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Top 10 Independent Rappers

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by AJ Dellinger. These rappers started from the bottom, and made it big all on their own. Join as we count down our picks for Top 10 Independent Rappers.For this list, we’ll be taking a look at rappers and emcees who found most of their fame independently. They may have made their name with impressive record sales, incredible stage shows, or just a unique style that earned them critical acclaim. Special thanks to our users SubjectD3lta27, jeruhmyuh, Edson Aurelio Arvizu, JamesHall, Mike Bissig, Clever69 and Booty Warrior for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest.

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Written by AJ Dellinger.

Top 10 Independent Rappers

These rappers started from the bottom, and made it big all on their own. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for Top 10 Independent Rappers.

For this list, we’ll be taking a look at rappers and emcees who found most of their fame independently. They may have made their name with impressive record sales, incredible stage shows, or just a unique style that earned them critical acclaim. Regardless of how they achieved success, including if they've spent time on a major label, these are the rappers who did it their own way and we’re basing our choices on a mix of their song quality, credibility and talent. We’ve excluded Macklemore because even though he’s still indie, his massive mainstream success makes him an inappropriate fit for the list.

#10: R.A. the Rugged Man

Name just about any famous rapper and you’ll likely be able to find ties to R.A. the Rugged Man. He’s the Kevin Bacon of the rap game--everyone is connected to him. Despite just two official full-length releases over his 20+ year career, R.A. has built a reputation as one of the best independent performers around. He’s worked with artists like Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and many other accomplished artists. When you’ve been rapping since you were 12, it’s no surprise to find out you’ve got some skills.

#9: Aesop Rock

Think rapping is easy? Tell that to Aesop Rock. Arguably rap’s finest wordsmith, the east coast rapper is said to have the richest vocabulary in hip hop and has also been compared to literary greats like Shakespeare and Herman Melville. He flashes his lyrical brilliance with off-the-wall metaphors and regular use of homonyms. More than just a talented rapper, Aesop also flashes his production skills both on tracks for others and on his own. He’s a prolific artist both on the mic and in making beats, but the quantity doesn’t dilute his quality.

#8: Brother Ali

There’s no other rapper quite like Brother Ali. After gaining the attention of Rhymesayers Entertainment, Ali began appearing on his label-mates’ tracks, including working with Rhymesayers co-founder Slug’s group Atmosphere. Ali won over audiences with his intense presence, which has carried over to his albums. He’s never been afraid to speak his mind, even when sponsors backed away from him and cut his tour short. Ali has built a strong following with strong sentiments through his politically charged, passion-filled, self-examining lyrics.

#7: Action Bronson

For most of the artists on this list, rap is their primary passion. But rap came later for Action Bronson. He spent his life cultivating a reputation as an esteemed New York gourmet chef before leaving it behind for the rap game. Now Bronson cooks up lyrics instead of meals, though he’s maintained his first love by regularly rapping about food. His discography so far consists of 2 full-length records, 2 EPs and 4 mixtapes, all of which make for some hearty listens, and he still has more on the way. We can’t wait for the dessert.

#6: Earl Sweatshirt

The Internet is responsible for Earl Sweatshirt. After being discovered on MySpace by Tyler, the Creator, the rapper-producer dropped his first album for free through Odd Future’s website. However, Earl’s later music was almost prevented from reaching the masses. And it wasn’t because of a lack of a major label - instead, it was his own mother. She sent him to a boarding school for troubled youths in Samoa. But Earl returned to the game and has since continued to make critically acclaimed music.

#5: dead prez

Sometimes it’s better to have someone to share the stage with. For rappers M-1 and, acting as partners in crime has served them well. Performing as the duo dead prez, these two emcees have built their audience through their confrontational style, both in the booth and on stage. They never shy away from talking about issues that matter to them and they aren’t afraid to back it with actions, regularly lighting money on fire or throwing health food into the crowd at their shows.

#4: Talib Kweli

Known nearly as much for his contributions as an activist as for his work as a rapper, Talib Kweli may be the best ambassador hip hop has. For this Brooklyn rapper, there is no differentiating between his music and his activism, and he regularly shares his views on society and politics in his lyrics. Even during his stint with Warner Bros. Records, Kweli used his platform to showcase underground artists to elevate their profile and promote the positivity of hip-hop culture.

#3: MF Doom

Though he likes to position himself as hip hop’s super villain, MF Doom is a hero to independent rap fans. Known for his unorthodox, off-kilter flow and a style that is nearly impossible to replicate, Doom doesn’t quite fit into any of the common categorizations for rap. His solo albums are considered by many to be classics, but his collaborations with Madlib under the name Madvillain and Danger Mouse as Danger Doom showcase his ability to work with others while still standing out as a solo act.

#2: Tech N9ne

It seems like Tech N9ne has always known that he wouldn’t quite fit in with most rappers. That would explain why he started his own label and named it Strange Music. The Kansas City emcee has been a stand out thanks to his chopper rhyming style in which he raps at a break-neck pace. This ability to deliver a clear message at high speeds has made him a unique rapper who is regularly featured on tracks with other indie sensations and mainstream artists who respect his ability.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are some honorable mentions.

- Jean Grae
- Joey Bada$$
- Madlib
- Slug [Atmosphere]
- Danny Brown

#1: Immortal Technique

The king of the underground rap scene, Immortal Technique has built his own empire without a major record label behind him. After building a following as a battle rapper, he made the jump to music. He’s insisted that artists should fight to retain rights and creative freedom when it comes to their work, and he’s embodied that belief. His lyrics are aggressive and uncompromising and his fans love him for it. His third album even cracked the Billboard 200 chart, and his success will surely only build from there.

Do you agree with our list? Which self-made wordsmiths do prefer to bob your head to? For more independent Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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