New faces show promising future for hip-hop

By Ryan Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief

Mainstream hip-hop is in shambles. If you look at the most purchased hip-hop/rap songs list on iTunes, “Tie Me Down” by the skinny-jean wearing New Boyz cracks the top 10. ‘Nuff said.

The faces of the genre have all been huge disappointments as of late. Jay-Z’s last album was arguably his worst, Lil Wayne makes rock albums now (which may be a blessing in disguise because he’s starting to talk about his bowel movements and toilet way too much), 50 Cent hasn’t made a hit album since 2007 and Kanye has apparently quit rap to assume the role of token party guest that gets way too drunk for his own good.

Eminem is the only high-profile established rapper that has carried his own weight recently, but he had to take a five-year break before he released Relapse last May.

With the kingpins of hip-hop M.I.A., the door has been opened for mid-level artists to revive the genre. Almost all of these previously underground rappers have now signed record deals. They already made a big splash last year, but they’re looking to have an even bigger year in 2010.

Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Wale and Kid Cudi have already achieved stardom, but their journeys aren’t over yet. These emcees are going to be responsible for redeeming hip-hop. They don’t sound like most rappers, but their unique style is what makes each of them poised for a rise to the top.

Drake

The fastest rising newcomer would have to be Canadian artist and, ironically, Lil Wayne protégé Drake. Now it’s not like Drake is really a secret anymore; he’s worked with some of the top rappers out there and came out with one of the best mixtapes of 2009. But what’s unbelievable is that Drake has become one of the most popular artists without even dropping a studio album. It is strange envisioning Drake atop the hip-hop world seeing as his acting role on the television show Degrassi pretty much eliminated any street cred he could possibly attain, and the fact that his real first name is Aubrey doesn’t really help either. But Drake has a distinct style that could change the way people think about rap.  Nevertheless, we should expect big things from Drake’s debut album, which is expected to come out this spring.

Wiz Khalifa

Another rising star is Pittsburgh-native Wiz Khalifa. Wiz has been around for a while and garnered some attention with his single “Say Yeah” in 2008. We now know that he was only scratching the surface. After several successful mixtapes in 2009, Khalifa came out with his Deal or No Deal album last November.

Khalifa’s career really began to take off after his album release, but he built up a strong fan base using social networking sites like Twitter and Ustream. Like Drake, Khalifa is pretty well known, but we should expect to see his role expand this year. Even though he ended his business relationship with Warner Brothers, Khalifa has already announced that two mixtapes will be coming soon and he should get offers from other record labels.

Wiz has created a niche for himself as the club and party song artist. His latest mixtape, B.A.R. (Burn After Rolling), incorporated singing and rapping. The best track on the tape is “The Thrill,” which features Khalifa rapping over the beat from “Walking on a Dream” by electronic duo Empire of the Sun. B.A.R. proves Khalifa’s range and his ability to create music that can obtain mainstream popularity.

Wale

Local rapper Wale is another budding artist that has the makings of a rap legend. Wale’s 2009 debut album, Attention Deficit, didn’t sell well, but rumors went around that his record label didn’t circulate the record effectively. The critics gave his album generally positive reviews, but mixtapes are the D.C. native’s claim to fame. Wale’s first single “Nike Boots” put him on the map but his 2009 mixtape, Back to the Feature, solidified him as one of the top lyricists performing today.

Both “New Soul” featuring Yael Naim and “Wordplay” featuring Curren$y and Tre headline the Back to the Feature mixtape. Despite slow beginnings, Wale just seems to be destined for bigger and better things. For a genre that seems to become shallower everyday, Wale appears to be a rare talent in the hip-hop world. As opposed to fixating on drugs, the club scene and degrading women, Wale has proven he’s able to connect to listeners on a much deeper level.

Kid Cudi

Last but not least has to be Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi. By no means is Cudi considered underground, but he is in the best position to be at the top of the hip-hop world for the next generation of rappers. His first album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, was hopefully just a preview of more good things to come. Cudi has more versatility than any up-and-coming artist around. He made electronic hip-hop work while telling a great story on top of it. The only question is whether Cudi will be able to evolve and mature over his career. He already showed us his inner demons while dealing with his rise to stardom but he’s no longer an outcast. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with now that he’s entered the spotlight. If Cudi can come up with more compelling material and creativity in terms of his album production, then there’s no telling what he could be capable of.

We are in the midst of a radical change in hip-hop. It is very possible that a changing of the guard is taking place right before our very eyes. The question is no longer when, but whom.