10 Rappers to Convert the Indie Purist in Your Life


One of the more pleasing developments of the 21st century has been the decline of musical tribalism — people are far less likely to be evangelistic about their choice of genre these days, and most people’s record collections encompass a healthy range of sounds. Having said that, some divides remain — in particular, any conversation that touches on hip hop usually gives rise to at least one proclamation along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t listen to that garbage — it’s all bitches and blunts and guns, etc etc.” The release of SpaceGhostPurrp’s debut album this week (as you might have read, he’s signed to 4AD) got us thinking about other rappers who might bridge the hip hop/guitar divide. We’ve made some suggestions after the jump, so next time you run into an anti-hip hop type, don’t just huff and puff — direct them to us! We’re here to help.


As has been widely noted, SpaceGhostPurrp is the first and only hip hop act to sign to venerable UK indie institution 4AD, a label that’s given the world a huge variety of wonderful music over the years. Quite why it’s taken 4AD so long to dip their toes into the world of hip hop is a question only they can answer, but they’ve certainly picked a fine place to start.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “If it’s good enough for Ivo Watts-Russell, it’s good enough for you.”

Azealia Banks

Banks is the indie press’s current hip hop crush, with Pitchfork calling “212” a “jaw-slackening demo reel” and getting very hot under the collar about the imminent arrival of her debut album, which is due out in September and looks destined for a gushing 8.2 review.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “That new track is totally #seapunk.”


We once saw Dâm-Funk convert a room full of uninterested Brooklyn hipsters (and much as we hate this word, they really were — ironic moustaches, fluorescent shorts, the works) into a room of slavering, dancing keytar neo-funk devotees over the course of less than an hour. And this was before he collaborated with Ariel Pink.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “The keytar doesn’t necessarily have to be an ironic instrument, you know.”


Without meaning to sound overly cynical, everyone loves a good backstory, and there are few more compelling than that of masked MC Daniel Dumile — aka MF DOOM — who adopted his metal-faced persona after the death of his younger brother and bandmate in a 1993 car accident. Following the bereavement — which coincided with the brothers’ second record being shelved and the act being dropped from their label — Dumile basically disappeared for three years, before reappearing as a masked crusader promising revenge on the industry. And, y’know, his music’s good, too.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “The mask doesn’t necessarily have to be an ironic accessory, you know.”

Flying Lotus

If nothing else, indie nerds can appreciate their own kindred in other genres, and there are few contemporary producers who can induce hip hop-production nerdgasms quite like Flying Lotus. The intricate, psychedelic nature of his productions — and the fact that they’re often free of vocals — should be enough to pique the interest of even the most hardened hip hop hater.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “Ultimately, of course, it’s all about the intricate polyrhythmic foundation of the beats.”

Shabazz Palaces

Last year’s unexpected crossover hip hop record was Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up, which won (deservedly) rapturous reviews all over the indie press. The duo’s mix of spacey FlyLo-esque beats, tongue-twisting raps, and general way-cooler-than-you awesomeness makes them one of hip hop’s most progressive, and also one of its most fascinating — both attributes that make them far more appealing than your average gangsta mumbler. See also: THEEsatisfaction.

Triumphant conversational gambit:Black Up was Gorilla Vs Bear’s #1 album of last year, don’t you know.”

Mos Def/Yasiin Bey

The longtime standard bearer for conscious hip hop, a genre that’s essentially a walking, talking rebuttal to the “hip hop is only about misogyny/guns/violence/etc” argument. Admittedly, we’re not entirely sure that he’s done himself a whole lot of favors with his appearance on talk shows etc. over the years, but nevertheless, he remains one of hip hop’s most intelligent and erudite figures. And Black on Both Sides is a quality record.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “Why yes, that was indeed Mos Def playing Ford Prefect in that surprisingly good Hitchhiker’s Guide adaptation.”

The Weeknd

From the moment he emerged with a Beach House sample and a terrifyingly compelling tale of unpleasant goings-on at a high-end hotel, The Weeknd has appealed to the sort of people who’d never normally countenance listening to R&B and/or hip hop generally. (Of course, this cuts both ways — a friend of ours recently made the not-entirely-frivolous joke that the best thing about the new Beach House record was that it gave The Weeknd more tracks to sample.)

Triumphant conversational gambit: “It’s like a Bret Easton Ellis novel, only even more nihilistic!”


The archetypal scrawny white rapper crossover type for the 21st century — geeky, neurotic, and remarkably successful. It could be that Yoni Wolf is in fact too indie for your indie-loving friend, but still, this is worth a try.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “Come on — he even looks like he should be in Vampire Weekend.”


When we looked back a while ago at a decade of indie-acceptable hip hop tokenism — i.e. the token hip hop acts who’d surface on indie-centric end-of-year lists — a couple of names kept cropping up: Jay-Z and Kanye West. Since Kanye’s personality is more likely to put off hip hop neophytes — he’s a bit of a cock, honestly — we suggest you try Jay-Z. He was good. Once.

Triumphant conversational gambit: “Barack Obama likes him! Even Noel Gallagher likes him! Oh, wait…”