Pros: Is growing up under the tutelage of Slim Thug, who figured out how to achieve national recognition several years ago.
Cons: Can putting out A LOT of music be a con? If it is, do people call that "Lil B-ing"?
Essential Listening: Settle for Le$ Vol. 2
Settle 4 Le$ is maybe the most advanced of his Boss Hogg Outlaw brethren. He is the fluid combination of pot rap and new era thug rap, a likably earnest emcee concerned with little more than entertaining his two main vices (weed and women, but sometimes occasionally women and then weed). He has flashed bits of brilliance within the aggressive fu*k YOU sphere that Slim Thug populates, but more often he has proven his worth floating around in outer space alongside horns and trumpets.
He has released a constant stream of enjoyable mixtapes (he's basically perfected the steps required for him to make music, and he's at somewhere near 4000 verses for the year already), but his crowning work is Settle 4 Le$ Vol. 2, in which he stitched together all of the best parts of his being. Le$ is the warm sun on the face, that's what he is.
Pros: Disproportionately passionate.
Cons: Has not put a new album mixtape since late 2011, which is like a million Internet years (his new album is supposed to here this summer).
Essential Listening: Dangerous Minds
Propain exists solely to keep angst and anger company, probably. He is brooding and menacing and perpetually upset with EVERYTHING (fu*k you, rap, fu*k you, politics, fu*k you, stationary equipment, [grumble, growl, grumble] is how his Twitter account plays). There are definitely other rappers that operate in that manner, but few are capable of writing it all out in a more accessible, more fluid way.
Example: In "The Note," which appeared on his most recent tape, 2011's imposing Dangerous Minds, we catch him in the moments before he k!lls himself, scribbling down an exclamation for why he plans to do so. He talks himself into a froth, the structure of the verses crumbling under the weight of duress. Eventually, sentences give way to grunts and yells and metastasized fury. It's heartbreaking and beautiful all at once. And he seems to be able to conjure that same animosity in nearly any setting.
Pros: Is crazy.
Cons: Might actually really be crazy.
Essential Listening: Abortion: The Project
Rob Gullatte is, in no uncertain terms, an insane man. He is also, in no uncertain terms, devastatingly talented. And there is probably a correlation between the two. Gullatte is a rapping fist f!ght, his flow a stutter-stepped fury fest of meanness and resentment. There are no tricks and there are charades; he simply attempts to yank the throat out of every beat he's placed on.
The best: On the first verse of the very first song of his most recent tape, Abortion, he launches into a fully vetted attack on the universe, chastising it for placing a curse on his family. He explains how the realization of inevitable failure came to him while sitting at a bus stop, how it folded him over into two.
You can hear the tears in his eyes. When asked about it, "I actually didn't even record the second verse to that song until a few days or weeks later. I broke down in the booth. I couldn't go back in there. If you listen, you can hear it happening." If you listen, you can hear it happening.
Pros: Consistently excellent production; Yves, the ringleader, is basically the coolest, c*ckiest guy that's ever been. DUDEBROS, HE'S A BLACK GUY NAMED YVES.
Cons: They might be living in the wrong city.
Essential Listening: James Kelley
One rapper (Yves, from New York) plus one DJ (Candlestick, from Texas) plus two producers (Free and Cristoph, also from Texas) and that's how you get The Niceguys, a group that operates in stark contrast to the traditional southern rap typography.
Over the past five or so years, they've built an emotive, brazen brand of nuevo-rap, one that's rooted in an unspoken competition between Yves and the producer duo. Last year, they got the balance exactly right and produced James Kelley, a sleeper contender for "best album that nearly everybody slept-on." It was smart and fun and interesting and fully vetted.
The Outfit, TX
Pros: Sounds like a contemporary version of all your favorite southern rap groups without sounding TOO MUCH like all of your favorite southern rap groups.
Cons: Are there even actual rap groups anymore? Is this even really a con?
Essential Listening: Starships and Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk
There was previous iteration of The Outfit, TX, a two-man team, and they were perfectly serviceable. But the current version, the three-man rotation, is positively perfect. There's JayHawk, the group's hyper-excitable rap dynamo. He leans into his country accent with a palpable vigor, his words sounding dipped in molasses.
There's Mel, the group's unstoppably likable leader. Where JayHawk's voice is acute and high-pitched, drilling its way into the base of your spine, Mel's is wide and warm and all-encompassing.
And then there's Dorian. He raps on most songs, but primarily, he serves as the group's absolutely indispensable producer. He possesses (a) a preternatural understanding of the traditional southern rap aesthetic, and (b) the ability to advance it forward, taking the traditional bump and drag and thumbing it into an ethereal, Saturn-y jaunt. Fewer things work together more perfectly.