By Amari Newman & Quentin Zimbalist
We are SleepWalker Entertainment. Starting off as a radio show on Oberlin College’s WOBC 91.5fm in 2018 dedicated to highlighting underground Hip-Hop and the community that surrounds it, we have expanded into the journalistic side of music, publishing various reviews, lists, and articles related to music. These have ranged from album of the year lists to interviews with different musicians who have performed at Oberlin including Suzi Analogue, VRITRA, Ethereal, NappyNappa, and SIR E.U. Right around this time last year we published our very first “Freshman List,” built off of XXL magazine’s idea of highlighting artists relatively new to the rap game who gained a lot of attention in the most recent year. Seeing how XXL’s list seemed to increasingly lose touch with the current wave of genuine Hip-Hop, SleepWalker looked to create our own list of new(ish) artists who we believe are making important impacts on the direction of the genre. The following list will highlight the breakthrough rappers, producers and visual artists of this past year, who we believe people are listening to and want to experience.
Rappers: Pop Smoke (RIP), Baby Smoove, Hook, Baby Fifty, Babyxsosa, Camden Malik, BKTHERULA
Producers: Evil Giane, Adé Hakim, Axl Beats, JWords, Hi-C, DamnJonBoi, GAWD
Visual Artists: Nitetive Visuals, Revenxnt, DVD CITY, The Realest Photographer Ever, Brick Productions, 1Drince, She Skin
SleepWalker wanted to write a tribute to the late young superstar, Pop Smoke. The young Brooklyn-born prodigy emerged in the public eye in January with his hit record, FLEXIN, and followed that up with the song of the summer, Welcome to the Party. Pop Smoke’s 2019 was one of the greatest breakout years of all time within the hip-hop music industry, and it was apparent that he would remain a star for years to come. His death was a tremendous tragedy for not only those within the Hip Hop community, but millions of his fans across the world.
Rest in Peace, Pop Smoke.
Baby Smoove, one of Detroit’s newest household names has actually been dropping music for quite some time now. The oldest song of his I could find was Supersonic, a track he dropped in 2012 under the name “Bandcrew Smoove”, he used a few different aliases before finding his current stage name. Smoove holds onto instrumentals in an incredibly natural way. Sliding in and out of rhythm, on and off of the beat, he always finds his place when the downbeat comes back around. His quiet, inflectionless delivery is a stark contrast to his lyrical content. Smoove raps about his lavish lifestyle, he enjoys splurging on the indulgences he lived without as a child. Other Detroit artists recognize Smoove’s prowess and collaborate with him when allowed. Recently he has worked with big name artists and producers from all over the city like Veeze, Icewear Vezzo, Rocaine, Michigan Meech, and Topside. Needless to say, Baby Smoove definitely earned his position in life, and on this list.
From Riverside, California (Inland Empire /IE) the 21 year old has been gaining steady recognition for her unorthodox flow and distinct style. Hook has been making music since she was 9 years old, travelling and performing in an R&B/Rap group with her step-sisters. As Hook got older, she shifted her focus onto her solo career, garnering a lot of attention throughout the underground with the release of her mixtape “Bully” in early 2019. Hook has made a name for herself for her flows that incorporate elaborate mid-verse pauses, laughs, gasps, and ad libs emanating an unparalleled energy that makes a listener’s body uncontrollably convulse from pure pleasure. In the latter half of 2019 and early 2020, Hook put out a few more mixtapes alongside her debut album Crashed My Car, which displayed her steady evolution in sound and abilities to make great music. A frequent collaborator of legendary underground producer nedarb, Hook has also worked with Bootychaaain, WorkingOnDying, RCB and even comedian/rapper Zack Fox. More and more people are becoming aware of the greatness that is Hook, making the rest of 2020 even more exciting for herself and supporters.
From Southeast, Washington D.C., the 19 year old’s nonchalant delivery of bars describing rampant death and destruction over any type of beat has quickly solidified himself as one of the most exciting rappers in the city. Fifty’s spaced out delivery accompanied with lyrics packed with punchlines, lingo, double entendres and signature ad libs allows each one of his sinister bars to imprint itself on any listener’s mind. There are very few rappers who can make you feel like everything they say is true, and Baby Fifty is one of them. Every song feels like he is having a calm conversation about the lethal activities he partakes in on a casual Monday. Fifty remains pretty individual in his output with his last few projects being featureless, but he has worked with frequent collaborator Hu$tle, MoneyMarr, and Cheecho. Fifty is one of the youngest and most respected artists from the DC area, and will continue to raise the bar for the remainder of the year.
The 19 year old Richmond, VA native grabbed attention from the whole underground with the release of the GAWD-produced single “EVERYWHEREIGO” in the middle of 2019. She then joined the New York-based collective Surf Gang and continued to pump out amazing music, including her newest EP BABYXOBAMA. Even though her recognition is relatively recent, Babyxsosa has been releasing musical content since 2015 making waves in the Richmond area as a DJ and producer. Her musical experience is clear in her diverse selection of beats, and complex structures of harmonies and verses. Babyxsosa’s high pitched voice allows her to casually hit octaves that sound perfect in your eardrums, and her mastery of switching between rapping and singing mid-verse creates a distinct flow that only sosa can achieve. She has collaborated with fellow Surf Gang members Evil Giane, Polo Perks and Pasto Flocco, and has a notable catalogue of collaborations with fellow Richmond artist and freshman GAWD. Babyxsosa has undeniable potential, which she fulfills with every new release, making the rest of her 2020 an exciting sight to see.
From New York City by way of Sacramento, California; Camden Malik has proved time and time again that he is beyond worthy of his place on this list. I was made aware of Camden when I saw him perform Live this past summer. I attended a Show Me the Body show in Ridgewood, Queens because of the opener, MIKE. During MIKE’s set, he allowed some friends of his to perform their music as well. Among these friends were big names such as Pink Siifu and King Carter, as well as Camden Malik, whom I was unaware of at the time. He performed his track “Dreams”, and it was easily the best performance of the set. Malik seemed to hit every word of the song, captivating the entire crowd as he spit circles around the mic in his gold-rimmed glasses. After the performance, I began researching him, only to find his stockpile of music on the internet, recently working with artists like ZelooperZ and Darryl 10k. He finds ways to pack all of his rhymes with meaning, while placing them into pockets of the beats that most artists would not even know existed. I truly think this guy could rap over anything and I can’t wait to see what he brings the rest of 2020.
From Atlanta, Georgia, BKTHERULA is proving to be one of the most exciting female rappers coming from the area. She started putting out music in 2017, but gained attention at the beginning of 2019 for her underground hit “Faygo.” BK continued to pump out hits throughout 2019 including her biggest hit “Tweakin Together.” BK’s punch-in delivery mixed with her high vocal octave is entrancing, and is combined with a myriad of futuristic melodies and next level 808s, making her music impossible to not bob your head to. She has enhanced her singing capabilities over the year dropping her debut project Love Santana where more than half of the songs explore her melodic capabilities that hit a sonic sweet spot, giving a soothing massage to a listener’s heart and mind. But BK can follow up any ballad with an intense barrage of strictly bars, that automatically gives you the stank face. This past year, BK has worked with Atlanta producers Digital Nas and Rxlvnd, and has been a frequent collaborator of Autumn! and fellow freshman Hook. In fact, the two artists are rumored to have a collaborative mixtape that could be released at any moment. BK already stands apart from the flood of artists who gained attention in 2019, and her willingness to explore her capabilities on more experimental releases gives her the potential to truly skyrocket to another level.
Surf Gang CEO Evil Giane is probably at the forefront of the New York City underground right now, and moving upward at an astounding speed. Giane has been producing for a few years now, using other monikers such as YUNALOE and aloevine before adopting his current alias. Originally, Aloevine dropped mostly house music tracks, but he began releasing hip-hop beats a few years ago and has not slowed down since. Giane’s trademark sound these days consists of clean and punchy drums, and uplifting melodies, though through his leaks and posts online, it is clear that this producer’s talent extends way beyond his sound, as his drill and even experimental punk beats rival some of the greats. Recently, Evilgiane has placements with a plethora of up and coming stars; HOOK, Babyxsosa, and Pasto Flocco, as well as songs with established underground heroes like Black Kray (SickBoyRari) and BootyChaaain. I’ve already called 2020 as the year of Surf Gang so it only makes sense that Giane will continue to fly as the CEO. Expect big things.
From the Bronx, NYC, the 21 year old rapper and producer has been putting out music as far back as 2014 under the name Sixpress. Adé is a member of the [sLUms] collective, and has helped curate the next phase of New York’s sound that gained a lot of mainstream popularity this past year. Hakim incorporates a wide range of sonic layers in his production including violins, horns, cries and moans from blues songs, piano riffs, and video game effects. These are all stretched, reversed and changed in pitch, creating a brand new authentic melody. This is accompanied by snares, claps, kicks and 808s that are also adjusted, giving them a mechanized sound that allows the expansive nature of his production to fully form. Listening to an Adé Hakim beat sounds like you are strolling through a busy robotic construction site with headphones on that is playing Miles Davis at half the normal speed in one ear, and the Sonic The Hedgehog videogame score in the other. Hakim has worked with a large number of New York legends in the making including MIKE, King Carter, Medhane and Navy Blue, and has expanded his sound past the city working with NAPPYNAPPA, Pink Siifu and Earl Sweatshirt. Adé Hakim is one of the most positive artists in the game and his constant output of good will continue to come back to him for the rest of the year.
If this list was ranked and based sheerly on streaming numbers, Axlbeats would be at the top. Axl found himself in 2019 getting placements with world renowned superstars such as Travis Scott and Drake. Luckily, Here at SleepWalker we believe in more than numbers on the screen below the song, but we wanted to acknowledge AxlBeats’ accomplishments nonetheless. The London Based Producer’s career began in 2016, where he became locally popular for flipping Chicago style drill beats into more modern, new sounds. Axl then rode the drill wave all the way to Brooklyn, producing for artists like Sheff G, Fivio Foreign, and Pop Smoke, as well as A-List Celebrities Rich the Kid, and Jay Critch. Axl ended his 2019 incredibly strong, by producing Drake’s drill inspired track “War”. If you haven’t heard Axl beats by now you may need to check and see if your radio is still working, but you will definitely hear him for the rest of 2020.
From Union City, New Jersey, JWords is rapidly making waves across the Hip-Hop and Electronic community. Releasing music as far back as 2015, JWords produces intricately structured soundscapes that incorporate digital synths with complex progressions, and old soul samples. The jazzy layout of her bass patterns, and mystical sounds that accompany them, reminds one of a chandelier of chimes flowing in a slight breeze. JWords can also switch it up, creating fast paced and unique sound structures that sound like futuristic versions of Salsa and Bachata, which she notes are heavy influences on her musical output. Her preference of hardware in music creation gives it a more genuine feel, and contributes to her next-level live performances. Listening to JWords feels like traveling through the ocean in an underwater spacecraft at 1000 mph, but the speed isn’t overwhelming, it’s actually very soothing. Now a member of the NeverNormal Collective, JWords has been garnering attention throughout the past year. She’s worked with MIKE, Suzi Analogue, King Carter, and Nappy Nina, while also performing with other contemporary greats at live shows throughout New York City. She released her debut EP Sin Senal earlier this year and recently led an Ableton-sponsored beat making workshop. The momentum is only building for JWords, and 2020 seems like it will be her breakout year.
A member of the infamous Reptilian Club Boyz (RCB), Hi-C has been making waves in the underground as far back as 2013. Adopting various monikers like HighCee and C Boogie, the Richmond-based artist has always stood apart for his futuristic and majestic melodies, reminiscent of the soundtrack to a final boss battle in Ninja Gaiden, that are combined with hard-hitting 808s and kick patterns. This sound is leveled up by an insane assortment of sound effects that range from soundbites from Super Smash Brothers, SoulCaliber, Dragon Ball Z, Nascar races, thunderstorms, gun shots, applause and evil laughs. This past year, Hi-C’s talents seem to have been collectively noticed by the underground, landing him features and placements with fellow RCB members Diamnodsonmydick and Cartier’GOD, along with Surf Gang, Hook, Marcy Mane,and NolanBeRollin. Everything is lining up for Hi-C and RCB to reach massive heights in their musical content and impact on the general rap culture this year.
The Detroit Hip-hop scene saw a flourishing 2019. Reaping many of the benefits of this newfound popularity was the incredibly versatile and talented DamJonBoi. 2019 gave Jon placements on underground smash hits with talent like Teejayx6, Sada Baby, Kasher Quon, FMB DZ, Drego Baby, and Lil Beno. On top of all of his 2019 placements, he had a strong end of 2018 producing Drego & Beno’s “Recipe 2”, which has amassed over 5 million views on Youtube and a plethora more streams. Aside from producing, DamJonBoi has been laying down vocals of his own. His smooth voice and classic Detroit style inflection work amazingly in his songs, many of which showcase his lavish rockstar lifestyle. Needless to say, JonBoi is up now for 2020.
The 20 year old Richmond, Virginia native is one of the most hardworking artists in the game. Holding the largest discography of released songs on our list, GAWD has nearly 1,200 tracks just on his SoundCloud. With a vast amount of monikers including 65 Cent, Black John Stockton, DJ Lil Stank, and Lil Coochie Burp, GAWD has consistently been dropping great music since 2014. His production consists of Pharrel-like synths and chord progressions matched with signature distorted 808s that often fall in a simple 4/4 pattern. His addition of piano runs, harps, and video game effects to this formula elevates his sound to another level. Every GAWD beat is pleasing to the ear and always has a bounce, no matter how different they are from each other. Even though he has been on the scene for years, GAWD has gained a lot of attention this past year as his collaborations with fellow Richmond artist Babyxsosa have grown in popularity. On top of collaborations with Karmah and RCB, GAWD did a DJ session with Noble Spell in New York for Corpus Radio this past summer. It seems like he is finally getting the necessary recognition for years of hard work, and it’s exciting to see what the rest of 2020 holds for him.
The 20 year old videographer based out of France has stood apart from the surge of artists producing intricate edits for the current output of music videos. Nitetive has been releasing video content since 2017, often consisting of minute long edits of rappers like A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert being put in alternate dimensions, video games or outer space. In 2019, Nitetive began to focus on producing full fledged music videos. Although he has shot and directed a good amount of videos, Nitetive has gained a reputation for his ability to edit footage. Collaborating with other visual artists including MarkoVisuals and fellow freshman Brick Productions, Nitetive has gotten to edit some of the most mind bending music videos of 2019 and 2020. Nitetive’s visuals consist of a fast paced barrage of glitches, rainbow styled effects, shattering glass and datamosh transitions, and 3D animations that place the viewer in an alternate reality. With footage that is often reversed, layered on top of one another, and switched between crystal clear and VHS quality, Nitetive’s videos are truly mind bending. The quick flashing of logos and important lyrics throughout his videos make the viewer feel like they’re watching a sped up hypnotization reel that’s subconsciously tricking them into becoming cool. In the past 6 months, he has worked with the likes of Pi’erre Bourne, SickBoyRari (Black Kray), Bladee, Cyrax and K$upreme. Nitetive seems to get better with every release, making 2020 exciting for what else he has in store.
If 2019 gives any indication as to how someone’s 2020 will go, then we should all keep our eyes peeled for Revenxnt this year. This Newark, NJ based visionary had a high point in 2019 of producing a Pusha T video for Vogue. Besides being a video artist, Rev also produces music (with placements like Sha Hef, Grimm Doza, and DA$H), is a prolific painter, and even dabbles in clothing design. A typical Revenxnt video consists of interesting colors, often double exposure shots and ambiguous angles, lots of adjusting focuses, and quick transitions. All these elements come together to create glitchy looking masterpieces that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Recently he has made some masterful instant classic visuals with the likes of Medhane, Mavi, and Moh Baretta. Rev has an amazing internet presence, always tweeting his mind and uplifting his followers. A staple post of his will be a photo wad of money with the caption “IF YOU READING THIS YOU’RE GETTING MONEY TODAY” One thing that is clear is that he will never stop hustling and never move backwards. I have no questions about 2020 being as big a year for Revenxnt as ever.
Based out of Detroit, Michigan, the collective of visual artists have been putting out content since 2015. Originating as VHS Country, the group has stayed true to its roots putting out visual mixes that incorporate off-coloring VHS-like effects. Various clips are layered on top of one another and fast forwarded, reversed or flipped sideways with frequent freeze frame trails filling the screen. These clips include viral youtube videos, infomercials, orchestra concerts, anime, hockey fights, animals, Mandelbrot sets, Tekken, WWE clips, and Kung Fu movies. Those watching a DVD CITY exclusive may believe their youtube webpage has gone haywire with effects that make the viewer feel as if they are watching 20 VHS films at once that are being fast forwarded and rewinded at the same time, but at different speeds. In the past year, the collective has produced music videos and snippets for Akai Solo, Pink Siifu, GAWD, MIKE and JWords. They also did the visuals for Never Normal Records’ most recent annual 4/20 live stream. The collective is pushing audio/visual boundaries to a new length with their consistent output and in-tune video references that are bound to entrance any viewer.
The Richmond-based videographer has been releasing content since 2017, and immediately started gaining notoriety throughout the underground for his diverse capabilities in making any type of music video. Brick’s ability to incorporate close zooms, still frames, and 3D animations into footage that can be of the highest or lowest of qualities is practically unrivaled. This is enhanced by transitions that take advantage of intentionally shaky camera footage that is often at a high frame rate, making some of the cleanest videography out there. These quick and clever transitions engage the viewer, but at a pace that is perfect, giving them a moment to fully enjoy the beauty of each shot before it is followed by another. That being said, Brick can also flood the screen with a flurry of effects including colored trails following body movements, crows flying in the background, snow falling, and flames engulfing the screen. This past year, Brick Production’s diverse visual output has landed him collaborations with SickBoyRari (Black Kray), Hunned Mill, A$AP ANT, Trippie Redd, Cyrax and Bootychaaain. He has also worked with Utmost, a Richmond-based skating company, in their recent collaborations with DC Shoes and Round Two. Brick Production is steadily evolving, learning how to merge creative and off-the-wall editing with smooth and straightforward shots that find happy balances with every new release. The rest of 2020 is his for the taking.
Realest Photographer Ever
Being the most secretive artist on our entire list, it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the Realest Photographer Ever started dishing out creative content. The artist made their debut under this name with frequent collaborator Zelooperz for his video “Bootleg” in mid 2019. Their use of footage that looks like it’s been shot off an iphone, shows a minimalist yet effective approach to making videos. Clips of people doing regular activities, such as chilling on a couch, hanging out by a river, or walking through a city, is manipulated and arranged in a way that creates a brand new reality that is incredibly engaging. An entire screen can be full of different scenes from different places at different times, allowing one to find something new every time they watch a video. The Realest’s perfectly timed transitions, reverse playbacks and freeze frame layers eliminates any need for fancy visual effects. Their straight forward visual production has landed them collaborations with Earl Sweatshirt, Zelooperz and Caleb Stone this past year. Since the Realest has no accessible social media, other than a Youtube page with 3 videos on it, it is hard to tell what they have in store for the future, but whatever it is, it will be great.
One of the members of the ClockWork Productions collective, 1Drince has been delivering top tier videography to DMV based artists since 2018. The Washington D.C. native has gained a lot of attention the past year for his frequent collaborations with fellow freshman Baby Fifty, directing 10+ videos for the rapper over the past 9 months. His use of menacing shots and close zooms will send chills up your spine. Drince’s smooth transitions and high quality footage perfectly captures the chaotic and deadly energy of the people he shoots often flashing drugs, money and weapons of all shapes and sizes at his camera. He is able to perfectly capture the feel of every song he does a video for, thoroughly enhancing it. Every time one hears a song, they automatically think of the Drince video that accompanies it. In addition to Baby Fifty, he’s worked with MoneyMarr, Baby 9eno, Q Da Fool, Big Flock, YungManny, and RXPeso this past year. Drince and the ClockWork Productions team continue to solidify themselves as the go to videographers for DMV artists, making it exciting to see what they have in store for the rest of the year.
From Salem, Virginia, She Skin is the most versatile visual artist on our list. He started his visual output as far back as 2012, releasing creative and distinct skate videos. He soon transitioned into making music videos during the 2014/2015 SoundCloud Golden Era, providing music videos, visualizations, cover art, production and audio mixes for Divine Council and other Richmond-based artists. On top of videos, She Skin also established his own line of merchandise including acrylic pieces, figurines and t-shirts.
Clearly, She Skin’s extensive catalogue sets him apart from the typical definition of a freshman, but he is on this list because it seems like he is finally gaining the recognition and praise that has been years past due. In addition, he seems to have established a signature look for his videos. His high frame rates and frequent zoom-ins are meshed with intentionally shaky camera work that cuts the artists in and out of frame at perfect moments. This is accompanied by sped up, slowed down, and chopped footage that creates a feeling in his videos that is unsettlingly soothing. She Skin has recently done videos for SickBoyRari (Black Kray) and hernbean5150, while releasing a series of minute long snippets from other Richmond artists including FHN Mook, Karmah, and Hunned Mill. He has also collaborated with Utmost throughout the years, recently providing pictures for the company’s collaborations with Round Two and DC Shoes alongside fellow freshman Brick Productions. Even though She Skin has been a present and respected force in the underground for years, it seems like 2020 is shaping up to be the year his capabilities become known across the country and world.