Cam'ron at Paid Dues 2012
5. Vince Staples
As of this moment, Los Angeles/Long Beach lyricist Vince Staples only has a few smaller releases to his name, but even a passing listen to his work should catch any hip-hop fan's attention. He can be introspective and ignorant on the same track ("Martin Ruger King") and tell short stories with bars worth putting on paper to reread ("Twitch"). He's rapped that "the way we make them choppers bang, you would think Nirvana came," and the way him and his Cutthroat Boyz cohorts riled up the Roxy recently you would think Kurt Cobain had been momentarily resurrected. Interest in Staples is currently at an all-time high, with more and more people realizing his worth as a rapper and his newer collaboration with Long Beach rapper Joey Fatts and Lakewood's Aston Matthews giving us hope that there's talented groups outside of the usual suspects. As an added bonus, Joey Fatts has also tweeted he will be performing alongside him.
4. Flatbush Zombies
Eccentricity and exploration are themes that are stronger than ever in hip-hop right now, and NYC trio Flatbush Zombies -- Juice, Meech, and Erick Arc Elliot -- are perfect representations of that. Their tracks can sometimes be more like psychedelic excursions rather than exercises in golden era lyricism, with most of their work littered with references to everything from LSD and Shrooms to every rapper's favorite go-to strain of smoke, Weed. Don't let the outright drug use dissuade you and your straight-laced friends though; in the Zombies' case there's more than meets the third eye. Rappers Meech and Juice have some of the best flows on the market right now, and their lyrics bare multiple layers and can be interpreted different ways, just like the experiences the hallucinogenic drugs they rap about produce. Even if you end up not being too fond of their sound, we're sure you can see at least see the appeal in watching a bunch of hyperactive, intoxicated rappers go crazy on a large stage.
3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
If it doesn't already, the elated praise blogs, publications, and most critics laud upon midwesterner Freddie Gibbs should sound like a broken record soon. However, it will still continue in full force, as Gibbs really is just that good. "Way too thug for these mothafuckin' rappers, rap way better than ya neighborhood trapper," just about sums it up, and even then there's more to that. There's isn't a single trap-rapper that could match Gibbs in talent and all-around quality, and very few in the category of "Your favorite rapper's favorite rapper" can stand bar-for-bar with him. You could even argue he has a definite place in hip-hop's unspoken and (mostly) unwritten hall of fame, lodged somewhere in between California gangsta rap great Ice Cube and southern lyricist Bun B. Connoisseur of samples and soulful sounds Madlib will be joining him on stage, most likely to play the role of DJ and guide Gibbs and the audience through their most recent joint work. An artist who is one of the best advocates for unrepentant street rap performing alongside an artist who is definitely one of the best and most progressive advocates for the old school styles of DJ Premier and Pete Rock. It will almost be like witnessing Tupac perform with Dilla.
2. Mobb Deep
The Queensbridge duo of Havoc and Prodigy should not need any sort of formal introduction. They've made some of the best albums in the history of hip-hop, and despite all the controversies throughout the years their earlier work has remained as the least dangerous and most entertaining way to peek into the dark, gritty sides of 90's Queens. In recent years there has been uncertainty regarding their relationship with one another, but according to recent interviews they've put all of that aside and are even embarking on a twentieth anniversary tour. Over two decades after they first started working together, Havoc and Prodigy appear to have some semblance of stability and a newfound thirst for what they do, and we're excited to see a rejuvenated Mobb Deep perform on the level of a massive festival this coming weekend.
1. Black Hippy
The time it takes to watch Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock perform is worth it. It's worth it not just for the memories and experiences you would get from seeing four of the best rappers in hip-hop alongside each other, but it's also worth it to say "you were there" as one of the greatest collectives in the history of rap music were in their prime and on stage. Schoolboy Q once rapped about people acting like TDE and Black Hippy "don't run L.A.," but their vice-grip goes far beyond where LA's city limits begin and end. The Black Hippy crew is reaching for the highest peak of the biggest mountain of their genre and has hip-hop in the palm of their hand right now. They embody everything that's great about the subject matter and themes of their craft, from thoughtful lyricism to careless partying to simply listening to sharp wordplay. Not since Wu-Tang has there been a group as versatile and as talented. Try to be relatively sober for when Black Hippy arrives on stage, it'll pay off to pay attention.