15 Best Underground Rappers Worthy of Your Respect

Discover some of the best underground rappers that are worthy of your time and respect.

Hip hop is like an iceberg. The part you see, the mainstream, is majestic and beautiful. However, the most important part, the underground, is submerged beneath. It’s impossible to see how deep and truly powerful it is. So without further ado, here is my list of the best underground rappers that you probably didn’t realize have been influencing mainstream artists.

The Best Underground Rappers You Need to Know

The top underground rappers we’ll be discussing today are:

  • Ransom
  • Evidence
  • Westside Gunn
  • Rome Streetz
  • Roc Marciano
  • Eto
  • Ka
  • Your Old Droog
  • Earl Sweatshirt
  • El-P
  • Aesop Rock
  • Sean Price

Let’s begin by breaking down Ransom.


First up is Jersey City artist, Ransom. His rhymes are symbolic of his life story: equal parts harsh and inspiring. He doesn’t shy away from the truth, no matter how gritty and raw. A lot of rappers tell gritty stories through their rhymes, but Ransom never skimps on the wisdom drawn from those stories. He truly embodies the come-up on all levels.

During the early 2000’s, he was a member of the A-Team with Joe Budden and Hitchcock. He also collaborated with Nicki Minaj in the late 2000’s before her career blew up. Since 2008, he has released countless classic projects with little mainstream recognition. His lyrical influence on the hip hop arena is undeniable. He is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.

Favorite Song: Blackwater. This song has everything. Beat, bars, and blues. The blues-style guitar sample will get anyone grooving. If you know the greatness of the legendary superproducer, Big Ghost Ltd, your ears will perk up when you press play.

Ransom’s rhymes are truly impeccable and Rome Streetz came with a fiery feature verse. This song is off the critically acclaimed album, Heavy Is The Head, which is produced entirely by Big Ghost.


Maybe you’ve heard of a group called Dilated Peoples? If not, you’ve got a homework assignment. Whether it’s Dilated Peoples, Step Brothers, or his solo work, Evidence is a hip hop legend. His production sound is distinct and crisp. His lyrical prowess is undeniable and timeless. Somehow he has managed to walk the line between catchy and raw while making it look casual. 

Authenticity has been a huge factor in Evidence’s career. After the success of Dilated Peoples, he ensured that he did not rest on that fame to push his solo music. To be successful across multiple decades is an uncommon occurrence in hip hop. Evidence is one of the few that have achieved that feat. 

Favorite Song: Well Runs Dry. Setting the stage with a Peter Tosh sample, this track opens up about the financial issues that hold creative people back from doing what they do best: creating. The beat is catchy and enthusiastic which helps counter-weigh the somber realness of the lyrical content.

Westside Gunn

Ayo Ayo! Arguably the king of ad libs, WSG is the next legend on the list. Along with Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine, he is a founding member of the Griselda collective.

They were like a three man Wu-Tang Clan before actively pursuing their solo careers. A truly unstoppable cultural force. Westside and Griselda gained enormous popularity when signed to Eminem’s label, Shady Records. 

WSG is a true cultural amalgamation. He takes influence from the fashion world, professional wrestling, New York gangs, fine artwork and paintings, and a variety of other unexpected avenues. His sound is as complex and compelling as his influences. His 2016 album, Flygod, is seen as a must-listen in the underground community. His label, Griselda Records, is now a cultural force in the hip hop world. 

Favorite Song: 98 Sabres. This song always gets me hyped! It’s a great example of the distorted production you can expect from WSG. Lines like, “you rather be dead than go against this,” remind you that you’re listening to the best of the best. This song is rounded out with face-melting verses from Griselda Records artists, Armani Caesar and Conway the Machine. 

Rome Streetz

A relatively new artist on this list is the lyrically potent, Rome Streetz. Since 2016, he has been releasing non-stop powerhouse projects. Splitting his teen years between the UK and New York helped him create a uniquely accessible flow and cadence. 

His time in the UK was during the inception and explosion of Grime music which helped him stand out as a Brooklyn style rapper. Upon returning to the US, he hit the underground scene harder than any other artist in recent memory. 

His underground presence steadily increased every year, but he didn’t start to blow up until the collaborative album, Death & The Magician, released with the help of superproducer, DJ Muggs. With this co-sign, his career has been as rapid fire as his rhymes. In 2021, he signed with Griselda Records solidifying him as an underground icon. 

Favorite Song: Shooting At The Dance Hall. Get ready to bang your head to the beat and twist your face to the flow. Rome takes no prisoners as he verbally assaults your headphones. This track cements his place as one of the leaders of the underground.

Roc Marciano

One of the many lions in the underground jungle is Roc Marci. He got his start back in 2000 with Busta Rhymes’ collective, Flipmode Squad, and has been tearing up the underground scene ever since. His albums are majestic works of art. His rhymes are unparalleled, his beats are incomparable, and his connections run deep. There is no shortage of amazing features on each of his projects.

On an episode of My Expert Opinion, Method Man gave Roc Marci a shoutout which says a lot about his place in hip hop. Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper is an understatement. Roc maintains a vintage feel to his production which helps him stand out from other underground artists. As the beat soothes your soul, his rhymes blast your brain. His flows and rhyme patterns never disappoint. 

Favorite Song: Pray 4 Me. I can literally never get tired of this song. Off his Rosebudd’s Revenge album, this track is absolute sonic perfection. The horns alternate between singing and crying as Roc’s calm poetic nature penetrates your ears. Put this song on repeat. You’re welcome.


A trailblazer in the “New Crack Era” of hip hop, Eto will blow your mind with his production and pen game. When I want to hear some incredible multi-syllable rhymes over ominous beats I bump his catalog.

You can always tell how deep into the scene an artist is by how many collaborative projects and features they have under their belt. Eto has a baffling amount of collab work with high level rappers and producers. I relisten to his album with DJ Muggs, “Hell’s Roof,” every couple of months. 

Many artists overuse the same rhymes, but Eto pushes the boundaries of rhythmic excellence constantly. Instead of using the same old rhymes with different context or stories, he finds new slant rhymes that make you rewind and replay his music. His high caliber lyricism has helped to elevate the standards of underground poetry.

Favorite Song: At Eternity’s Gate. This is sheer lyrical perfection. Out of the 4 incredibly talented emcees on this track, Eto sets the bar outrageously high with the first verse. The first four lines rhyme in ways that would make any poet envious. This rhyme pattern is more dizzying than puffing a spliff in a sauna. 


Get ready to feel, and feel deeply. Ka is a poet in every sense of the word. Many of his songs feel like spoken-word as opposed to the “spitting” you expect from an underground hip hop legend. Somehow though, it still feels like hip hop in a very refreshing way. 

“Conscious rap” gets a bad name because of preachy artists. Ka proves that you don’t have to be preachy to be conscious. Listening to his catalog will expand your capacity for empathy, compassion, and understanding. 

Ka breaks the standard hip hop mold in every way. His beat selection adds vitality to his already vivid poetry. He’s helped lay the foundation for many of the drumless rap songs of our era. Most people don’t know about Ka, but they have felt his immense influence on the genre we all adore.

Favorite Song: Conflicted. This track comes from the thematically ambitious album, “Honor Killed the Samurai.” Ka has such an elegant way with words. He turns simple feelings, like being conflicted, and opens them up to the unfathomable depth of human life. Regardless of context, Ka will make you feel the struggle and empathize with the experience. 

Your Old Droog

One of the all time greats of storytelling and cultural commentary is YOD. It’s impressive enough to keep up with everything that happens in hip hop and its surrounding culture. To extract meaning or wisdom and spit it back out in rhyme form is the stuff of legends. Droog has touched on topics ranging from the lunch with Jay-Z or $50k debate, to Billy Cosby’s tainted legacy, and everything in between. 

He’s a wordsmith that can build deeper worlds than many sci-fi writers. Some say his voice sounds a lot like Nas; enough so that it was rumored his first EP was a side project from Nas, but under a pseudonym. As you’d expect, this brought a lot of attention to Droog and he has done amazing things with all that attention. 

Favorite Song: The Magic Watch. This track will transport you to another time, pun intended. This time travel rap tale is an amazing example of both his storytelling and world building skills. Your Old Droog dives into the emotions connected to changing your past. It’s hard not to feel what the characters feel as they travel through time with The Magic Watch.

Earl Sweatshirt

With abstract themes and abnormal rhyme patterns, Earl Sweatshirt is as unique as they come. His rhymes will make your mind spin and your ears smoke. His flow is normally on the fast side, but it leaves some breathing room for his extravagant ideas and concepts. Experimental hip hop doesn’t always align with insightful hip hop, but Earl collides it all into a beautifully gritty piece of art. 

Countless rappers will credit his project, “Some Rap Songs,” as inspiration to elevate their craft. This project is an experimental masterpiece. Every year, Earl becomes more popular and is considered less of an underground artist, but his sound and artistic style are the epitome of underground culture. 

Favorite Song: Azucar. Get ready for an exquisite sonic contradiction. Hypnotic yet jarring, gritty and beautiful, harsh while soothing. This is Earl at his most brilliant and daring sonically. This song takes on new meaning the more you listen to it.


This wouldn’t be a proper best underground rappers list without the late great, DOOM. Seen by many as the one and only king of underground hip hop, MF DOOM was an innovative artist that created elaborate sonic narratives that are nearly impossible to recreate. The beauty of DOOM was that he created incredibly complex art but made it seem natural and effortless. Many artists attempt to imitate his style and sound like a “try-hard.” 

During his reign, you never knew what to expect from him. He was famous for sampling superhero cartoons and piecing them together into a symphony of villainous culture. His metal mask will forever be a symbol of hip hop’s greatest villain. The depth of his influence on hip hop is truly unfathomable. 

Favorite Song: All Caps. Most iconic artists have a song that reminds the fans to say their name correctly (Method Man by Wu-Tang Clan being a great example). DOOM reminds us, “just remember all caps when you spell the man name.” You can tell if someone is a true MF DOOM fan by how they spell his name on paper. 


Next up is the illest underground veteran, ILL BILL. A lot of artists keep it street, but he leans into violent, shocking, and counter-culture themes. Songs like, I Shot Reagan, exemplify the region of counter-culture he operates from. If you convert death metal to hip hop, you’d likely end up with ILL BILL. 

He’s truly unique in his artistic approach and does it in a natural way. His career is filled with high level collaborations and group projects with other underground veterans. It says a lot when your network runs deep with respected, independent legends. There aren’t a lot of artists that find success using shock value. 

Favorite Song: SUPERB CLIENTELE. It’s time to get aggressive and lyrical. The opening Sopranos sample sets the scene perfectly for a dark and gritty song. From there, he gets right into a combative flow about the murderous battlefield of his mind. No one does it like ILL BILL.


El-P is hip hop royalty. From the early days of Company Flow, to his solo career, to his contribution to the Run The Jewels duo, he is one of the most epic artist/producers to ever live. He is a pioneer of experimental production and intricate rhyme content. His solo projects express mastery of his art in unparalleled ways. “Fantastic Damage” is a master class on breaking the hip hop mold.

Teaming up with Killer Mike to form Run The Jewels solidified both of their spots in hip hop history. Aggressive bass and innovative production round out equally aggressive and innovative rhymes. El-P has always spoken his truth through rhyme, no matter how harsh, crude, or invasive.

Favorite Song: Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck). This will get the Rage Against The Machine fans hyped and moshing. The beat is assembled with a Zach De La Rocha vocal sample to create a bass heavy banger. Add aggressively executed critiques of modern society and we are officially counting to fu*k.

Aesop Rock

Many artists are fearful of truly experimenting with sounds and challenging the standards of the hip hop genre. Aesop Rock has always found fascinating ways to open the mind of his listeners.

Sonically, he hopscotches from genre to genre destroying your expectations and opening hip hop to the genre-less future. I’m a firm believer that the future of hip hop is genre-less. Aesop assisted in pushing us in that direction as we glide towards undefinable sounds and styles.

In the same way an abstract artist paints pictures that look like different things to different people, Aesop’s rhymes paint vivid mental pictures that are open to endless interpretation. It’s impossible to nail him to any one style, sound, or system. He is a true visionary that continues to release sonically brilliant and lyrically colorful music. His 2020 album, “Spirit World Field Guide,” is arguably some of his best work.

Favorite Song: Delorean. From the masterpiece, “Fantastic Damage,” Aesop compliments the otherworldly production of El-P unlike any other feature artist on the project. Lines like “haggle-proof snaggletooth” and “freeze dried poltergeist just add water” are equally hilarious and awe inspiring. Aesop always finds ways to challenge societal norms in admirably weird ways.


Next up is the relentless flow of CRIMEAPPLE. He elegantly employs a fast flow and blends it with razor sharp rhyme patterns to create his own style. He always finds a new pocket within the beat to stuff an extra bar. Some artists focus on quality of rhymes. Some focus on quantity of rhymes. CRIME adds intense quality to immense quantity for baffling bars. 

As an avid traveler, he brings a global perspective to his art. A lot of hip hop is America-focused, but CRIMEAPPLE adds vast cultural experience to his rhyme content. It’s refreshing to feel global representation in American hip hop. From the best food, to the best hustles, to the best vacation spots, you can be sure he is always bringing the best bars.

Favorite Song: Some More Paper. Another track from a DJ Muggs collab album. Are you starting to see a pattern? CRIMEAPPLE drives the track with his fast flow about his necessity for more money. I know I know, do we really need another hip hop song about money? Yes! This is high level art. 

Sean Price

This list ends with a late legend. Sean P began his career in the 90’s as a member of the Boot Camp Clik collective and further emerged as half of the iconic duo, Heltah Skeltah. He is a hip hop icon and a lyrical legend. He was known by many names: Ruck, Sean P, and Barbarian. Whatever name you know him by, he is one of the best to ever touch a mic. 

His cultural and lyrical legacy is timeless. Heltah Skeltah made waves in their era and affected the lyrical trajectory of hip hop. Sean’s solo projects were critically acclaimed and remain some of the most lyrically impressive albums of our time. Yet another one of your favorite rapper’s favorite rappers. 

Favorite Song: Onion Head. It’s impossible to sit still while listening to this song. Dat beat doh! Not many rappers can hold their own on a beat that bangs this hard. Sean Price’s rhymes hit harder than Tyson in his prime. If you don’t know Sean, you should.

The hip hop iceberg goes so deep that this list is just scratching the surface of underground excellence. Most people don’t venture past mainstream music which is understandable. But, the underground is full of amazing art that is waiting to be discovered. You just have to dive in and start exploring. Peace and love, music lovers.

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This article was written by Brian and edited by Michael.

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