We are SleepWalker Entertainment. Starting off in 2018 as a radio show on Oberlin College’s WOBC 91.5 FM 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 XXL magazine’s idea of highlighting artists relatively new to the rap game who gained a lot of attention in the past 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 impacting 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.
Pop Smoke (RIP)
Realest Photographer Ever
This 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 his stardom was expected to persist. His death was a tragedy for not only those within the hip-hop community but millions of his fans across the world. Rest in peace, Pop Smoke.
Songs to listen to: “Welcome To The Party,” “Dior,” “Christopher Walking”
Baby Smoove, one of Detroit’s newest household names, has actually been dropping music for quite some time now. He dropped a track called “SuperSonic” in 2012 under the name Bandcrew Smoove, one of a few aliases he used 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 stands in stark contrast to his lyrical content. Smoove enjoys splurging on the indulgences he lived without as a child — and rapping about it. Recently he has worked with big-name artists and producers from all over Detroit like Veeze, Icewear Vezzo, Rocaine, Michigan Meech, and Topside.
Songs to listen to: “Palm Angels,” “Hellcat,” and “Free Game”
From Riverside, CA (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 nine years old, traveling and performing in an R&B/rap group with her stepsisters. Shifting gears to her solo career, she garnered a lot of underground attention with the release of her mixtape Bully in early 2019. Hook has made a name for herself for her deliberate flows, elaborate mid-verse pauses, laughs, gasps, and signature ad-libs — all mixed with unparalleled, pleasurable energy. 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. A frequent collaborator of legendary underground producer Nedarb, Hook has also worked with Bootychaaain, Working on Dying, RCB, and even comedian/rapper Zack Fox.
Songs to listen to: “I’m Shinin,” “HEEM,” and “Stand It”
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 cemented his place as one of the most exciting rappers in the city. Fifty’s spaced-out delivery, packed with punchlines and double entendres, makes each sinister bar imprint itself on the listener’s mind. Baby Fifty is a rapper who makes you feel everything he says is true — every song feels like a calm, casual conversation about lethal activity. He often works solo but has also collaborated with Hu$tle, MoneyMarr, and Cheecho. Songs to listen to: “sunniD,” “Walkout,” and “Roll Out”
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. Though she achieved recognition only recently, Babyxsosa has been working in the industry since 2015 as a DJ and producer. She is known for complexly structured harmonies. Her 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 signature and formidable flow. 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.
Songs to listen to: “UBERXL (feat. POLO PERKS),” “PUSSY FREESTYLE,” and “DOWN”
From New York City by way of Sacramento, CA, Camden Malik has proven time and again that he is beyond worthy of his place on this list. Perform his track “Dreams” recently in Ridgewood, Queens, Malik gave easily the best performance of the set. He hit every word of the song, captivating the crowd as he spit circles around the mic in his gold-rimmed glasses. He has a stockpile of music on the internet, which includes collabs with artists like ZelooperZ and Darryl 10k. He packs all of his rhymes with meaning, placed into pockets of the beats that many artists wouldn’t even know existed. This guy could probably rap over anything.
Songs to listen to: “Lie Detector,” “Hear da Same Thang,” and “World Different (ft. ZelooperZ)”
From Atlanta, BKTHERULA is proving to be one of the most exciting female rappers from the area. She started putting out music in 2017, but gained attention at the beginning of 2019 for her underground hit “Faygo.” She then turned even more heads with her biggest hit yet, “Tweakin’ Together.” BK’s punch-in delivery mixed with her high vocal octave is entrancing — combined with a myriad of futuristic melodies and next level 808s, it’s impossible to not bob your head to her music. She enhanced her singing capabilities over the year, showing them off on her debut project, Love Santana. A majority of the songs hit a sonic sweet spot, like a massage for the heart and mind. But she can also follow any ballad with an intense barrage of stank face-inducing bars. What’s more, she and fellow freshman Hook are rumored to have a collaborative mixtape that could be released at any moment.
Songs to listen to: “LEFT RIGHT,” “UH HUH,” and “DAMN”
Surf Gang CEO EVIL GIANE is 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 monikers such as YUNALOE and aloevine before adopting his current alias. Originally dropping mostly house tracks, he began releasing hip-hop beats a few years ago and has not slowed down since. His trademark sound now consists of clean, punchy drums and uplifting melodies — though his drill and even experimental punk beats rival some of the greats too. Recently, EVIL GIANE has produced for a plethora of up and coming stars: newcomers Hook, Babyxsosa, and Pasto Flocco, as well as established underground heroes like Black Kray and Bootychaaain.
Songs produced by EVIL GIANE: “ALL4U IV,” “RICH GIRL / starpower,” and “tr3nd1ng t0p1c juiced”
From the Bronx, this 21-year-old rapper and producer has been putting out music as far back as 2014 under the name Sixpress. As a member of the [sLUms] collective, Hakim has helped curate the new phase of New York’s sound, which gained mainstream popularity this past year. He 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 definition of melody. This is accompanied by snares, claps, kicks and 808s — similarly adjusted — giving them a signature mechanized sound. Listening to an Adé Hakim beat feels like strolling through a busy, futuristic construction site with headphones on, playing Miles Davis at half 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 beyond the city, working with NAPPYNAPPA, Pink Siifu, and Earl Sweatshirt.
Songs produced by Adé Hakim: “LIKE ME,” “PLANET,” “Sticking to My Roots”
If this list was based sheerly on streaming numbers, AXL Beats 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, but we wanted to acknowledge AXL Beats’ accomplishments nonetheless. The London-based producer’s career began in 2016, when he became locally popular for flipping Chicago-style drill beats into novel tracks. AXL then rode the drill wave all the way to Brooklyn, producing for a variety of artists and ending 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 Spotify needs updating, but you will definitely hear him in 2020.
Songs produced by AXLE Beats: “War,” “Wetty,” and “GATTI”
From Union City, NJ, JWords is rapidly making waves across the hip-hop and electronic community. Releasing music as far back as 2015, the jazzy layout of her bass patterns and the mystical sounds that accompany them remind one of a chandelier of chimes swaying in a slight breeze. She 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. Listening to JWords feels like traveling through the ocean in a futuristic submarine at 1,000 mph — but the speed is soothing rather than overwhelming. Now a member of the Never Normal Soundsystem collective, she has worked with MIKE, Suzi Analogue, King Carter, and Nappy Nina, and performed with other contemporary greats live in New York City. She released her debut EP, Sín Señal, earlier this year and recently led an Ableton-sponsored beat-making workshop.
Songs produced by JWords: “Stay Away,” “Shine<3,” and “Numb”
A member of the infamous Reptilian Club Boyz, 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 out for his futuristic and majestic melodies which he combines with hard-hitting 808s and kick patterns. He levels up his sound with an insane assortment of sound effects ranging from Super Smash Brothers and Soulcalibur sound effects to sampled audio from NASCAR races and thunderstorms, gun shots, applause, and evil laughs. This past year, Hi-C’s talents have been noticed in the underground, landing him features and placements with fellow RCB members Diamondsonmydick and Cartier’GOD, as well as with Surf Gang, Hook, Marcy Mane, and NOLANBEROLLIN.
Songs produced by Hi-C: “No Emotionzzz,” “DOMD-BRATZ!,” and “KING LAMARGRA 222”
The Detroit hip-hop scene flourished in 2019 — and DamJonBoi capitalized on it. 2019 saw Jon land placements on underground hits alongside Teejayx6, Sada Baby, Kasher Quon, FMB DZ, Drego Baby, and Lil Beno. On top of a stellar 2019, he ended 2018 strong, producing Drego and Beno’s “Recipe 2,” which has amassed over 5 million views on YouTube alone. Aside from producing, DamJonBoi has been laying down vocals of his own. His smooth voice and classic Detroit inflection work amazingly in his songs, many of which showcase his lavish rockstar lifestyle.
Songs produced by DamJonBoi: “Super saiyan,” “Brainstorm,” and “Dark Web”
This 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. He’s been consistently dropping music for six years, under a plethora of monikers, including 65 Cent, Black John Stockton, DJ Lil Stank, and Lil Coochie Burp. His production consists of Pharrell-like synths and chord progressions matched with signature distorted 808s that often fall in a simple 4/4 pattern. The addition of piano runs, harps, and video game effects to his formula elevates his sound to another level. Every GAWD beat has a bounce. 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.
Songs produced by GAWD: “CHANGE TALK,” “EVERYWHEREIGO,”and “#bloodthirsty #711”
The 20-year-old France-based videographer has been releasing video content since 2017, specializing in minute-long edits of rappers like A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and Lil Uzi Vert traversing alternate dimensions, video games, or outer space. Riding his reputation for intricate and skillful edits, in 2019 he began to focus on producing full-fledged music videos. His collaborations with other visual artists, including MarkoVisuals and fellow freshman Brick Productions, have produced some of 2020’s most interesting music videos. Nitetive’s visuals consist of a fast-paced barrage of glitches, rainbow-styled effects, shattering glass, datamosh transitions, and 3D animations that place the viewer in an alternate reality. These videos are truly mind bending, like watching a sped-up hypnotization reel that’s subconsciously tricking you into becoming cool. In the past six months, he has worked with Pi’erre Bourne, Sickboyrari, Bladee, Cyrax, and K$upreme.
Videos edited by Nitetive: “Blue,” “Again,” and “Breeze”
We should all keep our eyes peeled for REVENXNT this year. This Newark-based visionary had a high point in 2019 when he produced a video for Vogue starring Pusha T. Besides videography, Rev also produces music with placements like Sha Hef, GRiMM Doza, and Da$H. He is also a prolific painter and even dabbles in clothing design. A typical REVENXNT video consists of eye-catching colors, double-exposure shots, ambiguous angles, and quick transitions. Recently he has made some masterful visuals with Medhane, Mavi, and Moh Baretta. Rev also has an amazing internet presence, always tweeting his mind.
Videos directed by REVENXNT: “Allegedly,” “Phew,” and “Sense”
Based in Detroit, MI, this collective of visual artists has 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 games, WWE clips, and kung fu movies. Needless to say, watching a DVD CITY exclusive may lead you to believe your webpage has gone haywire. In the past year, the collective has produced music videos and snippets for Akai Solo, Pink Siifu, GAWD, MIKE, and JWords, as well as visuals for Never Normal Records’ most recent annual 4/20 livestream.
Videos directed by DVD CITY: “DVD CITY 24 // 5GHOTSPOT,” “Black Sand – 2K4eva,” and “DVD CITY 22 // JWORDS”
The Richmond-based videographer has been releasing content since 2017, and immediately gained notoriety throughout the underground for his mastery of many types of music videos. Brick’s ability to incorporate close zooms, still frames, and 3D animations into both high and low quality footage is practically unrivaled. These techniques are enhanced by transitions that take advantage of intentionally shaky camera footage and a high frame rate, resulting in some of the cleanest videography out there. This past year, Brick Production’s diverse visual output has landed him collaborations with Sickboyrari, Hunned Mill, A$AP ANT, Trippie Redd, Cyrax, and Bootychaaain. He has also worked with Utmost, a Richmond-based skating company, in recent collaborations with DC Shoes and Round Two.
Videos directed by Brick Productions: “PERIODT,” “Man Down,” and “MESSROUND”
Realest Photographer Ever
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 his debut under this name with collaborator ZelooperZ for his video “Bootleg” in mid-2019. Their use of iPhone quality footage evokes 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, are manipulated and arranged in a way that provides a new lease on reality. An entire screen can be full of different scenes from different places at different times, allowing for new discoveries with each viewing. The Realest’s perfectly timed transitions, reverse playbacks and freeze-frame layers eliminate any need for fancy visual effects. Their straightforward 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 three videos on it, it is hard to tell what they have in store for the future. But whatever it is, look out.
Videos directed by Realest Photographer Ever: “EAST,” “Going on a Date,” and “Easter Sunday”
A member of the ClockWork Productions collective, 1drince has been delivering top tier videography to DMV-based artists since 2018. The D.C. native has gained a lot of attention in the past year for his frequent collaborations with fellow freshman Baby Fifty, directing over 10 videos for the rapper in the past nine months. His use of menacing angles and close zooms will send chills up your spine. 1drince’s smooth transitions and high-quality footage perfectly captures the chaotic and deadly energy of the people he films, often flashing drugs, money, and weapons at the camera. The songs and videos are impossible to decouple. He and the ClockWork Productions team continue to solidify themselves as the go-to videographers for DMV artists. In addition to Baby Fifty, he’s worked with MoneyMarr, Baby 9eno, Q Da Fool, Big Flock, YungManny, and RX Peso this past year.
Videos to watch: “One On One,” “Cable Box,” and “TPA”
From Salem, VA, She Skin is the most versatile visual artist on our list. He started releasing visuals in 2012, starting with skate videos and transitioning into music videos during the 2014–2015 SoundCloud Golden Era. He provided music videos, visualizations, cover art, production, and audio mixes for Divine Council and other Richmond-based artists. He has also established his own line of merchandise, including acrylic pieces, figurines, and T-shirts. While his extensive catalogue sets him apart from the typical freshman, it seems he is finally gaining both greater recognition and a signature style. She Skin’s 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 an unsettlingly soothing atmosphere in his videos. She Skin has recently done videos for Sickboyrari 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, providing pictures for the company’s most recent collaborations with Round Two and DC SHOES alongside fellow freshman Brick Productions.
Videos directed by She Skin: “Felons,” “Feel My Pain,” “Undaground Sluggroad”