This is going to be a tricky post, filled with potential landmines. I guess I need to qualify all of this by saying that I’m a white dude, and really have no interest in telling other people what they should or should not be offended by. I also understand that rap music is a traditionally black art form, and there is undoubtedly a level of cultural appropriation.
That being said, these guys are really good at what they do, and deserve to be considered alongside the greats in the industry.
Might as well start with the best, right? Slim Shady is respected more than almost anyone in the rap game. He has had a long successful career that has included some revolutionary music (he’s also put out some pretty bad songs, which he freely admits to). I actually met Eminem in 1996 when he was passing out his demo tape outside of a show. I didn’t know he’d be a superstar at the time, but I immediately recognized his unique talent, and felt kind of special having been on the ground floor when he blew up two years later.
2. Machine Gun Kelly
MGK is an ultra-talented phenom who earned his moniker because of how fast he raps. He’s not a one-trick pony either, as he has had major roles in feature films and television (Nerve, Bird Box, The Dirt, Roadies). He is constantly experimenting with his music, and currently working with Travis Barker on a pop-punk album. During quarantine, he’s been putting out some pretty outstanding covers, and while his main talent is rhyming, his covers of Billie Eilish’s Ocean Eyes and Paramore’s Misery Business are a couple of my favs.
3. Mac Miller
Mac Miller is unfortunately no longer with us, having died at the way-too-young age of 26. Prior to his death he created a ton of music that showed significant growth throughout his short career. Early on, he was seen as sort of a one-dimensional artist, mostly rapping about partying and girls, but he eschewed that quickly for a more evolved style that discussed relationships and mental health issues. His lyrics are as smooth as his voice.
NF is rather new to the scene, but has quickly established himself as an incredible lyricist. His styling is seemingly inspired by Eminem, which isn’t surprising as NF is also from Michigan and has credited Em as being a major influence. The main difference is that NF’s lyrics are incredibly clean, despite some of his themes being on the darker side. His singles have taken over the pop stations, and you may already be familiar with his work, but he has a deep vault of work, all of which is incredible.
5. Lil Dicky
If you haven’t watched Dave on FX, I highly recommend you do. Dave Burd, who goes by the stage name Lil Dicky, parlayed his rap career into an absolute banger of a show. It’s semi-autobiographical and focuses on Dave launching his career as a respected rapper. The show is funny and well stylized. As he says in the show- he’s not trying to be seen as another Lonely Island, but as a legitimate rapper. Anyway, Lil Dicky is known for being humorous and self-deprecating, but he also has major talent. His recorded music is great, but his freestyles are even better.
Some of these guys may be familiar, some may not, but give them a listen.