billy woods: After befriending Vordul Mega of Cannibal Ox, New York rapper billy woods released Camouflage on his own Backwoodz Studioz imprint. It would take nine years and a rising chorus of acclaim from bloggers before 2012’s Only God Can Judge Me set him on his current path as a critic’s darling.
Diplo: After signing with the UK label Big Dada Recordings, Philadelphia DJ and producer released the downtempo single “Epistimology” under the alias Diplodocus. More importantly, he and DJ Lowbudget released Hollertronix…Never Scared, an early entry in the mashup craze that swept nightclubs through the latter half of the Aughts.
Future: The Atlanta rapper originally emerged as Meathead, a member of Da Connect alongside C-Smooth, Blvd, G-Rock, and Infinique. Gathered by Rico Wade of the Dungeon Family, the five-man crew released a single, “Feel the Fire,” and an album, 2nd Generation. Future later established himself as a leading Southern voice with the 2011 mixtape Dirty Sprite as well as writing YC’s hit “Racks.”
M.I.A.: Malaysian-British vocalist M.I.A. released her debut single, “Galang,” on indie imprint Showbiz Records. The track as well as her highly successful career owe more to British grime, dance-pop, and bass music than hip-hop, per se. But she has often found common cause with American rappers, most famously on her 2007 hit “Paper Planes” as well as T.I.’s “Swagga Like Us.”
Midi Mafia: In 2003, Canadian producer Dirty Swift scored a major hit in 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” He and Brooklyn producer Bruce Waynne went on to score dozens of credits as Midi Mafia with sundry rap, R&B, and pop acts, though they’re arguably best known for their work with R&B innovator Frank Ocean (“Bad Religion”).
Open Mike Eagle: According to his Discogs entry, Open Mike Eagle released a CD-R, The Finger Booger EP, in 2003. The Chicago rapper earned wider notice when he relocated to Los Angeles, joined local crews like Hellfyre Club, and released the 2010 album Unapologetic Art Rap.
Serengeti: Chicago rapper Serengeti released his first album, Dirty Flamingo, on DJ Crucial’s F5 Records imprint. Serengeti went on to an acclaimed career as an indie rapper, a trajectory that arguably began in earnest with 2006’s Dennehy.
Featured photo of Da Connect’s Meathead and Rico Wade by Michael Blackwell. Published in XXL, November 2003.