By Mawuse Ziegbe
Last month, The Natural History Museum hosted a gang of Chicago-bred, genre-blending upstarts from the Fools Gold label. It was a Flavorpill production that turned the site of numerous ennui-inducing school field trips, into an electro-hop playground. Hip hop tag team The Cool Kids, known for their musical-head-nod-to-the-old-school single, "Gold And A Pager," busted on stage with their reliable bag of rowdy tricks. Then Kid Sister, in a shimmery disco-flapper ensemble, doused the crowd with super sass, performing body-rockin' numbers like "Let Me Bang." But the skinny jeans really hit the fan when Kanye West hit the stage with a surprise performance and dropped his verse from Kid Sister's single, "Pro Nails." Mr. West then put on a mini-concert with tracks from his latest album including "Good Life" and "Stronger." The party made a few headlines which mostly gushed about Kanye's impromptu performance. But the real story is the hip, young artists who made the party possible. Kid Sister and The Cool Kids have the swagger to pack hundreds into a sprawling planetarium on the upper west side and are tossing out online releases met with bubbling critical buzz. Even with delighted critics and rapturous fans, including Grammy-winning rappers, some kids, through no fault of their own aren't going to hit big. So, instead of list of artists who will hit big in the '08, I've compiled a list of kids who should get gobbled up by the masses but are simply too cool for mainstream consumption (Also, while reading these predictions, please take note of the tongue in my cheek).
Photo of Santogold © Mel D. Cole.
Santogold, the dub/rock/electro project fronted by A&R turned rock-star Santi White, has been popping up on "Next Big Thing" lists from the BBC to Rolling Stone to The Fader. She's showstoppingly adorable. She sits comfortably at the popular kids table, collaborating with artists like M.I.A., Mark Ronson and Spank Rock. And it doesn't hurt that she's wicked talented. She had a hand in the production of singer Res' debut album 2001 How I Do. Her latest music is laced with the same dubby, wafty tones and rockin' urgency as the Res' project. Producer Switch is helming her full-length.
Why She Might Go Bust:
Her esoteric lyrics and genre-averse sound might make it hard to brand her for the Wal-Mart crowd.
Why She Might Go Big:
Homegirl's music is downright loveable! Angsty but with the most feathery vocals. Refreshing combo and with the proper co-signs by her friends in fly places (M.I.A. Mark, et al), she could be a contender.
The aforementioned Kid Sister is bringing back sass in a big way. Her style is reminiscent of legendary b-girls Salt-N-Pepa and she counts ‘90s girl groups like Xscape and Total amongst her influences. On wax, her delivery is punchy and her rhymes are real - she goes off on everything from horny guys ("Telephone") to hooked-up nails ("Pro-Nails"). While she definitely bring the girl powah, what really sets her apart is her refreshing humility. In her live performances she genuinely seems happy to be there. There's a lot of, "thank you guuuuys!!" and kissy-faces to her boyfriend/DJ A-Trak (bless them for taking the Ashford & Simpson approach to hitmaking).
Why She Might Go Bust:
Her sound is fun and "serious" and "significant" stars aren't supposed to be fun. She's gotta pick up some pesky drug addiction or make electro-driven funereal music to turn the tide.
Why She Might Go Big:
She's got swagger like Kanye, off and on the mic, but her ego is considerably more manageable. In a sense, the anti-Kanye.
DC has a soul history but not many hip hop stars boast a Chocolate City pedigree. Wale could potentially make his city pop his nimble lyrical action. I guess you could peg him as an East coast Lupe Fiasco in terms of skill level but he takes himself a lot less seriously. And thankfully too because that means droppin' rhymes over anything that's kicky from J.U.S.T.I.C.E.'s tinkling disco gem "D.A.N.C.E." to Mark Ronson's velvety instrumentals (he's signed to the producer's Allido label). He brandishes his envy-inducing rhymes skills with a swaggerlicious ease that pop music could use right now.
Why He Might Go Bust:
There are only so many songs you can make about your footwear (Meh, at least the kid has a hobby).
Why He Might Go Big:
He's intellectual without being depressing. And he's got that innate hipness that the masses flock to Pharrell for. More a tastemaker than a taste-chaser.
Whether or not these artists and many more like them lock down endorsement deals and receive gilded mini phonographs this year is fairly irrelevant. Pop success isn't even all that appealing anymore since scandals and psych wards are what seems to keep people in the news these days. In a perfect world, we'd be making it rain on stars like the aforementioned up-and-comers. But since we live in the real world, perhaps the least we can do is give these artists little green pieces of paper in exchange for a few minutes of fun.