1. Chlo the God | @chlothegod

The soulful songstress hasn’t released an official single in almost two years but somehow has still managed to capture the attention of 13,000+ listeners a month on Spotify. Luckily for fans, they can hear Chlo’s textured voice on TikTok and with 168,000 followers and counting, her fans are patiently waiting for whatever’s next. Hopefully, in 2023, we will get a track as relatable as “See Me.”

2. DaVaun | @coolkiddavaun

Producer/rapper DaVaun’s production and songwriting abilities are impressive. Each song feels made for the radio and his cool-kid persona is visible not only in his music but also when performing live. This year DaVaun performed all over the Triangle and even curated his own show, DaVaun & Friends. He ended the year with a bang, performing at Mir.I.am’s Carolina Waves five-year anniversary.

3. Defacto

2022 was an experimental year for the Durham-based rapper Defacto Thezpian (Raheem Royal). After taking some time off from music, his “comeback” was exceedingly well executed. The trained actor turned rapper took a number of risks, including introducing his Raheem Royal producer persona, opting out of releasing his album on streaming platforms, and pricing his album at $20—a price point that’s a stark shift from the frequent free projects indie artists often release, and on average almost double the price of an album from A-list rappers. But there were perks to the purchase: Defacto provided those who bought the album access to a minidocumentary and podcast, and the album rollout was arguably one of the best in the Triangle area this year. And while it might be a while before we hear from the talented rapper/novice producer, we will be looking out to see what new innovative marketing strategies he imagines next.

4. Fif Shang | @iamfifshang

Consider this: Ol’ Dirty Bastard meets Ludacris with a sprinkle of Lil Wayne. Fif Shang’s creativity and boundary-pushing performances, which often include a number of props, position him as a student of the aforementioned rap legends. His raps are raw yet playful and guaranteed to make you catch a vibe.

5. G Yamazawa | @gyamazawa

Landing at no. 6 on the iTunes rap chart is a hard flex. It’s also not an easy feat without major label support, but George Yamazawa, better known as G Yamazawa, did just that after the release of his self-titled album. The album includes production collaborations with other local talents like Solomon Fox of Young Bull and Alan Thompson of Zoocrü. The best surprise of all on the album is track no. 4, “Make It Knock,” which features Mississippi native Big K.R.I.T. 2022 was a big year for G in other ways, too: In addition to the release of George, the rapper got married and won documentary awards for his work on Becoming Yamazushi. 2023 screams headline performances, a host of dope features, and additional creative endeavors that will maximize all of his talents.

6. Imani Pressley

Multi-instrumentalist Imani Pressley is truly a talent to be reckoned with. The Grammy-nominated producer wrote, produced, mixed, and mastered Self., her latest album, which dropped in October. The genre-bending artist has impressed listeners by creating pop, R&B, EDM, dubstep, and trap music.

7. Jaszie | @iam_jaszie

proBorn and raised in Gulfport, Mississippi, the Raleigh-based rapper Jaszie (Jazmine Handy) has an unmatched level of grit and hustle. The mother of two gracefully juggles entrepreneurship while working as one of Raleigh’s top hair stylists and as a committed rapper on the rise. Jaszie’s freestyling abilities separate her from other female rappers, and her music follows the tradition of women rappers who celebrate their sexual agency and embrace all things raunchy.

8. Jooselord | @jooselord

2022 for Jooselord, the infamous Moshpit Messiah, was a year of consistency and high-energy live performances across the state. In July, Joose announced that he’d signed with the Empire Agency, and in September, he performed at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival as an official artist, headlining at downtown Raleigh’s oldest bar, Slim’s. If you have yet to experience a Jooselord show, we highly recommend you make room to do so in 2023.

9. Lena Jackson | @ljackpower

Lena Jackson is a beast! The emcee is well versed in storytelling and flexing her lyrical muscle. This year, Jackson shared the stage with hip-hop legends KRS-One and Grand Puba of Brand Nubian. Her singles “MASSA” and “Cup Runneth” are great introductions to her catalog of socially conscious music.

Rapper Defacto Thezpian at his home studio
in Durham | Photo by Brett Villena

10. Lute West | @lute_west9

Repping the city of Charlotte, the Dreamville signee can rap his ass off. West spent most of the year making appearances at a number of major festivals and releasing dope visuals to accompany his singles. With an Instagram curated to perfection and the return of his “Gold Mouf Mondays,” it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the Grammy-nominated rapper in 2023.

11. Northside Rocky | @northsiderocky

In 2020, I wrote that “Durham native Northside Rocky’s unique multi-genre sound allows him to master both singing and rapping. His radio-friendly sing-rap songs all include catchy hooks and immaculate production.” Three years later, this remains true. Rocky’s feel-good music, perfectly curated Instagram, and polished visual content makes him a label’s dream come true.

12. Professor X | @professorxtheproducer

Professor X is a producer from Eastern North Carolina who finds inspiration from a number of musical genres—from house music to jazz to boom-bap hip-hop. He is best known for his soulful and nostalgically textured blends and mixes. This year though, Professor X shined bright as Professor X the DJ, becoming arguably one of the Triangle’s most talented hip-hop DJs.

13. Pat Junior | @iampatjunior

“Feelings 4 You” by Xavier Omär—a track that Pat Junior and his music partner Justin Pelham contributed production to—landed on President Barack Obama’s “Favorite Music of 2022” list, thus demonstrating Pat Junior’s range: In addition to his own music-making abilities, the Raleigh artist is a talented writer and producer. The consistency he has maintained is paying off with 37,000+ monthly listeners on Spotify and an engaging fan base on Twitter.

14. Reuben Vincent | @reubenvincent

Is it possible to have a bad year when you are a hip-hop prodigy? Reuben Vincent is a rapper’s rapper: His skills as an emcee are rooted in the foundation of hip-hop and, at 22, the Jamla/Roc Nation signee has accomplished more than many of his peers twice his age, all while excelling in college.

15. Shame Gang | @iamshamegang

Based on all that he accomplished in 2022, Shame Gang is arguably one of the hardest-working rappers in North Carolina. Just this year, he opened for Benny the Butcher and hip-hop legends Outlawz and KRS-One. He also performed at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival as an official artist, appeared on NPR’s Live Sessions, was featured on Amazon Music, and dropped two super-dope videos.

16. Sonny Miles | @sonnyformiles

In 2019, Jordan Williams—professionally known as Sonny Miles—was featured on Obama’s “Favorite Music of 2019” playlist—and his career has been on the rise ever since, with his soulful vocals proving to be a sought-out feature. He brought in the year strong as the headliner for First Night Raleigh 2022; in 2023, he rang in the new year with a performance at CAM Raleigh.

17. Swank and King Draft@swanknkingdraft

Representing Jamla records, Swank and King Draft have been hard at work this year. The trajectory of their career shows that mainstream success doesn’t depend on talent alone but comes with dedication, hard work, and patience. And the lyrical efforts of these two emcees just work: They’re able to play off of each other’s diverse flow and wordplay while offering deliveries that are distinct. This year, fans were able to see them shine on 9th Wonder’s ZION VII.

18. Tanajah | @tanajahraps

Raleigh-based artist Tanajah has spent most of 2022 touring across Denmark and performing at three major international festivals: Fresh! Aarhus Festival, Volume Village Beta Festival, and Gemini Festival. In October she was featured on Barcelona-based duo Wild Bounce’s latest single “Good Time,” a feel-good track that merges a wide range of genres. 2023 is looking good for Raleigh’s international rap superstar.

19. TiaCorine | @tiacorine

You know you’re winning when your single has been named one of the best songs of the year by Pitchfork. The Winston-Salem native has another hit with “FreakyT,” and her rap career has been on the rise since she went viral in 2020. Two years later her music continues to serve as the perfect sonic backdrop for a number of TikTok users. The eclectic rapper also still manages to wow fans with creative looks, whether she is dressed up like Halle Berry from B.A.P.S. or an anime character. In 2022 the mom of one has had rap on lock—in addition to performing at Rolling Loud and for UPROXX music sessions, she was interviewed by Travis Mills for Apple Music.

20. Young Bull | @youngbullmusic

We’ve watched Young Bull grow their audience in the most organic way, via pure talent. With 46,000+ monthly listeners on Spotify, since their 2016 introduction, the three young superstars have collaborated with BJ the Chicago Kid, Khrysis, Erick Lottary, Pat Junior, Swank and King Draft, and American Idol alum Malaya. In 2022, the trio released “Fly on the Wall,” a soulful groovy track.

21. The Genius Party | @thegeniuspartync

This year was a great year for North Carolina’s newest producer collective, The Genius Party. From curating a number of producer and artist showcases to presenting The Cutting Room Floor, a new format show where producers compete live in challenges, The Genius Party has had a hand in proving that hip-hop lives in North Carolina. And to end the year strong, they were recipients of the Raleigh Arts Council’s Artist Support Grant.

22. The Mercenaries | @theofficialmercenaries

The Mercenaries, a producer collective made up of Skates Beats, TG Beats, and ChucceBeatz, have achieved lots of success in a short amount of time and have remained humble about each accolade. The trio signed to Miami-based production legends Cool and Dre’s Epidemic Music Group in December of 2020 and since then have provided production for a host of A-list talent including Young Jeezy, DJ Drama, Fat Joe, and NC legend Rapper Big Pooh. This year alone, Jeezy’s track “BIG SNO” from his Snofall mixtape has been deemed a fan favorite. It’s only up for The Mercenaries from here!

23. Yk Raleigh | @YKRaleigh444

Yk Raleigh has crafted a lane of his own, but it is not hard to hear the Gucci influence. His drawn-out cadence fits his street rap in the most perfect way. Yk Raleigh’s unique song compositions make them anthem-ready. He rapped up 2022 by releasing his highly awaited project, Genesis.  

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