January 12, 2022

22 Tampa Bay rappers to watch in 2022

Vinny Virgo, who plays Hooch and Hive in Tampa, Florida on Jan. 14, 2021. - HYDREAMS/INSTAGRAM (DESIGN BY JACK SPATAFORA)
hydreams/Instagram (Design by Jack Spatafora)
Vinny Virgo, who plays Hooch and Hive in Tampa, Florida on Jan. 14, 2021.
When the rest of the nation thinks of Florida rappers they may first point to the scene down south in counties like Miami-Dade and Broward. However, Tampa Bay's time to shine is long overdue. As this very special rap scene's emcees, producers and DJs continue to cultivate it, Tampa Bay talent has become increasingly diverse and distinguished.

The artists on this list all had different paths to the mic, and some of them even work in other artistic verticals (acting, tattooing for example), but as different as they are, one element brings them together: love for a metro they're helping put on the map in a big way.

Tampa Bay is a smorgasbord of incredibly gifted emcees and lyricists, and narrowing this list down was by no means an easy task. After hours of listening sessions, many video call discussions, and careful consideration, these are our picks for 22 Tampa rappers to know in 2022.—AP
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LaTheGoat   
Whether he's rapping about his come-up on a soulful sample, like on "You Wouldn't Believe Me," or making you want to dance on "Smooth Operator," there's no denying that LaTheGoat knows how to keep things interesting. The 26-year-old started really taking rap seriously around 2016, but before that he tried on many different hats. He studied at FAMU for a bit and even enlisted in the Army—when that didn't work out, he stayed afloat by working at call centers and warehouses. That didn't stick either, so he decided it was time to give music his all. In 2020, he dropped his third project, Goatmode, and that's when he got his big break. 
A single from the project, "8 Bands," racked up plays and eventually caught the attention of producer and rapper Jermaine Dupri. LA posted a freestyle on Instagram, where he was rapping over Dupri and Jay-Z's "Money Ain't a Thing." LA's followers tagged Dupri in the post, impressing the So So Def icon. While doing some more digging, Dupri stumbled upon "8 Bands" and couldn't get it out of his head. A month later, LA was signed to Dupri's record label So So Def and Def Jam.    
Last February, LA saw an extra boost in popularity after Dupri and Rick Ross hopped on the "8 Bands Remix." The official music video has over 400K views on YouTube. Then in September, he got the opportunity to join the Bucs' official DJ Ekin and Dupri at Raymond James Stadium for the Bucs home opener.   
LA recently dropped a November EP in November (813 Day) featuring  "Smooth Operator," "You Wouldn't Believe Me," the "8 Bands Remix." plus three new songs: a catchy club hit called "Bounce It," "Minimum Wage" and LA's favorite off the tape, "Shine In The Ghetto." He says he has a soft spot for the song because it "embodies Tampa and the aura of the city." He also shares that he definitely has plans to release more music this year.
Patrick McBride

LaTheGoat

Whether he's rapping about his come-up on a soulful sample, like on "You Wouldn't Believe Me," or making you want to dance on "Smooth Operator," there's no denying that LaTheGoat knows how to keep things interesting. The 26-year-old started really taking rap seriously around 2016, but before that he tried on many different hats. He studied at FAMU for a bit and even enlisted in the Army—when that didn't work out, he stayed afloat by working at call centers and warehouses. That didn't stick either, so he decided it was time to give music his all. In 2020, he dropped his third project, Goatmode, and that's when he got his big break.

A single from the project, "8 Bands," racked up plays and eventually caught the attention of producer and rapper Jermaine Dupri. LA posted a freestyle on Instagram, where he was rapping over Dupri and Jay-Z's "Money Ain't a Thing." LA's followers tagged Dupri in the post, impressing the So So Def icon. While doing some more digging, Dupri stumbled upon "8 Bands" and couldn't get it out of his head. A month later, LA was signed to Dupri's record label So So Def and Def Jam.

Last February, LA saw an extra boost in popularity after Dupri and Rick Ross hopped on the "8 Bands Remix." The official music video has over 400K views on YouTube. Then in September, he got the opportunity to join the Bucs' official DJ Ekin and Dupri at Raymond James Stadium for the Bucs home opener.

LA recently dropped a November EP in November (813 Day) featuring "Smooth Operator," "You Wouldn't Believe Me," the "8 Bands Remix." plus three new songs: a catchy club hit called "Bounce It," "Minimum Wage" and LA's favorite off the tape, "Shine In The Ghetto." He says he has a soft spot for the song because it "embodies Tampa and the aura of the city." He also shares that he definitely has plans to release more music this year.

Brilly Asher   
Asher has always been a Florida boy. Born in Jacksonville but raised in Tampa, he's well-known for his versatile style and trippy visuals. Music has always been his passion. Asher remembers his brother being the first to put him on to rap, suggesting artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z. They used to freestyle at the house, and Asher started writing his own raps at a young age. His rap name comes from his mom, who used to call him "Brilly Boy," a nickname derived from his real name, Gabriel. His mother passed away when he was 12 years old, which impacted him and inspired him to create music.    
Asher has been releasing music since at least 2016 but didn't start commanding attention until 2017 when he dropped his first official music video for "Toonami Flow." The clip opens with a fun track inspired by Asher's love of anime and cartoons. He drops witty lyrics throughout and references shows like "Pokémon," "Yu-Gi-Oh!" and "Dragon Ball Z." Halfway through the video, the colorful visuals and animated lyrics come to a halt as a second track, "Dead Ninja," seamlessly begins. Rapping against a red background, Asher spits bars about Black Lives Matter, police brutality, corrupt politicians, and more. Finally, the video closes with a montage of clips, both old and new, that show the continuing struggles of Black Americans.    
The video is powerful and impressive, especially coming from a young artist who at the time, didn't have a lot of music out. But Asher didn't take advantage of the momentum in the wake of the video. Instead, he stopped making music for three years. In 2020, he came back full force with "Traumatized," which explained to his fans that he had been in a consuming relationship for the duration of his silence. Since then, he hasn't stopped, crooning on his dreamy 2020 single "Moon and Back" and releasing two projects last year. He's already working on another EP, 3-P3AT, which will feature three new songs he hopes to release early this year.
Jocelyn Rose

Brilly Asher

Asher has always been a Florida boy. Born in Jacksonville but raised in Tampa, he's well-known for his versatile style and trippy visuals. Music has always been his passion. Asher remembers his brother being the first to put him on to rap, suggesting artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z. They used to freestyle at the house, and Asher started writing his own raps at a young age. His rap name comes from his mom, who used to call him "Brilly Boy," a nickname derived from his real name, Gabriel. His mother passed away when he was 12 years old, which impacted him and inspired him to create music.

Asher has been releasing music since at least 2016 but didn't start commanding attention until 2017 when he dropped his first official music video for "Toonami Flow." The clip opens with a fun track inspired by Asher's love of anime and cartoons. He drops witty lyrics throughout and references shows like "Pokémon," "Yu-Gi-Oh!" and "Dragon Ball Z." Halfway through the video, the colorful visuals and animated lyrics come to a halt as a second track, "Dead Ninja," seamlessly begins. Rapping against a red background, Asher spits bars about Black Lives Matter, police brutality, corrupt politicians, and more. Finally, the video closes with a montage of clips, both old and new, that show the continuing struggles of Black Americans.

The video is powerful and impressive, especially coming from a young artist who at the time, didn't have a lot of music out. But Asher didn't take advantage of the momentum in the wake of the video. Instead, he stopped making music for three years. In 2020, he came back full force with "Traumatized," which explained to his fans that he had been in a consuming relationship for the duration of his silence. Since then, he hasn't stopped, crooning on his dreamy 2020 single "Moon and Back" and releasing two projects last year. He's already working on another EP, 3-P3AT, which will feature three new songs he hopes to release early this year.

Mike Mass   
Mass has been cooking up heat in the 813 for years. Originally from Mount Vernon, New York and raised in The Bronx, the 32-year-old is an undeniably impactful force in the local Tampa scene, sharing his lyricist talents and helping other upcoming artists shine through his label and brand Wave Theory. Currently, the label houses 13 artists across different genres: there are DJs, R&B singers, punk rock bands, and other hip hop talents like Perception and K.III.   
Although he has yet to release a true solo project, Mass has made waves with the material he has released. He has four singles out on Spotify, the oldest one being "M.A.S.H." from 2016, featuring another rapper on this list, Vern Senior. The music video racked up over 2,700 views—easily Mass' first hit. The song has a luxurious vibe with a strong '90s influence; think slow, sultry beats with silky lyrics. Fans came to know Mass for this style; his New York flair is apparent in his songs as he plays with word choice and rhythm.    
But going even deeper than that, Mass truly has a way with words. He has always been a writer and was even a spoken word poet in middle and high school. When he decided to start adding beats to his poems, he looked to Nas for inspiration. The NYC rapper has long been known for his descriptive, impactful lyrics against mellow beats, and Mass followed the style while managing to make it his own.    
His talents really got the chance to shine on "Blood In the Water," a collaboration with singer J.T. Brown. The song arrived at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that took over the world in 2020. It was released in November of that year and sees Mass rapping from three different viewpoints. Brown's idea was to have Mass rap from from the perspective of a slave, a civil rights leader, and a 10-year-old boy in today's age. Mass executed these POVs impeccably. In his third verse he passionately references some of the high-profile murders from years past: "Cause if I'm rockin a hoodie in the rain I could die for that/And if I pull out my wallet and behave I could die for that/...Imagine if we fight back, how the hell we surviving that?" The music video has over 6,000 views and tremendous feedback in the comments; it's Mass' favorite song of his to date.    
With so many supporters standing behind him, Mass knows there has been a demand for his first album. "I get asked a lot why I haven't dropped an album and it's because not only did I want to make sure the quality level was appropriate, but I wanted to make sure all of the Wave Theory artists had established individual identities and were prepared for bigger stage performances," he shares. Fans won't have to wait much longer though: Mass' long-awaited EP, Mad Love, will finally drop this year.
Javier Ortiz/Zitrovision

Mike Mass

Mass has been cooking up heat in the 813 for years. Originally from Mount Vernon, New York and raised in The Bronx, the 32-year-old is an undeniably impactful force in the local Tampa scene, sharing his lyricist talents and helping other upcoming artists shine through his label and brand Wave Theory. Currently, the label houses 13 artists across different genres: there are DJs, R&B singers, punk rock bands, and other hip hop talents like Perception and K.III.

Although he has yet to release a true solo project, Mass has made waves with the material he has released. He has four singles out on Spotify, the oldest one being "M.A.S.H." from 2016, featuring another rapper on this list, Vern Senior. The music video racked up over 2,700 views—easily Mass' first hit. The song has a luxurious vibe with a strong '90s influence; think slow, sultry beats with silky lyrics. Fans came to know Mass for this style; his New York flair is apparent in his songs as he plays with word choice and rhythm.

But going even deeper than that, Mass truly has a way with words. He has always been a writer and was even a spoken word poet in middle and high school. When he decided to start adding beats to his poems, he looked to Nas for inspiration. The NYC rapper has long been known for his descriptive, impactful lyrics against mellow beats, and Mass followed the style while managing to make it his own.

His talents really got the chance to shine on "Blood In the Water," a collaboration with singer J.T. Brown. The song arrived at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that took over the world in 2020. It was released in November of that year and sees Mass rapping from three different viewpoints. Brown's idea was to have Mass rap from from the perspective of a slave, a civil rights leader, and a 10-year-old boy in today's age. Mass executed these POVs impeccably. In his third verse he passionately references some of the high-profile murders from years past: "Cause if I'm rockin a hoodie in the rain I could die for that/And if I pull out my wallet and behave I could die for that/...Imagine if we fight back, how the hell we surviving that?" The music video has over 6,000 views and tremendous feedback in the comments; it's Mass' favorite song of his to date.

With so many supporters standing behind him, Mass knows there has been a demand for his first album. "I get asked a lot why I haven't dropped an album and it's because not only did I want to make sure the quality level was appropriate, but I wanted to make sure all of the Wave Theory artists had established individual identities and were prepared for bigger stage performances," he shares. Fans won't have to wait much longer though: Mass' long-awaited EP, Mad Love, will finally drop this year.

Zhalarina   
A true Tampa talent and overall gem. Not only is Zhalarina a rapper, she is also a playwright, actor, music composer, and so much more. Being a creative has always been a part of who Zhalarina is—and where she comes from. Her mother is a writer, her father a visual artist, and her uncle a rapper. She developed an interest for the genre at a young age, having seen Da Brat and TLC on TV.    
Soon, the multi-talented artist wrote her first rap at 11 years old. As her writing progressed, she ended up entering a slam poetry competition and winning. This introduced her to a whole passion that she would not have discovered had she not taken that leap of faith. She soon learned about the University of Wisconsin-Madison's First Wave, a theater program that integrates hip-hop. There, she ended up creating The Light, with PBS Wisconsin, an autobiographical story told through three music videos. She wrote, acted in, and produced the whole show—and her hard work paid off. She ended up winning an Emmy in the Chicago/Midwest region.   
That's not the only acclaim Zhalarina received. For NPR's Tiny Desk Contest she submitted her song "Lala." Although she didn't win the contest, NPR highlighted her and her song as a "stand-out entry."   
Zhalarina's raps are witty, quick, catchy, and make you want to jump out of your seat to bop around. She likes to have fun with the content of her music and since is wildly imaginative—you never know what to expect. A year ago she released "Good Yawning," a song in which she impersonates 12 female rap artists and their respective styles. She nails the styles of MC greats like Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, and Lauryn Hill, but also aces the new-age mic queens like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Chika, and Rico Nasty. Another impressive record was "Tampa," a bouncy 2019 hit dedicated to her hometown. Her confidence on the track helps to crack an inevitable smile, and her rhyme work is slick and smart, integrating a Southern accent and lyrics that talk about being from the "flirty dirty, that scurry dirty." The song has over 5,000 plays on Spotify.    
"It was my most ambitious song at the time—I got to celebrate women in hip-hop, past and present," Zhalarina says. "I shot, directed, and edited the music video myself. It was a passion project and I was proud of how it came out."   
She just recently dropped her first album, Again, which features the three mentioned tracks as well as 14 other songs. But don't think that that's all for the busy artist, she's eyeing a summer release for her second album.
Zhalarina

Zhalarina

A true Tampa talent and overall gem. Not only is Zhalarina a rapper, she is also a playwright, actor, music composer, and so much more. Being a creative has always been a part of who Zhalarina is—and where she comes from. Her mother is a writer, her father a visual artist, and her uncle a rapper. She developed an interest for the genre at a young age, having seen Da Brat and TLC on TV.

Soon, the multi-talented artist wrote her first rap at 11 years old. As her writing progressed, she ended up entering a slam poetry competition and winning. This introduced her to a whole passion that she would not have discovered had she not taken that leap of faith. She soon learned about the University of Wisconsin-Madison's First Wave, a theater program that integrates hip-hop. There, she ended up creating The Light, with PBS Wisconsin, an autobiographical story told through three music videos. She wrote, acted in, and produced the whole show—and her hard work paid off. She ended up winning an Emmy in the Chicago/Midwest region.

That's not the only acclaim Zhalarina received. For NPR's Tiny Desk Contest she submitted her song "Lala." Although she didn't win the contest, NPR highlighted her and her song as a "stand-out entry."

Zhalarina's raps are witty, quick, catchy, and make you want to jump out of your seat to bop around. She likes to have fun with the content of her music and since is wildly imaginative—you never know what to expect. A year ago she released "Good Yawning," a song in which she impersonates 12 female rap artists and their respective styles. She nails the styles of MC greats like Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, and Lauryn Hill, but also aces the new-age mic queens like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Chika, and Rico Nasty. Another impressive record was "Tampa," a bouncy 2019 hit dedicated to her hometown. Her confidence on the track helps to crack an inevitable smile, and her rhyme work is slick and smart, integrating a Southern accent and lyrics that talk about being from the "flirty dirty, that scurry dirty." The song has over 5,000 plays on Spotify.

"It was my most ambitious song at the time—I got to celebrate women in hip-hop, past and present," Zhalarina says. "I shot, directed, and edited the music video myself. It was a passion project and I was proud of how it came out."

She just recently dropped her first album, Again, which features the three mentioned tracks as well as 14 other songs. But don't think that that's all for the busy artist, she's eyeing a summer release for her second album.

Jay Browne   
Born and raised in Tampa, Browne has an immense amount of love for his city and is known for his inventive flows and sharp lyrics. He even made a documentary about Tampa as an ode to the city and the people that make it. This pride is just as evident in his music. Whenever he can, Browne shouts out his hometown.   
His first album 1-800-813-4evr was released in 2019, and while he's since released three more albums, that first outing is still his favorite to this day. "It became the stepping stone for my music to the Tampa music scene. The versatility and concepts, as well as the lyricism displayed is at the very top of my musical work to date," Browne says.    
"Chop/Appetite" was the standout on 1-800-813-4evr, a song that splits into two different vibes as Browne raps about his lifestyle and loyalty to the people around him. It has over 1,700 plays on Spotify.   
His latest album, Draco Mercés, dropped last February and featured 11 tracks, with some looping in other local talents like 7inclair and The Black Ace. Coming up in 2022, Browne says he has multiple projects on the horizon. Given his proven work ethic, it's safe to say he might drop an album or two.
Ariyan Lennett

Jay Browne

Born and raised in Tampa, Browne has an immense amount of love for his city and is known for his inventive flows and sharp lyrics. He even made a documentary about Tampa as an ode to the city and the people that make it. This pride is just as evident in his music. Whenever he can, Browne shouts out his hometown.

His first album 1-800-813-4evr was released in 2019, and while he's since released three more albums, that first outing is still his favorite to this day. "It became the stepping stone for my music to the Tampa music scene. The versatility and concepts, as well as the lyricism displayed is at the very top of my musical work to date," Browne says.

"Chop/Appetite" was the standout on 1-800-813-4evr, a song that splits into two different vibes as Browne raps about his lifestyle and loyalty to the people around him. It has over 1,700 plays on Spotify.

His latest album, Draco Mercés, dropped last February and featured 11 tracks, with some looping in other local talents like 7inclair and The Black Ace. Coming up in 2022, Browne says he has multiple projects on the horizon. Given his proven work ethic, it's safe to say he might drop an album or two.

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.