Everyone loves to rep his/her favorite rappers – the good ones. For those who prefer the periphery, there are always the rappers who are next to blow, the underground sensations nobody’s talking about yet. But what about the ones who’ll never make it, or the rappers who have made it big but get no real cred? Today, we celebrate our favorite struggle rappers, the guys and girls who’ll never been seen as legit in anyone’s eyes but our own.
Winston Cook-Wilson: Young Scooter doesn’t get the credit he deserves for making (when he tries) great songs. He is, unabashedly, a just-serviceable and unproficient lyricist, but to me he’s one of the artists dutifully carrying forward the spirit of Flockaveli. Scooter’s stuff is still lean, mean, to-the-point trap with a hypnotic effect. With the right producers, it’s a done deal.
His original Street Lottery tape remains a perennial favorite of mine. I love when Future puts him on tracks, loyal as Future is to his Freebandz brethren. I like the timbre of his voice, too; sometimes it sounds like he’s not comfortable projecting over a beat, and it gets a funny warble in it. I like to hear it.
But maybe more importantly, let me also just float that I think that the guy from Cake has been unfairly shut out of the conversation. On the 4th this year, on the tipping point of a blackout, I revisited the approximately five Cake songs I know over my phone speakers. Even on there (and others concurred), they sounded good as hell; “Short Skirt / Long Jacket,” forget about it. If Macklemore had toned his thing down a bit, got that Cake-y telephone effect going on his voice, and made “Thrift Shop” a mariachi song, we might be talking about him in a very different way.
Irv da Phenom
Corban Goble: When in doubt, I ride for a Kansas City guy who hasn’t really put it together. Kansas City rap is a fascinating thing; Tech N9ne is kind of the undisputed don of the scene, but what he does – make maximalist, weirdo, borderline horror-core rap music – isn’t easily copied or scalable. Instead, you have guys who sit on other regional styles and do their own messy-ass thing.
There are a bunch of opportunists in the scene, like B Double E, who has formed a cottage industry writing about the area’s sports teams.
A guy I’ve always rooted for is Irv da Phenom, who seems extraordinarily confused by what his image should be. He’s a guy who, it seems, has floated outside the periphery of the major label scene some, but hasn’t really caught on to what his sound is. One of his first releases was the self-consciously-named Who the F#@k Is Irv da Phenom? Anytime he’s in town, I’m buying a ticket. “Red & Yellow” forever.
Matthew Strauss: I stand so hard for Lil Debbie that I once saw her open for Freddie Gibbs and left before Gibbs even got near the stage. I was totally satisfied with seeing a 5’4” white woman rap over some basic Bay tracks and say “bitch” a lot. Debbie’s not a gimmick, though. It’s easy to see her as a Kreayshawn knockoff, but any comparisons are purely superficial. Kreayshawn got big off a viral hit with a killer hook. Debbie’s not flashy. She doesn’t have particularly impressive bars, but she has great delivery. Her flow’s actually more open than a lot of more traditional hyphy rappers.
Her best attribute, though, is her self-consciousness. She’s good-natured about being a white woman in rap without ever being self-parodying or using it as a crutch for success. She owns her appearance and sexuality, turning a potential weakness in the wrong hands into an intimidation tactic.
Eric Francisco: John Cena, the professional wrester/beefy white guy in the jorts your nephew likes released an actual, honest-to-goodness album in 2005 – You Can’t See Me. It was a semi-serious effort that coincided with a mid-2000’s hip-hop gimmick he brandished to the ring in the beginning of his grappling career. The weird joke was (and still is) that he actually can rap. The persona was born when management heard him freestyle for shits-‘n’-giggles in the locker room. “A white rapper? That’s funny!” And it became real.
There’s a lot of nonsense in You Can’t See Me – his flow is great; the words are garbage – and he pretty much takes a backseat to his cousin, Tha Trademarc. Every song is a tag-team effort, and though Cena has some killer lines (“Too raw for your Monday night” was my MySpace quote), he’s overshadowed by his blood.
I’d never put on John Cena during a party or around friends who actually know a thing or two about hip-hop. But if you’re ever at the gym, give a listen. Who better to get swole to than a man with biceps bigger than your head?