Washington, D.C. has a hip-hop scene that’s long been overshadowed by its neighbors to the north and south. The District is home to many talented rappers and producers, yet it’s often overlooked by hip-hop fans and critics alike.
While the city is most famous for producing artists like Wale and GoldLink, it also boasts a strong community of lesser known MCs and producers who are creating some of the best independent music in the country. Washington, D.C.’s music scene has been thriving for decades, but it’s time that the rest of the world knew about its underrated rap scene.
With that in mind, this list gives some love to the DMV locals who are making dope music right now by exploring the under-the-radar rap scene in Washington, D.C. So without further ado, here’s a look at some of the best rappers and producers from the D.C. region.
In today’s hip-hop scene, artists tend to stick to the tried and true sounds. When an artist comes along who breaks the mold, they stand out just that much more. This is the case with J Scienide, a Washington, D.C. native and an old-school throwback whose unique sound combines many different influences and ideas to create something new and exciting for listeners. The result is a sound that’s as refreshing as it is unique, characterized by soulful beats, complex lyrics, and high energy hooks. Over the course of his career, J has used this formula to make a name for himself as a skilled lyricist and producer with a gift for getting people to move their feet and nod their heads. Perpetually putting in work, J Scienide runs his own record label (Static King Records) alongside cooking up a number of new projects to be released in the coming year, including collaborations with UK rapper Sonnyjim, DJ D-Styles (of Invisibl Skratch Piklz/Beat Junkies fame) and Napoleon Da Legend.
Damu The Fudgemunk
Damu The Fudgemunk is one of Washington, D.C.’s most respected and influential producers. His music is a testament to the diversity of the Washington, DC rap scene. Since the early 2000s, Damu has become known for his blend of boom-bap beats infused with a rich palette of found sounds. From orchestral magic to juke joint-inspired joints sampled from KPM’s music library – lush yet chilled beats with strings, horns, pianos and vibes – Damu has consistently pushed the boundaries of hip-hop since his debut. While Damu’s musical focus is beats, he’s also collaborated with a broad range of musicians from different genres, including the great jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp and plenty of rappers from D.C. and beyond. For a good starting point, check out EAT, his fantastic 2022 collaborative album with rapper/trumpeter Pan Amsterdam.
Raw Poetic personifies D.C.’s deep history in jazz and hip-hop. His uncle is the great jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp and his signature sound creates unique soundscapes by combining classic hip-hop production with live instrumentation, which compliments his rhyme schemes to create a complex musical narrative. The result is an innovative new sound that’s rooted in tradition. Produced by Damu The Fudgemunk, his recently released sixth solo album, Laminated Skies, blazes new trails with nimble flows backed by jazz-inflected beats complimented by live instrumentation.
ANKHLEJOHN embodies the ethos of DIY hip-hop. You may not have heard of him yet, but there’s a good reason for that: he’s not trying to be a mainstream rapper. He’s one of the best rappers to come out of D.C. in years, he runs his own record label (Shaap Records) and he also produces, mixes and masters his own material. He’s constantly recording and releasing new music and is always on the move. The pace of his creative output is staggering and everything he releases is a special body of work. His style is akin to the gritty and aggressive cadence style of early Ghostface Killah and when he raps, you can feel the air in the room change — it becomes slow and heavy as everyone leans forward to hear what ANKH has to say.
Washington, D.C.’s underground rap scene has been churning out experimenters and iconoclasts for decades, but few artists have taken it to the next level like WiFiGawd. An idiosyncratic rapper who’s been ahead of the curve for years, WiFiGawd is at the vanguard of the city’s flourishing hip-hop scene and consistently releases music that’s ahead of its time. Seemingly everywhere before anyone else, he’s constantly in search of new ways to create beats, verses and songs that push rap’s envelope. His D.C. upbringing led him to be open to new ideas. “That’s always been a thing in our city, we don’t want to be like anyone else,” WiFi said in a recent interview with Bandcamp. “Don’t nobody sound the same, we just want to have our own flavor.” For a prime example of his futuristic sound, check out Chain of Command, an album of off-kilter, bass-heavy bangers that showcase WiFi’s spotless flow.
D.C. rapper Rahiem Supreme’s verses are staccato blasts of imagery. With vivid wordplay, his barreling rhymes tumble out through a voice that vacillates between relaxed and on edge. When he raps, he builds pictures from words, stacking his lyrics up like bricks to deliver vivid fragments of a larger whole. His vignettes capture the particulars of people and places who inhabit his experiences with the same kind of specificity and clarity that a photographer or painter brings to his subject. Supreme has released a number of albums which have established him as one of the most interesting rappers in D.C., including the stellar Black keys wit melodies, produced entirely by Richmond’s ohbliv. Keep an eye out for YUNG $AKS 5TH, a forthcoming collaboration with WiFi Gawd dropping in October.
If you haven’t heard about NAPPYNAPPA, it’s time to sit up and take notice. The D.C. rapper leans on a style of lyricism rooted in wordplay and melody as much as it is in his life experiences and personal affairs. His verbiage combined with cadence make him an artist who you can’t help but listen to in full. The rapper’s style, falling somewhere between spoken word and rap, is expressive and complex. But it’s also playful, showcasing a cerebral and creative side, blending together a variety of sounds and styles that somehow fit into an eccentric unity. For a glimpse into NAPPYNAPPA’s one-of-a-kind rap world, check out WIFINAP, a collaborative EP with WiFiGAWD released this past August.