Hip-hop has never been about following rules. From the genre’s birth in the late ‘70s to today’s explosion of innovative pop-rap superstars, the music has always rewarded audacious creativity and outside-the-box thinking. While hip-hop has gone mainstream and become the world’s preeminent form of popular music, there are still artists working outside of industry boundaries and refusing to let labels, managers, or anyone influence their art. Below, we give props to five uncompromising artists who’ve found their own lanes and chased greatness on their own terms.
Dessa: A Multifaceted Artist with a Singular Voice
Before launching her career as a rapper, singer, spoken-word artist, author, and Doomtree label head, the Minneapolis native born Margaret Wander worked as a technical writer for a medical company. In a sense, she’s come full-circle with Chime, the critically acclaimed album she released in early 2018. It’s Dessa’s fourth collection of smart, soulful alternative hip-hop songs, and it was inspired by a project whereby she collaborated with neuroscientists to pinpoint the exact part of her brain dedicated to romantic love. Chime is just the latest example of how this one-time philosophy major has challenged the idea of what a female hip-hop artist can be. In a 2018 interview with Billboard, Dessa shared her secret for having such a rich and varied career: "I worry a little bit less about trying to forestall people’s opinions and just try to do good work.”
Cardi B: A Personality Too Big to Fail
By the time Cardi B topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow,” the Bronx native was already on her fourth career. In the years leading up to her musical breakthrough, Cardi went from stripping to making viral videos to stealing scenes on Vh1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York. All of those pursuits showcased the qualities that would make Cardi one of the most exciting new rappers of the ‘10s. Cardi is sexy and funny, outrageous and vulnerable, tough as hell yet instantly loveable. Her excellent 2018 debut album, Invasion of Privacy, reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and silenced critics who thought she’d be a one-hit wonder. Invasion of Privacy has spawned a second chart-topper, the Latin-flavored “I Like It,” which you’ve surely heard blasting from cars all summer. While pregnancy kept Cardi from touring in recent months, motherhood is only going to make this vivacious truth-spitter a more compelling artist in years to come.