Be it a game-changing debut album, a slow, steady, grind from obscurity to ubiquity, or a comeback after being written off completely, many artists have the opportunity to not only make music, but make history. That potential is not always immediately evident. Who would have thought the the skinny guy dangling in the background of Jaz’s “Hawaiian Sophie” video would become the one of the biggest artists and moguls music’s ever seen? Then again, sometime greatness emerges early. When a teenaged Nas left a mushroom cloud hovering over Main Source’s “Live At The BBQ” it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would make a lasting impact on the genre.
An artist’s introduction to the world does not matter has much as the body of work he leaves at the end of his career, but we attempt to read the tea leaves and guess who could potentially become legends from the crop of young artists currently making noise. Through innovations in music, lyricism, and business, personal triumphs over adversity, or just the ability to make the listener feel good, these artists may end up the carrying the torch passed forward by today’s musical deities.
1. Tyler, The Creator
At only 21 years old, Tyler has already proven himself a talented producer, musician, video director, rapper, graphic designer, and television star. He also seems to get better at everything each year. Drawn to his music and a personality that switches from juvenile, to psychotic, to reverent, to thankful without warning, Tyler’s Golf Wang cult following is beginning to spill into the mainstream. When it’s all said and done, young up and comers may look up to him in the same way he looked up to Pharrell.
Drake is one of the more polarizing figures on this list, but numbers don’t lie. At 26, he already has the most number 1 rap singles ever. His vulnerable and emotive songs about love are balanced with potent, lyrical barrages that nod to his underground influences (see: Phonte of Little Brother fame).
3. Freddie Gibbs
Gangsta Gibbs hearkens back to the unapologetic mentality that made Ice Cube one of the all-time greats. He also happens to be an elite lyricist with a great ear for beats and a stomach for controversy. Look for the Gary native’s name to resonate for years to come.
Twenty years from now, we will consider weddings incomplete if the couple doesn’t have their first dance while the new standard “Loveeeeeee Song” by Future Vandross featuring Rihanna, echoes in the background. That’s right, I said featuring Rihanna. With his electronically modified croak imploring us to turn up, he’s become the voice of a generation.
5. Kendrick Lamar
A thoughtful lyricist that can already compete with the best in the game, Kendrick Lamar could potentially carve himself a space on Hip-Hop’s Mount Rushmore. With an instant classic album under his belt, a unique style, and endless potential, Kendrick has already taken the first steps toward greatness.
Frank Ocean has accomplished a lot since brushing off the thick layer of dust he accumulated while languishing on Def Jam’s shelf. After the critical success of his excellent free album Nostalgia, Ultra (and the commercial success of its single, “Novacane”), Ocean went about the work of creating his proper debut album Channel Orange.
Just before that album’s release, Ocean penned a heartfelt story detailing the time he fell in love with another man, sending a shock throughout the music industry and beyond. His bravery, along with his rich, expertly penned, lyrics will inspire future generations of kids whether or not they ever decide to pick up a pen or microphone.
7. Mac Miller
Having the number one album in the country is generally reserved for major label acts with million dollar advertising and promotional budgets, and vast distribution networks. When Mac Miller pulled the feat off backed by tiny Rostrum records, he made his place in history.
Remember when Pac got out of prison? Every ounce of pain, anger, and paranoia boiled over onto his notepad, and he went on an unheard of recording binge that has resulted in unreleased material reaching the world on an almost yearly basis since his 1996 murder.
Boosie, already a legend in Southern street Hip-Hop, has the opportunity to have a similar impact upon his release. No one toes the line of rachetness and righteousness quite like Boosie Bad Azz. It will be interesting to see the effect his prison stint has on his music.
When “Adorn” comes on your local adult contemporary station in twenty years or so, don’t be surprised if you find yourself yelling “You don’t know nothing about this!” while your children groan and roll their eyes.
Left for dead after his debut album hit the charts with a thud, Wale is one of the biggest comeback stories in recent music history. After an unceremonious release from Interscope, Wale went from one of the most buzzed about new rappers in the game to the butt of Twitter jokes and internet memes. It appeared to be over for the DMV rapper, until he featured on Waka Flocka Flame’s hit single “No Hands.”
Following the success of “No Hands” he found a fresh start with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music imprint, released his sophomore album, Ambition, and made a hit single of his own in “Lotus Flower Bomb.” The album reached gold, and Wale shifted his fortunes from cautionary tale to go-to guest artist. Future artists that remain one hit away can look to Wale’s story and remain hopeful.