Each year, Hip Hop music and culture finds a way to surprise us. As much as 2013 was powered by established names like Kanye West, Eminem and Jay Z, we saw pleasant surprises in the form of two Chicago emcees from the Save Money crew and exponential growth from the Las Vegas wing of Funk Volume. Regardless of the region they claim or the amount of projects they’ve released, we looked at a group of artists with intriguing storylines that we felt were worth keeping an eye on in 2014.
Will a new year bring continued success for the A$AP Mob and Top Dawg Entertainment? Can the roster Rick Ross once dubbed the “Untouchable Maybach Empire” regain their footing after a poorly received compilation and multiple PR gaffes by their captain? Will Hip Hop see its first $100 retail album? With a dozen similar storylines fighting for attention, here are the emcees we’ll be following closely for the next year.
There are several reasons to love what’s happening in the New York Hip Hop scene. Astro, formerly known as The Astronomical Kid is absolutely high on the list. The 17-year-old Brooklyn native is much more experienced than his age would indicate. A solid run on X-Factor USA combined with nearly a decade’s worth of full-time emceeing honed his talent and temperament. Not only is the kid media savvy and lyrically ready, but he embraces the essence of his city. His 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards cypher verse and well-received mixtape, Deadbeats & Lazy Lyrics, added new levels to his bubbling lore. They might’ve started off looking at your moms, Astro, but now all eyes are on you.
With his earnest desire to explore Rap from the well-worn tropes of being a street hustler with a hunger to reach commercial sustainability by any means necessary, Brooklyn’s Troy Ave directly confronts the issues surrounding what many consider is missing in New York City Rap. His mixtape, turned iTunes retail offering, New York City: The Album was a self-proclaimed classic, while his recently released White Christmas 2 may be worth a listen for his anti-“Rap weirdoes” rant, as well as thoughts about being against dudes in Rap “being feminine” and “wearing dresses.” A solid throwback emcee whose classic aesthetic—in not being politically correct—may speak to Rap fanatics lost in a sea of Tumblr posts and Hypebeast swag, he’s likely being depended upon to carry the flag for “real Rap” in 2014.
With each iteration of Harlem’s A$AP Mob, the unique creative vision of A$AP Yams to drown Uptown egoism in a sea of purple drank gets closer and closer to being the mélange of sound and style that mainstream Hip Hop culture needs in order to truly appropriate the progressive zeitgeist for Hip Hop’s ability to stay relevant. A$AP Nast is the arguably the most complete emcee to develop from the crew, and his recently released single “Trillmatic” featured none other than Wu-Tang legend Method Man on a track that didn’t have as much of the dust of yore sprinkled in its grooves, but still hit hard enough and made us all bob our heads deeply enough to remember how dope the RZA was in the ‘90s. Throwback beats blend with Nast’s aggravated flow and promise much for the year to come.
Equal parts of every great laid-back and leaned to the side Southern rapper you’ve ever enjoyed, latest Top Dawg Entertainment signee Isaiah Rashad burst on the scene for many with his BET Hip Hop Awards freestyle performance, but has been quietly amassing quite the following in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. How much is he influenced by the urban griots upon which a significant chunk of Rap’s history is built? His latest single, “Brad Jordan” takes the birth-given name of Houston legend Scarface, and Rashad attempts to Rap in a manner inspired by the legacy of his career. If a fan of Big K.R.I.T. and wanting him to have some friendly competition in allowing that style of Southern Rap to rise again, Rashad’s an ideal name to follow.
Travi$ Scott is the ultimate wildcard. The year that saw his time bending talent shine on Yeezus was also the year in which a handful of exclamatory question marks blazed like Girl Scout cookies. His BET Hip Hop Awards cypher verse was the worst, for example. His BET cypher verse explanation: The worstest. And yet, Mr. “Gulit Trip’s” talent is as unquestionable as a Seth Curry free throw. That’s kind of where Travi$ Scott lives. In G.O.O.D. Music’s eco system—the label where artistic integrity and commercial viability seem to unite like Wonder Twins most often—the kid from Houston, Texas could easily be the next Big Sean. And just as easily, be the next Cyhi The Prince. That’s not a shot. That’s a timeline.
Few things scream backhanded compliment more than having a qualifying adjective thrown in to describe your classification in Hip Hop. Much like “female emcees,” writers have taken to the designation of “Latino rappers” as if those with Latino roots haven’t been participating in Hip Hop from the beginning. No matter. Spanish Harlem’s Bodega Bamz conveniently flips the label as he pleases, and he’s equally comfortable rocking with the likes of A$AP Ferg or Tego Calderon. All of this would just be cultural window dressing to display his Dominican and Puerto Rican roots if he couldn’t spit. But a spot on 2013’s “Rock The Bells” lineup, the previously mentioned cameos and a growing array of rhyme cadences have Bamz primed for more attention in 2014. If he realizes the potential he’s already shown, the only race anyone will be paying attention to is the one that involves him beating other notable upstarts for an XXL “Freshman Class” cover.
As most know, the infamous Thug Life tattoo inked across the late Tupac Shakur’s torso was also an acronym: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. Plenty of moral grandstanding has been done against Chief Keef, but the economically decadent, morally corrupt climate of the ‘90s hasn’t exactly done Long Beach, California’s Joey Fatts any favors. He and Keef are essentially different sides of the same coin. Much like his cousin, Vince Staples, Fatts mixes alarmingly frank talk of his underworld dealings with a level of introspection not seen by rappers twice his age. “My mama said all I do is chief, and that’s that shit she don’t like,” he rhymes on “Get Paid” from his March 2013 mixtape, Chipper Jones Vol. 2. “But she don’t mind me breakin’ in a nigga house and movin’ white / ‘Cause she know that keep the rent right…” If the next 365 days see him spitting more content similar to those bars above and less trouble away from the microphone, then things could become extremely interesting for Long Beach’s next generation of Hip Hop.
Rapper/producer turned record exec, No ID kept his magic touch intact for 2013. After handpicking Jhene Aiko, the Def Jam Executive Vice President of A&R also inked Gaithersburg, Maryland’s Logic to a deal. Catchy, melodic tracks that were radio ready created an irresistible dichotomy when paired with Logic’s ability to openly talk about harder subject matter such as his family members dealing and/or abusing drugs. Much like Frank Sinatra (whom 2013’s Welcome To Forever mixtape name checked) there was some serious stuff going on beneath the clean cut exterior. The only concern going forward is the same one No ID voiced to Logic after hearing his signature project: will there be enough remaining content to mine for a retail album? Given the fact that Logic said he crafted Young Sinatra: Welcome To Forever in a few short months, odds are very much in his favor
It’s been nearly five years since Nipsey Hussle flipped a sample of “Jump” by Kris Kross into a regional hit. With a spot on Epic Records’ roster and a co-sign by Snoop Dogg on the Malice N Wonderland single “Upside Down,” Nip seemed poised for the traditional route to Hip Hop success. Maybe we should’ve taken the fact that he was hanging out with TDE’s Jay Rock way back then as an omen. With his Crenshaw mixtape and associated “Proud 2 Pay” campaign, Nipsey bucked any notions of the traditional record industry model on his way to a cool $100,000 in less than a week. He’s already gone on record saying his 2014 retail offering, The Victory Lap could very well have a similar campaign attached to it. And if the likes of Jay Z are buying 100 copies at a time, why not?
With all the talk about the fractured state of Golden Era, boom bap styled Rap from New York, Rockland County’s Bishop Nehru let his actions speak and dropped a two-piece in the form of his Nehruvia and Strictly Flowz mixtapes. They were jazzy, innovative and nostalgic but ultimately powered by clever wordplay and intricate rapping not just ‘90s era sentiments. Vets such as Wu-Tang Clan and MF DOOM noticed, and the Big Apple’s self-proclaimed ruler “King Kendrick” even shouted him out. Add in the fact that the teenage upstart handles production, arrangement and instrumentation, and you have the makings of not just a great New York artist, but a great artist period.
Strip away the historical context of being a rapper from Long Beach, California and his connection to both Odd Future and Mac Miller, and you get to the essence of why Vince Staples is poised for success. His flow is effortless and has a hint of a drawl the Left Coast hasn’t seen since Snoop was morphing into a Doberman Pinscher as opposed to a lion. Yet it’s not a case of style over substance. Take his verbal assault on the 2013 Earl Sweatshirt and Casey Veggies collaboration “Hive,” where he references everything from Thizz pills to German concentration camp Auschwitz and iconic ‘90s Charlotte Hornets forward Larry Johnson. “If this was ’88 I would’ve signed to Ruthless,” he quips. Luckily Def Jam has Vince inked to a deal. And with the Mac Miller produced, Stolen Youth mixtape further showcasing his skills, we hope the union turns out to be a perfect platform for Vince.
We get it…we get it. Stalley isn’t a rookie, freshman or any such classification, and he hasn’t been for quite some time. But here’s the thing, Stalley is easily the most likeable member of Maybach Music Group. And seeing how 2013 could very well be a make or break year for the house that Ricky Rozay built, the man with MMG’s second most recognizable beard is in a pivotal position whether he wants to be or not. During the last 12 months, we’ve seen Ross lose a Reebok deal after halfway apologizing for rhyming about slipping MDMA in his date’s drink while she didn’t even know it. A clear difference of opinion between Wale and Complex.com led to a phone call that (at the very least) Mr. Folarin wishes wasn’t recorded. Meanwhile, Stalley was helping the homeless. With Brother Ali. Scribes are likely going to be quick to link the above events, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s not to deify Stalley and demonize his crew members. But if he can finally drop at least one transcendent single, then it adds a dynamic to Maybach Music Group that no one else has been able to provide.
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