2013 was a year of hits and misses when it came to hip-hop. Nicki Minaj to Kanye West, the year was filled with hit makers and innovators. The AmNews recently sat down with Wise McGriff, Universal Def Jam Records’ vice president of A&R and vice president of marketing and promoting, to weigh in on hip-hop’s biggest stars and give his predictions for 2014.
First up, K. Michelle. The R&B singer, known as a cast member on VH1’s “Love and Hip-Hop,” released her debut album, “Rebellious Soul,” in August, which peaked at No. 1 on the R&B Billboard charts and No. 2 on the Top 200. Since winning the Best New Artist award at the Soul Train Awards, McGriff said K. Michelle is headed in the right direction.
“K. Michelle did a really great job, and she’s a nice young lady,” he said. “She’s very passionate with music and about how she feels. She defiantly stands out at a time when music is still male-dominated. She holds her own.”
As far as rappers, McGriff said that while he loves the pioneers, he’s got appreciation for rap’s new generation, including West, 2 Chainz and Rick Ross. But some other names come to mind in terms of those who are making an impact.
“Jadakiss, Fabolous, Ludacris, T.I. and Future are all doing well. Battle rappers are also starting to get more recognition, like Murda Mook. A lot of the legendary rappers, like Kool Moe Dee, are back to show young people the proper way of doing things. Music has made more millionaires than the lotto. The NBA used to be the way out of the hood. Now it’s a good track.”
Catching many people’s eyes was Minaj, who is making a name for herself as one of hip-hop’s prominent female voices. Minaj became the most-charted female rapper in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 and got major exposure as an “American Idol” judge.
Minaj is set to release her third album in 2014, and McGriff said she’s making her mark like many female rappers before her.
“Nicki Minaj reinvented Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown,” he said.
Of course, any discussion about hip-hop in 2013 can’t happen without mentioning Lil Wayne. The 31-year-old rapper released his album in March, titled “I Am Not a Human Being II,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Lil Wayne also made headlines last May after he released a song containing offensive lyrics about Emmett Till, resulting in his being dropped as Mountain Dew’s spokesperson. Lil Wayne released the fifth installment of the “Dedication” mixtape series in September, “Dedication 5.”
“Lil Wayne is still good based on his name,” McGriff said. “But he needs to come back and reinvent himself.”
As for 2014, McGriff said Busta Rhymes, Young Jeezy and TL (Top of the Line) are names we’ll hear about. McGriff also mentioned DMX, who caught the eyes of many fans in 2013 with his numerous television appearances while coping with such issues as drugs, alcohol and family problems.
Last year, DMX was arrested four times, with the latest occurring in early November in South Carolina, when he was charged with driving under suspension, having an uninsured vehicle and not having a licensed vehicle. DMX began work on his much-anticipated comeback album, collaborating with Swizz Beatz.
McGriff said, “I’ll keep DMX in my prayers. If he gets a sense of recovery and focuses, he could come back.”
Looking at the landscape of hip-hop overall, McGriff said while the genre is not dead, rap rules. Hip-hop, he said, was based on substance and served as a voice of the community when the community didn’t have one. However, he said, what some rappers are talking about in their lyrics these days is not what hip-hop was founded on. He noted how a harmful drug culture in rap lyrics, particularly about taking “molly” or “ecstasy” pills, is taking over and having a profound effect on young listeners.
“A lot of rappers are not talking about anything with substance,” he said. “Public Enemy’s fan base didn’t go anywhere, but kids don’t listen to it. No one is listening to Tribe Called Quest. If you look at music from the ’80s and ’90s, it can’t be touched. We will never have another KRS One or Nas.”
McGriff recently worked with R&B singer Jeff Redd and helped put together a concert in Atlantic City for Musiq Soulchild, Avant and Brian McKnight.