Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Well, sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.

As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Andre Grant and Ural Garrett. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here’s this week’s “Stray Shots.

Earl Sweatshirt

Ural: It was only five years ago that Earl Sweatshirt released his jaw droppingly great debut Earl at sixteen-years-old. For someone barely halfway through high school his spitting had the spirit of a seasoned veteran. A hiatus involving a trip to a behavioral retreat program in Samoa removed him from the game a couple of years, which would have been catastrophic for anyone older. Maturing personally and professionally, he manages to keep up with the rest of his Odd Future family through his Columbia debut Doris before delivering his follow-up I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt. More so than anyone on this list, the 21-year-old has a career most aspiring emcees twice his age only dream of. This should make the next five years even more interesting.

Andre: Shock raps were Earl’s bag before he was sent away to American Samoa in secret and the Internet went crazy looking for him. Complex’s Earnest Baker et. al finally tracked him down, much to his chagrin, and he came back wiser and less inclined to string together rape, murder and defecation in Shakespearean level couplets and quips. But wisdom isn’t the only thing he brought back. The kid was sixteen, and the level of existential angst in him seemed to be exacerbated by his genius. It only seems to have gotten worse, as both Doris and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt were brooding ruminations on life’s discontents. He’s also seemed to shift slightly away from Tyler, but not in a rift sort of way. More like a mature, growing up kind of way. So what’s left for Earl? Well, only Kendrick’s co-sign and some of the most ardent fans in the business to mosh at his shows. But what’s left for Earl’s music? The young spitter has us all on the edge of our seats.

Vince Staples

Andre: Vince Staple’s Hell Can Wait EP was one of the most layered, intelligently rapped records from 2014. His wit is only matched by his candor, and his storytelling ability is preternatural in comparison to his contemporaries. He’s a person of few words, but when he speaks it’s often profound, as he goes from Barack Obama to College to gangs in L.A., and back. He’s gearing up for his LP later this year, and we are all waiting to hear what he’s got to say.

Ural: Though Earl Sweatshirt may be the most accomplished on the list surface level wise, Vince Staples may have the furthest reach. The Long Beach native has been on the mouths of West Coast Hip Hop heads since his debut mixtape Shyne ColdChain Vol.1. Alongside his Winter In Prague project with Michael Uzowuru, Staples Stolen Youth freebie with Mac Miller handling production duties through his Larry Fisherman alias featuring guest appearances from Ab-Soul, ScHoolboyQ and Joey Fatts among others. That’s all before making his way to the house that Russell and Rick built. Since signing to Def Jam, he’s dropped the pretty dope Shyne ColdChain Vol.2 and flat out spectacular debut EP Hell Can Wait. If he continues the momentum, West Coast Hip Hop could have another classic on its hand.

Joey Bada$$

Ural: The most highly anticipated debut of 2015 before its early year release was obviously Joey Bada$$’s B4.DA.$$. From the looks of things, it could well be the best freshmen album of the year. The Pro Era emcee is seen as one of several saviours of New York Hip Hop and for good reason. While many within the culture’s birthplace are leaning more toward Southern and West Coast influences, Joey Bada$$ has managed to stay true to traditions while being accessible to contemporary audiences. There’s a reason why Malia Obama caused a media storm when a photo leaked of her wearing a Pro Era shirt.

Andre: Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era came out of nowhere to drop 1999 in 2012, and his first single “Waves” took the Hip Hop world by storm. He was 17 when it all went down, and the guys been dubbed both New York’s savior and referential to its sound. Since, he’s been met with tragedy in the form of the deaths of Capital Steez and his cousin Junior B, and he most recently dropped one of the best albums of the year in B4.Da.$$. But that’s not what makes Joey special. His subject matter is what separates him from the strip club, turn-up set, and it’s also his leadership ability, as Pro Era is one of the most exciting young collectives in the Hip Hop universe.

Vic Mensa

Andre: Vic Mensa’s been premiering songs with Mr. West and performing with him on SNL’s 40th Anniversary show, and their song “You Mad” slaps like Kanye of old, sure. But what makes Vic so exciting is the versatility in his sound. The traditions that he comes from are so multi-varied and disparate that he sometimes came off as scattered before. Then “Down On My Luck” hit 2014 like a ray steely gray sunshine. He’s more than style, obviously, and more than anything he may have a real shot at being a true Hip Hop crossover star, which cannot be uttered too lightly.

Ural: Besides Chance The Rapper (who ironically turned 22-years old yesterday), Vic Mensa came off as someone who was slowly making himself a household name in Hip Hop. Then mid-February comes and he’s thrusted to the forefront of pop music consciousness thanks to his assistance with Sia on Kanye West’s So Help Me God single “Wolves.” Yup, that also includes that 40th Anniversary SNL performance. Then a few months later, he drops “U Mad” featuring Yeezy himself. With the consistently good music he’s dropping and the following behind his SaveMoney movement, 2015 should be one helluva year for Mensa.

Tink

Ural: Since his time churning out hit-after-hit with Missy, Timbaland has had a difficult time replicating success with emcees himself. Sure, Bubba Sparxxx was an exception but even that’s a reach. It’s been even worse for females as Ms. Jade was a flop and 3D Na’tee found better success via the independent route through All Def Digital. Then comes Tink, a young Chicagoan with quite a history locally before Timbo comes and scopes her into his Mosley Music Group imprint. Since then, she’s managed to outshine both Jay Z and Ross on “Movin Bass” and many are treating “Ratchet Commandments” like pure gospel.

Andre: We spoke to the uber-talented Tink last year at Red Bull’s 30 Days In L.A. and she was calm, maybe even shy about her recent success. The idea that she may be speaking for a community is what eased her, though. She’s never been afraid to speak her mind, and her flow over space aged production is well documented in songs like “305” with Future Brown and “This Is It” with Sleigh Bells. Still, it’s nice to know as an artist that your mentor had a dream Aaliyah came and told him you were the one. That goes to show you that her success may simply be in the cards.

Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.

Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.