The New New: 12 Cleveland Rappers You Should Know
What a year the city of Cleveland, Ohio had in 2016. Things started to take off when LeBron James, the NBA's best player, brought back the Cleveland Cavilers from the brink of elimination in the NBA Finals to win the championship against the Golden State Warriors in a best of seven games series. The Warriors, led by NBA MVP Steph Curry, not only had the best record in NBA history but also led the series three wins to one and only needed to win one more game to be back-to-back champions. Instead, LeBron, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cavs won three games straight and shocked the world.
Months later, the Cleveland Indians made it to the MLB World Series against the Chicago Cubs. This was the first appearance for the Indians in the World Series since 1997. Even though they lost, their season was still a success.
The spotlight on the city due to its sports teams have made Cleveland a hot spot more than ever. With the added exposure, rappers from The Land are beginning to utilizing the extra eyes in their direction. In hip-hop history, Cleveland has had huge stars — both underground and mainstream — emerge in the 1990s and mid-2000s.
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, comprised of Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone and Flesh-N-Bone, are one of the greatest acts hip-hop to break out in the 1990s, having their career span over two decades now. The group has worked with everyone from 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Eazy-E, Big Pun and even Phil Collins. Fast forward to the mid-2000s, when Kid Cudi burst onto the scene with a sound that was completely his own. Along with Cudder was underground legend King Chip (previously known as Chip Tha Ripper) and the two buddies would put Cleveland on the map for millennial hip-hop fans.
At the same time, Ray Cash was generating a buzz with street records like "Sex Appeal" and "Bumpin' My Music." His debut album, Cash on Delivery, saw minor success. Most recently, Bad Boy Records' Machine Gun Kelly, a former XXL Freshman, has sustained a successful music career while expanding his talents to acting plus Ray Jr. who is one of the hardest working rhymers in the city.
So for our latest edition of The New New, we take a closer look into the city and highlight some of the best rappers in Cleveland right now. The focus is on rappers who are relatively new and have only been releasing music for the past five years.
Check out The New New: 12 Cleveland Rappers You Should Know below.
Hometown: East Cleveland
Notable songs: “30FT Tall,” “1833,” “50 50,” "Seen It All" and "Cult Classic."
Sounds like: Somewhere between J. Cole and Royce Da 5'9".
Why you need to know him: Kipp Stone showcases an excellent blend of lyricism and funky delivery. He struck gold with “30FT Tall," gaining major cosigns from two heavy hitters in Cleveland, DJ Steph Floss and Big Heff, who included it on their The Cosign 3 mixtape. Kipp was an unknown rapper then, but now after releasing a string of tracks such as "Seen It All" and "Cult Classic," he was tapped by Marvel to pen a new song celebrating his favorite Marvel hero, the Black Panther.
Notable songs: “Waves,” “LeBron Flamez” and “PayBack.”
Sounds like: A mix of A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, PnB Rock and Lil Yachty minus the love songs and bubblegum trap.
Why you need to know him: Ripp Flamez uses Auto-Tune like a Samurai wielding his katana and shows great flexibility with his voice and range. His breakout song is "Waves," a party record that sets the perfect vibe for anyone to kick game to the person they've had their eye on. Ripp followed up strong with an ode to the king of his city with "LeBron Flamez" and released an impressive Day One Forever EP. If 2016 was any indication of his trajectory, Ripp Flamez could be an artist that will pop up on a ton of hit records this year.
Notable songs: “Goodbye,” “Ezrico” and “Bet That.”
Sounds like: 1990s nostalgia with new school flair.
Why you need to know him: Ezzy is young but raps beyond his years, showing great storytelling ability and a penchant for crafting catchy, melodic records over soulful production. But don't get it confused, the youngster can spit, turning heads when he freestyled on Sway in the Morning. As a result, he left Sway's co-host, hip-hop OG Heather B, in tears. Last year, Ezzy also starred in the independent film The Land, which was executive produced by Nas, plus contributed two songs to the film's soundtrack. One of the records, "Goodbye," is probably his biggest hit so far. At 19, Ezzy's future is bright.
Notable songs: “24/7," "Amen," "I Know" and "All Eyez on Me."
Sounds like: A less energetic Travis Scott.
Why you need to know him: Billard is the ultimate grinder. He's been working in the underground scene for a few years now and is starting to build himself a loyal fan base. After striking gold with his Machine Gun Kelly-assisted single "All Eyez on Me" two years ago, he began showcasing the versatility with his sound, shifting between laying down bars or providing melodies with Auto-Tune. The latter has been his bread and butter, crafting records like "24/7," "Amen" and "W.W.Y.S.," which each collected thousands of views on YouTube.
Notable songs: “Kyrie Irving," "I Got It," "Indicted" and "Story Time."
Sounds like: A stickup kid.
Why you need to know him: Lil Cray is a young street rapper who made a name for himself after his song "Kyrie Irving" went viral. The record, which he freestyled, pretty much turned him from a local kid to a household name in the Midwest. He capitalized off the success of the project by dropping Turnt Like Reese in 2015 and the No Pad, No Pen mixtape last year. With his signing to Doe Boy's Rubber Band Money Gang, he's continuing his momentum into 2017.
Notable songs: “Bankroll," "Red Broccli," "NA Meetings," "Feel Without a Touch" and "Cocaine."
Sounds like: Soft-spoken druggie whose flexibility allows him to change his voice for any music genre.
Why you need to know him: Bankie iZ's vocal range and flexibility highlights his range, from trap to pop and everything in between. The tatted-up MC has a stacked catalog considering his short time in the game. He's released an album, Josh White, The Fall EP and a handful of loosies. There's no way you can question his work ethic.
Notable songs: “Wanna Party," "Dinner Date," "Sweathearts" and "N.O."
Sounds like: A rapid-fire flow with some bounce.
Why you need to know him: Tezo has been busy, dropping project after project for the last few years. Since releasing "Dinner Dates" four years ago, the Midwest spitta has done records with Machine Gun Kelly, King Chip (formerly known as Chip tha Ripper), Two 9, Ray Jr. and ManMan Savage. In addition to features, he's been releasing his projects such as the On the Humble collaborative EP with Freshie and SwampLand. He's currently prepping WKR2, which is entirely produced by Trap Money Benny.
Notable songs: “3AM in Atlanta," "Kosher" and "Close."
Sounds like: The Travie McCoy of trap.
Why you need to know him: With a distinct raspy voice that seems like he's been smoking Newports for decades, Shawn K has a rockstar demeanor showcased through his music. Just take a listen to the sounds of "MIA," a track reminiscent of something Travis Scott would drop, to get familiar with his movement. The rapper has a cool alternative sound, which is a great detour from the other Midwest MCs in his league.
Notable songs: “Bantu Knots," "WVW" and "BadDream."
Sounds like: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's bastard son.
Why you need to know him: Tae Miles, a singer, producer and rapper, is the DIY spitta that you root for. He's probably one of the the best rapping singers out of Cleveland, showing vocal range that can go from church choir to T-Pain. From Throedie. to ONE2MANY to The Adventures of the Wahoo Village Warrior to CurlPattern, Miles has gradually grown sonically. There is no shortage of talent with Tae Miles.
Hometown: Cleveanta (Cleveland-born, Atlanta-bred)
Notable songs: “Take It," "Fligh319," "Locksmith" and "Merk."
Sounds like: Reality rap with a voice that sounds like Boogie mixed with Oktane.
Why you need to know him: It's crazy to believe that NicX started rapping by accident. After he moved to Atlanta during his high school years, NicX joined a rap group due to peer pressure. But it worked to his benefit during his first writing session, which he loved because of how he could express himself. Since then, he hasn't stopped, collecting hundred of thousands of streams on SoundCloud. He's collaborated with new artists like 6lack, Well$, Jazz Cartier and Rome Fortune. His strength is his honesty and songwriting, bringing listeners into the world he experiences. NicX could be the Cleveland-born frontrunner to blow up.
Notable songs: “What We Want" "Mask" and "Bad Trip."
Sounds like: Lost in deep space.
Why you need to know him: It's pretty early for Curly Chuck but he has the sound that can make his career go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye. The crooner's best work sounds like he's the offspring of Kid Cudi, boasting atmospheric hums and melodies that feel like an acid trip in a rocket ship. Songs like "Mask" give some insight into his dark, hypnotizing and off-kilter music.
Notable songs: “Summertime Grind" "Opera," "Deposit" and "260."
Sounds like: Hustler ballads.
Why you need to know him: Paper Paulk is a 27-year-old MC with clear influences from Jay Z and Nas. He makes hustler anthems that lean towards one common message: he has to make it and get as much money as possible. With a background in poetry, Paulk is able to articulate his thoughts quite well while adding his own flair. Things seemed to click for him last year with his Power LP and he expanded his sound with the Fresh Vibes Sixteen EP.