Things done changed. College rock set the precedent that music's true originals are found squalling in garages, squonking to empty clubs and crackling over sub-low-frequency airwaves. But in Hip-Hop, the avant-guardians, beat-probing oddballs and acid-washed funkateers currently have stakes in Total Mainstream Radio Omnipresence (read: Timbaland's electrobhangra bounce, the Neptunes' Princely stutterstep, Swizz Beats' punch 'n' jiggle, Kayne West's chipmunk soul cries). On top of that, underground spitters whose imaginative and lateral-minded styles would have doomed them to obscurity five years ago now boast major label deals and/ or MTV2 airplay (Aesop Rock, Jurassic 5, Talib Kweli, Dialated Peoples); some, like indie-rock-fueled soul-surgeon Atmosphere, get nestled on Clear Channel playlists, right between Nickleback and Linkin Park.

So what the fuck do we need underground for - where "keeping it real" usually means "keeping it real broke"? Well, like the post-punkers of the late 70's, it's a place for people energized by a movement to interpret it, reinterpret it, reinvent it, or just watch each other get down and do their thing, baybee. Most of the artists included in '10 Leaders Of The New School' don't remember a time without Hip-Hop, so they can freely poke and prod it with other elements - dub, rock, avant-garde, emo (or, in the case of young Buck, Woodie Gunthrie) - and it sounds as natural to them as a Clyde Stubblefield snare crack. Many of them just want to continue Hip-Hop's original mission statement ("We make real Hip-Hop"), but a truly original trick on some old juice always emerges due to their inventiveness and charisma.

Uncompromising, original, political, poetic, at a 200-capacity club near you - these 10 undergrounders are part of this generation's punk rock, so smash your head on it, nod yr head to it, or get the fuck out of the way. And, as always, press rewind if they haven't already blown your mind.

Sage Francis
Prince Po
Jean Grae
Brother Ali
Buck 65
Percee P

Three ill gentlemen - quite possibly in the literal sense - from Hip-Hop's Dadaist oddball California cult compound, the Anticon collective. Hyper-jagged vocal-Jackson-Pollack-sprayer Doseone, sing-songy napkin-scrawl surrealist Why?, and absurdist sample virtuoso Odd Nosdam join forces like an art-school Voltron, resulting in what is either one of the most emotionally intense or sublimely demented Hip-Hop groups in ages. And that's "Hip-Hop" in the most liberal utilization of the term (there are beats and the vocalists rhymeÉsometimes), since their ambient beatcraft and vocal splatter is often more reminiscent Brian Eno, Boards Of Canada, Flying Saucer Attack or Tortoise.

ALBUM: The boys fought, they reconciled, they meticulously constructed their sophomore release and have decided to part ways. The result is 'Ten' (Mush), a record that combines the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, e.e.cummings and De La Soul with scattershot rhythms made by skipping records, broken guitars, old keyboards, Styrofoam, found samples, and whatever errant noises best matched the mess in their tangled little heads. 'Ten' is due March 9.

How would you describe your music to someone who's never heard it?

Why?: "Our music is a dead bird in an ascending elevator. Our music is bones and gristle and sometimes meat. It's electronic-folkyistikal-rap-fuck music with a beat."

What's the hungriest thing you ever did to get your career off the ground?

Doseone: "I slept with Courtney Love at a White Stripes re-release party not to long ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that I think about it artistically, it may not have been the best decision."


Mush Records