Experimental Hip-Hop: Where to Start?

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Experimental Hip-Hop: Where to Start?

Photo by Cynthia Spalding via U.S Air Force


Rock needs a break; hip-hop is the zeitgeist of the current generation. With so many promising acts coming left and right from different regions, each with their own unique concept, it is exciting to be a hip-hop fan once more.

But while the mainstream sound of hip-hop and lyrical rap has been introduced to us quite too many times in the past by artists like Nas, Eminem, Jay-Z, and more recently, Kendrick Lamar, the hip-hop community is always on the lookout for something new, something that has not been explored in the genre in the past. Thus, we have seen the rise of experimental hip-hop artists.

These artists aim to break the boundaries of rap and pave new ways for the evolution of the hip-hop sound, and they don’t care about reaching the top of the charts. Sometimes they do, and maybe that has something to do with consumers wanting to get more out of their listening experience.

The following are some experimental hip-hop artists/groups that fans of the genre should definitely welcome.


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An artist with a very charismatic personality in front of the mic and a sense of humor that begs for a public backlash, Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, more popularly known as JPEGMAFIA or Peggy, just knows how to write what may seem like proper banter and be liked for it while presenting orthodox sounds that are as interesting as they are quirky. All of his great qualities were present in his critically acclaimed 2018 album “Veteran,” which was followed by his most recent album, “All My Heroes Are Cornballs.”


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This California-based experimental hip-hop group doesn’t mind being obscure, and is in fact, capitalizing on it. The group, while admitting to being inspired by the classic acts from the West Coast scene, incorporates noise and weird samples in its production quite a lot, which makes its music hard to swallow for the average listener.


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Famous for his contributions to the hip-hop group Madvillain, the mask-wearing Daniel Dumile, known better as MF DOOM, has become the face of the underground scene of the genre, inspiring many experimental MCs that followed him through his memorable one-liners and great production skills.


Photo by Julio Enriquez via Wikimedia Commons


Danny Brown

Daniel Dewan Sewell, also known as Danny Brown, can be whatever he wants, and he’ll definitely be good at it. This American rapper has consistently released records, each with its own unique set of qualities that make it stand out among the rest, from “XXX” in 2011, “Old” in 2013, and probably his most successful release to date, “Atrocity Exhibition” in 2016. Due to his sheer talent when it comes to crafting a compelling sound and mixing it with great verses and beats, he has been described as “one of rap’s most unique figures in recent memory” by MTV.


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Finally, a hip-hop group that is easy to get into. Though BROCKHAMPTON’s various inspirations can be heard in their music, which is, for the most part, easy to digest due to the group’s sheer ability to make a catchy hook, their framework as a rap collective is different compared to others. They have singers, producers, rappers, and even designers working together as one, mixing in ideas for their materials and creating something that is simple yet multi-layered. Oh, they also consider themselves more as a boy band, and in some way, they are.


Photo by Frank Morales via Wikimedia Commons


Earl Sweatshirt

American rapper and record producer Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, also known as Earl Sweatshirt, classifies his music as avant-garde, and it’s not hard to see why. He incorporates very unorthodox styles with his samples, despondent rapping flows, cynical verses, and a lo-fi quality to his mixing. His album “Some Rap Songs” is highly regarded as his best work to date, but if you’re planning to try him, don’t expect to hear a bop because everything is so disturbing yet so weirdly satisfying when you get into it.


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Death Grips

Probably the most abrasive, brutal, reckless, and experimental of them all is the Sacramento-based hip-hop group Death Grips. Everything they present is so dark and so gut-punching that it is hard to listen to their music and think that it is good music based on the standards of what good hip-hop is. Death Grips’ sound is so distinct yet so established for their brand that it breaks all preconceived notions of what hip-hop and music, in general, should be. You’ll get the hang of it eventually and maybe ending up loving them, but you would have to subject yourself to such torture first before you can find bliss.




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