The five biggest Floridian rappers of the past decade

Kodak Black in 2018. Photo by Chris Allmeid via Wikimedia Commons

What a time to be from Florida.

The past decade has seen a surge of a bold new generation of hip-hop and rap rooted in the soil of Broward and Dade County.

As the ever-growing presence of the Internet has tightened its grip on the youth, it has become a vessel for roughneck juveniles to share their music and rapidly gain exposure. 

Through SoundCloud, Kodak Black and the late XXXTentacion catapulted to superstar status on a national scale as a number of their South Floridian counterparts also became well established in the music industry.

Here are the five biggest Floridian rappers who burst onto the scene from 2010 to the present.

Denzel Curry

At age 26, Carol City native Denzel Curry has already garnered a considerable amount of respect and acclaim from hip hop fans and critics alike. From an artistic standpoint, he’s metamorphosed more than a few times in his career, but his early development on the outskirts of Dade County played a significant role in his life. 

After a tumultuous first two years at the Design and Architecture High School in Miami, Curry was expelled. He subsequently enrolled at Carol City High, where he grew into a solo rapper and started working on his sinister commercial debut, Nostalgic 64, released in 2013.

The unlawful killings of his mutual friend Trayvon Martin and brother Treon Johnson in 2012 and 2014, respectively, would prove influential to Curry’s creative process and lyrical subject matter. Since Johnson’s death in police custody, Denzel has continuously spoken out against police brutality through songwriting.

His breakout track “Ultimate” was released in June 2015 as a lead single off his hazy sophomore project, 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms. This Ronny J-produced banger paints Denzel as the menacing final boss in a video game. With unwavering confidence, he meshes brash lyricism and raucous vocals over a warbling, malevolent trap beat, complete with an opera sample behind the chorus. 

Curry’s momentum carried over into 2016, when he released his third album, ULT, and was named a XXL Freshman. The end of the decade saw the release of his most conceptually driven album to date, TA13OO (pronounced “taboo”). Released in 2018, this magnum opus expanded on the macabre nature of his early work while juxtaposing that sound with atmospheric rap/sung pieces detailing his mental health and mindset on societal issues.  

More recently, Denzel has collaborated with producer Kenny Beats on Unlocked, a 17-minute album released on the cusp of the coronavirus pandemic that’s jam-packed with callbacks to both the novelty and grittiness of East coast boom-bap rap. 

Curry’s fifth studio album Melt My Eyez, See Your Future is currently in the works and is rumored to be released later this year.

Kodak Black

In some circles, Kodak Black is revered as a legend of Broward County, a living, breathing, flexing embodiment of the American Dream. In others, he is a loose cannon characterized by a laundry list of felonies and an affinity for controversy. 

Bill Kapri, born Dieuson Octave in 1997, climbed the ranks of Southern rap from the Golden Acres projects of Pompano Beach. From grade school, he was very musically inclined and recorded tracks in local low-budget studios. By age 17, he was earning loose comparisons to Gucci Mane and Boosie as fan-favorite tracks like “Skrt” and “No Flockin” took off in 2015.

A nasal Floridian drawl coupled with effortless charisma and a knack for infectious flows allowed the self-proclaimed Project Baby to branch out. As his audience widened in 2016 following the release of his Institution mixtape, his signature gold-grilled grimace and squatted poses became symbols for followers to imitate as a way of paying homage.

Kodak’s public image quickly became synonymous with persistent legal troubles, as charges pressed against him ranged from misdemeanor drug offenses to first-degree sexual assault. Having built a reputation as the stereotypical rapper-turned-convict, much of his lyrical content and art direction revolves around life in and out of jail. When his debut studio album Painting Pictures reached #3 on the Billboard 200 in 2017, he was forced to celebrate behind bars after violating probation. 

The 2010s yielded three platinum albums, several platinum singles and a plethora of solo hits and features named on the Billboard charts for Kodak. The hits “Zeze” and “Calling My Spirit” off his 2018 album Dying to Live display his proclivity for building and capitalizing on trends. Despite a lengthy history of run-ins with the law, he still stands tall in a generation that redefined modern rap.

Even as he publicly butted heads with the American criminal justice system in 2020, Kodak’s third studio album Bill Israel was released to relative commercial success. In 2021, the Haitian Boy Kodak mixtape was released shortly leading up to his 24th birthday on June 11, when he released his most recent work, the Happy Birthday Kodak EP. 

Lil Pump

Some celebrities prefer to maintain a subtle and reclusive public image. Gazzy Garcia is not like some celebrities. Perhaps the poster child for the drug-induced effervescence of the SoundCloud rap era, Lil Pump turned heads by boasting a lifestyle just as loud as his music. 

Lil Pump was born in Miami just after the turn of the century. He began recording music with longtime collaborator Smokepurpp in his early teens, and their sporadic process of freestyling over minimal trap beats hastily brewed a recipe for success. 

His debut single, “Lil Pump,” released in 2015, is as rudimentary as unorthodox. Upon first listening, it may be hard to picture how this could draw a substantial audience, but the masses would soon catch on. Incessantly catchy lyrics of debauchery and materialism took SoundCloud by storm, and with tracks like “D Rose” and “Boss,” Pump built a hype machine for himself that has since grown tenfold.

Iridescent jewelry, face tattoos and multicolored dreadlocks made Lil Pump easily distinguishable from the outset of his career. His opiate-driven eccentrism and recklessness allowed him to play the role of party animal in the realm of rap music, leading him to draw mainstream attention.

Following the release of smash single “Gucci Gang” in 2017, Pump shattered any expectations set for him early on in his career. Today, the music video has a total of 1.1 billion views, accounting for just over a quarter of the total view count on his YouTube channel. His debut self-titled album was released that same year and peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200.

Lil Pump’s hedonistic nature and his heavy inclination towards repetition were made present yet again in his most recent album, 2019’s Harverd Dropout. Guest appearances from Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Lil Uzi Vert compliment the energy brought forth by Pump, as he established himself as a landmark figure at the core of Florida’s speaker knocking trap scene.

Ski Mask the Slump God

Perhaps the most deviant and outlandish MC of the SoundCloud golden age, Fort Lauderdale’s own Ski Mask the Slump God truly exists in a space of his own. Born Stokeley Goulbourne in April of 1996, Ski became exposed to rap culture at a very young age, and an unlikely encounter at a juvenile detention center in 2013 prompted him to take his craft seriously.

After befriending fellow misfit XXXTentacion while in jail for marijuana possession, Ski Mask began to release music on SoundCloud. He worked closely with Members Only, a collective co-created by him and X in 2015. Production dominated by jarringly distorted bass became secondary to Ski’s quick, kinetic flow and raunchy tongue-in-cheek wordplay. 

As collaborations with X began to gain traction in the mid-2010s (“RIP Roach,” “Take A Step Back”), Ski’s solo tracks displayed originality and unique air of playfulness that was beginning to stand out. By 2017, Ski had made a name for himself on a grander scale with breakout singles “Catch Me Outside” and “Babywipe,” two sonically bizarre, yet catchy tracks.

Ski Mask’s distinctly husky vocal presence causes him to stick out like a sore thumb on whatever track he’s on, and the appeal of this has earned him a cult-like following. His lone studio album Stokeley garnered positive attention from both fans and critics in 2018, and it features a standout, ground-shaking collaboration with his late friend and musician Juice WRLD titled “Nuketown.” 

The murder of XXXTentacion in June 2018 followed by Juice WRLD’s accidental overdose a year and a half later took a massive toll on Ski, as both artists were very close to him. He has since honored both of them at live concerts, and still performs collaborations with them to this day.

After releasing a couple of non-album singles, Ski resurfaced in June 2021 with the Sin City mixtape, a gritty collection of tracks that further cements his status as a meticulous artist who’s been in his own lane from the jump.

XXXTentacion

Jahseh Onfroy was born in Plantation just over 23 years ago, and he spent the better part of his childhood and adolescence bouncing around South Florida as a result of familial instability and behavioral issues in school. As Onfroy, also known as XXXTentacion (or X), struggled to assimilate into a steady environment, he became exposed to an array of hip hop, alternative and rock music that’d become greatly influential to him.

X embarked on his career as a musician by uploading singles to SoundCloud in 2013, before teaming up with Ski Mask the Slump God two years later to create a scene of malignant trap-inspired rap through the Members Only collective. With a heavy emphasis on bass distortion and gruff vocal delivery, tracks like “#ImSippinTeaInYoHood” marked a change in the approach to modern hip hop.

In October 2016, Onfroy was arrested for false imprisonment and aggravated battery on his pregnant girlfriend. Despite the severity of these charges, his mugshot became the hallmark for an iconoclastic generation of rappers that were forcing their way to the frontlines of the industry. As he spent time behind bars, he and his music were subject to a widely polarizing reception, and the deification of his image within his fan base was made apparent through social media.  

By 2017, X’s “Look At Me!” single shook the industry and peaked at #34 on Billboard’s Hot 100. As a more accessible iteration of the hyper aggression of his early works, “Look At Me!” showcased a new brand of angsty, youthful trap music to the mainstream. His debut album 17 was released that same year, and it displayed a new desire of his to expand on acoustic-based singer-songwriter music.

Months prior to his untimely killing in June 2018, XXXTentacion released his second studio album, ?. This body of work placed further emphasis on versatility and synergy between genres, as well as doubling down on mainstream appeal through hit songs like “Sad!” and “Moonlight.” 

X didn’t evolve into a household name until after his passing when his discography skyrocketed up the charts, and “Sad!” became the first posthumous #1 song in 21 years. Since then, two posthumous albums of his work have been released by his estate in 2018 and 2019.

 

Olivier Lafontant is an aspiring music journalist who is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in digital journalism at Florida International University. He enjoys thrifting, collecting vinyl, taking film photography and watching sports in his free time.