Underground hip hop

Underground hip hop is an umbrella term for hip hop music outside the general commercial canon.[1] It is typically associated with independent artists, signed to independent labels or no label at all. Underground hip hop is often characterized by socially conscious, positive, or anti-commercial lyrics.[2] However, there is no unifying or universal theme – AllMusic suggests that it "has no sonic signifiers". "The Underground" also refers to the community of musicians, fans and others that support non-commercial, or independent music. Music scenes with strong ties to underground hip hop include alternative hip hop and horrorcore. Many artists who are considered "underground" today were not always so, and may have previously broken the Billboard charts.[3]

To gain fans, underground artists perform locally and worldwide, make tours, and meet and greets. Their performances are held anywhere, such as outdoors or in restaurants. Meet and greets are held in different cities. A meet and greet gives a fan the opportunity to meet the artist for free. There the fan can buy clothing from the artist’s clothing line or they can purchase tickets for future concerts. Ticket prices range depending on the location, some artists have VIP passes, allowing the fan to have access to the stage and to meet them after the show. Some artists make their own clothing line to sell gear and use the profit to continue making shows. Underground artists are usually found in YouTube or SoundCloud. Lastly, underground artists typically do everything themselves whether it’s making songs, preparing shows, or selling gear.


Underground hip-hop encompasses several different styles of music, though it is often politically themed and socially conscious. Numerous acts in the book How to Rap are described as being both underground and politically or socially aware, these include – [4] Little Brother, Walid Barhoumi,[5] Iyad Edakh Bacha,[5] Lowkey,[5] Brother Ali,[5] Mr. Lif,[6] Murs,[6] Immortal Technique, Diabolic (rapper),[6] Binary Star,[7] Youness "Funkmaster Flex" Sedraoui,[5] People Under The Stairs,[8] Lifesavas,[3][9] Zion I.[10] ZOMRA Crew (tunisia)

Underground artists often have high levels of critical acclaim – acts who have been specifically noted as being both underground and having numerous critically acclaimed albums include Jurassic 5,[11] Aesop Rock,[11] Ugly Duckling,[12] Little Brother,[5] Brother Ali,[5] El Da Sensei,[13] Dilated Peoples,[14] Non Phixion,[15] Freestyle Fellowship,[7] Binary Star,[7] Planet Asia,[16] People Under The Stairs,[8] Cannibal Ox[3][8] and Zion I.[10]

Additionally, many underground artists are said to have "intelligent", "intricate", or "complex" lyrics, these include Spose, Astronautalis, Akir,[12] Ugly Duckling,[12] Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, El Da Sensei,[13] R.A. The Rugged Man, Lowkey,[13][14] Manny Phesto, Mr. Lif,[6] Murs,[6] Binary Star,[7] Planet Asia,[16] Lifesavas,[9] Sage Francis,[3] Zion I,[10] Yasiin Bey, Thomas J, CunninLynguists,[17] MF DOOM, Rhyme Asylum, Yak Ballz, Eyedea & Abilities, Aesop Rock, D-Dirty, Papa Pill, and Tajai Massey.

Some underground artists produce music that celebrates the fundamental elements or pillars of hip hop culture, such as People Under The Stairs, Apathy, T3AM AP3X, and Blacastan whose music "recalls hip-hop's golden age".[8]



In hip hop's formative years, the vast majority of the genre was underground music, by definition. Although the Sugarhill Gang gained commercial success in 1979, most artists did not share such prominence until the mid-1980s. Ultramagnetic MCs debut album Critical Beatdown is seen as one of the earliest examples of "underground hip hop".[18] It was described that the album was characteristic of what would later be known as "underground hip hop". New York underground rapper Kool Keith received notable success with his album Dr. Octagonecologyst, gaining more attention than any contemporary independent hip hop album "in quite a while".[19] During the mid 1990s, a few horrorcore artists began getting mainstream attention, which included the likes of : Esham, Insane Clown Posse, Brotha Lynch Hung and Ganksta NIP. An underground hip-hop movement emerged in Los Angeles at around the same time in response to the commercial rap music industry's unwavering commitment to gangsta rap imagery and themes as shown in the article 'Cheaper than a CD, Plus We Really Mean It': Bay Area Underground Hip Hop Tapes as Subcultural Artefacts.


Binary Star's Masters of the Universe was described as a "refreshing alternative from the mainstream of rap".[20] Tech N9ne and Strange Music achieved their biggest success with the album All 6's and 7's.[21]

See also


  1. Cheryl L. Keyes (March 2004). Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois Press. p. 336. ISBN 0-252-07201-4.
  2. 1 2 3 4 How to Rap, p. 342.
  3. Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 316.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 How to Rap, p. 317.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 How to Rap, p. 325.
  6. 1 2 3 4 How to Rap, p. 326.
  7. 1 2 3 4 How to Rap, p. 332.
  8. 1 2 How to Rap, p. 333.
  9. 1 2 3 How to Rap, p. 334.
  10. 1 2 How to Rap, p. 315.
  11. 1 2 3 How to Rap, p. 316.
  12. 1 2 3 How to Rap, p. 321.
  13. 1 2 How to Rap, p. 322.
  14. How to Rap, p. 323.
  15. 1 2 How to Rap, p. 327.
  16. Chilton, Adam; Jiang, Kevin; Posner, Eric (12 June 2014). "Rappers v. Scotus" via Slate.
  17. Price, E "Hip hop culture", ABC-CLIO, 2006. p. 295
  18. Huey, Steve. "Review of Dr. Octagonecologyst". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  19. "Masters of the Universe - Binary Star - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  20. "Tech N9ne's 'All 6's and 7's' debuts No. 4 on Billboard 200". The Boombox. June 15, 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2011.

Further reading

  • Sartwell, C rispin (1998). "Rap Music and the Uses Of Stereotype". Act Like You Know: African-American Autobiography and White Identity. University of Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-73527-6. 
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