Underground hip-hop (also commonly known as indie hip-hop or underground rap) is an umbrella term for hip hop music that is 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 conscious hip hop. Many artists who are considered "underground" today were not always so, and may have previously broken the Billboard charts.[3]


Underground hip-hop encompasses several different styles of music. Numerous acts in the book How to Rap are described as being both underground and politically or socially aware, these include – B. Dolan[4] Brother Ali,[4] Diabolic,[5] Immortal Technique,[6] Jedi Mind Tricks,[7] Micranots,[8] Mr. Lif,[5] Murs,[5] Little Brother,[3] P.O.S[9] Zion I and Madlib, among others.[10]

Underground artists with critically acclaimed albums include Atmosphere,[4] Binary Star,[7] Blu, Cannibal Ox,[3] Company Flow,[11] Del the Funky Homosapien,[12] Roc Marciano, Danny Brown, Freestyle Fellowship,[7] Hieroglyphics,[13] Juggaknots, Jurassic 5,[11] Kool Keith,[6] Little Brother,[4] MF DOOM,[14] Non Phixion,[15] Planet Asia,[16] RJD2,[6] MC TP,[17] among many others.[10]

Additionally, many underground hip hop artists have been applauded for the artistic and poetic use of their lyrics, such as Aesop Rock, Aceyalone,[7] Busdriver, Cage,[16] CunninLynguists,[18] Dessa, OhSo Kew,[19] Doomtree, El-P,[5] Eyedea & Abilities,[5] Illogic,[14] Onry Ozzborn, MF DOOM, Rob Sonic,[12] billy woods,[20] and Sage Francis,[3] among others.

Some underground artists produce music that celebrates the fundamental elements or pillars of hip hop culture, such as Artifacts, Dilated Peoples, People Under the Stairs, and Fashawn whose music "recalls hip-hop's golden age".[6]

Early beginnings

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 (1988) is seen as one of the earliest examples of "underground hip hop".[21] 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".[22] The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show was a notable underground hip hop radio show that was broadcast on WKCR, and later WQHT, in New York City from 1990 until 1999.[23][24] It featured rappers such as The Notorious B.I.G., Big L, Jay-Z, and Eminem, as well as groups like Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, ONYX and Fugees, all before they gained any popularity.[25] In 1999, Prince Paul and Breeze Brewin' created one of the first rap opera albums, named A Prince Among Thieves. Rolling Stone gave the album a 4.5/5.[26]

In the late 1990s, progressive rap acts such as Black Star and Juggaknots helped inspire and shape the underground hip hop movement that would follow in subsequent decades. [27]

See also


  1. ^ "GrowYourFlow.com".
  2. ^ Cheryl L. Keyes (March 2004). Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois Press. pp. 336. ISBN 0-252-07201-4.
  3. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 342.
  4. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 317.
  5. ^ a b c d e How to Rap, p. 325.
  6. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 332.
  7. ^ a b c d How to Rap, p. 326.
  8. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 316.
  9. ^ How to Rap, p. 333.
  10. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 334.
  11. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 315.
  12. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 322.
  13. ^ How to Rap, p. 316.
  14. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 321.
  15. ^ How to Rap, p. 323.
  16. ^ a b How to Rap, p. 327.
  17. ^ "MC TP". SoundCloud. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
  18. ^ Chilton, Adam; Jiang, Kevin; Posner, Eric (12 June 2014). "Rappers v. Scotus". Slate.
  19. ^ "'Toonami': Anime-themed event to feature local musicians and vendors". The Lantern. 2022-02-25. Retrieved 2022-10-04.
  20. ^ "billy woods" (PDF).
  21. ^ Price, E "Hip hop culture", ABC-CLIO, 2006. p. 295
  22. ^ Huey, Steve. "Review of Dr. Octagonecologyst". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  23. ^ Scott, Dana (August 22, 2016). "Stretch and Bobbito Speak on the Greatest Hip Hop Radio Show Ever. Their Own". HipHopDX. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  24. ^ Tobak, Vikki (August 3, 2017). "Stretch and Bobbito: kings of New York City radio". Andscape. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  25. ^ Bobbito Garcia (director). Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives (Documentary). Saboteur Media.
  26. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004-01-01). The new Rolling Stone album guide. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0743201698. OCLC 56531290.
  27. ^ Gill, Jon Ivan (2019). "Multi/race/less/ness as underground hip-hop identity in process". Underground Rap as Religion: A Theopoetic Examination of a Process Aesthetic Religion. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781351391320.

Further reading