Hip hop has always been a young man’s game. After all, in the late 1970’s when the genre was in its infancy and DJ Kool Herc was rocking parties in the Bronx, the potent fervour of the emerging scene was thanks to the vibrancy of New York youth. Not only did they give hip hop a face in its embryonic stage, they took it to borough after borough, and later state after state, as the genre established itself in America’s mainstream consciousness.

Going forward, youngsters continues to be staples in the game. LL Cool J was a full blown star by the time he was 18, Special Ed was the Youngest in Charge and A Tribe Called Quest had dropped two all-time classic albums by the age of 21. Lil Wayne reminded you that the youth had something to say in the early to mid-2000s, making waves at 14 with the Hot Boys and producing content that catered to a new audience in hip hop.

In the UK two of the grime scene’s seminal bodies of work, Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner and Kano’s Home Sweet Home, were produced at the ages of 18 and 20 respectively, capturing what was so exciting about Britain’s newest genre in its early years. Wherever real movements were birthed, the youth were – more often than not – championing the cause and letting the world know.

Fast forward to the present day and the youth are still very much the heartbeat of the game, providing wide and varied narratives on the lives they lead. The age demographic of 21 and under is a formative and impressionable one and rappers are there to offer a model for style, substance and influence. Whether it’s for the mainstream or the underground, the party-goers or the head-boppers, all bases are covered amongst the new generation of rap kids.

Here is a selection of artists under the age of 21, that are currently making waves in this thing we call rap.

You may recognise this young man as the cover star of our SS16 print issue, but we’re including him again because he really is that good. In the UK music scene, which is arguably the most exciting it’s been for a decade, 19 year old Novelist has curated a lane all of his own. A disciple of grime, the South London rapper and producer has gone above and beyond, even creating his own genre, Ruff Sound. Minimalist and menacing synths, backed by hard-hitting drum sequences, N-O-V’s beats are a throwback to the early days of the grime scene but with a unique, modern twist. All while showering man down with soliloquies of life on road and ways to get dough. The Lewisham don is well on his way to becoming a UK music icon.

Kodak Black
Before his recent incarceration, Kodak Black was one of the hottest new names in the game. The 19 year old from Florida was literally everywhere and won the world over with a slew of successful mixtapes – ‘Heart of the Projects’, ‘Institution’ and ‘Lil Big Pac’. His stories of street life and hustling are relatable for those in similar shoes and, when you scratch a little underneath the surface, there’s a sense of purpose to better himself and those around him. Among his hits, 2015’s ‘Skrrt’ is the most memorable, with an infectious hook and Kodak’s comedic screechy vocals. We’re already looking forward to more bangers from the young star once he’s released from prison. Free Kodak!

Lil Yachty
Atlanta has a new prince in Lil Yachty. The 19 year old, also known as Lil Boat, has been making waves [pun definitely intended] since his debut mixtape, ‘Lil Boat’, was released in March. His voice, in addition to his eye-catching fashion aesthetic, is like no other rapper in the game, with discernibly playful and giddy vocals on every track he hops on. Almost childlike in his approach, his method has won over the new generation of rap fans. Since his debut, Yachty has gone from strength to strength, landing show-stealing collaborations with Young Thug, Chance The Rapper and Post Malone. With an admirable and never-ending workload, we’ve only witnessed the very beginning of his sail to the top.

This is an extract from Issue 7, The Barely Legal Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.

Illustrations by PHARAOHDRAWS
Words by Yemi Abiade