Austin has fostered more than its share of successful music careers. But amid the thriving rock and indie scenes, the city’s “live music capital of the world” title hasn’t extended to its rap industry. Despite local talent, the Austin rap scene has never garnered national attention, overshadowed by the long lineage of hip-hop artists from Houston.

A new class of Austin rappers hopes to change that. Foremost among them is eighteen-year-old Quinian McAfee, better known as Quin NFN, who champions his local scene from the Beat Kitchen. Tucked away in an office rental space in north Austin, across from an alterations shop and an insurance company, the recording studio is known for fostering the growth of up-and-coming rappers and emcees. “There are rappers here that really have the potential to be something,” Quin said, preparing for a recent late-night recording session at the studio. “The Austin rap scene’s going to get better over the years. As far as me and everyone in my circle, though, we’re going to blow up. I’ll make sure of it.”

Over the past two years, Quin has consistently released fast-paced, spitfire tracks, showcasing his versatility and energy. His singles, largely released on SoundCloud and YouTube, have gained him millions of views, thousands of fans, and critical recognition from the likes of Pitchfork, Elevator, and WorldStarHipHop. This spring, he’s poised to break out: in February, he signed with 10K Projects in Los Angeles, a record label founded by Elliot Grainge that represents other up-and-coming hip-hop artists like Trippie Red, Lil Gnar, and, previously, 6ix9ine; on March 16, Quin will play the WorldStarHipHop House at SXSW. As the young rapper sees it, that’s just the start.

Rhymes on the Schoolyard

As a kid, Quin was known for his rapping among friends and at school, but it was never something he took seriously. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that he developed fans beyond his immediate peers. “I just worked. Everybody started noticing I was rapping. Everybody was spreading the word,” Quin said.

Finding His Tribe

Coming into the Austin rap scene came with its challenges. Quin says he started with bad management deals and had trouble finding people to collaborate with. “Austin rappers think that they’re the biggest ones in the game, so they won’t collaborate unless you pay for it,” he said. “Even people from the same neighborhood as [me and my crew] and people that we knew were on their high horses and didn’t want anything to do with us.” Instead, Quin released his music on SoundCloud, where he was noticed by those within the music industry. Kade Fresco, owner of Fresco Filmz, a music videographer based in Atlanta, offered to produce Quin’s first music video for free because he saw his potential. In 2017, he was picked up by his current manager, Diana Guadarrama, after she heard his tracks. He’s steadily booked live shows and released more music videos since.

The NFN Crew

Quin’s inner circle has been tight-knit since they were in middle school. His crew, including RoneNFN, Oshay, Tayy, and Tvo (who all rap themselves, with the exception of Tvo), became close while growing up in “the four,” a neighborhood in northeast Austin, and sticking together when times got tough. “Some of them I’ve known from going to a friend’s shed when we’d get kicked out and had no place to go. That’s where we’d connect, freestyle, rap,” Quin said. “We called it the cave—it was like a small house about the size of this recording booth, that we crammed a couch and about 30 people in.” Quin and his friends now hang out in the Beat Kitchen rather than the cave (although they unsuccessfully tried to take photos there for a recent Pitchfork article), but not much else has changed among their friend group.

From Say Cheese to SXSW

After making his first music video back in 2017, Quin connected with a producer at Say Cheese TV, a platform for artists to promote their videos and mixtapes. He premiered his music video “Gametime Pt. 2” there, gaining about 300,000 views, and continued to release music through the channel. Three months ago, one of his videos was posted on the popular YouTube channel JMoney1041, where it gained more than 11 million views. “Five minutes after a snippet of ‘Talkin’ My Shit’ was posted [on Say Cheese], JMoney contacted me asking if he could drop my music video,” Quin said. “I agreed, and I got a million views in a week.” The buzz around Quin led him to meetings with labels in L.A., including 10K Projects, and a request to play at the WorldStarHipHop House for SXSW. “It’s wild. I never expected this. Two years ago [at SXSW] I was getting into a brawl on Sixth Street. Last year, I was playing with mainly up-and-coming rappers from the area,” he said. “This year, I’m playing at WorldStar with Soulja Boy and Lil Baby. I’m not one to get starstruck, but they’re artists I look up to.”

Play on Words

Since he was a kid, Quin has turned to rappers Cassidy and Lil Wayne for lyrical inspiration and fast-flowing, clever bars. This is especially prominent in one of his newer hits, “Talkin’ My Shit,” a melody-free, high-energy, breathless response to the negativity he’s received since gaining popularity. “People have tried to come at me, but I don’t say anything to them directly,” Quin said. “I go to the studio. That speaks for me.” In the single, he raps about artists trying to collaborate with him now that he’s made a name for himself. “Now that I’ve blown up, they’re trying to contact me,” he said. “No other rapper tried to help me or take me under their wing. All I had was my crew.”

Onward From Austin

With a signed record deal, millions of video views, and an upcoming SXSW show, Quin has become a leader of the Austin rap scene. But he doesn’t plan to stop there; he hopes to tour the country and release an album in 2019. When there are mentions of L.A. and tours, the nonchalant young artists lights up. “I want to be bigger than the city,” he said. “A lot of rappers [in Austin] get too focused on being great here and only growing here, but I’m going to make it out. I’m going to make rapping my life.”