9/10. Mic Capes (41 points)

FORMED: Started recording in 2012.

SOUNDS LIKE: The Wire if it were set in St. Johns.

NOTABLE VOTES: Vinnie Dewayne; WW music editor Matthew Singer; DJ Klyph.

It seems like every time Mic Capes turns on the television these days, he sees a reflection of himself. He saw it in Beyoncé's nod to the Black Panthers at the Super Bowl, and in Kendrick Lamar's uncensored display of pain and anger at last month's Grammys. It's fuel, the St. Johns native says, to see like-minded artists on the world's biggest stages.

"With their celebrity, they could just choose to sit back and collect money," says the 26-year-old rapper born Michael Caples, "but they put a message out there, and they're willing to make some people uncomfortable to do so."

Capes is well aware of how America responds to raw displays of black pride. But the willingness to push through all the noise and express one's personal truth is basically his mission statement. On songs like the fiery "Razor Tongue," Capes engages closely with the country's legacy of racial inequality, pointedly bouncing from references to broken homes and race wars, from Ronald Reagan to Marcus Garvey. He acknowledges that, if things had gone just a little differently for him, he easily "coulda been slangin', bangin', a killer, even a pimp." If listeners take offense to any of it, his answer is curt: "I don't really care if someone feels uncomfortable with me speaking on something I feel is wrong."

Capes' aim to empower his community on wax is an outgrowth of the real-life work he does with Step Up, an organization supporting ninth-graders through their transition to high school and beyond. His forthcoming album, Concrete Dreams, is essentially directed toward those students, because he knows what they've been through. "It's dedicated to inner-city youth," he says. "People that come from poverty, messy violence and a rougher life." He hopes it will also reach the nearsighted masses living across the bridge from where he grew up, and "open their mind to a new perspective."

That's no simple feat. But Capes embraces the challenge.

"I don't just do this because I like to rap," he says. "I do it because I feel like what I'm saying needs to be heard, and there's people that don't have the voice that I have, or the platform I have." MATT SCHONFELD.

NEXT SHOWS: March 11 at WW's Best New Band Showcase and March 20, both at Mississippi Studios.

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