A list of four great hip-hop artists, "Nujabes," "RA the Rugged Man," "Binary Star," and "Input"

Four Great Hip-Hop Artists You Might Not Have Heard Of

May 08, 2014 / by / 1 Comment

One of the great pleasures in life is discovering music that you really like. One great equivalent pleasure is to share that music with other people. Since I was tragically born tone-deaf and have the same sense of rhythm as a Model T’s engine, I am forced to share other people’s music. Without further ado, here are four great hip-hop artists you might not have heard of.

1) RA the Rugged Man

Listen to the video above. Really. It contains some of the most technically sound, lyrically complex rap you’ll be able to find. There are better produced rappers. There are more popular rappers. There are more likable rappers. But I would argue that there are few rappers “better” than RA the Rugged Man, a two-decade underground MC and veteran of the rap industry.

RA the Rugged Man started rapping at the age of 12, and it shows. The eccentric Brooklynite colloborated with a variety of prominent artists throughout the 90s, and his collaboration with Biggie Smalls  famously prompted B.I.G. to say, “I thought I was the illest.” His clear talent got him noticed, and he was signed to Jive records at the tender age of 18. Unfortunately, it rapidly became apparent that Rugged Man was… well… a bit of an asshole. After being accused of sexual harassment by a fellow employee at Jive records, RA the Rugged Man put on a show in front of MTV cameras where he performed the incredibly profane “Cunt Renaissance” and the inventively named “Every Record Label Sucks Dick.”

The stunt was engineered to convince Jive Records to drop him – something that the label immediately understood. They kept Rugged Man on for the duration of his contract just to spite him. His first record, “Night of the Bloody Apes,” would never be released.

Throughout the next decade Rugged Man continued to struggle. He was briefly attached to Capitol Records, but never produced an album. His main contribution to the rap scene continued to come from his preponderance of features and guest verses. His most famous feature was his verse detailing his father’s Vietnam experience in the Jedi Mind Tricks track “Uncommon Valor.”

Fast forward to 2014 and we find Rugged Man in a more stable state. He’s now attached to the record label “Nature Sounds,” which has helped him put out his two albums, Die, Rugged Man, Die and Legend Never Die. Of the two I believe that Legends Never Die is undoubtedly the stronger entry and my favorite album of 2013.

2) Binary Star

A rap duo consisting of “One Be Low” and “Senim Silla,” Binary Star’s time for this world was unfortunately brief. The group was formed in 1998 after the two MC’s served their prison sentence for robbing a pizza parlor. Despite their longstanding relationship and criminal ties, the group would disband due to creative differences by 2000. Still, in this brief time Binary Star managed to create an incredible album – Masters of The Universe.

The album is a lyrical masterpiece, underscored by confident and consistent delivery. Both of the MC’s in Binary Star emphasize clarity and control in their rhymes – meaning that while they often fail to match the pace of more adventurous MC’s (RA the Rugged Man, Kendrick), they more than compensate for this weakness by creating clever and complicated lyrics that require repeated listens to fully process. Underground MC’s in a true old school vein, Binary Star is gone but not forgotten, and offer a great option for people looking to explore rap outside of the top 40 charts.

3) Input

At first I was a little hesitant to put Input on the list. Frankly, he’s a bit of a one trick pony, with a delivery and flow that, while impressive, doesn’t vary that much from song to song. In the end I decided to include him because it’s my list, and I like Input a lot. I hope you do too.

Hailing from Denver, Colorado, Input debuted with a surprising output – creating 3 albums in 3 years between 2006-2008. Of the three albums, Pictureface is (in my opinion) his best produced and most consistent effort. Focusing on unconventional samples and a clear, unambiguous vocal delivery, Input drops dizzying and escalating bars of praise and condemnation upon whatever earthly subject has piqued his interest. Some of his lyrics require the benefit of the doubt to avoid the designation of “poetic nonsense,” but I think it’s so fun to listen to him spit that I don’t even care.

4) Nujabes

The first time I heard a Nujabes song I wrote down his name, went home, and then listened to his album Modal Soul two times before I went to bed. I woke up the next day and listened to it again. For the rest of the summer I think hardly a day went by when I didn’t spend at least half an hour listening to this Japanese hip-hop legend. He deserves his spot as the most well-recognized name on this list, but hopefully his inclusion will highlight the fact that he’s still about half as popular as he should be.

A Japanese hip-hop producer who was tragically killed in a 2010 highway crash, Nujabes was renowned for teaming up with talented underground rappers to produce inventive, highly produced tracks. His album Modal Soul is amazing from beginning to end, and offers a lighter, more pleasant feel than most mainstream hip-hop. The combination of melodic samples, high production values, and a diverse roster of lyrical talent means that Nujabes has something for everyone.

Like any of these artists? Hate any of these artists? Let us know in the comments. Or, if you’re not feeling up to all that typing, vote in the poll below.[poll=”2″]