By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
Over the last few decades, the genre of hip hop has slowly been evolving. With each year, each new artist that has risen to ‘mainstream’ status has brought something new to the table (for better or for worse). Certain artists constantly push the boundaries either lyrically, sonically or both. Others tend to fly under the radar with a few notable songs. Sometimes, the producer has even outshined the artist, but one thing has remained clear: the genre has been progressing every year.
During the ‘90s, which has been dubbed the “Golden Age of Hip Hop,” the rise of popular rappers such as the Notorious B.I.G (Biggie), Tupac Shakur (2Pac), Nas or Jay-Z showcased the different directions in which the genre could progress. After the deaths of B.I.G. and Shakur, who were already locked in a deadly feud, Jay and Nas had their own feud.
Biggie and 2Pac are the most controversial artists of the era and the genre – with Biggie perfecting Big Daddy Kane’s braggadocio rap style and 2Pac adapting Slick Rick’s storytelling to fit his own tales. Jay succeeded Biggie as the big bragger, and Nas succeeded 2Pac as the dark storyteller and preacher as the 90s became the new millennium, what I like to call the New Age of Hip Hop.
New Age hip hop artists that became crucial movers and shakers were Eminem, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent and Kanye West. Eminem – who sold more albums than anyone else in this era – was the former protege of NWA rapper/producer Dr. Dre. Wayne was the adopted son and rising young rapper of Birdman; 50 was discovered by Eminem and became a hitmaker; and Kanye was the underdog producer-turned-rapper with an attitude that wanted to outshine his mentor, Jay-Z.
As the years went on, these names constantly popped up all over the genre as the biggest names in “the game” (despite OutKast and Lauryn Hill snagging DIAMOND albums). But eventually Eminem took a break and 50 lost his album duel to Kanye West as both released their 3rd studio albums on the same day. In the meantime, Wayne had released a stellar series of albums and mixtapes that had him claiming to be the “best rapper alive.” By 2010, Kanye and Lil Wayne were arguably the biggest names in hip hop during the 2000s.
2011 proved to be a good year as well for both of these titans as Kanye collaborated with Jay-Z for Watch the Throne and Lil Wayne released the best-selling hip hop album of the year with Tha Carter IV (which went double platinum). Both had also put together strong labels in West’s G.O.O.D. Music and Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment – a move that rising titan Rick Ross soon mirrored in his Maybach Music Group.
But with the rise of these new labels and their respective talents, I ask one question: who’s next? Who will be the big hip hop star of this decade?
Some names have already been thrown onto the table, names such as Drake, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, the list goes on. What I am asking is that in another 10, 20 or 30 years, who will be controlling the genre?
As of August 2013, only three hip hop artists that debuted in the current decade have gone platinum: Drake, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar. Drake has two platinum albums. Nicki has two platinum albums. Kendrick has one. These three are the current stars of the genre. Who will join them? Who will end at the top?
By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
In honor of the recent solo debuts of 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar and Meek Mill, as well as the coming debut of A$AP Rocky (2012’s four hip-hop heavy hitters), I wanted to list some of my favorite solo debut LPs of the genre:
Illmatic – Nas (February 1994): While it is not a very well-known fact, Nas actually debuted before Biggie. Nas’ debut—at the age of 20 – laid the groundwork for his later hit albums and his future beef with both Biggie and Jay-Z. The most notable feature of this album was that it lacked star guest features, focusing the attention on Nas from beginning to end.
Ready to Die – Notorious B.I.G. (September 1994): Biggie hit hard with this album, and—combined with his sophomore double-disc Life After Death—solidified himself as the most popular rapper of hip-hop’s “golden age” The storytelling and lyrical complexity on this album still make me shiver when I listen. “Juicy” and “Big Poppa” became major hits.
Reasonable Doubt – Jay Z (June 1996): The first of many great debuts for Jigga, this album has one of the rare moments where Jay Z and his friend, Biggie, traded verses in real life as opposed to recycled recordings (“Brooklyn’s Finest”). “Dead Presidents II” was also famous for sparking the beef between Jay and Nas.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ – 50 Cent (February 2003) – 50 Cent made his major label debut with this 2003 classic, featuring hit songs such as “In Da Club,” “21 Questions” and “P.I.M.P.” The album went on to go eight times platinum as of 2011.
The College Dropout – Kanye West (February 2004): Kanye West is a name as synonymous with hip-hop production as Jimmy Hendrix is synonymous to epic guitar playing. When the “Izzo” producer finally began to put out his own songs, his own rap legend soon began, combined with further production work on songs for Jay-Z, Ludacris, Twista, Alicia Keys and more. Dropout gave the genre classic songs like “All Falls Down,” “Jesus Walks” and “Through The Wire.”
The Documentary – The Game (January 2005): 50 Cent’s (former) lieutenant, The Game, had a strong debut with The Documentary. A mixture of gritty gangsta rap and heavy-hitting party songs, the West Coast native was helped by his energetic delivery and production work from 50, Kanye West, Timbaland and Dr. Dre. His tracks “How We Do” “Dreams” and “Hate It or Love It” became instant classics.
Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor – Lupe Fiasco (September 2006): Lupe Fiasco—a Chicago native—found an interesting niche in hip-hop, choosing to combine spoken word, nerdcore and skateboarding influences with the dark tales of the streets of his hometown. However, he balanced the tale of a slowly corrupted youth with fun stories and some of the most clever imagery and wordplay in the genre. “Kick, Push” and “Daydreamin’” became classics while songs like the Howard Zinn–inspired “American Terrorist” show Fiasco’s knack for historically driven raps.