Hardwood Blacktop’s 2013 Rap Game Top Prospects

Posted: February 7, 2013 in Hip Hop
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Kevin Gates “Weight”

If there’s one thing that magazines and online music websites like XXL, Complex, and Spin still seem to do a decent job of it’s creating online debate around the lists that they publish.  That said, there’s one list in particular that garners a ton of attention on an annual basis, partially because it is perceived to be a stepping stone to big things to come in the careers of rappers.  The reality of the annual XXL Freshman 10 is that it’s become one of the safest lists in rap music.  The artists they choose to hold this honor on an annual basis at this point, have usually already reach a modicum of hype, success, and have an engine behind them that ensures that they will – at the very least – continue to maintain the relevance that they had in the year prior, which combined with the increased spotlight they will receive for being on the XXL list, and the label support that they already have (if you think that any artist who makes the XXL Freshman list in 2013 isn’t signed to a label – even if it’s not “official” yet – you’re out of touch with the way things work in the rap industry in this decade).  While not without merit for it’s role as an annual recognition process, the reality is that most of the artists who make the Freshman of 2013 list, will have actually been the freshmen of 2010, 2011, or 2012.  Just taking a look at their list you see a number of great artists, who have been building a rep, and in some cases releasing music on an independent level – or even mainstream level – for a number of years:

The artists who make up the XXL Nominees in 2013:

Chief Keef

Would’ve been a great – visionary – nominee in 2012.  To nominate Keef for a Freshman list in 2013 is basically akin to nominating Jay-Z for a freshman list in ’97 or Biggie in ’95 (not that Keef is Jigga or B.I.G. by any estimation, but he sits atop the game in 2013 – undoubtedly one of rap’s biggest stars at this point).  Keef took the rap world by storm in 2012 and had a much hyped 4th quarter release on a major label by year end, he’s a sophomore if there’s ever been a sophomore.

Gunplay

Again, a great pick if it was 2006 or 2007.  Look I get XXL’s desire to include him in a list like this since Gunplay will finally drop his solo major label debut in 2013, but the reality is that the guy has had half a decade of appearances on major label releases and well promoted mixtapes to build his buzz. To use an NBA reference Gunplay is kind of like the NBA player who doesn’t get drafted, but makes cameo appearances on 1o day contracts with NBA teams on an annual basis – showcasing his skills – and eventually latches on to a viable roster.  However, anybody who had a major label group album in 2009 that was promoted by one of the three biggest rap artists of the last 10 years does not qualify as a Freshman.

A$ap Ferg

He shows potential, but to be honest I think his appeal is limited and the whole A$ap Mob thing fell pretty darn flat after that abortion of a mixtape they put out in 2012.  There’s definitely room for him to continue to approve and he has a solid skill set, but he doesn’t have the appeal that Rocky does, and it seems to me that A$ap Yam has these guys under his thumb a little too much.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE proponent of quality control, but if that’s what Yams provides then he did a piss poor job on the A$ap mixtape in 2012.  Maybe the Mob really will shift their attention toward other artists in the collective in 2013, but it remains to be seen whether that attention will achieve the desired results.

Ab-Soul

Soulo is probably one of the strongest picks on the list.  Again, I’m reticent to acknowledge his “freshman” status given that he’s dropped two free albums in the last two years, both of which got a reasonable amount of attention from TDE’s rather large fanbase.  That said, Ab hasn’t had that one song (like “Hands On The Wheel,” or “The Recipe,” or “Swimming Pools”) that really helps the general public recognize him on a greater level.  Ab-Soul also has an unusual vocal tone, which will rub some listeners the wrong way, but historically rappers with unique voices often win more listeners over in the end then they marginalize (eg Jay-Z, Q-Tip, Common, Ghostface, even Kendrick).  All in all, I think his combination of creativity, opportunity (he couldn’t be situated in a better camp for his skill set), and good cross marketing from his TDE partners, this could very well be the year he starts to bridge the gap between himself and Q and Kendrick in terms of mass appeal.

Action Bronson

Seriously?  I would’ve sworn Action was on this list back in like 2010.  I get that he’s about to make a major label debut, but I don’t think 2013 is the year that his star magically grows to reach some significant new fan base.  He’s out there, those who want to know about the Caucasian Queens-bred Ghostface corollary heading for a coronary already know.

Ca$h Out

Pure laziness.  Ca$h Out blew up in a major way in 2012, and in case you didn’t turn on the radio, TV, or failed to visit any type of venue that played any form of urban music in 2012, Ca$h Out dropped this which became last year’s anthem for ballin’ on an epic scale.  Admittedly there still is question as to whether Ca$h Out is a one hit wonder who won’t be able to replicate the success of “Ca$hin’ Out,” so there’s certainly a possibility that this pick doesn’t pan out that well for XXL.

Casey Veggies

Not a huge fan of Casey personally, but I’m not mad at the pick.  He’s got some skill.  I don’t buy that Casey gains a ton of momentum this year, but he’s still heading in the right direction and his buzz isn’t so mammoth that the pick is just obligatory.  That said, there are just too many artists who do something similar and to be honest I think that window is closing, not opening.

Chance The Rapper

I’ve tried to get into Chance a few times, and again, don’t get the appeal, but I do think for his lane he does his thing and will continue to garner fans.  Again, not mad that he’s a potential selection, but I do think there are other Chicago scene members who are more deserving (Tree, Blanco Caine, Durk, Reese).  Admittedly though, Chance is a “feel good” pick for the list.

Dee-1

I can’t get into Dee-1’s music at all, but he does have Mannie Fresh’s support, which is enough to make plenty of folks root for him.

Domo Genesis

Look if XXL had selected the entire Odd Future clique back in 2010, they’d look like geniuses right now.  The music industry has already picked apart this bunch though, and it seems like the last and only remaining untapped hope for this collective is Earl Sweatshirt.  Frank has moved on to potential megastar status, Tyler has seen his bubble blow up and deflate – but still seemingly would have the potential to re-garner his hype under the right circumstances, and Earl still has the veil of mystery, the considerable talent, and the mystique of having dropped the debauched teenage album that started the buzz in the first place.  No offense to the rest of the OF boys, they’re serviceable rappers, but at this point, they are what they are.  Domo is a competent rapper, but if his mixtape with Alchemist last year didn’t do much to build upon the reputation he started with his first release – Rolling Papers – I find it hard to believe he’s going to suddenly stake his claim in 2013.

Fat Trel

If you listen to trap music and aren’t familiar with Fat Trel, kill yourself.  That said, do I think Trel could have a big year this year, given that he’s got some of that Percy Miller cash behind him and has positioned himself well with his last few mixtapes?  Certainly.  But seriously, if you don’t know who Fat Trel is then I highly doubt you possess the ability to log on to this website and read.  It’s a fundamental paradox.

Hit-Boy

Another super safe pick.  I might consider this one okay if you’re talking about Hit-Boy as a rapper, rather than a producer.  That said, while his HITstory mixtape last year was definitely solid, and his production acumen only continues to improve, I don’t ever see him becoming a household name as a rapper.  “Brake Lights” was cool and his production is good enough to carry him, but he really has no business rapping on his beats when he could be producing for anybody he wants to produce for.

Hoodie Allen

No clue who this guy is, but his name’s amazing.  Where do I sign?  OK, on second thought, no.

Iamsu

This pick works for me.  Iamsu is a rising star in the Bay scene, which is a scene I’ve admittedly never really gotten into – I know, blasphemy in the post-regional era where we all sit down and argue how E-40 is a better rapper than Nas or Jay-Z.  But, my own personal listening preferences aside, Iamsu seems like he has all the makings of being the real deal.  Do I think he has national star potential?  Probably not, but national recognition similar to the Mob Figaz representatives is already within reach for him.

Joey Bada$$

Joey is probably the most likely rapper of the whole list of nominees to make the final 10 (other than the cheap shoe-in’s like Keef and Gunplay).  Joey was one of the most overhyped internet darlings of 2012, and it has everything to do with the love affair that the average rap critic has with the golden age 90’s NYC scene, and a little bit to do with Joey’s talent, which is there in spots.  Someone point me towards five songs that suggest Joey is deserving of an honor like this and maybe I’ll reconsider.  To date, I’ve heard one really solid track from this kid.  One.  He can flow and he picks beats that appeal to 90’s NYC nostalgists… inspiring!

King L(ouie)

King Louie is to Chicago Drill as Fat Trel is to DC Trap.

Kirko Bangz

Vomit, and no.

Lil Durk

Durk is highly deserving of a list like this.  Again, he would’ve been a visionary pick in 2012, and is coming off a hell of a year, which makes him an easy pick for XXL here.  My guess is that they still swing and miss on this one – unless  but they should get it right.

Lil Reese

I was a Reese fan.  I have to say anyone capable of that type of violence towards a woman though, just gives me A Clockwork Orange style Pavlovian stick-to-my-stomachness.  But he’s good at rapping, and the world has forgiven Chris Brown, so he’ll probably be big.

Mr. MFN eXquire

Again, this is a late pass pick in my world.  eXquire has been on the rise for a couple years now, and put out a major label EP last year.  Hardly ahead of the curve.

Paypa

Paypa is coming off a good year from Chicago and is outside of the drill scene, which makes this an interesting pick.  I’m not mad at it.  I still prefer Tree songs 3-1 over Paypa songs if we’re talking Chicago rappers, but Paypa is cool.

Riff Raff

I mean, if you’re into mistrelsy and shit.  Sure.

Rittz

Rittz is a solid choice.  This guy is easily one of the top two or three rappers on the list in terms of pure rapping ability.  He made a good move last year by signing on with Strange Music, who if they don’t try to mold his style to fit their audience too much, should be a good home for him, since they have a track record of helping independent artists successfully grow their brand, their bank, and their beards.

Rockie Fresh

This would seem like a good pick, if it weren’t for the curse of the MMG 4th rapper.  Why that curse hasn’t hit Wale, despite derailing the promising careers of Pill and Stalley (OK, so Stalley’s career was never really that promising. But who wouldn’t take a Stalley solo album over Wale’s life at this point?).

ScHoolboy Q

I mean, after two years of dropping very successful independent albums and having songs on national urban radio stations, and being the second in line in the TDE empire behind Kendrick are we really still going to call ScHoolboy a freshman?

SpaceGhostPurrp

We’ll see where Purrp goes this year.  I thought BMW was in some ways a step back from Purrp after God of Black, but I do think the leader of the crew formerly known as Raider Klan, BRK, and 2.7.5 has a lot of good music ahead of him.  If he could get the right beat on the right album for a big name artist, things could really take off for him.  Then again, I still find Purrp a little too experienced and well known to consider him a freshman in 2013.

Stalley

If anything Stalley’s career appears to be on a downward arc.  He stands now where Pill stood a few years back.  They each had a nice rise to rap fame, which included prominent placement on an MMG compilation album, and then were both quickly dropped from the fold and more or less looked like damaged goods afterword.  It doesn’t help that Stalley’s MMG-related mixtape last year was a total dud.

Trinidad James

Easy pick, but probably a good one.  This guy obviously has a pretty huge push at this point, after the success of Don’t Be S.A.F.E. last year, and he seems poised to capitalize.  Based on the meteoric success of 2 Chainz last year, it seems very likely that James will see success on the next level as well.  That said, he’s not quite as endearing as 2 Chainz, nor is he as experienced, so his margin for error over the next 6 months to capitalize on his buzz will be pretty small.

Trouble

I’m not really sure the world is ready for a down south accented and higher pitched DMX.  Trouble has made some good music and it seems plausible that he could blow up, but I’d put more money on Alley Boy to become a household name before Trouble – that’s just me.

Troy Ave

Troy would’ve been another great pick for 2012, as he had a great year, but there’s no doubt that his career is still on the rise, and – as I’ve said before – I do think he has the ability to fill a void in NYC and pull from audiences as diverse as 50 Cent fans, AZ fans, and Clipse/Lox fans to create a nice little market for himself.

Ty$

Not sure Ty$ is a rapper, but he certainly seems like an artist on the rise, and that “didn’t know he was a rapper” state of being is not a terrible place to be, when you look at what Drake and Future have accomplished over the last few years with skill sets and songs that often seem to belong more to the

Young Scooter

Scooter is a solid trap rapper who gets good production, he certainly could blow up in the next year or so.  That said, he doesn’t have many songs that really set him a part from the crowd.  His alliances could certainly help his exposure, but historically being an affiliate of bigger artists can often be as much of a curse for an artists as it is a blessing.

Then there’s a ton of rappers on the XXL list that honestly I haven’t even heard enough material from to make any kind of estimation on the value of their pick.  So maybe that means that they’re deserving and truely a lesser known on the rise, or maybe that means they’re not worthy.  Hard to say, honestly some of them I’ve never even heard of before:

Vinny Cha$e, Chinx Drugz, Chris Webby, D-Pryde, Alexander Spit, Angel Haze, Brianna Perry, Dizzy Wright, Spenzo, Tito Lopez, Travis Scott, Phil Ade, Problem, Rapsody, Logic, Lola Monroe, Los, J. Pinder

Hardwood Blacktop Top Prospects for 2013

These are artists who seem to me to have just as bright an outlook for 2013 as those on the XXL list (if you don’t count artists on the XXL list who are already putting out massive mainstream smashes and albums)

Denzel Curry

There are several names in the Raider Klan (currently BMW – or Black Money World) that warrant  attention this year and it’s easy to see Simmie (who already dropped a great mixtape in 2013), Amber London, Ethelwulf, Grandmilly, Key Nyata, or other members blowing up at some point in the near future.  To me, though, there’s nobody who impresses with pure rapping skill on the same level that Denzel Curry does.  While he is friends with Purpp, he doesn’t seem to completely aspire to the same “we don’t need punchlines” mantra that Purrp espouses, as Curry has some of the witier one-liners in the Klan and like Simmie has a very rhythmic and punchy flow that keeps the listeners’ heads nodding right along with his words.

Haleek Maul

Like Curry, this kid is super young and his skill well surpasses his age.  He had a couple of projects in 2012, but Oxyconteen was certainly the most impressive – a cloud rapish dedication to a rough period in his life that has a lot of parallel’s to Young L’s excellent Enigma Theory, except for the fact that the 15 year old’s mic skills are way beyond L’s already.  There are plenty of young rappers who haven’t developed with age, and never live up to the hype of their early work, but Haleek seems like someone headed in the right direction.

Kevin Gates

Kevin Gates is a good label push away from blowing up on a massive scale.  Falling somewhere between Juvenile & Future, Kevin follows in the trend of artists who have begun to innovate their rap styles utilizing odd vocal modulation with autotune, while at the same time keeping a strong narrative and structural focus to his work.  He’s an excellent writer and vocalist and handles the trap sub-genre very well.  In today’s world, he’s the total package.

SL Jones

Jonesy may not really end up being crossover friendly.  I thought the strength of last year’s Paraphernalia should have catipulted him to a much more sought after status, but it really didn’t seem to make the kind of ripples that it should have.  Nevertheless, Jones, like Gates, possesses multiple skills that when harnessed properly and with the right production – like on the 5PMG assisted Paraphernalia – show the ability to create music that seemingly would have a much broader appeal.  That said, Jones is a vet in this game at this point, having started with C.O.L.O.R.S. on Killer Mike’s Grynd Tyme collective a few years back now.  Hopefully a Paraphernalia 2 is in the works for 2013, but if he doesn’t gain much more momentum off of that, I’m not sure it will ever happen for the guy.

Tree

Honestly, I’m kind of amazed that Tree didn’t make the XXL list.  He got recognition in almost every other corner of the rap blogosphere last year.  While he’s certainly not a freshman by any means, he’s still very much on the rise and hasn’t secured any major label deals as of yet.  His Soul Trap album, which was said to feature production by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, S-1, and others did not hit itunes last October, as he originally stated so hopefully that will land in 2013 and build on the success of Sunday School and Tree Featuring The City, both of which are great projects.  Moreso than anybody on the list of Hardwood Blacktop’s top prospects Tree is an act by himself, because even without any outside producers Tree has proven that he can make projects that rival anybody else’s in the game from a quality standpoint.  It’s hard to see his star not continuing to rise in 2013.

Amber London

Amber has had a pretty sparse output since she dropped the 1994 EP last year.  That said there really isn’t a female emcee out there with more promise currently than Amber London (or if there is I haven’t heard her).  The only potential complication I can see is that of all the Raiders in BMW, I can’t think of any who are as tied to the sounds of the 90’s with the music that they’ve released to date.  Part of that is the fact that Amber’s rapping style – as a more traditionally lyrical rapper, who incorporates a lot of g-funk imagery, as well as a lot of nice internal rhyme structures – fits in with a lot of the great 90’s female rappers (like Lady of Rage, Queen Latifa, Boss, Gangsta Boo) a lot more than it does with the more modern wild template created by the multiple personalities and pop sensibilities of Nicki Minaj.  When folks ask who the best rapper is in Raider Klan, from a strict technical perspective, the conversation goes no further than Amber London and Denzel Curry.

Pepperboy

To be honest, Pepperboy is somebody I really haven’t gotten on board with yet.  That said I have allies who swear by him, and some artists I really respect collaborate or wish to work with him.  Like SL Jones, Pepperboy is a Little Rock, Arkansas product, but that’s about the only similarity that exists between the two characters.  He’s been around for some time, and definitely fits in with other Based types out currently.  I could easily see him gaining momentum in 2013, since he went from virtual unknown to kind of a big deal by the end of the year.  A Trinidad James type explosion is obviously a long shot, but that’s kind of where the potential is I’d say.

The Underachievers

These guys are one of the most promising groups out of New York, and have a little more depth behind their imagery than the Pro Era cats or the A$ap members.  That said, I think they’re getting a little bit of undeserved attention at this point, and I don’t see this being a mainstream friendly act.  More than anything I think the disappointing part of this group is that there’s clearly a lot of potential there based on their debut, but they really did no work to be even slightly original in the development of their visual aesthetic or imagery.  Granted, the fact that I could easily levee the same criticism at every trap rapper on the planet post-2004 does certainly make that critique seem a bit hypocritical, but it’s disappointing to see artists who express creativity and intelligence in their delivery and the crafting of their material do so little to set themselves a part from their peers in the style department.  The biggest things they have going for them are that they can rap, and they’re a group, two things you almost never see in the same place anymore.

MarQ Spekt

Spekt probably has too much work under his belt to belong on a list like this, but he’s still an excellent artist who should continue to gain momentum in 2013.  His project with Cunninlynguist producer Kno, Machetevision, is certainly his most well known, but he’s released a ton of really good material since and his project with Gary Wilson should drop in 2013, hopefully along with some other work (he has something cooking with Blockhead as well) and solidify his reputation as one of the best artists out for the set who prefer raps that make them think to raps that make them dance.

Comments
  1. hector doepos says:

    denzel curry tip on point!! threatz is one of the best jams this year so far

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