Who’s Taking Over The Charts In 2011?
One might say 2010 was a year of ups and downs for the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B music. Titans like Kanye West, Eminem, Usher and Rick Ross dropped classic albums while understudies such as Drake, Nicki Minaj and B.o.B made stellar debuts, becoming instant global superstars. Previous chart favorites Soulja Boy, T.I. and Young Jeezy fell (momentarily?) from grace for delivering poor music and making some very bad choices, and let’s not even get into Diddy and his Dirty Money concept group that confusingly teetered between hot and cold, credible and wack the entire year.
There’s a new line-up of artists this year with the almighty “package” needed to mirror the success of those who came before them. No strangers to the grind, it’s taken them real time to make it here. My favorites are listed below, chosen not only for their musical talent but recognized for being in possession of other elements crucial to their ascent.
Just like the name of his 2009 mixtape, it took me a little while to “warm up” to the idea J. Cole could be a star. Premature fashion campaigns and hasty magazine shoots showed his Roc Nation team were initially confused with him, too. Much to the relief of his backers, since we first heard Cole on his debut offering The Come Up (2007) he’s grown comfortable with his “rising star” tag and is naturally developing a no-fuss image to go with it. Those who know him describe 25-year-old Jermaine Cole as a down-to-earth, somewhat introverted and freakishly talented young man whose main concern is creating classic hip-hop, not today’s fluffier fare. Strategic moves by the artist and his team to refrain from utilizing a major push from co-signor Jay-Z, allowing him to grow organically, were smart; it’s worked in his favor as he prepares his now anticipated debut album. I’m yet to interview J. Cole but am truly looking forward to it, simply to become part of the legacy he’s crafting.
He’s the kind of guy who can be found reciting a love poem to his girlfriend one minute, then be viciously smashing a bottle over some guy’s head in a fight the next (in other words, he’s perfect). Speak to him for a moment and it’s clear this Alabama native’s belief in himself is second to none. Yela’s reminiscent of the hallowed artists of yesteryear; a wide-eyed, talented roustabout who knows no prejudice in his music, philosophy or lifestyle. He has a small, dedicated team (including well-known exec Kawan “KP” Prather and manager Courtney “Bear” Sills) whose industry experience have him on the straight and narrow, allowing him to develop instinctively and focus on his craft. Equipped with a keen fashion eye, he’s been chosen as the face of brands like Famous Stars & Straps and during DrJays.com’s 2010 Summer Sensations campaign, he was the only artist to remix his outfits by cutting up his shirts, etc. Armed with rugged charm, a diverse appeal and an ear for southern-fried beats that compliment his manic flow, it’s almost certain Yela’s debut album Radioactive (slated for a March release) will be something special.
Christopher Ries’s strength of character will get him the success he craves this year—and rightfully so. He first showed it as a resilient teenager when his rhyme partner (Young Neef of the Young Gunz) started appearing as the weaker link in their rise to the top. He showed it again when the beloved Roc-A-Fella Records empire he knew crumbled and dissolved; when bigger name members like Beanie Sigel decided to embrace the controversy, Chris backed away and remained neutral. And he’s showing it now, more than ever, as he makes his exciting solo debut. Chris dropped The Re-Introduction mixtape in late 2010 and its buzz single, “Philly,” is currently in rotation on BET’s 106 & Park. With boyish good looks, an easygoing attitude and a professional demeanor that comes from years in the business, here’s hoping Young Chris’s official debut (coming sometime this year) is one for the record books.
Crossover vocals, pop sensibilities and multicultural looks have blessed Bruno Mars with mainstream success and global recognition out the gate. Born Peter Gene Hernandez to Puerto Rican and Filipino parents and raised in Hawaii, the 25-year-old’s sunny personality matches his homeland’s climate. Mars’s songwriting prowess (he’s co-written international hits like B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You,” Travie McCoy‘s “Billionaire” and Cee-Lo‘s “F*ck You”) was a springboard to his own star status. His debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, peaked at number three on the Billboard charts, anchored by the monster singles “The Way You Are” and “Grenade.” Currently nominated for seven Grammy Awards, Mars (who’s signed to Atlantic Records) is an unlikely pop idol who will no doubt continue to impress.
Testament to talent, drive and determination, Marsha Ambrosius has carved a truly unique lane for herself. Parts ’round the way girl, English lady and sangin’ soul diva, the former Floetry member will be the unlikely R&B chart queen this year. Her luscious voice, songwriting ability and chemistry with producers like Just Blaze ensure her upcoming solo debut album, Late Nights & Early Mornings (due next month) will be a winner. A new body image (how did she hide those killer legs so long?) provides a sexier aesthetic to everything Ambrosius delivers nowadays and just in time, too, as her profile is growing by the day. Developing into a true voice of the people (her brilliant new video, “Far Away,” depicts the anguish that comes from homophobia) it’s evident Ambrosius’ musical journey is just beginning.