Underground hip hop

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Aesop Rock performing at Irving Plaza NYC in fall 2007

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, like Legacy were not always so, and may have previously broken the Billboard charts.[3]


Underground hip-hop encompasses several different[which?] 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, Lowkey,[5] Brother Ali,[5] Mr. Lif,[6] Murs,[6] Immortal Technique, Diabolic (rapper),[6] Binary Star,[7] People Under The Stairs,[8] Lifesavas,[3][9] Zion I.[10]

Underground artists often[when?] have high levels of critical acclaim – acts who have been specifically noted[according to whom?] 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[who?] to have "intelligent", "intricate", or "complex" lyrics, these include Astronautalis, Akir,[12] Ugly Duckling,[12] Brother Ali,[5] Cage,[17] Immortal Technique, El Da Sensei,[13] R.A. The Rugged Man, Lowkey,[13][14] Mr. Lif,[6] Murs,[6] Binary Star,[7] Planet Asia,[16] Lifesavas,[9] Sage Francis,[3] Zion I,[10] Yasiin Bey, Thomas J, MF Doom, Yak Ballz, Eyedea & Abilities, Aesop Rock, DaForce Dawg, 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, 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 underground hip-hop movement emerged in Los Angeles California as a response to the commercial rap music industries 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]

Indie hip hop[edit]

Indie hip hop (also known as indie rap) is hip hop music that primarily exists in the independent music scene.[clarification needed]

The term "underground hip hop" has been used[who?] to describe both indie hip hop (which is defined by its artists being unsigned or signed to independent record labels, rather than major record labels) as well as alternative hip hop (which is defined by music that diverges from mainstream hip hop music such as gangsta rap). As the term "indie hip hop" is indicative of the artists making the music rather than the music itself, it is not strictly a genre, but rather covers a range of styles with clearly discernible[dubious ] hip hop characteristics.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ Cheryl L. Keyes (March 2004). Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois Press. p. 336. ISBN 0-252-07201-4. 
  3. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 342.
  4. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 316.
  5. ^ a b c d e How to Rap, p. 317.
  6. ^ a b c d e How to Rap, p. 325.
  7. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 326.
  8. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 332.
  9. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 333.
  10. ^ a b c How to Rap, p. 334.
  11. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 315.
  12. ^ a b c How to Rap, p. 316.
  13. ^ a b c How to Rap, p. 321.
  14. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 322.
  15. ^ How to Rap, p. 323.
  16. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 327.
  17. ^ How to Rap, p. 318.
  18. ^ Price, E "Hip hop culture", ABC-CLIO, 2006. p. 295
  19. ^ Huey, Steve. "Review of Dr. Octagonecologyst". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  20. ^ "Masters of the Universe - Binary Star - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  21. ^ "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[edit]

  • 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. 

External links[edit]