Rap labels compete for superiority in 'Top Five' list

Top Dawg

By Joshua Frazier, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 9, 2014

Rap is fixated on perfection. The argument for “Best Rapper Alive” is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. The debate can quickly become territorial, and even the artists themselves frequently weigh in with their own opinions. Naturally, every rapper is convinced that not only are they the most gifted, but also that everyone they work with is the best in the business, too. As a result, debates over rap label superiority have existed since the Bad Boy/Death Row feud of the 1990s, as record labels compete with each other in an ongoing arms race to stock the most talented artists.

Skilled up-and-comers like the Pro Era collective and the A$AP Mob are bringing New York City rap back to the forefront, and Taylor Gang Entertainment and Grand Hustle are attempting to stay relevant as their star power wanes, yet none of these labels are the best in the business today. Here are the five hottest collections of talent in rap right now and why:

5. Maybach Music Group
Top Artists: Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Wale, Rockie Fresh
Album to watch for in 2014: Mastermind, Rick Ross (Mar. 4)

MMG has seen better days. The once buzzed-about label has a solid roster of established veterans but has seen its relevance plummet in the last several years. Maybach Music has moved to sign many emerging young rappers like Rockie Fresh and Fat Trel in an attempt to stay relevant, but none of these acts have yet popped on the national scale. Rick Ross’s crew released an underwhelming group compilation in the fall, and both Wale and Meek Mill’s most recent ventures failed to meet sales expectations. Look for Mastermind, Ross’s upcoming sixth studio album, to either return MMG to its chart-topping prime or continue its steady decline into mediocrity.

4. Save Money Collective
Top Artists: Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp
Album to watch for in 2014: n/a

The situation surrounding Save Money couldn’t be more different than that of Maybach Music. 2013 was a breakout year from the Chicago-based crew, as they received national attention for a slew of stand-out projects. Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap tape was released to widespread critical acclaim, making him a household name. Vic Mensa’s INNANETAPE was an equally strong body of work that demonstrated the raw energy and creativity that has become the signature for this hip hop collective. There are no scheduled upcoming releases from the Save Money kids, but any move from these rising talents is definitely worth paying attention to. With Chance the Rapper becoming a legitimate star, this budding group of Midwestern teenagers could make an even bigger splash this year.

3. Young Money
Top Artists: Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled, Tyga
Album to watch for in 2014: Young Money: Rise of an Empire (Mar. 11)

Lil Wayne is not the rapper he once was. His decline is painstakingly clear after listening to any of his recent releases, which feature sluggish flows and a disinterested artist. Only a few short years ago, he was the undisputed hottest rapper alive, equal parts witty, vulgar and maniacal. Fortunately for the aging label head, the talent he has surrounded himself with keeps churning out hits. Drake’s sublime Nothing Was the Same was one of the best albums of 2013, with its off-kilter R&B, braggadocio raps and undeniable pop smashes. The first lady of Young Money, Nicki Minaj, continues to blur the line between radio hits and mesmerizing lyrics, and her recent remix of Young Thug’s “Danny Glover” is evidence that when she puts her mind to rapping, Minaj can spit with the best of them. The label has an upcoming compilation album, which could help bolster Young Money’s credibility beyond its big-name stars.

2. Top Dawg Entertainment
Top Artists: Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock
Album to watch for in 2014: Oxymoron, Schoolboy Q (Feb. 25)

Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. From his stellar major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, to his jaw-dropping “Control” verse, it’s clear that there is simply no one right now better at the physical delivery of spitting verses. Surrounded by a stacked roster of West Coast stars, the Black Hippy Crew is clearly one of the best in the business. Recent signees Isaiah Rashad and SZA are new additions to a label already featuring a superb lyricist in Ab-Soul, a gritty street rapper in Jay Rock and Kendrick’s second-in-command, Schoolboy Q, whose upcoming album, Oxymoron, is one of six projects the label plans to release this year. TDE is commercially and critically successful, but it narrowly misses out on the top ranking due to a banner year from one of the most polarizing figures in music.

1. G.O.O.D. Music
Top Artists: Kanye West, Pusha T, Big Sean, John Legend
Album to watch for in 2014: n/a

It’s hard to deny the influence that Kanye West has on pop culture. The divisive artist is praised by some as a visionary musical genius, yet seen as a delusional egoist by others. While both opinions are valid, West is a consummate entertainer working at an all-time creative high. And the artists signed to G.O.O.D. Music are some of the most exciting figures in all of music. West executive produced Pusha T’s excellent My Name is My Name and John Legend’s soulful Love in the Future, while Big Sean is a radio mainstay. West’s most recent solo album, Yeezus is a tour de force that is one of the most gripping rap records ever made. The sellout tour accompanying the album demonstrated how engaging Kanye West can truly be. The opening act for West? Kendrick Lamar. Despite Lamar’s impressive lyricism and technical abilities, West’s cult of personality makes him an indisputable star. The impact G.O.O.D. Music has on the rap landscape makes them the hottest (and best) label in rap today.