As the culture’s popularity and appeal continues to escalate,the emergence of new artists onto hip-hop music’s landscape is acommon occurrence. Record labels throw marketing muscle behind “thenext big thing,” in hopes of achieving superstar status andgenerating multiple zeros in their bank accounts.
By the end of 2003, it seemed only right that 2004 would be fullof fresh faces grabbing microphones and attempting to win over thehip-hop community. Early 2003 saw the rapid rise to power byQueens-bred mix tape king, 50 Cent, unleashing a brand new rapsuperstar on the commercial scene. As the final months of the yearapproached, arguably the game’s biggest rapper Jay-Z decided tocall it quits, opening the window of opportunity for new MCs tobegin their chart domination.
The new crop of rappers in 2004 is a diverse, refreshinglypassionate and gifted group, all sporting individual strengths thatshould help to distinguish them from the pack and possibly be2004’s “50 Cent-like” success story.
First up is Chicago’s producer extraordinaire-turned-MC, KanyeWest. Putting in excessive amounts of work behind the boards,producing impressive tracks for artists ranging from Jay-Z toScarface to Alicia Keys. West is ready to release his officialdebut as a rapper, The College Dropout. This Roc-A-Fella Recordsrelease hits in early February, and is already setting theprecedent for albums in 2004. Combining West’s own brand of soulfulbeats placed behind lyrical subject matter aimed to spark minds andtouch emotions within listeners, The College Dropout is being metwith much anticipation, riding high off of the singles “Through theWire” and the current radio and television favorite “Slow Jamz”featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx. West’s all-around package andability could make him the most long-term successful of the newschool.
Roc-A-Fella Records artists Young Gunz also hope to achievelarge success in 2004 with their debut disc Tough Luv. Afterwatching fellow State Property members Beanie Sigel and Freewaybreak through to mainstream audiences, the group’s members Chrisand Neef are prepared to make their balance of street roughness andfemale appeal translate to record sales. Check out their currentsingle “No Better Love” for a taste of what the Young Gunz have tooffer both male and female rap fans.
One of radio’s biggest records of early 2004 is the infectious”Hotel,” an undeniable party-starter finding R. Kelly joiningforces with our next new artist, Philly-bred battle rapper Cassidy.Earning a reputation among hip-hop’s battle circuit, including thelegendary underground battle with Freeway, brought the rapper tothe attention of producer Swizz Beatz. Swizz was impressed enoughto make Cassidy the first artist on his newly established label,Full Surface. Late March will see the release of Cassidy’s firstdose of music, Split Personality. Being divided into two parts, onefor the radio and clubs and the other for hardcore hip-hopsupporters, the album should serve as a fitting introduction forthis talented new MC.
Like 50 Cent before him, Jamaica, Queens native Grafh has madethe transition from mix tape infamy to major label recognition.AutoGrafh is the official debut release by Grafh, and is being ledby the street singles “Bang Out” and “I Don’t Care.” Grafh, whosename means the ability to paint graffiti-like pictures through hislyrics, sports a unique delivery, a combination of witty punchlines and confident swagger. Whether the commercial public willaccept him as easily as the streets have will be left in the handsof listeners.
Years of dedication and training in New York City’s undergroundrap world have finally paid off for Universal Records newest groupPitch Black. Consisting of rappers G.O.D., Zakee, D.G., Fast andDevious, Pitch Black stays true to their grimy street sound ontheir official debut Pitch Black Law. The first video and single”It’s All Real,” produced by DJ Premier, has already sparkednostalgia in the ears of hip-hop purists due to its old-schoolsound and commercial avoidance. While platinum plaques may not bein the near future for Pitch Black, respect and appreciation fromthe hip-hop community are inevitable for this new group.
While Bad Boy’s Da Band may not have reached the levels ofacceptance expected from their hit MTV reality show, one rapperfeatured on that program has enough talent and respect to do so.Harlem’s own Jae Millz may have only tied Da Band’s Ness in abattle seen on the show, but his first single “No No No” hasgarnered more fans than both Da Band’s singles combined. Working inthe battle circuit has already made Jae Millz a seasoned veteran,and his upcoming album Back To The Future should make him a forceto be reckoned with in 2004.
Last but not least is yet another battle champion and giftedyoung voice, Jin. Jin is known as the Asian kid who tore threw hiscompetition on BET’s “106 and Park’s Freestyle Fridays,” coming offthe top of his head with crowd-pleasing verbal insults. The RuffRyders camp liked what they saw and heard, adding Jin to theirroster and giving the rap world its first Asian sensation. Battlingis a proven ability for Jin, but being able to create a versatileand complete full-length release is something that will bedetermined in March when The Rest Is History is distributed torecord stores.
These new rappers have their work cut out for them if they wantto achieve true and lasting success, while competing againsthip-hop’s heavyweights, such as Nas, Eminem and 50 Cent. Allpossess the skills and drive to do so. Their fates will just haveto be determined by hip-hop’s fans.