Lorenzo said it best in the film A Bronx Tale: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” No matter the arena, nothing inspires more quiet contempt from onlookers than watching remarkable players waste away their gift, leaving it untapped. Rap’s no different.
For every star born, there’s been another who faded away without shining as bright as they could’ve. They live on in barbershop arguments as “the greatest to touch the mic” but that’s the extent of their reach. We scanned through recent Hip-Hop history to highlight 14 talents who never maximized their potential and left fans shaking their heads.
1. Kid Cudi
The expectations for Cudi were pretty high after his original Man On The Moon: The End Of Day and rightfully so. But his creativity and ear for beats always hid the fact that he was a below-average emcee, a fact that Cud chose to deal with by overcompensating. His weapons of choice? Choosing incredibly somber beats, employing deliberately un-melodic hooks and a cringe-worthy foray into the world of rock. His career is far from done (Indicud, his latest, showed that things might be headed in the right direction from a production standpoint), but, as of 2013, his best days seem to be in the rearview mirror.
Though he is one of the most universally respected emcees of his generation, and a truly gifted lyricist, Jadakiss has never been able to put together a classic album. His albums are generally a hodgepodge of tracks that feed the streets, typical “girl” songs, and club bangers, even though he has the ability to make a Blueprint-level cohesive body of work.
3. Ras Kass
Between label issues, stints in jail, confusion about his musical direction and controversies over beats, Ras Kass, unfortunately, has had to deal with too many issues throughout his career to focus on finding the right mix of lyricism, content, and production to gain the recognition beyond the underground that he deserves.
4. Jay Electronica
Hard to remember the last time a pint-sized mixtape and a couple of hot singles got a rapper as much hype as Jay Electronica, but Jay’s “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C” had fans holding their breath for a Hip-Hop classic.
Some four years after the fact, those same fans have passed out from oxygen deprivation. A Jay Electronica project occupies the same make-believe landscape as Detox and rainbow-spewing unicorns.
5. Beanie Sigel
Beanie was one of the centerpieces of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty that manned Hip-Hop’s steering wheel in the early to mid-2000s. His authentic street narratives and elite level lyricism were on the level of the all time greats. He even had an arguably classic album in The B. Coming. Unfortunately, several brushes with the law and extended prison stays continued to halt his momentum and were unfortunate examples of when keeping it real goes wrong.
6. Young Chris
Jay-Z’s screams of “He’s only sixteen!” during Chris’ 2001 Hot 97 coming out party seemed to be the first step toward an eventual passing of the torch to the Philadelphia upstart. As a member of the Young Gunz, Chris was a part of a minor hit in “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” but after his group disbanded he was never able to get his solo career off the ground.
Even with several strong mixtapes under his belt, and a notable feature on Meek Mill’s recent hit single “House Party,” Chris still has never been able to meet the high expectations that came with starting so close to the throne.
7. Crooked I
Between his storied Long Beach bloodline and roots on Tha Row, the man named after the St. Ides logo grew up amidst Left Coast legends, during an era where Cali ruled rap. Yet, sometimes expectations can get the best of MCs and somewhere Crooked I’s solo career got derailed.
Whether the Slaughterhouse placement made him too comfortable or his C.O.B. ties made him too busy, Crook’s own output has been limited to his varied freestyle tracks and far and few between EPs, without an actual album ever seeing the light of day. That’s right, he’s been heavy in the game since the late ’90s and still hasn’t released a proper album for his fans – which is a damn shame, considering some of us have been waiting since the Westcoasanostra Vol. 1 days and only getting steam blown up our asses ever since.
Bottom line, Crooked I can rap better than 95% of artists and can craft any type of song needed to create a complete LP, yet he just doesn’t. And when you’re complacent, talent only goes so far.
8. Lauryn Hill
L-Boogie was apart of a mega-successful group, a known actress and the owner of one of the most successful debut albums in recorded history. What happened following Miseducation is well-documented. Lauryn went batshit crazy due to one hell of an elixir of personal demons, marathon childbirth, the pitfalls of the music industry and, most recently, Uncle Sam. Without a doubt, Miss Hill achieved more success than 95% of artists can possibly fathom, but it’s damn near impossible not to think “what if” in regards to her career and impact.
9. Juelz Santana
There was a point when people considered “Human Crack In The Flesh” the most talented Diplomat. Then the Dipset era came to a close, dude never found consistent momentum and it’s safe to say buddy’s best days are far, far behind him. Now he’s releasing mixtapes whose shelf lives don’t last longer than what it takes to cook Minute Rice. And that Instagram selfie which was floating around on Twitter two weeks ago proved Back Like Cooked Crack, Pt. 2 was an eternity ago.
Fabolous’ entire career can be summed up as one hot guest verse after another. With witty wordplay and bars that compliment R&B songs better than peanut butter does with jelly, logic states that he should be able to craft at least one timeless album. Whether Fabo defies logic or just isn’t capable of the greatness, we expected more of the man with the misspelled name.
AZ’s claim to fame was, and always will be his show-stealing verse on “Life’s A Bitch.” It’s a double-edged sword, because on one hand he is the lone feature on Nas’s bonafide classic debut, but on the other AZ has forever lived in his shadow. And though throughout the years, the man has consistently dropped some very good albums in his own right, staying that shadow has cost his career big time. None of his projects, including the stellar Doe or Die, have ever reached the pinnacle of “Life’s A Bitch” and unfortunately these days AZ’s new music is reduced to courtesy spins, and not much more than that.
12. Lupe Fiasco
Two near-classic albums deep, Lupe Fiasco was looking absolutely unstoppable. He’d gone on tour with Kanye West, helped found a supergroup between the two Chicago emcees and Pharrell, and all the momentum was in his favor. Then some things happened. It started with clashes between himself and Atlantic. Lasers was delayed, eventually coming out two years after its completion and was just about universally panned. Lupe was labeled a sell out. He was always vocal about the issues he believed in, but he became preachy and overbearing, and after a while he started getting tuned out. But with a decent fourth album in Food & Liquor II, Lupe’s career has started to get some juice back, yet the odds of reclaiming his former glory are slim to none.
13. Nipsey Hussle
It was only a few years ago that Nipsey Hussle was riding the wave of a successful mixtape series, collaborating with Drake, and appearing front and center on XXL’s Freshmen 2010 cover. But while new artists from the East Coast and the South continue to build entire careers off evoking the past, Nipsey’s classicist style has been overshadowed by more singular, enigmatic figures out West. If he hasn’t missed the boat already – a rumored MMG signing might rekindle some buzz – you get the feeling it’s about ready to set sail.
There’s something admirable about Blu’s overt attempts to fight against Illmatic syndrome – the state of having your subsequent works inevitably and unfavorably compared to your masterclass debut – but an experimental and eccentric streak can only take you so far. Lo-fi might have been all the rage for a minute there, but we’ve had just about enough of the poorly tagged MP3s (or is it WMVs with Blu?) that sound like they were recorded in a airplane bathroom.