In sports, Under 20 classification helps us separate the elite prospects from the pretenders. Our “Top 20 Rappers, 20 and Under” grouping is no different. The following is a reflection of the multiple roads taken by emerging artists, some more independently than others.
These artist profiles range in stature from the unencumbered: rappers like Spurge denoting a tendency to remain unsigned by their own volition. Other teen sensations such as NBA Youngboy have entered the all-ages quotient, with little regard for Internet or media savvy. NBA’s story is particularly rousing, because he’s done so on the merits of his mercurial talent, overcompensating for a lack of experience.
Other “Top 20” entrants like Juice WRLD have achieved so much in so little time, that it’s produced a situation in which they’ve grown out of their previous material/impulses as a consequence. Juice is already readying the second phase of his career, all before reaching the legal drinking limit in the United States.
Whatever the case may be, the following are the most deserving of our critical attention. Each of the artists listed comes brandishing their very own come-up story, with no exception. Hopefully, our Best Of compendium will help to dispel the myth of overnight sensations being born out of rubble. Regrettably, no such thing exists.
Here are the rappers, presented in no particular order, as discerned by the HNHH team.
NBA YoungBoy (19)
Many were surprised to learn that NBA YoungBoy enjoyed a prosperous reign as YouTube’s highest streamed artist, a revelation made all the more startling by several notable factors. For one, the Baton Rouge rapper hardly fits the mold of mainstream stardom. His music, prolific in its release schedule, forsakes radio-friendly sensibilities in favor of authentic street narratives. Second, his recurring legal issues and magnetic pull toward controversy renders him incapable of stringing together a worldwide tour. And yet, YoungBoy has continued to thrive, especially on a creative level.
A father of four, a veteran of prison, and a multi-platinum record artist, NBA YoungBoy has proven himself a cut above many of his peers – particularly in this under-twenty age-bracket. His ear for melody is second-to-none, whether he’s pouring his pain over an instrumental, or exuding menace with credibility borne of hardened experience. Not to mention, the young man has enjoyed a surprising turn as hip-hop’s most eligible bachelor. Even when skeptical listeners initially approached with caution, YoungBoy ultimately surprised the doubters on Until Death Call My Name and his greater catalog, a grounded reflection on his road-thus-traveled.
Jaden Smith (20)
It’s no wonder that the progeny of Will Smith emerged as musically apt. Like father like son as they say. Though where Will opted for a larger than life bombastic approach to flow, Jaden gave in to the je-ne-sais-quois of his inner mystique. Such vibes were evident within his every move. From his tweets, sometimes endearingly faux-deep, to his interesting take on contemporary “art-rap,” Smith’s approach proved unique amidst a sea of trend-hoppers. Songs like “Icon” reveal a keen ear for constructing flow, and while his bars might not elicit recurring bombs from Flex, they certainly get the job done in an efficient manner.
Yet it’s his open-mindedness, his desire to embrace musical experimentation, that truly sets him apart. Consider the way he opened SYRE: a four-part creation called “BLUE,” conceptual in nature and ambitious in execution, marrying a variety of different ideas into one cohesive musical journey. While his bold approach to songwriting does not always yield home-runs, it’s refreshing to see a young artist exploring new sonic territory with such adventurous spirit. In a game in which longevity holds the key to success, Jaden Smith’ may find himself undergoing a variety of reinventions, each more daring than the last. A kaleidoscope in musical form.
It’s a game in which imitation is the highest form of flattery. It’s also a game in which imitation often holds the key to fleeting success. Therefore, when one hears a young artist so unabashedly original, it’s difficult to ignore. Upon experiencing Atlanta rapper Domani’s Time Will Tell album, it became evident that the young rapper spared no detail. Such meticulousness was revealed through his ear for production, which he oversaw to an intimate degree; by his own admission, he played the integral role of orchestrator, bringing the soundtrack from his mind to a studio setting, where he assisted his producers in realizing his vision. It’s no wonder his album is lined with cinematic instruments, sweeping string sections, and brass arrangements, not often seen in a modern hip-hop album.
Luckily, Domani’s prowess extends beyond the producorial. His honest lyrics and penchant for storytelling unveil a layered individual, unafraid to appear vulnerable. For those reasons, it’s easy to feel connected to him as a narrator, to sympathize and root for him amidst times of tribulation. Should you be looking for a project with genuine substance, one that can be consumed from start to finish in a linear fashion, look no further than Domani’s Time Will Tell.
Nimic Revenue (20)
Rappers are entering political discourses at an unprecedented level in 2019. In the case of Nimic Revenue, the Def Jam signee can thank the Minnesota ledger for its unequivocal vote of confidence. In the eyes of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Nimic Revenue is already a legend in her home state, since becoming the first Minnesotan in over 20 years to sign with Def Jam. No small feat, by any stretch of the imagination.
Hailing from nearby St. Paul, Nimic began her ascent within the confines of her family home. She and her brother platooned under the moniker MIKAZE, before deciding to go their separate ways after coming up short as a conjoint entity. The split proved incisive, as it allowed Nimic Revenue a deeper exploration into her character, before the oppressive weather branded her a social pariah. Nimic never looked the part of a typical female rapper at any point in her trajectory.
You could argue that St. Paul, Minnesota was just the environment to provide her deep coverage, and unfettered support, as she came into her own. Nimic Revenue and Lizzo stand a good chance of joining Brother Ali and Slug atop Minnesota’s Mount of Rushmore. Nimic is here to prove that counting your chickens on the spot is a rookie mistake.
In a December interview, Lil Baby revealed plans to retire once his feeder roster was fully operational. A big part of that plan appears to be centered around the careers of Rylo Rodriguez and NoCap, two ascending rappers from Mobile, Alabama signed to his imprint.
Although Rylo and NoCap often identify as a duo on the regional circuit, Lil Baby has sought to break up that CoDependence in an effort to highlight their individuality. In the early going, NoCap has been the one to grab the pole position, his breakthrough moment coming in the way of “Ghetto Angels,” a song/music video where he endears himself to the public by first appealing to the man upstairs – his entourage doubling as a choir assembly when called upon. If you’re seeking an alternative to higher learning that isn’t preachy, self-righteous, or something they’ve branded Christian Rap, look no further than NoCap. His pen name says it all.
Calboy’s “Envy Me” is the viral single that led him to becoming an artist who garners 5-million-plus-streams on Spotify, although it happened in such a lowkey fashion, you might have missed it, until it was a veritable hit. The rapper explained to us in our recent On the Come Up episode how he had never even seen 100,000 streams on any of his music until “Envy Me” started to take off– and then proceeded to hit 1 million in one week– the rest is history.
As with many viral signings, though, it becomes difficult to discern at what point he went from his righteous independent grind to having a major label, RCA, step in and help bolster his early success and sound. No matter, the melodic Chicago native recently released his first full-length effort on a major, Wildboy EP, which contains somewhat of a who’s who of your favorite melodic street-oriented rapper: from Lil Durk to Moneybagg Yo to fellow rapper-under-20, Polo G. Apart from a strong list of features though, more importantly, it showcases Calboy’s song-making abilities and sharp ear for warm, melodic beats, which perfectly compliment his internal musings and outward bravado; often it’s a balance of the two.
YK Osiris (18)
Think of YK Osiris as a rap-teen-heartthrob, for lack of a better description. The 18-year old only has a handful of official records out, and has already notched a deal with Def Jam Records, appearing on their recent UNDISPUTED compilation album. Each of the songs currently released, as he prepares a full-length debut, are emotional, love-fueled ballads that display the surprisingly gritty vocals of the artist– a texture that adds to the urgency of each of the songs. While the sample size is small, it is extremely strong, and considering his young age, it’s only up from here for YK.
Akin to YK Osiris, Lil Tjay also offers melodic rap bangers. Though where YK is often fueled by interactions with the ladies, Tjay’s narratives are driven by his early life in the streets of the Bronx. At just 17-years old, Tjay child-like cadence is in stark contrast to his content, but it works wonders over the pop-leaning production choices.
With this dichotomy in place, he’s built up a solid career — including a deal with Columbia Records– and fanbase incurring over 10 million streams on his Spotify account. However, as a true born-and-raised Soundcloud artist, his one mixtape, No Comparison, cannot be found on any of the major streaming services– yet, as the streams clearly indicate, the replay value on Tjay’s music is so insanely high that the fact that we are relegated to a constant loop of “Brothers,” “Ruthless” and “Leaked” doesn’t really matter.
Lil Skies (20)
Hailing from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, 20-year-old rapper Lil Skies has been one of the most impressive young rappers in the game thanks to his melodic approach to song making. Skies rose to fame in late 2017 thanks to the release of his two hit singles “Red Roses” and “Nowadays” which both have features from Landon Cube. The music videos for these tracks currently have over 381 million combined views on YouTube.
Skies’ first major label project with Atlantic Records came in the form of Life of a Dark Rose back in January of 2018 which contained the two singles that put him on the map. Earlier this year on March 1st, Skies followed up that mixtape with his debut Album Shelby which sold 54,000 units first week, putting him fifth on the Billboard album charts.
As Lil Skies progresses with his career and matures as an artist, he will surely be someone to look out for.
– Alex Cole
Trippie Redd (19)
At just 19 years old, Trippie Redd has been one of the most recognizable young voices in hip-hop thanks to his wild vocal style and melodic delivery. Back in May of 2017, Trippie released his first mixtape A Love Letter To You which featured the song that blew him up, “Love Scars.” The success from this track led to his feature on XXXTentacion’s hit song “Fuck Love” which to this day is one of Soundcloud’s most popular tunes.
After dropping A Love Letter To You 2 in October of 2017, Trippie went through a very public beef with 6ix9ine that led to a whole lot of trolling. He was then featured on the 2018 XXL Freshman List which further his ascent into the rap’s elite. With his notoriety growing, Trippie released his first album, Life’s A Trip which contained a huge single in “Dark Knight Dummo” with Travis Scott. Since then, the third installment in the A Love Letter To You series was released back in November which had fans demanding even more music. Now that his latest single “Under Enemy Arms” has dropped, fans can expect a new project very soon.
– Alex Cole
Jay Gwuapo (18)
Jay Gwuapo is one of the most interesting young artists coming out of Brooklyn right now thanks to his style which blends bars and melodies. Back in February of 2018, the artist hit the scene with his song “Downbad” which has racked up close to 6.8 million plays on Soundcloud and almost 4 million views on YouTube. Songs such as “Lifestyle” and “Too Late” have further proved that Jay is a big hit amongst fans looking for the younger voices in the game.
With so many tracks on Soundcloud, fans were hoping for a project and that’s exactly what he gave them. On May 10th of this year, Gwuapo came through with his first mixtape, From Nothing Pt. 1 which had ten tracks with features from artists like Lil Tjay, Don Q, Calboy, and Kj Balla. At just 18 years old, it’s clear that Jay Gwuapo has a bright future ahead of him and has the tools to be one of the best artists in his age range.
Juice WRLD’s jump to superstardom happened exceptionally quickly with a rocket being strapped to his back, taking him all the way to outer space. Lyrics about heartbreak, substance abuse, and depression have connected with a youthful audience that desperately searches for ways to cope with their emotions. Juice managed to tap into that crowd to deliver timeless anthems that will stand as gems in his discography. With two albums and a collaborative project with Future in the books, the sky is the limit for this 20-year-old.
Lil Mosey (17)
17-year-old Lil Mosey is somebody that you’ve likely heard of without diving too deep into his music. If that’s the case, be prepared for a symphony of melodies to come out of this baby-faced teenager. With boyish features, Mosey is somewhat of a heartthrob to an audience of girls that have absolutely fallen in love with him. His debut album Northsbest was released last year to high praise with most fans gravitating toward his hits “Noticed” and “G Walk” with Chris Brown.
The young man from Seattle has a good shot at becoming one of the future leaders in trap sonics. With three years ahead of him before he even reaches the age of twenty, Mosey’s gift for crafting catchy hooks will likely serve him well in the coming years.
Lil Tecca (16)
Lil Tecca is one of the names on this list that may not stand out to the majority of readers. That’s partly what makes him such an interesting wildcard, though. The 16-year-old New York rapper is making a name for himself and his rise mirrors that of many others we’ve witnessed in the last few years. Tecca’s most recent single “Ransom” has been his biggest hit by far and with youth on his side, he has a serious chance at one day topping this list. After all, he’s still got four more years before he even reaches his twenties.
Backed by famed videographer Cole Bennett and Internet Money producer Nick Mira, Lil Tecca has loads of star potential. He’s already beginning to creep into the mainstream and although his musical ascent didn’t happen as suddenly as somebody like Juice WRLD, the two are still remarkably similar. Both rappers are twenty or under with singles produced by Mira, videos by Bennett and an insane talent for creating catchy melodies. Lil Tecca is somebody that you’ll want to keep an eye on because when he hits his twenties, he may very well be unstoppable.
After releasing his most recent album We All Shine, Melly turned himself into the police on double murder charges, joining his friend YNW Bortlen in the system. The majority of his fans were surprised to hear about what he allegedly did to YNW Sakchaser and YNW Juvy, especially after he sent out such a touching tribute message to them, but he appears to be very good at masking his true intentions. Pushing a Melly Vs. Melvin narrative in the weeks leading up to his arrest, the young Florida artist caught everybody’s attention and while he certainly deserves a spot on this list, we likely won’t be hearing much music from him in the coming years.
Staying close to a regularly-visited stoop sure has its benefits. Just ask Splurge, a 17-year old Texas native who’s become a fringe member Kenny Beats’ growing pack of associates. Splurge’s rap career could have easily gone the way of obsolescence, had it not been for a spirited intervention from SayCheeseTV’s Shawn Cotton, visiting his mother in an effort to convince her of his blindsighted talent.
With Splurge back on the beaten track, his music would seen become an indescribable force to the common listener, as evidenced by his song “Intro Part 2” playing the foreground to a #woahchallenge posted by Lil Uzi Vert – rightly interpreted as a co-sign from an older sibling of sorts.
Although he and Cotton don’t currently work together in any capacity, Splurge openly credits his fellow Texan with the rescue of his then-fledgling career. Since then, Splurge has produced a highlight reel that includes a string of mixtapes, and a feature on Rico Nasty’s Anger Management, without ever having signed a major deal. Splurge seems to be employing the long game, in the hopes of building up his bidding power within the industry.
– Devin Ch
Quando Rondo (20)
Very few of our “Under 20” entrants put on a more impassioned display than Savannah, Georgia’s Quando Rondo. The 20-year old disciple of NBA YoungBoy, himself a member of this list, is noted for a “live by the sword” mentality that brings him both plaudits and unwanted attention (in the worst of times). Right from the onset of “I Remember” with Lil Baby, it had become painfully evident that Quando was going to bear his soul, even at the risk of self-injury.
Rondo’s self-indulgence is evidently a major selling point, even if he’s yet to master the confessional style on his own terms. His audience doesn’t seem to mind that his storytelling is at times, devoid of context. Inferences of death, or betrayal, are conveyed in such a prophetic manner, that espouses support from his followers, regardless of the circumstances.
Similar in character to his NBA namesake Rajon Rondo, Quando is inherently a positive thinker, in search of peace in a chaotic world. What you might infer as Quando performing a live catharsis is really just the impression left by a young artist with unprecedented instincts for the craft. For that reason, Quando could very well sit atop this list once he’s realized his full-potential – somewhere down the line.
Compton’s Roddy Ricch is a regionally ambiguous rapper. He doesn’t sound anything like those that came before him such as Kendrick Lamar or YG but his story is similar to theirs. The release of his infectious breakout hit “Die Young” put Roddy Ricch on the list of rapper’s to watch and Feed The Streets 2 solidified that. At only 20-years-old, he’s made quite the impression in the rap game. Meek Mill and Nipsey Hussle, who featured Roddy on “Racks In The Middle, were early fans of the rapper. Post Malone later brought the Compton rapper on the road with him in Europe before they collaborated on the “Wow (Remix).”
Roddy Ricch hasn’t broken into the mainstream market yet but he’s surely on his way. With a unique sound that transcends the West Coast, he’s already shown that he has global appeal while telling his story about his Compton roots.
Polo G (20)
The drill movement in Chicago is still alive and well. Although its wave died down since Chief Keef’s emergence, its influence is undeniable in the new artists that have come into the game. Polo G’s one of those artists whose formidable years were spent in the drill era and it’s evident in his music. He effortlessly switches between rapid flows like G Herbo to delivering a more harmonious effort like Lil Durk. Even with the more street heavy content, it isn’t drowning in braggadocious lyrics. Polo’s genuine vulnerability across his latest project, Die A Legend helped him make his mark in the game.
Polo G only turned 20 at the beginning of the year. He’s still a youngin’ in the game with a long way to go but it looks like he’s already carved out his own path in the game and we’re excited to follow him on his journey in the coming years.
Lil Berete (17)
Toronto’s hip-hop scene goes way deeper than simply Drake, The Weeknd or Tory Lanez. In fact, there’s a surge of young rappers who aren’t telling the story of the glitz and glam of Toronto’s nightlife. Young Berete is currently one of the hottest rappers coming out of the 6ix right now. Before the release of his 2018 EP, Icebreaker, his music was spreading via word of mouth while he racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
Although his name might not be as prominent as other rappers on this list who’ve received co-signs and backings from major labels, his grassroots rise is making him one of the hottest young artists in the streets. His efforts have garnered him a buzz in the U.K. as well after working with Loski on “Go N Get It.” More recently, he appeared on Nafe Smallz’ “Money, Sex & Drugs.” At 17-years-old, Lil Berete is showing signs of becoming the next to break out of the 6ix.