4 rappers you really need in rotation

Vivian Medithi spotlights some of 2023’s best projects by Babyxsosa, Kura & Pi’erre Bourne, Rylo Rodriguez, and OsamaSon

October 05, 2023
4 rappers you really need in rotation (L-R) Kura, Babyxsosa, OsamaSon, Rylo Rodriguez   Rylo Rodriguez photo via Sigmund Owho Osimini

I'm an "inbox infinity" kind of guy. Every day I'm bombarded with emails and I only ever click on the ones I absolutely need. My approach to new music isn't too far off. I'd rather spend my time listening to one album I love than 10 albums that are Pretty Good. 2023 has been artistically light on rap blockbusters and fiscally tough on independent artists (everything seems totally fine over at Bandcamp), but hip-hop is anything but dead, and there’s no shortage of good rap out there. Here are just four of 2023's most exciting rap EPs, mixtapes, and albums full of vital, living music.



To a cultured minority of Surf Gang diehards, TikTok initiates, and SoundCloud connoisseurs, Babyxsosa’s long-fabled debut has become a legend on par with Playboicarti. The Richmond, VA, rapper’s songs are vividly evocative, though her penchant for randomly uploading new/old loosies to streaming platforms — and she can be just as mercurial when it comes to unreleasing music — certainly helps with the mythmaking. Though, seriously: she rocks.

July’s BLING BLING EP was an ankle-breaking pump fake, switching out whipped meringue pluggnb production and clear-toned arias for gothic industrial beats and rougher-voiced yowls. The sonic textures of this album can resemble a lullaby by Pharmakon (“That’s when I realized, I’d rather be alone”) or a SOPHIE song played out of a passing AH-1W Super Cobra (“HELICOPTER”); on the latter, Babyxsosa is practically manic, yelping disjointed images like strobelit stop motion.

Her secret weapon is Warpstr, the Montgomery County, MD, producer behind last year’s “RANGE ROVER” and 2021’s “DRAMA BABY/MALIBU” among others. Here, the punishing rhythm of “BLINGBLINGCEO” is pure hardcore gabber, sweatslick and fog machine humid. But the real gem is “X&O 127 BLING,” a lurching runway walk from the Uber Black past the doorman and coat check straight to the loudest spot in front of the DJ booth. “Please don't touch me/I ride in fast cars,” she sniffs. “My ex-boyfriend called/I might star six nine.” It reminds me of The Fame Monster-era Lady Gaga, a vampy take on outsize club music from a woman who could die happily on the dancefloor. Here’s hoping Babyxsosa never pulls BLING BLING EP off streaming.

Kura & Pi’erre Bourne, Born Seditionary

“White teenager from Detroit raps about fast cars and self-belief over Pi’erre Bourne production” shouldn’t work, but on Born Seditionary, it does. That’s thanks in no small part to Kura embodying some of Bourne’s best qualities as a rapper, in particular his ear for melody and penchant for crisp, direct imagery. Refracted through Kura’s youthful jouissance, flexes and feelings alike feel sincere and lived in despite his age.

Bourne’s work behind the boards here veers from warp drive synths (“Arriving”) through gravelly rap-rock hybridization (“Bachelor”), pogo stick 808s (“Waves”), and iridescent pop rap (“Saving Grace”). Kura’s flows snake fluidly through the terrain whether rifling through bars with fellow Sosshouse-signee Chavo on “Bapes” or crooning over the dusk dreamscape of “Switch.” Amidst the obliterative 808s of “Widebody Kit,” he notices the “neon green paint on the calipers” of a jailbroken Hellcat.


On “Hold It Up,” Kura goes totally motivational anthemic: “if you dream and know what you want there ain’t no holding back.” Easy enough for an earnest 19-year-old to say, but he’s more clear-eyed than it seems, smoothly panning the lens. “My pops he was scraping on pennies/worked three jobs just to get by;” “fell down a few times on the way, my guys brush off my back.” Nobody does it all on their own.

Rylo Rodriguez, Been One

Two minutes into “Digital Pictures,” Rylo Rodriguez brainstorms baby names. “I’m all about a bank, if I have a son, I’ll name him Chase,” he muses. Lightbulb moment: “I’m all about a bank, if I have a son I’ll name him Zelle!” Just one electric couplet among many on Rylo’s supercharged sophomore studio album Been One.

There’s the syrupy storytelling of “On The Run,” where Rylo’s abraded baritone cuts against a cinematic backdrop of morose piano, helium-voiced harmonies, and a brief, brassy blast of caterwauling trumpet. And the tenebrous thump of “On Da Floor,” Rylo insouciantly drawling about joining “the honey bun club” before EST Gee sneers onto the track, wheezing “my OG used to smoke dirties/that's cocaine inside his weed/it still fuck with how he breathe.” By the time Lil Baby walks through to dap up his protege on “Real Type,” Rodriguez has already dogwalked the beat up and down the block a few times, decrying the cowardice of drive-by shootings and going through women’s iPhones.

When the tempo decelerates to a crawl, Rylo makes every syllable count, as when he details a derailed relationship over the incandescent glow of “Taylor Port Junkie.” Or take “Right,” built around a gentle acoustic guitar that wouldn’t sound misplaced on a Fleetwood Mac record (RIP Christine McVie). “If love-ing you is wrong then I don’t want to be-e riiight,” he quavers, elongate iambic meter like pulling taffy.

Been One closes on a 1,2 gut punch. There’s the Snoh Aalegra-sampling “Thang For You,” Rylo smoothly loading up the bases before frequent collaborator No Cap smashes his verse way out of the park, demanding to know “Who gives a fuck if all your friends not acceptin' me?” Then “X-Hausted,” where Lil Poppa’s buttery falsetto pops in and out of Rylo’s verse, hard-won triumph lushly accentuated. “My dawg had got hit up/thank God he still can move,” Rylo sighs. “You could die, it be a war/he took them shots like Jordan Poole.” No matter how thick the storm clouds get — Rylo’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama, averages 66 inches of rainfall a year — he knows there’s sunlight on the other side.

OsamaSon, Osama Season

Near the end of Osama Season, OsamaSon’s voice datamoshes to delirious extremes as the low end blows out subwoofers. OsamaSon has been dismissed as just another OPIUM soundalike, but across Osama Season’s startlingly brief 22 minutes, he carves out his own barbarous universe of maximalist rage.

“I'm in Neiman, throwin' fits/for this coupe, I dropped a brick,” OsamaSon snarls on the hook of “Kutta” before rasping through a four-bar verse like he’s been smoking a pack a day for years. His Brinks truck adlibs are less onomatopoeia than Foley effect, beats and vocals alike slathered in rock candy distortion. Built around a pyrotechnic streak of a synth, “Summer Sixteen” spins out dementedly; compared to the rest of the tape, “Werkin” feels practically neoconservative, but when the beat drops out to let OsamaSon carry the melody all by his autotune lonesome, even more classically plugg sounds become fresh and exciting.

Osama Season delivers in its slower moments too. On “Anti,” OsamaSon takes stock of his surroundings (two hoes, five pints, many Glocks and Percocet) before bemoaning “I know what you would do for some love/I know what I wouldn't do for your trust.” Nine9’s beat sounds like sodium vapor lights flitting by on a desolate stretch of nighttime highway. As for the tape’s highwater mark, I’ve gotta give it to the 57 sublime seconds of “X & Sex,” which ramps up from a frenetic verse before devolving into an endless chant, “X and sex now I got jetlag” ad infinitum until the words lose all meaning, just pure physical phonemes bursting against the tympanic membrane. Exactly how bangers should sound.


Rap Column is a column about rap music by Vivian Medithi and Nadine Smith for The FADER.

4 rappers you really need in rotation