Hip-Hop Finds Salvation: Five Fresh Rappers to Watch in 2012

Hip-hop has been changing the world of music since the Last

Poets dropped their debut album in 1970. By nature, the peripheral evolution is a signal sent from the depths of

the underground, representing a heartbeat that drives the creative genius

behind the genre.

The wavelengths, at their peaks, create music icons and,

at their lows, are a catalyst for industry-infecting auditory fads. The digitally inclined sonic youth are

bearing witness to a new generation of rap innovators.

This is a list of who stands out and who we think will make a name in the game.

Freddie Gibbs

Have you ever been to Gary, Indiana? Chances are you haven't. Given his hometown, street-cred backing, and rhymes, this is a nonissue for Gibbs. Dropping all the provocative necessitates on Str8 Killa in 2010, records like "National Anthem (Fuck the World)" say it all. They paved the way for plenty of features in 2011. Noteworthy among them are Statik Selektah's "Play the Game" with standout rookie Big K.R.I.T. and again on Occasion's "Player of Century."

He was validated on DJ Drama's "The Real Is Back" with Young Jeezy. The collaboration with Atlanta's new rap king also got Gibbs track time to spit on ".38" and "Do It for You" on Thug Motivation: 103 Hustlerz Ambition. As a result, Jeezy signed him, confirming that mainstream gangster rap had his back. Nods from conscious rappers like Cunninlynguists earlier in the year showed everyone wanted a piece of Freddie. The culmination of his grind came with the stellar Cold Day in Hell mix tape last October. Now underground legends like Madlib are partnering up with him on bangers this year. Look for Freddie's smooth delivery and affinity for mingling with the right characters to take him deep into the game this year.

Childish Gambino

2011 was a big year for the rapper/actor/writer/comedian/fashionista Donald Glover. As his hip-hop alter ego, Childish Gambino, he dropped his first legitimate studio effort, Camp. He blazed through nationwide tours, made major festival appearances, collaborated with some major players, and fulfilled his lyrical prophesy of being "the talk of the nation." OK, maybe that is a stretch, but he has certainly been buzzing and is now fully on the rap radar.

Hipsters can relate (unless they write for Pitchfork), hip-hop heads at least know who he is, and suburban white kids are doing what they always do with the latest hip-hop trend -- fluffing it. Given that, it can really only be uphill for Gambino, but that trajectory doesn't necessarily mean he will continue to impress purists with his staple wordplay, barrage of punch lines, and standoffish approach to the dormant gangster-rap scene.

If the urban kids don't bite his style, there is always a slot for him among the mecca of skinny jeans and thick-framed glasses at Sasquatch Music Festival. Like his TV show Community, it should be fun to watch.  

Schoolboy Q

The underground didn't hold on to the downtempo, out-of-character ambient instrumentals that are now discharging into the mainstream. The last wave of gangster rap died before a creativity lull manifested into this wave of hipster-hop, bringing an army of new lyrical pioneers. The veterans just don't sound right flipping their style, but leading the class of new bloods is Schoolboy Q.

It's hard to say whether the beat selections enhance the Los Angeles rapper or if he is making this subgenre bearable because of his delivery, but one thing is for sure -- this kid is the real deal. Not biting on any traditional West Coast hip-hop vibes, the uniqueness of Schoolboy's Habits & Contradictions makes it an early front-runner for hip-hop album of the year. Don't be surprised if Kanye hands him a diploma for graduation come end of December. 

Kendrick Lamar

You know you're catching traction when Pharrell Williams works with you, but when the Neptunes giant tells you that you went hard on a record, it doesn't get much better than that for a young rapper. Or does it, because it looks like Kendrick Lamar's leap out of Compton into the hip-hop world is just the first stride in a pace toward the top.

Brazenly bold, honest to a fault, and wildly talented, Lamar comes out swinging with the title track from his 2011 release, Section.80, with a direct exclamation, "Fuck Your Ethnicity." The piano lead instrumental flashes back to Bone Thugz harmonies, but with gimmick-free bells and whistles that the studio offers modern rap. That is really just the beginning of what plays out as an instant classic album. Wordplay is a constant, gangster rhetoric is a must, and materialism is oddly covert to nonexistent. The future of popular music relies on hip-hop, and artists like Lamar are keeping it brighter than all the Jacob chains of the early 2000s.

A$AP Rocky

Harlem has a voice, and has he got some shit to say! It is courageously cocky and, to put it bluntly, doesn't seem to give a damn what you think.

Traditional coastal boundaries are a nonissue in the cybernated era, and teaming up with his West Coast classmate Schoolboy Q on tracks and at shows has been mutually beneficial for A$AP Rocky. The prince of swag, sex, and substances has made a name for himself with originals like "Peso" and featuring on "Hands on the Wheel" with the aforementioned Schoolboy Q. Harlem's lineage of rap royalty channels through the modern trill-boasting MC, and the A$AP family is benefiting under the production of Clams Casino. With a major record deal, a classic mix tape, and enough confidence behind his art to dispel the hate, Rocky is looking to break out in the next 12 months.

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Adam E. Smith