Rap-Up’s 10 Artists to Watch in 2012

10 Artists to Watch in 2012

The first month of the new year is a time to start fresh. From wardrobe to music, it’s out with the old, in with the new. Of course there’s room on iPods and car stereos for veteran MCs to mingle with newbie soul singers, but there’s a certain thrill when a good ear catches the sound of an undeniable new talent. Hip-hop and R&B has birthed some mesmerizing artists in the past, and this year will continue the tradition, adding a slew of groundbreaking entertainers.

Rap-Up.com has an eye on 10 buzzworthy crooners and rhymers, who earned a spot on our list of Artists to Watch. There’s a stellar songwriter who’s written for Trey Songz and worked his way into the spotlight, a singing Brit with a penchant for headdresses, a Harlem rap star rocking Margiela threads, and two unsigned femcees who can go bar for bar with the boys.

Delve into the next wave of trendsetters.

A$AP Rocky

Not since Cam’ron and Ma$e entered the rap game has a rapper out of Harlem generated such strong discussion surrounding his rhymes. Twenty-three-year-old A$AP Rocky is the newest New York representative boasting a solid résumé since emerging on the scene. His lyrics are dipped in southern sensibilities and his attire is a mix of streetwear and high-end designers like Raf Simons, which can be witnessed in his video for “Peso,” a track that finds Rocky detailing his ruggedly rich lifestyle alongside his A$AP crew. Late last year, the self-professed “pretty motherfucka” signed a lucrative major label deal with Polo Grounds/RCA Records, adding to his growing acclaim. Then there came his Live.Love.A$AP mixtape featuring collabos with Schoolboy Q and production from Clams Casino. Now in 2012, the stylish MC is crafting his debut, directing new videos—he took on camera duties for his “Purple Swag” video—and leaving his lyrical stamp on the masses.

Rita Ora

Roc Nation has a loaded roster and the label’s newest femme fatale sits in a petite frame, has a killer smile, and calls the U.K. home. Twenty-year-old songstress Rita Ora may be a blonde vixen with a luscious set of lips, but she’s more than just a pretty face. Who else can do a cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and turn it into a mellower, soulful tune without sounding corny? Yes, this Kosovo native can. Fans may think she popped up out of nowhere since she recently began releasing a string of viral videos to support her movement, but the chanteuse has been linked with the Roc since 2009. After labelmate J. Cole dropped his album last year, all eyes are now darting in her direction to see what she’ll craft in the months to come. Her debut LP is in the works, with hot shots like Drake, The-Dream, and Stargate lending a hand to create a stellar product. To hold fans over until its release, check Ora’s sonic yet fashionable cameo in DJ Fresh’s “Hot Right Now” video.


When a rapper can hold his own on a remake of Drake’s Bay-inspired track “The Motto,” it’s cause enough to take a listen to his efforts. New York-born, West Virginia-bred rhymer D-WHY crafted “Kate Upton Is the Motto,” his version of the Toronto MC’s smash and a dedication to Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton. At 23, he’s a wordsmith, can pass for a Gap model, and a college graduate with a degree from West Virginia University. His witticism can be heard on “Shooter McGavin,” his take on Childish Gambino’s “Freaks and Geeks,” or “Devil Horns to All,” an ode to Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow,” and will surely be demonstrated on his upcoming mixtape, Don’t Flatter Yourself. Diggy Simmons is already tapped to appear on the project and lauded producers Hit-Boy, Boi-1da, T-Minus, and Dot Da Genius are locked in for production.

Neon Hitch

With a name like Neon Hitch, there’s reason to pay attention. Britain’s darling has a left-of-center birthname, vocals to match, shocking red hair, and rocks feathery headdresses, which all adds to her appeal. The 20-something free spirit garnered much of her attention serving up playful vocals on many of hip-hop’s biggest tracks. First there was her cover of Wiz Khalifa’s “On My Level,” then a spin on Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci,” and her interesting take on Waka Flocka Flame’s “No Hands”—check the accompanying video to find the singer sporting fishnets, showing her derriere, and giving a set of handcuffs some interesting play. Since Neon left her circus days behind her—she’s a trained trapeze artist, fire swinger, and stilt walker—collabos with Gym Class Heroes on “Ass Back Home” and a signing with Warner Bros. Records have followed. Her first album, Beg, Borrow, and Steal, is set to drop later this year, with the naughty single “Fuck You Betta” heating up the Internet.

Bei Maejor

Some songwriters stay behind the scenes penning hit songs for superstar entertainers but never get the chance to step into the spotlight. Bei Maejor is an exception, boasting songwriting credits for artists such as Trey Songz, Frank Ocean, and Ne-Yo, and grabbing center stage as a crooning talent simultaneously. The Michigan native has dropped a slew of mixtapes since 2010, the first being his infamous ǝpısdn uʍop project. Since then, Maejor has worked with the likes of Soulja Boy, Diggy Simmons, and J. Cole. The latter can be heard on his single “Trouble,” along with Nelly, Wale, Trey Songz, and T-Pain, who appear on the all-star remix. A production wizard is also a title he lays claim to—his songs have landed on soundtracks for Bratz: The Movie and The Princess and the Frog—so keep a look out for his forthcoming LP, which is set for release on RCA Records and may very well house some of his beats.

Azealia Banks

New York is home to a bevy of rap stars and while first instincts look to the likes of Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim when recalling notable female MCs from the Big Apple, there’s a new lady in the house that garners the same respect for her lyrical delivery. Meet Azealia Banks, a feisty Harlem resident who already has big names like Kanye West touting her as the “future of music.” She’s keen on the color purple—just look at her current hair color—and she doesn’t take kindly to insults, which her recent beef with Kreayshawn indicates. Just follow her on Twitter to get an inkling of what she’s like outside of the spotlight. Her viral video for “212” proves she’s a kooky character with a rhyming style that is all her own. Though she’s yet to announce a label deal, she was once signed to U.K. imprint XL Recordings under the name Mi$$ Banks. These days she’s gearing up for her Coachella performance and working alongside Lady Gaga’s stylist Nicola Formichetti, who is directing her video for “Liquorice.”


Before rap fans knew his face, they undeniably knew Future’s lyrics on the gangster film-inspired track “Tony Montana.” The Down South rapper’s catchy tune had the nation chanting the famed Cuban drug lord’s name and even sparked interest from Young Money rhymer Drake, who tacked on a verse to the original song. Though Drizzy was absent from the accompanying visuals, the ATLien still had a co-sign from one of hip-hop’s main guys. Currently, Future’s an Epic Records signee, who had the opportunity to sit in front of executive L.A. Reid, rightfully earning his position on a major label roster. While he preps his debut Pluto, his lyrical stylings can be heard on his new mixtape Astronaut Status, featuring 21 songs with assists from Young Jeezy, Ludacris, and Gucci Mane. The Future looks bright.

Iggy Azalea

Good hip-hop comes in all shapes, sizes, and art forms, and Iggy Azalea is a prime example. Her long blonde tresses and a slender frame could have critics putting her in the model category, but this Australian rapper would rather spit a mean 16 on a mic than walk a catwalk. In October 2011, she impacted the rap game with her mixtape, Ignorant Art, a nine-track offering that was inspired by famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. One of the project’s eyebrow-raising tracks is “Pu$$y,” which spawned a Cali-inspired video showcasing the lyrical lady rhyming about her nether regions. The 21-year-old is prepping her debut album The New Classic, a title she’s already inked on her fingers. While she’s still an unsigned MC, there are rumors circulating that she may join Rihanna at Def Jam. The dotted line may not be signed on a deal just yet, but we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before she’s in the big leagues.

Luke James

Not every artist has the opportunity to reinvent themselves as a solo act after initially emerging on the scene as a duo, but Luke James can say he has. Once part of the soulful twosome Luke and Q, the R&B crooner has stepped out on his own with the help of production master Danja, who signed James to his New Age Rock Stars imprint via Def Jam. The New Orleans native, who attended the same high school as Frank Ocean, demonstrates his powerfully emotional vocals on his new EP, #Luke, an effort that delivers strong ballads like “Signs of Rain” and “I Want You”—ladies will love his video for the song, which depicts his chiseled frame soaking wet in the rain. James has already logged studio time with British songbird Estelle and beatmaker Jerry Wonda for his solo debut. For those questioning his work ethic, James is a seasoned professional, having written songs for Justin Bieber (“That Should Be Me”) and Chris Brown (“Crawl”).

Jhené Aiko

Remember boy group B2K? Super fans of the crooning foursome may recall a young singer by the name of Jhené Aiko, who appeared in some of their videos and even opened up for the R&B dudes on the road. In 2003, she had a chart-climbing song, “No L.O.V.E.,” that made its way onto the Billboard charts. Nearly a decade later, Jhené is again making a name for herself with her gentle pop-tinged vocals. Last year, the 23-year-old L.A. songstress debuted Sailing Souls, a mixtape that made a lot of noise in the R&B spectrum. Drake, Miguel, and Kendrick Lamar all showed up on the effort, which mixed her sensually sweet voice with hip-hop-centric beats. Before 2012 hit, the black-haired beauty joined forces with Chi-town producer No I.D., who now occupies a label position at Def Jam as vice president of A&R, and became a signed singer once more. She says she’s “not your next Beyoncé,” but we think Jhené has the ability to serve up sonic gems all the same.

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  1. Rill

    already on the look out


    Peasant Reply:

    @Rill, i’m not feeling any these artist. they seem so idk…bland..i’m not intrigue. lana del ray is the only person i’m looking out for even though she’s not on the list


    Mell Reply:

    @Rill, I feel ya, check out AC from Boston i think…he got that song Charles Barkley, surprised he didnt make the list


    chris Reply:

    @Rill, personally i think the new artist sonryze hd on youtube will rise to the top in 2012 his new song save your soul is crazy about how he turned down 2 record deals to stay true to himself cause they wanted him to change his style i respect that and he is dope


    Fuk yo time Reply:

    All yall hoes


  2. uh....hold up lil boo

    IGGY & Jhene Aiko!!!!!!


    DG Reply:

    @uh….hold up lil boo, Jhene Aiko is the less hot version of Cassie…………..


    yahhh Reply:

    @DG, you sound stupid! She actually has talent


    Cranberry Reply:

    @yahhh, no, she doesn’t. At all.


  3. ck

    jhene aiko, a$ap rocky, rita ora and azealia banks


  4. Kyle

    Since music doesn’t sell like it used to it must be challenging coming into the game right now. Good luck to them. I remember Jhene back in the day. She is beautiful and I love that “Hot Right Now” song with Rita Ora.


  5. dave

    i wouldn’t choose any of them,but if someone had a gun to my head and force me to vote then i would go with jhene aiko,iggy azalea,and luke.and i dont even know them


  6. V.I.C.




    jhene aiko sound like somebody…i just cant put my finger on it.


  8. BJ

    thank you rap up for bring me here. A lot of these artists i did not before till i came here


  9. KingdomOfMace

    1) Iggy Azalea .. 2) Neon Hitch .. 3) Bei Major

    ^^^Surely Looking Out For Them^^^


  10. Carl

    LOVE Jhene.


  11. KimTakeOver2012

    Im not feeling any of these artists sadly.


  12. Triniti

    Luke & Q are wasted talent. Bad management…smh.


  13. drifter

    Ugh,iggy got style but skills she needs training,major his voice is boring


  14. nyfan1

    Only like Azealia Banks. I thought D-Why was a joke like a parody you see on SNL. Wow can’t believe he was included.


    yeswecam Reply:

    @nyfan1, Do you have ears? D-Why is the only good one on here. He has intelligent lyrics and a good flow, unlike any others on this list. You probably hate him cause he is a stylish white kid who can actually rap.


  15. dodo

    new york?? I thought asap rocky was from Cali this whole time.


    uhuh Reply:

    @dodo, he reps harlem all the time


  16. snoooookipy

    Rita Ora is so overrated


    EDwierdo Reply:

    @snoooookipy, whatever dude she aint overrated…jealous much!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  17. TruRap

    I can’t see where are the top ten “good” artists


  18. uhuh

    who the f are these people?


    Carter Reply:

    @uhuh, the whole point of this list is to introduce these artists. you sound ignorant.


    uhuh Reply:

    @Carter, whoops i am familiar with “i be that pretty muthafucka, harlem’s with im reppin” – asap rocky
    but the rest of these people i could care less and future is basicly trash


  19. Jfenty

    Iggy ,Future and Bei Major!!


  20. >So Disrespectful_

    all of them have skills in there own ways,it,s a variety something for everyone i am definitely looking out,i love to watch artist on the come up waiting to see what they do next,i did the same thing with nicki minaj and i am still one of her fans up to this day.


  21. Morgan

    90% of them all look like more illuminati puppets for 2012! Congratulations.


    Only people really with talent is Jhene Aiko, Luke James & Rita Ora, & Bei Maejor


  22. malikMJdope

    A$AP yessir fresh, Iggy Azalea super bad, Jhene Aiko he voice is bananas, Bei Maejor gonna have some hits,Neon Hitch got sum Big comin,Azalia Banks Dope club smashes,D-Why Jayz meets Jesus meets Jay Leno Meets Jcrew….I can dig it !


  23. malikMJdope

    A$AP yessir fresh, Iggy Azalea super bad, Jhene Aiko her voice is bananas, Bei Maejor gonna have some hits,Neon Hitch got sumn Big comin,Azalia Banks Dope club smashes,D-Why Jayz meets Jesus meets Jay Leno Meets Jcrew….I can dig it !


  24. EricNova

    What about Hopsin or Aesop Rock?


  25. @illerBrown

    I was just looking up “Rita Ora”.. but they better not disappoint us


  26. SeBryan

    Great list! Azealia Banks, A$Ap Rocky, Jhene Aiko…and I’m glad you guys included D-WHY on here. He’s unique and dope!


  27. Audrey Hepburn

    Ms. Hepburn’s Verdict:

    A$AP Rocky = Talented Young Man/Authentic Hip-hop
    Rita = Not bad.
    D-WHY = Why bother? Not a Snowball’s Chance. Corny 2 Death.
    Neon Hitch = NO!
    Bei Maejor = Creative, Not Bad.
    Azealia Banks = Super Duper Fre$h.
    Future = Good Hood Rap.
    Iggy Azalea = Is this not Neon Hitch? Doublemint Twins. Double NO!!
    Luke James = Not bad. Good Vocals.
    Jhene Aiko = Okay.


    Think about it Reply:

    @Audrey Hepburn, Ohkay, looks to me like your hatin’ on all the whities! Neon hitch is super unique I can see a future for her! Iggy needs a lil bit more work but is still lightweight dope and I wanna see her succeed.. D-why… I kinda agree with you on that one lol.. But all the rest I’m with yu..


  28. Milo

    damn, no love for D-WHY, sad to see….
    D-WHY and Bei Maejor only two good ones on the list.


  29. Songstress

    I’m on the lookout for Rita, Iggy, Jhene & Neon Hitch! These ladies have some talent for real !


  30. Mike C

    D-WHY and A$AP are the two best on this list. Both have lyrical genius and got the right backing already. D-WHY already has a huge following, doesn’t need all the racist black people behind him hahaha.


  31. Franklin

    Right though!!! Iggy, Future, and D-Why!!!!!


  32. Samantha

    I freakin love future I love his new age sound and his
    Swagg.and all the meanings to his song.
    If noone else watch out for him….future …pluto


  33. Rollin2012

    Love this list. Jhene Aiko, ASAP Rocky, D-WHY, & Bei-Maejor will shock a lot of people, this year. Watch!


  34. robtee

    i only like a couple on this list. azaelea banks, luke, and jhene. How do you NOT have Jon Mcxro on here! their album is crazy!!


  35. Ms.Shanelle

    Dion Primo & PBZE T.O from the Sound Killers should have made this list… just saying.

    and P.s: I love Jhene Aiko :)


  36. Anthony

    Iggy :D


  37. Real Issh

    What about Mateo ? Look up “Say It’s So” .


  38. Mr.AB

    Wow The Kid Daytona didn’t make that list.. I’m rather disappointed


  39. Brionna

    D-why- I like him interesting style i buy it
    Iggy- Great to look at dope style lyrics are cool can she get mainstream appeal tho?
    Neon- cool voice is she to much Lady Gaga tho?


  40. Fan Of A Fan



  41. BLAZE

    Only ones im feelin is Iggy an I loves me some Jhene thats my boo :)


  42. L.

    Where the hell is Kendrick Lamar ATLEAST!?


  43. CMT

    Ummm, no Elle Varner? WTF. LOL


  44. sys

    Rita Ora is beyond amazing & I’ve waited 3 years for her 2 blow up finally people are gettin to see why i love her so much!


  45. SeBryan

    Ahh, D-WHY is dope!!! Thank you for this list Rap-Up, you just put me onto some awesome music!


  46. drini

    I like Rita Ora the most.That girl have talent and is so Sexy to.You will see she is gone be a SuperStar…


  47. nora

    DEFF. RITA ORA love her voice and styl.. Can’t wait for her next vid. “Party&bullshit” :D


  48. jenny

    I loveeeee Rita Ora..her voice is amazinggg!! (I heard she’s dating Rob Kardashian!!!! )She should be on kuwtk


  49. Flory

    RITA ORA ALL THE WAY ! the rest $hit.


    keeping it real Reply:

    @Flory, she’s wack.


    EDwierdo Reply:

    @keeping it real, your wack do you even know what takent is she got and she da shit…no one else can beon her level


  50. Kevin

    what is with kid ink?!:O


  51. Jamie

    Rita Ora is by far the best and most likely to succeed.


  52. Izzy B

    Bei maejor and a$ap rocky!


  53. @mizzskinny10

    Future is a very popular in the south i can see him go far

    I really like neon hitch voice very unique

    Luke James gave me chills with that great voice

    def like Bei Major

    Im not feeling Iggy tho…not at all


  54. Ice

    I’m really getting into Iggy Azalea and A$AP Rocky, and I knew of Rita Ora but never heard her sing…wow, she’s gonna be a problem.


  55. @MoeMasri

    Jhene Aiko, Luke James, Bei Maejor! Some others to watch: Kevin Cossom, Jake & Papa and Audra The Rapper


  56. Chiare

    IDK bout yall, but rita lookz like danger off of dat ray j show.


  57. Stacy B.

    Only a few stood out to me. In my opinion there soo many under the radar STARS that are missing on this list. Some are gems, that I may not even want to blow up selfishly. Hopefully they will get their shine deservedly!


  58. Humberto

    Jhene Aiko is SICK. Gotta love her mixtape.


  59. nicegirl

    My faves from this list are
    -A$AP Rocky
    -Bei Maejor
    -Luke James

    The rest have potential but I need to see more from them. Rita Ora has a good voice, I think I just need to hear her in a different song.


  60. Jason



  61. Lol

    Lana Del Rey>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


  62. canibe

    I’m not looking for none of them. Every one are washed up.


  63. kevin

    um, what about dev her album is coming in march,porcelain black,jeffree star?


  64. chris

    check out sonryze hd on youtube especially that new track save your soul its so sick he will be one to watch in 2012 for sure


  65. BreezyLover


    I love her! I’m so glad people start noticing her…she deserves it!


  66. Fan Of A Fan



    Shawn Vegaz Reply:

    @Fan Of A Fan, sorry but all that shit is wack YO !


  67. Stacy B.

    Forgot to add in my first comment, it takes alot to impress me, so only a few stood out for me.


  68. Tamar

    Where Lola Monroe? Don’t see her… Guess not. Oh well.


  69. eatpraylisten

    y’all forgot B. Smyth !!!!


  70. ricoo

    how is The weeknd not on here????


  71. chris shorts

    all of these artist are amazing in their own way ive followed alot from their starts im happpy they getting their shine


  72. Ashley Boun

    Where is Kendrick Lamar???


  73. Renee Gardner

    What about me?


    Amos _shakespare Reply:

    @Renee Gardner,u on my list sweetie


  74. Shawn Vegaz

    if you ask me it looks like alot of A&R’s trying to bring back late 80′s and it look like models trying to sing and rap and what happen to america’s swag on r&B & POP all the shit i just heard sound like american artist are copying u.k artists sorry this shit sounds Bad & bland ! check some real Talent in NEW YORK PULLY THE PUSHA , RICH HOE AKA POWERSTARR , KING BAM ,CASH SINATRA , SIL MONEY , CaGE The Evolution , Naudy ,Verstile XL & STRETCH A DOLLAR !


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  77. HipHopPush.com

    All this was an okay list but you left out mad people like Phil Ade, Schoolboy Q, Locksmith, Rock Marcian..man the list goes on there’s crazy rappers coming up on the scene now that are blowing up with media coverage!



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  79. Name

    Jhene Aiko is pretty good in my opinion. She’s not trash. Listen to, You Vs. Them. I think it’s actually good. I’ve been listening to her since before I saw this list . And Rita Ora, Bei Maejor, and A$AP are pretty good, too.


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