With 2010 now in full throttle, it's time to examine the sounds and styles of the rappers set to make a splash this year. From Michigan to Minneapolis, these artists are on a mission to conquer mediocrity. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you 10 hip-hop artists to watch in 2010.
It's hard to ignore the paradigm shift that has seen the midwest rise to the top of the hip-hop podium. Michigan has been a major part of that mix, thanks, in part, to the emergence of Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, Hayes (see No.8), Buff1, and others. Buff has been working the underground circuit for years but it was 2008's There's Only One, fueled by its trunk-friendly single "Beat The Speakers Up," that gained him recognition. His next project is a collaborative LP with DJ Rhettmatic titled Crown Royale.
M.anifest's hip-hop journey took him all the way from Accra, Ghana to Minneapolis, Minnesota. His style hearkens to the smart lyricism of the Talib Kwelis and the Brother Alis. Not surprisingly, he's already aligned himself with that brand by way of collaborations with Ali. He prides himself as a great songwriter and people are starting to take notice. Minneapolis' City Pages named him the Best Songwriter in 2008.
I don’t believe that demo tapes are still as powerful as they were in the '90s, but the word on the street is that Detroit newcomer Hayes incited an industry bidding war after circulating his demo through the streets. Hayes’ storytelling (and ghostwriting skills) impressed Dr. Dre and Timbaland and landed him a joint deal with the two sound architects.
7. Cory Gunz
After a decade in the hip-hop wilderness (half of those spent in the shadow of his slightly more accomplished dad Peter Gunz), Cory Gunz is finally ready to let loose. Unlike the Bow Wow and his ilk, who ultimately cater to the opposite sex, this teen titan is more interested in spewing razor-shape rhymes like a young Big L. His Best Kept Secret mixtape is a must-listen for fans digging for lyrical gemstones.
6. Nipsey Hussle
Crenshaw, Cali native Nipsey Hussle is one of the west's most exciting new artists since The Game. Hussle is blessed with a bulbous snarl that hearkens to his Cali upbringing. And he knows just how to use his gift: kicking sharp rhymes over bass-heavy beats, crooning anthemic choruses, and sharply telling dark stories about his 'hood. His debut, South Central State of Mind, is due out in Spring 2010.
The career span of a female rapper in today's music industry is somewhere between six months and Kid Sister. But Doomtree's Dessa seems to have found a way to make herself relevant for the long haul. She released a book of poetry and prose dubbed Spiral Bound, followed it up with her debut album, and then toured tirelessly to promote both. Her ability to seamlessly merge spoken word, poetry, and emceeing into one big pot of gumbo is refreshing.
If success is a journey and not a destination, then Drake's next pit stop is to do with his debut album what he did with his So Far Gone mixtape. The "mixtape that sounded like an album" paid unprecedented dividends for this Canadian rap-R&B double threat. So Far Gone sold like hot cakes and sent two songs to the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
3. Freddie Gibbs
Indiana is better known for its football legacy than for churning rap stars. Freddy Gibbs has a chance to change all that. Gibbs made some noise in 2009 with two brilliant mixtapes, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. His sound hearkens to the days of hardbody beats and grimy rhymes delivered with such authenticity that betrays familiarity with the criminal life.
J Cole boasts a powerful combination of street sensibility and crossover appeal. Think Jay-Z with a hint of AZ. As the first padawan recruited by Jedi Carter's Roc Nation, he's armed with the right promotional tools to make a run for the top. The Force is strong with this one indeed.
1. Jay Electronica
Without an album to his name, Jay Electronica already has artists from all across the States singing his praise. Nas, Just Blaze, and Bun B are only a few of the respected hip-hop heads that publicly cosigned the New Orleans lyricist. Jay truly has a chance to blow up like Nitro and dynamite sticks (word to Biggie). If "Exhibit C" is any indication, 2010 is going to be the year of Electronica.