When a city catches fire in rap, it's often an open floodgates situation as the bigger spotlight on one place tends to reveal other talents and their rise is imminent. It has happened with New York City, it's still happening with Atlanta and now, it's Memphis' turn. Memphis is no stranger to big-time rap acts. Thirty years after Three 6 Mafia emerged in the 1990s, the revered rap group are still getting their songs sampled and referenced in new songs from rising rappers. Their influence is heard in the haunting samples, pitched-down beats and dark subject matter present in rap today. Plus, Juicy J is still actively making music like his latest joint album, Space Age Pimpin', with Pi'erre Bourne. But, here in 2022, Memphis has a ton of established names that came after artists like Three 6 Mafia. These rappers are popular in their own right or climbing up the ranks and it's become impossible to look past.
There's no way to discuss Memphis' current run in hip-hop without referencing the late Young Dolph and his Paper Route Empire. Even before his tragic passing, Dolph's crew of artists were making noise. His cousin Key Glock is the most successful PRE artist and continuously feeds the streets with new music. His charisma on the mic and lyrical deftness have earned him fans all over the world. He's also on a team with high potential, homegrown talents like Big Moochie Grape, Snupe Bandz and Paper Route Woo, who are all making their way through while remaining loyal to PRE.
Over the last few years, Moneybagg Yo's stock has soared. After gaining more traction in 2015, though he had been dropping projects prior, Moneybagg found a home at Yo Gotti's CTE in 2016. In a slow but steady climb to the top, Moneybagg earned his first career No. 1 album last year with A Gangsta's Pain.
There are also plenty of Memphis rappers who didn't come in the game as part of a well-known Memphis crew, and made a name for themselves. Duke Deuce built his popularity off songs that give a nod to the crunk era, like the aptly titled "Crunk Ain't Dead." Big30 signed to Moneybagg Yo's BreadGang Entertainment imprint, but before that, he was an up-and-coming rhymer who was tearing beats down with his good friend Pooh Shiesty. The latter himself became a member of Gucci Mane's 1017 Records last year.
In short, Memphis has talent everywhere. These artists are taking different paths and still finding success. If you’re a fan of rap from Memphis, here's a look at the essential artists you should know now. While artists like Three 6 Mafia and Yo Gotti are respected, XXL is looking at the established artists and rising rappers that have gained recognition in more recent years. Artists that are currently active are considered, so the late Young Dolph won't be included. Though those names aren't here, their music is already likely in your rotation.
Some of these names you may already be a fan of, but there could be an artist that you don't listen to. It happens, and that's why there's plenty to discover. Check out the Memphis rap artists you should already be familiar with and more to watch as they take over below.
Moneybagg Yo has certainly put the time in. He's been dropping music since 2012, and signed to Yo Gotti’s CMG imprint in 2016. From that point on came incremental success. Bagg's projects sold more and more over time until he dropped the now-gold-certified album Time Served. in 2020. The LP features the platinum single "U Played" featuring Lil Baby (who Bagg has great chemistry with when it comes to rapping on records together), plus underrated lyricism with a gruff delivery that always sounds like Bagg knows he deserves his spot.
All that has turned him into a winner. Bagg is truly the people’s champ as well. When he released his A Gangsta’s Pain album last April, it felt pre-ordained that he’d touch the kind of success that would propel it to No. 1, which he did. Between "Said Sum," "Time Today" and the ultra-popular "Wockesha," Bagg has trademark hit songs, inarguable success and plenty of wins ahead of him.
Releasing music since 2012, BlocBoy JB started really making noise in 2017, with his song "Shoot." The track helped feed into a dance of the same name that is best described as a hop and leg kick blended into one. As the dance went everywhere, and his next single “Rover” in 2018 began to pick up, BlocBoy found a friend in a high place in Drake, who was a fan of the Memphis rapper's songs. This led to their collab, "Look Alive," in 2019, which went five-times platinum and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. BlocBoy JB was a 2018 XXL Freshman just a few months later. He also dropped his Simi mixtape and debut Interscope EP, Don’t Think That, in the same year. More recently, BlocBoy JB dropped the mixtape Bacc 2 Da Blocc at the top of this year.
Key Glock was the second act to take off from the Paper Route Empire, with the first being the founder, the late Young Dolph, Glock's cousin by marriage. An intricate and sneering rapper, Glock has pretty much every skill a rap fan praises in a respected a rapper: believability, charisma and pure lyrical talent. Key Glock is something of a modern renaissance act, as he is loyal to the classic sample and loop-heavy Memphis rap sound, but adds his own new age spin to it. His sound has also elevated with each project, especially so from 2018’s Glockoma to 2021’s Dum and Dummer 2, his second collab with Dolph. PRE’s future lies in Key Glock's hands, and he's a great act to bank on.
Crunk, the energetic, club-influenced rap subgenre of the late 1990s to mid-2000s, originated in Memphis, and was pioneered by famed groups like Three 6 Mafia. Duke Deuce, a fellow Memphis native, took that seriously. He eventually caught the attention of Offset, which is how he signed to Quality Control Music in 2018. Next came Duke's debut mixtape, Memphis Massacre, that same year, but his breakthrough came in 2019, thanks to his infectious song "Crunk Ain’t Dead." On the track, a lyrically dexterous Duke Deuce dances all over a beat that perfectly encapsulates his city’s sound while gangsta-walking all through the video. Over time, Duke has become a respected rapper and personality due to him being such a skilled dancer and not taking himself too seriously. He has two strong albums in Duke Nukem and the few weeks-old Crunkstar.
Few young rappers kicked their way into rap like NLE Choppa, a rapper who was all frenetic energy and bars when he jumped on the scene in 2018. Choppa can rhyme with whoever he's teamed up with, and showcases detailed street raps, myriad of flows and a power-packed delivery. He signed to Warner Records in 2019, racking up platinum plaques for his "Shotta Flow" series of songs, "Camelot," "Walk Em Down" featuring Roddy Ricch and more. He also boasts the gold-certified EP Cottonwood, from 2019, and the 2020 gold debut album, Top Shotta. Choppa has accomplished a lot in a short time. These days, he's adopted a more relaxed rapping style and is leaning into his strong technical skills.
Experiencing a meteoric rise to become one of the biggest new Memphis rappers is where Pooh Shiesty found himself two years ago. Since then, it's been quite a ride. Pooh jumped into music in 2019, and his dark sense of humor, distinct voice and clever lyricism sent him to the moon via YouTube video views. By 2020, he was signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records and Atlantic Records, the same year he released the Lil Durk-assisted hit single "Back In Blood." The acclaimed track would go on to be certified triple platinum and peak at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Unfortunately, Pooh's legal troubles have stalled some of his success. He's been behind bars since last June, and is now sentenced to five years and three months in prison due to his connection to two shootings. One shooting incident occurred in October of 2020 and the other last January. The rapper pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges, but his name still looms large, even as he serves his time. In February of 2021, Pooh released his debut mixtape, Shiesty Season, which would eventually reach No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, after selling 62,000 copies in its debut week. Two more deluxe editions of the album followed.
Coming up alongside his close friend Pooh Shiesty, Big30 gained confidence in his bars and never looked back. A string of fast-rising local songs landed him on Moneybagg Yo’s BreadGang Entertainment in late 2019, which is also tied to Memphis label N-Less Entertainment. From there, 30 dropped the popular tracks "Allegations" with Pooh, and "Neighborhood Heroes" with Pooh and Dee Mula, which are two of his biggest songs by far. Beyond the gaudy online numbers, Big30 is a rapper’s rapper, a technically sound street artist whose visceral imagery and ability to go from flow to flow has made him a name to watch. Releasing his debut mixtape, King of Killbranch, last September, this 2022 XXL Freshman is just getting started.
His unique touch for becoming one with the beat and support from his close friend Baby K helped turned Big Scarr into one of the game's newest rappers to keep an eye on. Scarr received a major cosign early on when he landed a deal with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records and Atlantic Records in 2020. When he linked up with Guwop in 2020, Wop was already a fan of Scarr's music, plus Scarr’s cousin, Pooh Shiesty, vouched for him.
For someone who’s only been rapping since 2019, Big Scarr has the sound and feel for what works of an artist who’s been around for a while. Strong appearances on the "SoIcyBoyz" posse cut freestyles, in addition to Scarr's solo cuts like "Endzone" and "I Would Keep Goin" are why he’s in his current position. He's got street-savvy rhymes with a distinct voice and a never-ending flow that fits on nearly any beat of his choosing. Scarr’s recent releases are his 2021 debut project, Big Grim Reaper, followed by this past February’s deluxe edition, Big Grim Reaper: The Return. Plus, hes a 2022 XXL Freshman to boot.
Something like a gospel and blues singer-turned-rapper, Kevo Muney has soul. His breakthrough 2020 single,
"Leave Some Day," is a touching tribute to his loved ones who have passed on. The song took off, running up over 80 million streams. He’s been signed to Atlantic Records since 2019, and subsequently dropped the albums, Baby G.O.A.T. (2019) and Lucille’s Grandson (2021). Last year's "When I'm Gone" highlights his melodic gift. Kevo Muney’s passion, talent for crafting gritty ballads and dedication to making music that stands out have earned him a loyal following.
Jucee Froot is a Memphis-raised woman who’s up front about what she wants and what she won’t tolerate. That overarching theme in her music earned her a major label deal with Atlantic Records and spots on the soundtracks of TV shows and movies like Insecure, P-Valley and Birds of Prey. Her breakout moment was her 2019 song, "Shake Dat Ass" featuring Zed Zilla. Since then, she’s remained in the mix, releasing her 2020 project, Black Sheep, and landing on the P-Valley soundtrack once again this year for the show’s second season.
Fully committing himself to rap in 2019, Lil Migo signed to Blac Youngsta’s Heavy Camp that same year. Youngsta is an artist Migo always looked up to, being that they're both Memphis natives. Migo’s breakout song so far is 2020’s "No Love In My Heart," on which he bounces between lyrics centered on balancing the streets, women and his personal time. His ability to find pockets in beats, along with his improving song construction skills, have led to his rising popularity. His most recent project is 2021’s King Of The Trap 2.
Signing to Yo Gotti’s CMG imprint in November of 2020, Big Boogie has been making noise for the last few years. His voice has a distinctive rasp to it and his bigger songs are about flossing and things of that ilk ("Pop Out," "Pussy Power (Remix)" with Moneybagg Yo). Boogie has a one-of-a-kind knack for sharing the pain of his past and success of his present, which is on display on tracks like the heartfelt "Mental Healing." The song sits at 54 million views on YouTube since its 2020 release.
While she’s been uploading music and videos to YouTube since 2022, Memphis rap newcomer GloRilla’s claim to fame is happening right now. Her viral track, "FNF (Let’s Go)," produced by fellow Memphis native Hitkidd, is shaping up to take over the summer. Nearly two months old, the video is at 18 million YouTube views and over 5 million Spotify streams. The reception is fitting for an ode to a woman’s fun summer, free of an untrustworthy significant other.
GloRilla’s forceful delivery mixed with her frankness and confident attitude are turning her into a standout act. Her name and visibility grows bigger by the day. On top of that, she might be on the verge of another big song, as her feature on Duke Deuce’s "Just Say That" is another show-stopper. The video is on the way to more than 1 million views in less than a week.
Former hooper Fresco Trey has found his calling in the music industry. The singer, songwriter and rapper has a unique sound in the Memphis rap landscape and beyond. He crafts pop songs with street rap sensibilities as well as grandiose, stadium-ready tracks. "Feel Good" and its spiritual successor "Need You" are prime examples of the quality he's creating. A lot of Fresco Trey's music highlights romance and the struggles he’s experienced within it. Listen to his tracks, and it's clear his songwriting ability and singing talent pulls it all together. The Warner Records signee is a promising act taking his artistry to new heights.
Kenny Muney connected with Young Dolph as a Paper Route Empire signee in 2019. He's yet another talented act out of Memphis. Kenny's standout skill is his sense of timing and rhythm. The rapper can do nearly any style or flow out there, but he puts emphasis on making every bar land and stand on its own. In a time where a lot of artists tend to lay each line on top of the next, Kenny takes his time with it. His approach has been working for a while, from his first big song "YTN Freestyle" to his latest, "Cross Country," which is set to outpace almost all of his previous work. His most recent project is February's Time Is Muney.
Big Moochie Grape is continuing to carry the torch for Dolph's Paper Route Empire after signing to the label in 2020. His biggest song so far is 2020’s "Uh Huh Uh Huh Uh Huh," on which his touch for memorable hooks and intricately written verses are on full display. His new project, East Haiti Baby, released at the top of June, includes multiple cuts like "Christoper Wallace," "I’m The One" and "Never Had Shit" that are all performing well on YouTube. The tracks will surely outpace the first big song of his career. Big Moochie Grape’s most impressive trait is his polish on records. These early days will pay dividends down the line.
South Memphis rapper PaperRoute Woo's catalog of music may not be extensive, but he's been gaining attention from what he calls "motivational music" for the last few years. Woo began dropping songs around 2020, and eventually signed with Young Dolph’s Paper Route Empire. His first big moment was his track "Ricky" featuring Dolph. The next big look that came his way was when he was featured on "Nothing To Me," a song from the 2021 Paper Route compilation album Paper Route Illuminati. Rapping alongside Dolph and fellow PRE artist and childhood friend Snupe Bandz, Woo shined on the effort. He dances over the beat effortlessly, switching flows mid-verse with ease.
Another one of PRE’s newer signees, Snupe Bandz has caught two big feature spots: one on Key Glock’s "Bandaid" and on Dolph’s "Nothing To Me," both released last year. Snupe is more laid-back and measured when he raps in comparison to some of his PRE counterparts, but as time goes on, he has begun to carve out his own lane. Snupe's bounce on his single "Pop Out" featuring PaperRoute Woo is refreshing, making him easy to root for.
After releasing his debut PRE tape, Life of a Lul Gangsta, in 2017, Jay Fizzle has been a part of Memphis hip-hop, and a mainstay in his crew's run. Choosing some of the more interesting production to rhyme over, Jay Fizzle's frankness and the flows he has on tap keep him in the convo as the whole city takes off. Both of his recent songs, "Zaba Freestyle" and "Paper Route Bidness," are moving well, along with "LLD," his tribute song to the late Young Dolph, who was also his cousin.