7 Rappers For People Who Don’t Like Rap Music

Despite being one of the most popular genres of music worldwide, hip-hop leaves a lot of listeners cold. Some people find it difficult to understand the appeal of fast-paced flow and rhyming brags about gangster lifestyles, even when they’re made more accessible with more melodic hooks. But the genre has plenty to offer almost any listener, so long as they keep an open mind and start at the right place. These rap artists and bands are well-suited for the hip-hop newcomer.

1. Outkast

Before Atlanta rappers Big Boi and Andre 3000 dissolved Outkast to pursue their own interests, their collaboration produced a string of six virtually untouchable albums based around a southern-minded approach to hip hop drawing on the region’s diverse roster of soul, funk and gospel music. Both have distinct voices that create for intriguing and resonant rhymes, anchored by melodies as catchy as the sugariest pop and densely layered productions as unpredictable as the best psychedelia. The diverse influences and boundless creativity in their songs seem like the product of a thousand minds working together as opposed to just two.

2. Kendrick Lamar

Compton native Kendrick Lamar became branded as hip-hop’s savior after the release of his critical and commercially successful sophomore effort good kid, m.A.A.d city. Plenty of hip-hop skeptics judge him based entirely on his radio hits, but Kendrick works best in the scale of an album. On both good kid and last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick touches on common themes in gangster rap and offering new perspectives, using his vocals to give voice to various characters and perspectives and looking both inward and outward for answers about the nature of fame, poverty and black identity. Especially on Butterfly, he explored the history of black music as well, incorporating P-funk grooves and contemplative jazz saxophone to create an album as interesting musically as it is lyrically.

3. Atmosphere

Consisting of rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and producer Ant (Anthony Davis), the Minneapolis-based hip hop duo has been producing quiet triumphs of hip-hop introspection for nearly two decades now. Each song sounds crisp and distinct from the last on each of their eight LPs, but Slug’s painfully honest and open lyrics give each album an enduring appeal that will keep even rap skeptics coming back for more. Perhaps more than any more mainstream hip-hop artists, Slug uses his genre of choice to explore himself, repeatedly touching upon themes of ruined familial and romantic relationships, making for a rewarding and involving listening experience.

4. Childish Gambino

Donald Glover began his media career through YouTube sketch videos and a breakout comedic performance in NBC’s cult comedy Community, but his rap career under the stage name Childish Gambino is undoubtedly the purest expression of his artistic talents. Unlike many rappers, Glover raps from the relatable perspective of a media-obsessed middle class kid who often defines himself by his wry sense of humor and knowledge of pop culture. Glover doesn’t shy away from exploring his dark side, however, as his albums have become increasingly willing to skip jokes in favor of sobering confessions and play in the same sandbox of dense musical references as one of his chief influences, Outkast.

5. A Tribe Called Quest

One of the greatest and most influential rap groups of all-time, A Tribe Called Quest released a string of intelligent albums in the ’90s, all of which make a convincing case for rap as modern poetry. Unlike many of its gangster rap contemporaries, the group built most of its songs around low-key beats, allowing the mellow vibe to distract from its cleverly layered productions while propping up its consistently fascinating lyrics that incorporate wordplay as well as trenchant political references. A Tribe Called Quest likely penned more entrancing grooves than any other act in the still relatively short history of hip-hop.

6. The Roots

The Roots use a refreshing approach to hip-hop music that evokes the socially conscious soul music of Curtis Mayfield as much as it does any other rap artist. The band members of the Philadelphia band, who now serve as Jimmy Fallon’s backing band on The Tonight Show, pride themselves on playing live instruments for all of their albums, providing a recognizably authentic backdrop for rap lyrics that span a wide range of moods, from delicate to furious, and often explode into spontaneous jam sessions as thrilling as any of their other songs.

7. Lil Dicky

Lil Dicky is the perfect rapper for for people who don’t like rap, using clever comedic writing to turn rap into something that socially awkward, media-obsessed white dudes can do and relate to as well. But David Andrew Burd is more than a random white dude — he has actual talent and a self-effacing wit to match the mundane topics he writes about instead of standard thug-life topics, even making viral music videos that compliment his distinct perspective. Eschewing the egoism of most rappers, Lil Dicky uses his lyrical creativity and considerable practical rap talents to create songs that transcend the typical trappings of the genre.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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