When did it get so hard to discover new music? These days, it seems the more new artists there are, the harder it is to discover them. The internet can be a frighteningly large place, and current trends in content saturation only make it larger and more frightening. Perhaps that’s why you’ve streamed your favorite series five times but still haven’t caught up on this year’s Emmy winners, or why you listen to the same 20 songs on repeat. Entertainment comfort zones are a real thing, but this list might help you out of yours.
Here are four underground and alternative Houston hip hop artists to shake up your listening habits and introduce some much-needed change to your daily routine.
Rising underground star Kringe blew up in 2020, thanks to the release of his debut album, Don't Think Too Much, and his TikTok account. The young man from Houston struck a chord on the popular social media platform by taking fans through his unexpected journey from irrelevance to fame. But it’s not all memes for the multi-talented artist/instrumentalist. Kringe is a genuine talent with a singular sound and a devoted fan base.
Last month, he released his sophomore album, Three Sides of the Worst of Me, a moody, at times ghostly, exploration of personal struggle that combines acoustic strings with lo-fi hip-hop beats. The album seems to further develop Kringe’s unique brand of alt hip hop with its lead single “Who’s to Say,” which is helmed by a bittersweet guitar melody. As for those devoted fans? Kringe flew one down from Maine earlier this year to star in the track's music video.
Tobacco Ryan is the type of artist who begs us to ask, “Why isn’t this guy more famous?” Wildly talented, wickedly stylish, and well connected, he’s a master of his own unique sonic and visual aesthetic. Born Cameran Howard, Tobacco Ryan is part rapper, part model, part artistic director.
His 2019 debut album, Pink Tobacco, is a silky, mood-setting soundscape, with flashes of Frank Ocean and a Southern rap edge. His 2021 follow up project, Your Wildest Dreams, which dropped only weeks ago, leans heavier on the rap while maintaining a vibe-heavy production. Lush lo-fi tones and synth beats are overlaid with more intentional verses and decidedly more hip hop. While Tobacco Ryan feels like a fully formed artist, there's no telling where his next project may veer. Therein lies the fun.
Calling Teezo Touchdown a rapper feels a bit limiting for this latex-sporting, platform boot-wearing social media maverick with nails in his braids. But the Houston native's intensely original music relies on a mix of trap beats, pop-punk instrumentals, spoken word, and sung verses, so it's not out of bounds to say he's an alt-hip hop act.
A viral underground artist, with features in Pigeons & Planes and Complex, boasting nearly 70,000 Instagram followers, Teezo is a virtuoso content creator. His experimental hip hop is but one dimension of a self-contained creative universe that includes Instagram skits, music videos, visual art, DIY fashion, and a style literally all his own. Unsurprisingly, his influence has grown well beyond Houston. Teezo is officially on the lineup of both the Alt London (ALT+LDN) music festival in August and Rolling Loud 2021 in December.
Rapper, entrepreneur, philanthropist, former gang member—AJ McQueen is all of the above. The St. Louis native and adopted Houstonian is among the city's most underrated lyricists. An agile-minded poet with a laid back sound, McQueen is a gifted MC who exhibited his skills in front of millions on Sway’s Universe and was given his own day by Mayor Sylvester Turner in 2019.
In 2020, he launched the premium alkaline water brand Hydrate Hill. Earlier this year, when winter storm Uri left thousands of Houstonians without running water, McQueen went door to door, accepting donations but ultimately donating over 5,000 bottles and 3,000 gallons to Houstonians in need. Luckily, philanthropy and entrepreneurship haven’t dulled his skills on the mic.
Last month he released his new single, “Elderberry,” on all platforms, followed shortly by a YouTube freestyle titled “Now and Later Gators.” Both tracks are lyrical gems with characteristically chill instrumentals. While the self-dubbed Water Boy may soon trade in the mic for the boardroom, his catalog of lyrical mastery is one that will stand the test of time, perhaps someday gaining the attention it truly deserves.