If you’ve glanced at the schedule for this year’s CMJ Music Marathon—and you really should ’cause you don’t have a lot of time left to prep—you may have noticed that this year’s lineup includes some of the biggest names in hip-hop. In addition to the many skilled veterans (Mystikal, GZA, Q-Tip), there’s a whole lot of hungry and buzzed-about younger artists as well (Flatbush Zombies, Mr. Motherfuckin’ Exquire, Death Grips). There’s a lot to choose from.

So, in the interest of spreading the love around a little bit, here are 5 rappers you should check out instead of that indietronica band that your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend is in.

Angel Haze

Fresh off a BET cypher appearance where she said she “never lost a coin toss,” Angel Haze is poised for a big CMJ win. Despite her many breathless boasts (“I’m on top of my green like a motherfucking tractor”) and displays of cocksure swagger (“Shit, I was probably god in my first life”), what sets Haze apart from her equally confident peers is her near-total command of tone and atmosphere. Her latest EP/mixtape, the pugnacious and poignant Reservation, is a multifaceted, surprisingly tuneful collection of tracks that shows off her badass persona but also displays a willingness to push against that image by exploring ethereal pop beats, R&B song structures and playful identity politics. Come for the Lil Wayne-like punchlines, but stay for the Lauryn Hill-style pathos.

Angel Haze is playing the Mass Appeal showcase Friday, October 19, at the Gramercy Theater.

Boldy James

Detroit rapper Boldy James released Cosignment, one of 2012’s most addictive and alluring mixtapes, back in March, and he shows no signs of letting up. Combining the hard-headed, no-nonsense technical prowess of a revivalist like Freddie Gibbs with the playful, buoyant imagination of the Cool Kids, James offers a little bit for everyone while still managing to carve out a low-key, hard-working persona that’s both menacing and relatable. On tracks like the Sound Of Music-sampling cocaine-rap cut “White Girls (Blow)” or the paranoid, Michael Mann-style robbery narrative “Bank Jackin’,” James makes eclecticism look easy. He’s not the flashiest, meme-generating rapper playing CMJ, but he might be the most consistent.

Boldy James is playing the Mass Appeal showcase on Friday, October 19, at the Gramercy Theater and the AllHipHop.com presents Breeding Ground showcase on Saturday, October 20, at DROM.

Cities Aviv

After a defiant set at Pianos during last year’s Marathon, this Memphis-based noise-rap innovator is back again, presumably bringing more blissed-out beats, clever lyrics and bubbling indignation. The casual nihilism of tracks like “Fuckeverybodyhere” and “Doom X Gloom” belies a fierce, uncompromising intelligence and an ear for noisy, aggressive melodies that don’t try as hard as Death Grips and pack more political insight. After releasing 2011’s stellar Digital Lows album, Aviv has continued to refine his style and broaden his sonic scope, releasing impressive tracks like the hazy Star Slinger collaboration “G A L L E R Y G U R L Z.”

Cities Aviv is playing the Flowerbooking showcase at the Knitting Factory on Friday, October 19.


Combining the free-flowing, evanescent energy of dance music with a doom-laced, deceptively casual delivery, LE1F’s recent Dark York is a difficult album to pin down but an even harder one to shake once its sunk its brightly colored claws into you. Though he’s responsible for the brainworm of a beat behind Das Racist‘s “Combination Pizza Hut, Taco Bell,” the rapper isn’t afraid of working with others, bringing in like-minded producers Nguzunguzu and Tom Richman to craft tracks that mine textures from NYC ball culture, club music, mainstream radio rap and beyond. LE1F is often quoted and mentioned in stories about the emergence of NYC queer rap within the last year, and while that’s an exciting movement, his work deserves to be heard and understood on its own vibrant, confounding terms.

LE1F is playing the Terrible Records showcase on Tuesday, October 16, at Glasslands Gallery and the Windish showcase on Saturday, October 20, at Cameo Gallery.

Killer Mike

OK, if you’re still reading this you probably already know that Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music is one of the best albums of the year. You probably already know that he’s going to put together a triumphant live set. You probably already know he’s gonna say something controversial about the election. And, well, if you know all this already, why are you still here? Go. Get in line now.

You probably know where Killer Mike is playing, but if you don’t, it’s at Irving Plaza on Thursday, October 18.