The 10 Best Underground Hip-Hop Artists

With the release of clipping’s latest LP and Death Grip’s “Niggas on the Moon” it felt as good a time as ever to discuss the best underground artists in the hip-hop sphere, so here (in no particular order) are the 10 best.

Death Grips

Truly the face of modern alternative hip-hop, Death Grips are the musical equivalent of a slap in the face. Yet, this is what makes their music so interesting and enjoyable. From MC Ride’s bizarre lyricism shouted at the top of his lungs to Zach Hill’s frantic, ceaseless drumming to Flatlander’s abstract sampling there is an energy to the band unlike anything else in hip-hop right now.

Death Grips Performing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Image via Wikipedia


Those who know their music terminology may be able to guess exactly what clipping sound like.
c”lip: verb
To truncate the amplitude of (a signal) above or below predetermined levels”
In essence, to be so loud as to break the recording and produce noisy feedback and clipping take this idea along with cues from the noise scene itself to provide a fresh production style to compliment and serve as a rhythmic base underneath Daveed Digg’s competent flow.

clipping. Band Photo

Image via SubPop

Shabbaz Palaces

An elusive group, Shabazz Palaces mix dreamy beats from Tendai Maraire with an experimental rap flow by Ishmael Butler (of Digable Planets fame) who will often slip into chants or even recite biblical passages. Their music moves in a way that is not uncommon for the genre but their style is completely individual, often containing a dark ,ethereal quality to it.

Shabazz Palaces

Image via SubPop


Like it or not, jazz and hip-hop are two genres that go hand in hand, and BADBADNOTGOOD realise this. BBNG begin in one of two ways: a) start with a riff and improvise around it or b) cover a well known rap/electronic/post-punk/Legend of Zelda song and improvise around it. Thus begins BBNG’s steps into their sprawling jazz/hip-hop pieces that fans of Sun Ra or Nas could enjoy.


Image via We Get Press


Another pioneer in the blending of hip-hop and jazz is the ever talented Madlib. A fairly legendary producer in the underground scene, Madlib took a lot of his cues from another legend in the scene: J Dilla. Only few know where Madlib takes his samples from, but he expertly champions the use of soul and jazz when creating beats. He is not only an instrumental producer however; he also produces beats for a variety of rap artists including his own alter-ego, the squeaky voiced Quasimoto.

Madlib by Chris Woodcock

Image via Stones Throw

MF DOOM/Viktor Vaughn/King Geedorah

Madlib’s greatest collaboration to date however, has been with the lyrical wordsmith MF DOOM. DOOM has released his own fair share of music under many names, but his most remembered work to date has been under the name of Madvillain. He eschews the traditional format of hip-hop choosing not to have any choruses and to rap in a poetic prose that makes him worthy of becoming the next poet laureate.


Image via Traffic


Ultimately, Dälek epitomises the core elements of avant-garde hip-hop: samples garnered by producer Oktopus from the obscurest of locations and time signatures that the Mars Volta would be proud of. MC Dälek himself manages to tackle anything from musique concrète to krautrock with consistently complex lyrics guaranteed to make your head spin as much as the accompanying production.


Image via Wallace Records


Since his beginnings with Company Flow in the late 90’s, El-P has shown an intricate attention to detail in his production, with records such as Cancer 4 Cure, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein and the excellent collaboration with Killer Mike; Run the Jewels. Not only that, but El-P is ever the wordsmith, often bringing clever humour or a dark paranoia to his work.


Image via Wired

Flying Lotus/Captain Murphy

FlyLo’s music is a blend, exploring the past, present and the future of music through his use of jazz and electronic sounds, fusing beats into tight mixes that exists on the verge of chaos. Since his early days of replicating J Dilla, FlyLo has grown into creating IDM, downtempo and electronic jazz, itself being replicated by budding new producers. Furthermore, like the great underground hip-hop artists, FlyLo has established his own alter-ego: the violent, cartoonish Captain Murphy.


Image via Feed the Rocks


It’s easy to dismiss Milo, claiming him to be more a of spoken word artist than a rapper or look down upon the “nerdcore” sub-genre itself, but anyone who can throw out references to Schopenhauer and Dragon Ball Z and then reference how he should be making more references deserves to be appreciated. This is only one of Milo’s many faces however, and he could make you cry just as soon as he makes you laugh.


Image via On Milwaukee

Bonus: Lil B

Based Is How You Feel Inside say BADBADNOTGOOD, and there is no better way to sum up Lil B’s ethic. It is debatable whether Lil B (“The Based God”) is either an incredibly genuine outsider artist or a character created by Brandon McCartney that has been taken to levels rivalled only by the likes of Andy Kaufman, yet either way, he has managed to assemble a large cult following.

Lil B

Image via Twitter

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