The Five Best Underground Rappers in Washington D.C. Right Now

[caption id="attachment_50501" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Photo courtesy of Phil Ade/Facebook"][/caption]

Ben’s Chili Bowl, go-go and mumbo sauce. The White House, the National Mall, Marion Berry and the Redskins. For outsiders looking into Washington, D.C., those intangibles might be the only things connecting them with the nation’s capital.

The list is shorter for D.C.’s popular hip-hop exports: there’s Wale, the arrogant upstart turned Rick Ross sidekick; Tabi Bonney, the king of skinny jeans swag; and Fat Trel, the city’s most visible trap rapper. Though underground vets Kokayi, Oddisee, and Substantial are praised stateside, their appeal reaches overseas.

Of course, the DMV — the acronym stands for D.C., Maryland and Virginia — is chock-full of capable lyricists worthy of wider national attention. Here’s the five best right now.

1.Phil Adé

A protégé of soul crooner Raheem DeVaughn, it seems Adé has been on deck for a while, only for that attention to be diverted by the aforementioned Fat Trel, whose sudden notoriety dimmed his spotlight somewhat. Still, the prolific Maryland MC is a wiz with the wordplay and a confident master of the mixtape (he dropped four of them in 2011). While Adé’s been relatively quiet this year, he certainly won’t stay that way for long. [Download #PhilAdeFriday2 via DatPiff.]

2.Uptown X.O.

One-third of the vaunted Diamond District trio with MCs yU and Oddisee, the proud Northwest D.C., native could double as a tour guide. His offbeat delivery is rich with Chocolate City slang and heavy on local landmarks: the old Madness clothing shops, Georgia Avenue, the X2 Metrobus. And while he grew up idolizing Biggie and Jay-Z, X.O. is more Black Thought these days: He loves his hometown and will tell you so every chance he gets. X.O. is slated to drop a new mixtape, The Color Grey, in October. A full album follows next year. [Download Monumental II via Bandcamp.]


Don’t call her a female MC. It’s a diss. Still, the Largo, Md., native has proved she can hold weight with any rapper regardless of gender, shrugging at her haters with a wink and a wry smile. Then again, there’s “O.J. Simpson,” the lead single from her recent mixtape, The Grace Jones Experiment. “These bammas be rappin’ ‘bout the shit that they ain’t do yet/Like how you been on tour with Kanye and I ain’t knew that.” So much for nonchalance. [Download The Grace Jones Experiment via Audiomack.]

4.Kingpen Slim

If confidence is key, Slim toes the line with all-around prowess and keen business acumen. He can craft a glossy radio single like last spring’s “Lollipop,” then spit a worthwhile verse for underground hip-hop connoisseurs. Neither of which sound forced or unnatural. Slim’s new album, Triple Beam Dreams, features Wale, Jim Jones, and Styles P., among others. It’s slated for an October release. [Download Pass the Roc via 2DopeBoyz.]


Born Robert Bailey, the New Carrollton, MD rapper has made significant progress the past three years, growing from an aggressive battle rapper with raw skills to a seasoned MC with a mature pen. His lyrical dexterity translates to all kinds of tracks, and his scrappy demeanor makes him a favorite across the board. Lyriciss has released three EPs in preparation for his 2013 full-length album. Through it all, he’s simply looking for balance. Given his work ethic, he might not find it. [Download The Balance EP: Heart via DJ Booth.]