Out of obscurity

    Val Grasso knows hip-hop. The McCormick senior has assisted hip-hop producers with their work since age 13. She raised herself on hip-hop, illegally downloading from peer-to-peer services like Napster and Limewire because her parents wouldn’t buy her the explicit material, and she contributed vocals to an upcoming artist in the DMV (the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area) by age 16. Eight years later, Grasso has been described as a “human Pandora,” so North by Northwestern curated a list from her of lesser-known artists that sound like your favorites.

    If you like Big Boi: Big K.R.I.T.
    Big K.R.I.T. just released his latest mixtape, Return Of 4Eva, to much critical acclaim. The Mississippi rapper brings a new perspective on southern rap, referring to himself as “homegrown country shit” in contrast to the slick city rap of most other southern rappers from Houston or Atlanta. His two latest mixtapes, Return Of 4Eva and K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, are available for free online.

    If you like Ludacris: Machine Gun Kelly
    If you’re a fan of Ludacris’ bombastic, quick flow, then try Machine Gun Kelly ­— who is named not after the famous gangster, but for the speed of his rap. Along with Big Boi’s new favorite rapper Yelawolf, Machine Gun Kelly is seeking to overthrow Eminem as the preeminent white rapper on the scene, and with production from Lex Luger (“Hard in da Paint‚“ “H.A.M.”), he has the backing to do it. He released two mixtapes in 2010, 100 Words and Running and Lace Up.

    If you like Lil B the Based God: Tyler, the Creator
    Tyler, the Creator, and by consequence his rap group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, made waves in the beginning of 2011 with their incessantly angry and explicit rap that seemed to come out of nowhere. Tyler is undoubtedly their leader, and his new album Goblin was released this May. In the video for “Yonkers,” a fiery, dark rap song that makes death threats to B.o.B and Bruno Mars, Tyler eats a cockroach, throws up and finally hangs himself.

    If you like Kid Cudi: Chiddy Bang
    Like KiD CuDi did on his early mixtapes by sampling Band of Horses’ “The Funeral,” Chiddy Bang appeals to the indie crowd by sampling bands like Radiohead, Passion Pit and MGMT for their brand of hip-hop. They produced a global hit with “Opposite of Adults‚“ but it only peaked at No. 90 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

    If you like N.E.R.D.: Christian Rich
    Christian Rich might sound like one person, but much like N.E.R.D, they are in fact a production team. In this case, Christian Rich is a twin brother duo responsible for various hits by Lil’ Kim and Clipse. Still, much of their production discography has gone unappreciated by the general public, including their work for Raekwon and Chris Brown.

    If you like Ke$ha: Uffie
    If your pop life isn’t dirty and grimy enough with Ke$ha’s glitter-infested hits running the radio, Uffie may be just your bottle of Jack. As Gaga and Ke$ha seek to bring Europop to American dance music, Uffie uses her Parisian connections to legitimize her sound with Europe’s biggest producers, from Justice to SebastiAn. Her debut album, Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans, met mixed reviews but performed well on French and Belgian charts.

    If you like Wiz Khalifa: Curren$y
    In the world of popular stoner rap, Wiz Khalifa is currently commercial king. In the critical world, no one holds a candle to Curren$y, whose recent albums made many year-end lists for 2010. Pilot Talk features Snoop Dogg and Mos Def and debuted at No. 39 on the Billboard 200, but didn’t have any big singles to propel Curren$y to the next level.

    If you like Drake: Nickelus F
    Like former Degrassi star Drake, Nickelus F’s fame comes from unexpected places. Nickelus F won BET’s Freestyle Friday competition for seven weeks in a row back in 2007, which attracted the attention of the still up-and-coming Drake. They’ve worked together on Drake’s early mixtapes, but Nickelus F has his own material worth checking out too. His latest solo mixtape, Season Premiere HD is available for free online.

    If you like Lupe Fiasco: J. Cole
    J. Cole is another mixtape-only rapper who brings an intelligent lyrical spin to his flow, much like Lupe Fiasco (pre-Lasers). Although he’s the first artist that Jay-Z signed to his label, which now hosts Willow Smith and other stars, Cole has not reached the level of commercial stardom that his critical acclaim would seem to lend him.


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