A$AP FergWhy he’s great: The latest member of the Harlem-based A$AP Mob to venture out with his own album (though surely not the last, looking at you Nast), Ferg’s Trap Lord LP is alternately sexy and sinister. Like the rest of the fashionable crew, Ferg’s taste is varied and discerning, combining au courant sounds with reverential nods. To wit, Ferg taps Bone Thugs-n-Harmony for one of the record’s few guest feature and dedicates a song to Jamaican dancehall pioneer Shabba Ranks. Essential track: “Shabba”
Angel HazeWhy she’s great: Hip-hop is still a man’s world, a fact that hasn’t stopped fiery rapper Angel Haze from carving out a name for herself as an expressive, assertive wordsmith (she can sing too). Dig through Haze’s mixtapes—2012’s Reservation is a good starting point—to prep for her first studio album, Dirty Gold. That disc doesn’t have a release date yet, but you can get a taste through its first single, "Echelon (It's My Way)," produced by indie-rock hitmaker Markus Dravs (Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire, Coldplay). Essential track: "Werkin’ Girls"
Earl SweatshirtWhy he’s great: The most lyrically adept member of the Odd Future collective, Los Angeles MC Earl spent much of the group's breakthrough year at a Samoan boarding school. Now, with his solo debut, Doris, it’s clear that Earl has done a lot of growing up, trading some of the group’s juvenile shock-appeal for self-reflection. Essential track: “Sunday”
Travi$ ScottWhy he’s great: As a producer, Travi$ Scott has his fingerprints all over Kanye’s Yeezus and Cruel Summer compilation. Scott brought his maximalist beats to his own Owl Pharaoh mixtape earlier this year, along with a roll of collaborators that included Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick, 20/20 Experience co-writer and R&B artist James Fauntleroy and Grand Hustle label head T.I. Essential track: “Upper Echelon”
Run the JewelsWhy they’re great: Producer El-P and spitter Killer Mike first collaborated on the latter’s highly entertaining 2012 album R.A.P. Music. The pair hit it off so well, they decided to release a proper (and free-to-download) tag-team album in June, trading bars and feeding each other alley-oops like a pair of streetballing all-stars. Essential track: "DDFH"
Chance the RapperWhy he’s great: The 20-year-old broke out earlier this year with his Acid Rap mixtape, which harnessed some of the buoyant soul of fellow Chicago native Kanye West’s early work. Chance is clearly having a lot of fun, while also displaying a gift for melody and off-kilter delivery. The rapper continues to fill bigger and bigger shoes; this fall he opens for chart-topping Macklemore on a European tour. Essential track: "Chain Smoker"
Joey Bada$$Why he’s great: The young Brooklynite has a reputation as an East Coast traditionalist, an MC’s MC who recently took issue with Kendrick’s “King of New York” boast, releasing a rebuttal dubbed “Killuminati Pt. 2.” Whether Joey lives up to his own claims, we’ll have to wait for his studio debut, slated for 2014. In the meantime, spin the rapper’s 2013 mixtape effort, Summer Knights, which features chilled-out production from members of his Pro Era collective Bruce Leekix, Chuck Strangers and Kirk Knight. Essential track: "Death of YOLO"
Schoolboy QWhy he’s great: As the druggy, stoned contingent of the Black Hippy collective—which counts 2012's breakout star Kendrick Lamar as its top dog—the pressure is on for Schoolboy Q's forthcoming Oxymoron to continue that momentum. The good news is that the 26-year-old rapper already has several stellar independently released albums to his name, including his own 2012 effort, Habits & Contradictions. Essential track: "Hands on the Wheel"
Tanya MorganWhy they’re great: Lyricists Von Pea and Donwill—neither named Tanya, confusing I know—bring a classic approach to their craft, sourcing James Brown–style breaks and jazzy samples to make music indebted to acts like Digable Planets and De La Soul. Their forthcoming record, Rubber Souls (out September 24), will their first full-length since 2009. Essential track: "Do It Tanya"
GunplayWhy he's great: Born Richard Morales Jr., Gunplay is an artist that straddles the line between gangster rap and the gangster lifestyle. The rapper, whose drug use is well documented, beat an armed robbery charge earlier this year (despite video evidence to the contrary). Still, there’s something about his unhinged approach and undeniable talents that convinced his new label, Def Jam, to stamp their name to his studio debut, Living Large, due later this year. Essential track: “Jump Out”