He spits bars with a gruff edge that cuts into you like a cold northeastern wind, an unflinching earnestness that aligns him with the ironclad ranks of upstate New York’s Griselda crew.
When it comes to flows, his are as sharp as a well-tempered blade – precise but solid. And his instrumentals, always grimy and demanding, curate a full-bodied atmosphere that’s quintessentially East Coast rap.
Skrewtape doesn’t just rap, he commands with cool intensity, a rapper’s rapper with an approach as relaxed as it is authoritative. And it’s this magnetic duality that makes him a New Jersey rapper to keep your eye on.
Josiah The Gift
If you’re asked to envision a sword, it’s pretty natural to conjure up images of a physically imposing steel scimitar igniting furious battles. But for Josiah The Gift, the sword takes on a metaphorical sense, becoming not an instrument of war but a symbol of the might of words.
This intriguing perspective unfolds beautifully in his 2022 musical opus – a double album aptly titled Mightier Than The Sword. In an interview, Josiah dissected the thematic duality of the project. “As I was putting the pieces together, the first half of the album displayed the sword aspect (side A) and the second half gave more meaning to the pen (side B), and how it can inspire for positive changes in life for the ones that don’t get that message from music often,” he said.
Mightier Than The Sword and Josiah’s later releases like 2023’s God Is Gracious are saturated with poetic punchlines and raw rhythms that tout his rap prowess at its peak, bursting with some of the most potent and eloquent bars coming out Jersey right now.
Vincent, The Owl
Vincent, The Owl operates in a league of his own. He threads his own personality so genuinely, you can’t help but get caught in the rawness of his essence — whether he’s rapping locally in his native Jersey City or rattling rafters at eminent stages like Webster Hall and Bowery Electric.
His live sets are rip-roaring epics, the stuff of New Jersey rap folklore, the kind of roof-raising experiences that mark your musical memories. And, if rumors are true, you might catch him dropping freestyle verses outside the local liquor store when times and spirits are high.
Vincent doesn’t stop at words; his actions shine through with the OWL crew, a collective that’s both an entertaining community fixture and a heavy-hitting force in the Jersey scene.
When it comes to mastering the beat and belting out bangers, Crimeapple is a paradigm of perfection. This Jersey rhyme maestro pairs potent one-liners with a rap style that’s unapologetically raw and in sync with the grittiest of beats.
The crown jewel of his skill set is his unrivaled prowess in bilingual bars; Crimeapple smoothly flips the script between Spanish and English like a linguistic gymnast. His style is a fascinating medley: rough around the edges yet oozing slickness that screams supreme self-assuredness and an expressive artistry that’s hard to match.
Lately, Crimeapple has been on a non-stop lift-off in rap circles. He’s been spitting hyped, off-the-cuff freestyles on Statik Selektah’s Shade 45 show and he’s earning a reputation as an underground force resonating with fans from coast to coast. The rapper’s 2023 offering El Cantante exemplifies his flair for bilingual lyricism and irreverent humor, further cementing his seat at the high table of hip-hop.
As a double threat rapper and producer from the city of Elizabeth, Brainorchestra crafts a potent cocktail of music that’s nudging the needle well beyond the conventional parameters of rap. His verses hit hard and the beats he weaves are lush tapestries of sound that exude an earthy rawness that earmark them distinctly as his own.
During the height of the pandemic’s restrictions, where many artists faltered Brainorchestra spotted a creative opening. With no tether of a traditional record label, he allowed full rein to his creative vision, barricading himself in the studio and curating an astounding 700 beats and 200 songs in just over a year.
Brainorchestra’s post-pandemic output hasn’t slowed and has seen him drop solo projects (2023’s E-Town General 2 and It Means A Lot) that showcase his adept lyricism, and collaborative joints where he flexes his production chops, such as the 2023 project with Philly rapper Magnetic The Shaman titled Can’t Wait For Patience.
Any discussion of daringly distinctive rap music created over the past half-decade must involve Mach-Hommy. Part of a unique cohort of artists who create music that may confound at first but mesmerize eventually, his craft is steeped in his heritage with an outlook that’s piercingly international.
Born in Haiti but Newark-based, Mach-Hommy is a New Jersey rapper who crafts a sound so utterly his own it can initially feel isolated from rap entirely. For the longest span, his music remained elusive in the realm of mainstream streaming platforms. He’s peddled vinyl via Instagram, and Bandcamp served as his digital marketplace where albums often fetched hundreds of dollars. Far from alienating listeners, this strategy has amplified the allure of his craft, fostering a cult following fervently attuned to his eccentric frequencies.
A confirmation of Mach-Hommy’s escalating popularity came through works like Balens Cho and Pray for Haiti — the latter, a vibrant distillation of the elements that underpin his unique allure while also hinting towards an exciting evolution in his creative genius.
If hip hop had a punk heart beating underneath, it would pulsate to the rhythm of Ho99o9 (pronounced Horror). Spawned in Newark, New Jersey, the dynamic duo of theOGM and Yeti Bones craft music that’s a thing of curious allure, a cacophony of post-apocalyptic disorder that’s laid the foundations for a cult-like following.
Since their inception, Ho99o9 have been shaking up the music scene with their wildly experimental EPs, full-length albums, and grindhouse-style music videos. Their albums, United States of Horror (2017) and SKIN (2022), serve as gritty testaments to their potent blending of rap with hardcore, Memphis phonk and punk aesthetics.
Hailing from New Jersey, Joe College is an undisputed contender in the Jersey rap game with a sound that’s a symphony of flow, cadence, and melody. His tunes tap into nostalgia with an audacious blend of ’90s hip-hop and old school production, while still staking a claim to modernity with minimal, bass-driven beats.
His artistic output transcends mere imitation — it’s an eloquent tribute to the greats of yesteryear, yet an unabashed proclamation of his originality. Joe College somehow manages to spin the old and the new into a compelling confluence of sounds. The final product? Music that’s exhilarating in its freshness, comforting in its familiarity, and nothing short of gripping.
When it comes to lyricism, Shadee Clarke pulls no punches—ricocheting rhymes from the heart that you can tell are honed by real life experiences. In a music landscape often dominated by carefully crafted images, Clarke’s unfiltered honesty stands as a reassuring beacon. It underscores the true essence of hip hop — artists unafraid to bare their souls, to engage with content that echoes their innermost feelings and experiences.
This theme resonates deeply throughout Shadee Clarke’s 2022 offering, Flowers Bloom. With the deftness of a master craftsman, Clarke interlaces tales of everyday life with his aspirations and dreams, creating music that’s as relatable as it is rhythmically captivating.
Flowers Bloom isn’t just a triumph of lyricism, but also a tour-de-force of production. With the likes of Ohbliv, Creestal, and Velvetian Sky helming the mixing board, the tracks tend towards the tranquil and introspective, serving as the perfect backdrop for Clarke’s narrative. The final product is an album that hits all the right notes.