The 2010s ushered in an unparalleled era of rap, with stars like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Travis Scott carrying the torch and redefining the genre with countless hits.
But in this new era of music, some of rap’s best projects have been heavily overlooked and remained diamonds in a proverbial haystack. So, without further ado, here is The Spectrum’s list of the best underground rap projects of the 2010s, which will be sure to diversify your playlist:
Released in 2016, “Warlord” is the pinnacle of Yung Lean’s career. Spilling his heart out across 13 tracks (19 on the deluxe version), Lean sings about everything from cannabis anthems like “Afghanistan” to dark tales of drug-fueled loneliness like “Eye Contact,” where the Swedish rapper opens up more than ever, revealing a cry for help:
“Look into the sky and I see myself / I don’t wanna fall down, I don’t need your help / I just popped a pill, I can’t control myself.”
Always one to keep his friends close, Lean enlists the help of longtime companions, including rappers Thaiboy Digital, Bladee and producers Yung Sherman and Yung Gud.
No album is more user-friendly or acts as a better introduction to Yung Lean and his Sad Boys Entertainment collective than “Warlord.”
One of the best rappers to come out of the budding NYC-drill wave catalyzed by Pop Smoke, Sleepy Hallow’s debut album, “Don’t Sleep,” is the musical autobiography of a man who has experienced so much in his 21 years.
Feeling like an East Coast version of Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” Sleepy spits tales of betrayal on the eerily-titled “2 Fake” while getting in touch with his softer side on tracks like “Bestie” and “I Get Luv.”
But as always, Sleepy is at his greatest when fully embracing his gangster side, which is best seen on tracks like “Get Low” and “Breakin Bad (Okay),” which contain features from fellow Brooklyn-rappers ABG Neal and Sheff G, respectively.
While the variety of songs may appear mismatched at first glance, the album’s 14 tracks form a cohesive project that makes “Don’t Sleep” more remarkable than the sum of its parts.
Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper
One of the most low-key projects on a list of low-key projects, “Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper,” is the cream of the crop in the D.C. rapper’s simplistic yet catchy discography.
Containing a range of vocal styles that would make Young Thug proud, songs range from Gleesh screaming his easy on the memory bars in songs like “Annoying” to a heavy distorted autotune on “S--t on You,” which feels positively similar to the earlier music of modern pioneers Travis Scott and Chief Keef.
The album’s shining moment comes in the Yung Lean-assisted “It’s Sad Boy,” where the two artists rap with a cockiness that stems from their newfound success as musicians:
“The presidential suite / Trap house at Waldorf, but ain’t shit sweet / I’m geechy than a motherf----r, come f--k Gleesh / For a n---a the situation off the lean / Hopped off the plane in Sweden touch down / And I pictured the swisher to Yung Lean.”
An album that will likely continue to fade from memory as time passes, “Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper” is an essential project for any rap fan searching for similar sounds to those found on Travis Scott’s “Owl Pharaoh.”
One of the most unique rappers to come out of San Francisco, Larry June provides listeners with carefree raps backed by the transcending production of Cookin’ Soul in order to give his fans the masterpiece that is “Orange Season.”
Similar to fellow Bay Area rapper Lil B, Larry June is the embodiment of an M.C. who sings for fun. While some of his lyrics are hard to understand and his bars may not always rhyme, Larry June is the juxtaposition of modern day hip-hop, choosing to never take the medium too seriously and providing relaxation-inducing symphonies for the ear.
“All a n---a do is talk shit and count hundreds / Board another jet, meet my b---h out in London / One thing I learned being a P, never cuff ‘em / Every whip I got a push start and they run it / B---h looking like some real work, I might run her / Never would of knew she sold p---y on the under.”
The Wolf Gang’s Rodolphe
Xavier Wulf (known then as Ethelwulf)
In what is quite possibly the most underrated debut of the decade, Xavier Wulf quickly establishes his title as one of the hardest rappers ever, giving little time for newcomers to prepare for the appropriately titled introduction, “1st Chapta Of Tha Phonk.”
“If my pockets empty that won’t be ok / Wherever I lay / I got lethal killers surrounding the place / Test yo faith / Meanwhile I’ll be posted polishing the tray / So you say / You a gangsta n---a but y’all never spray.”
Mixing the soft, loving beats of Lo-Fi with the hardcore aggression Wulf is known for today, “The Wolf Gang’s Rodolphe” is a ballad for all creative outsiders of the world, spreading a message that people should focus on themselves and tell their haters to kick rocks.
The Kid Before Trunks
A member of Ski Mask the Slump God and the late XXXTentacion’s Members Only collective, Kid Trunks shines on “The Kid Before Trunks.”
The album may only contain three guest rappers, but fellow Members Only member Flyboy Tarantino provides his trademark deeply mature voice to complement the younger, more adventurous attitude heard in Trunks.
Continuing the same fast-rapped, curse-filled and rage-inducing lyricism of his peers, the Broward County, FL native gives fans a promising debut.
I No Longer Fear the Razor Guarding My Heel
Easily the shortest project on this list, this three-track EP is a mix of Budd Dwyer’s darkly calm phonk beats and the unpredictable volume of the $uicideBoys’ voices.
The EP makes this list for a simple reason: whether one is at a party or on a late night drive, in a mosh pit or even just sitting at home after a long of day of work, the album’s somber yet relaxing beats provide an eerily relatable mood that is never too depressing, but also not too upbeat.
Delusional Thomas (Mac Miller)
Yes, readers will almost certainly look at this and shout, “Mac Miller isn’t underground!”
And while Mac was definitely no stranger to mainstream success, this tape is more under the radar than many on this list, with even some die-hard fans oblivious to the project.
Utilizing his slow motion distorted voice featured prominently in the opening lines of “The Star Room,” Mac raps this voice under the alter-ego Delusional Thomas, and continues his descent into depression previously seen in “Watching Movies With the Sound Off.”
Far more grotesque and graphic than the rest of his discography, the mixtape features numerous line-crossing film and horrorcore references that would even make Eminem feel uncomfortable.
“Continue to spread diseases with my AIDS-infested penis / Putting seeds inside of b----es, give birth to r----ded fetuses”
With all of the production handled by Mac Miller under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman (except the track “Bill,” which is produced in collaboration with Earl Sweatshirt under his producer pseudonym, randomblackdude), “Delusional Thomas” is an essential project for any Mac Miller fan or music enthusiast looking for a dark depiction of human life.
NASA Gang Remastered
His flow and rhymes may not always grab listeners’ attention, and his quality has certainly dwindled since the late 2010s, but SpaceGhostPurrp’s “NASA Gang Remastered” is one of the most important tapes ever released, having a major influence on rappers such as A$AP Rocky, Denzel Curry and many others who were part of his clique, Raider Klan.
Despite being overshadowed by those two (along with others he helped influence), SGP still knows how to deliver simplistic and aggressive rhymes on a casual beat, which makes for a perfect early morning productivity session.
“SpaceGhostPurrp, I’mma bring this rap s--t back / Thanks to Bricksquad, them n---as brought that trap s--t back / My flow is like a train, the way I ride on a track / Never will I trust a b---h, they may stab you in the back.”
I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
Lil B added the parentheses portion to the title after receiving death threats and inspiring major controversy. “I’m Gay (I’m Happy)” is one of, if not the only, user-friendly album by Lil B, otherwise known as “The BasedGod.”
One of the most laid-back rap albums last decade, “I’m Gay (I’m Happy)” continued Lil B’s tradition of spitting positivity, bringing people together and teaching acceptance and love for one another through his rhymes.
“I’ma ask how you doing today / We gon’ win somehow, someway / The world going through a critical change / I just want us to be okay”
Acting as an influence to artists ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Lil Yachty, “I’m Gay (I’m Happy)” is the perfect entry point for any music fan looking to get in touch with The BasedGod.
Alex Falter is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.