Backseat Freestyle

By Jayson Rodriguez

25 Predictions for 2021

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Backseat Freestyle
25 Predictions for 2021
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #3 • View online
Originally published January 8, 2021.

Flo Milli
Flo Milli
Happy Friday, folks. Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter that I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’m listening to, watching and reading. Let’s get into it. But first, lemme flex the clapback. 
(Head to the Back Seat section for predictions.)
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week…. 
The start of the year can be slow to get up to speed with new releases and folks just getting back to the grind from the holiday break. So I wanted to use this time period to pursue a prediction post to start thinking about how the next 12 months will unfold. But, before I do that, it goes without saying that some wild shit went down this past week in this country. And, I’m gonna try to thread together three particular things into making sense of a bigger picture on the micro/macro tip. They’re, as follows: What happened in DC, the Flo Milli/Beats commercial and the MRC Data/Billboard report on hip-hop ruling streaming. Here we go. 
The title of Ava DuVernay’s Exonerated Five series for Netflix, “When They See Us,” was named as such to make a point. When the system sees, in the movie’s case, a group of young Black boys, they see animals, monsters and scapegoats. Same for the Bozo in the White House, who, back in the day, took out an ad in the New York tabloids calling for the death of these children. So during the Trump Riots that took place at the Capitol Hill Building, when the system, in this case the authorities, saw folks that looked like them…they didn’t view the attackers as a threat. We’ve seen footage of police seemingly inviting these thugs into the federal building. And, new reports are emerging in the Washington Post and The New York Times, saying that those in charge even pointed out the direction to Nancy Pelosi’s office. Trash. 
We live in a society that is built around an imperfect system of beliefs. Democracy is an experiment that this country has only been partaking in for a short period of time, all things considered. President Obama often talks about us as a nation striving to live up to those ideals and make it a more perfect union. What happened this week was an utter failure when it comes to the challenge. 
While the fundamental undertaking of democracy is a huge position, if we hone in closer to home, with, say, the Flo Milli/Beats commercial that went viral this week, there’s some of the same issues. Follow me. The main complaint on Twitter was, Where were the Black people to stop this? Or, is there no Black people that work at Beats? Yes, there’s Black folks at Beats, that I know for sure, and at the agency that produced the spot too, I’m assuming because it is 2021 after all. However, often times, minority employees are marginalized in ways that are both passive and insidious. We have a seat at the table but no say on what’s being served. Or suits want the sauce, but only if it’s bottled up and on the shelf not poured out for any flavor. Any one, in any position, could tell you “flex the clapback,” a nod to the Beats Flex product + the action of Flo Milli twerking in front of a Confederate statue (a clapback…smh), is cringeworthy. (Shit, on a broad level, as an ad slogan it’s just lazy and clunky.) 
Suits want the sauce, but only if it’s bottled up and on the shelf not poured out for any flavor
Which leads me to the release of the report confirming once again, that hip-hop is dominating streaming consumption. We’ve been knew this, of course, that rap reigns supreme. In the past, though, the economy for hip-hop was bifurcated; a black market existing on the mixtape level and another above the fold that Nielsen could track. Once DSPs broke through, and the consumption was consolidated, hip-hop easily shot to the top. I’d argue it’s even further ahead than the numbers support if you take into account the influence of hip-hop and Black music on acts like Arianna Grande who slot into the pop category. Yet, as it’s been discussed over the past few months, at labels and the like, that contribute to the genre, more of us need to be empowered. The powers that be would only be more powerful to recognize this. Instead, they rather hold on to their fiefdom, a big kid in a small sandbox rather than becoming a King’s court.
Melanin is magic. Culture is currency (h/t Bezo). We’re packing both like twin Glocks, word to Freddie Foxxx. Yet, on the street and in the office, what is it that they see? OtherLesser than. You see, until that answer becomes American and equal, it won’t matter that the system is imperfect if the bias of those in charge is as crooked as the letter K(KK). The cries of this isn’t America falls on deaf ears. Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that what happened and keeps happening is as American as apple pie, which is the grandest joke of all considering the origins of that treat are another trick on us. 
***
To the predictions!
These things are incredibly difficult to pull off with any amount of accuracy. What I was more interested in, though, was how folks think and process. And also if there was some insight into how a collection of talented executives and professionals are trying to wrap their brains around where the game is headed. To wit: couple of patterns emerged. The return to the prominence of lyricism, women in hip-hop making more moves and new ways to monetize music emerging in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. I wanna once again thank everyone for their generosity in sharing their thoughts. It’s not without my deepest appreciation. Enjoy….
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
Andrew Barber // Founder, Fake Shore Drive & Valee management // @fakeshoredrive
  • Songs are going to get even shorter.
Chanel Rae Pettaway // Founder, The Legion Media Group // @pqchanel
  • Artists are going to be vaccine promoters to get everyone back outside. 
  • Jim Jones is going to be on your television screen. Matter of fact, Cam’ron, too.
  • DJ Drewski is going to have another number one record.
Alex Damashek // Executive Director, Move Forward Music // @mfmusic
  • My prediction is that bars are back and SoundCloud rap is dead. I have been observing that trend for the last two years but 2020 put the exclamation point on it. With everyone locked indoors and no clubs to turn up in, and the shift away from SoundCloud as a platform for music consumption toward other more buttoned up DSPs already underway in the latter half of the last decade, we are officially leaving SoundCloud rap in the 2010s. The arrival of DaBaby, Lil Baby and Megan Thee Stalion in 2019 as the genres marquee stars, all proficient lyricists, heralded this shift, and with the rise of Griselda in 2020, it’s clear that if you don’t have skills on the mic, your window for success is narrowing and your ceiling is lower. There’s a reason Denzel Curry and Ski Mask are the main ones out of the South Florida scene whose stars continue to rise.
  • We will see women continue to excel and quite possibly outshine the men in the genre. My pick for breakout star of 2021 is Bree Runway. She combines the humor and sarcasm of social media culture, with style and the bars that are needed in today’s game to compete for the top spot. 
MICK // DJ & The MICK Show Podcast // @mick
  • I think we are going to continue to see a resurgence of bars. Whether it’s Griselda type vibes or more commercial spitters like DaBaby and Symba, it’s a pen renaissance. A penaissance? Lol.
Nicholas Fulcher // Art Director, Atlantic Records & Designer // @NickyChulo
  • Drake is going to have a run with the new album and it’s going to inspire people to go outside and prolong this pandemic.
  • I believe that Hov is going to sell his stake in Tidal and I won’t get shamed for using Spotify anymore.
  • I believe that lyrical rap is making its way back to the mainstream. 
  • I believe that building an ecosystem by way of Clubhouse, Twitch or Discord will become the new norm. The artists have become the platforms and wherever they go the fans go. Pokémon energy
Datwon Thomas // EIC, Vibe // @datwon
  • I think 21 Savage will be mainstream big. It’s not the biggest statement now, because he has a Grammy with J.Cole, but I feel like his energy is building up and the music and his other efforts are going to lift him higher.
  • Saweetie is going to be a megastar…and get a TV show or huge brand opportunity that will catapult her status.
  • The LL and Q-Tip album will be a huge hit for the Golden Era scene.
Kelly G // Music Media Executive // @djkellyg
  • Peloton has over 3 million active subscribers with an unprecedented growth rate north of 113 percent. With a captured audience sweating and working out while listening to music, it will be the new sexy platform to break music on. You’ll see more artists integration and I think Apple will eventually acquire them as part of their fitness program.
Carl Chery // Head of Urban, Spotify // @carlchery
  • Melodies became standard in hip-hop in the second half of the past decade, but there’s a crop of seasoned veterans—led by Freddie Gibbs and Griselda Records—making rapping very well, cool again. So cool that Jay-Z took matters into his own hands, orchestrating Jay Electronica’s debut album, A Written Testimony, a decade after the New Orleans lyricist promised us Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Return). Hov even played the Ghostface to Jay Elec’s Rae, appearing on eight out of 10 songs on the album. The Best Rap Album category at this year’s Grammy Awards exclusively features lyricists. Nas, D Smoke and Royce Da 5'9" are nominated, in addition to the aforementioned Gibbs and Jay Elec. The untimely passing of MF DOOM was a reminder that hip-hop still cherishes lyricism. Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole and Drake are reportedly releasing albums this year. New age lyricists like JID and Cordae are also on deck for the year. Gibbs and Alchemist’s Alfredo sold 30,000 album-equivalent units, independently. Kane’s now signed to Warner Records. Could he be on the verge of a mainstream moment? Expect lyricism to keep trending up in 2021. 
Eric Diep // Freelance Journalist // @E_Diep
  • Hip-hop is going to continue embracing the weird and unconventional in 2021. Rap isn’t just about the best rhymes anymore, it’s about who can make music that is unlike anything else in the mainstream. I’m going to bet that your year-end lists for 2021 will have more women, more diversity and more of a variety than picking your favorite artist’s album. I’m excited to see how the genre will evolve again and I hope the old guard will finally let more new voices in.
Jordan Glickson // VP, Music & Talent, Vevo // @j_glick
  • 2021 is the year we finally retire the term “female rapper.” Artists such as Cardi and Megan top the charts regularly, Rapsody was crowned BET’s Lyricist of the Year and artists like Flo Milli and Mulatto are on the rise. And that’s just to name a few. Female rappers are no longer an exception—the current crop, with their popularity and creativity means they rightfully have a seat at the table. This is the year we finally drop the unnecessary qualifier.
  • This is the year Lil Baby becomes a household name. He’s figured out the streaming game, and last year he was Vevo’s most viewed artist in the U.S. But the average music fan still doesn’t know him. 2021 is the year he starts getting the call for features that reach a whole new audience for him.
Chuck Creekmur // AllHipHop CEO // @ChuckCreekmur
  • I want to see rappers less stupid and more strategic in the New Year. Also, can Kendrick come out of hiding and J.Cole stop pump-faking the fans? I believe the OGs will continue to push the culture so far that we may see rappers wearing diapers. I am here for it all. No rules? Cool. Let’s go full-blown creative anarchy!
NavJosh // Founder & Editor, hiphop-n-more.com // @Navjosh
  • BLXST will have a breakout year in 2021 where he will become the go-to guy for hooks (almost like a Nate Dogg of today) and have his own big records, too. Shameless plug: I predicted this last year already when we were one of the first outlets to partner with him for a premiere.
Shaheem Reid // Host of “The Walkthrough” on Twitch & President of The Conglomerate Ent. // @ShaheemReid
  • Clubhouse will become a major tool of breaking artists and new songs. It will become a must stop for people putting out music.
  • More success from “The Gods of Rap” in 2020; we saw tenured MC’s such as Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes, Royce, Black Thought, Eminem, Nas and more, drop highly-lauded LPs. More of our favorite legends will continue to keep it coming in 2021. I also think some of the Gods that drop in 2020 will drop again in 2021. Looking for that Jay-Z LP!!!! Ross will drop another sterling LP, too.
  • The Holy Trinity will have huge years! Kendrick, J.Cole and Drake are all gonna drop this year. I expect nothing but classics from Cole and Kendrick. Drake’s Certified Lover Boy will get love from his core and his detractors will cringe. However, he’ll have some huge hits. Charlamagne’s take on Drake falling off will be proved wrong.
  • Travis Scott will officially join the Holy Trinity and make it a modern day Mount Rushmore. Travis will drop a critically-acclaimed LP and be 2021’s biggest album seller.
  • Stove God Cooks!!!! More heat and more acclaim!
  • Kanye the rapper will remain quiet, Kanye the producer will flourish.
  • The Return of the Three Headed Monster. Dr. Dre, Eminem and 50 Cent. All coming back with heat!
Tiara Hargrave // EVP & GM Alamo Records // @tiaraj_h
  • Durk takes a seat at the head of the table. 2020 was a breakout year for Durk with the Drake collaboration, Grammy nomination, and last minute Q4 dedication album to King Von. With the deluxe on the way, and multiple features forthcoming, Durk is solidifying himself as a rap heavyweight and continuing his dominance over the charts. 
Splif Got Music // Music Entrepreneur // @splifgotmusic
  • Lil Baby will dominate again in 2021!
Michael “Double 0” Aguilar // Music Producer, DJ, Podcaster // @godouble0
  • I believe that we will see the first top 10 rap song created as a duet on TikTok.
  • I think there will be a big play culturally on monetizing nostalgia (Verzuz, anniversary albums, more hit songs that are covers).
  • I believe we might see a breakout star who tops the charts without ever leaving their bedroom.
  • I think we will see more unlikely collaborations because of the ease of technology.
  • I think we will see a new rap star from outside the U.S.
Nicole Plantin // Music Executive // @NikkiliciousP 
  • We’ll continue to have more records with substance, touching on the state of the world—not just from established artists but new emerging artists that we don’t even know yet. 
  • I think we’ll have more albums produced by one producer. I think projects and cohesive sounds will be welcome again, based on what artists like Freddie Gibbs and Nas have recently released. Also, due to Covid, artists are able to spend more dedicated time to the craft itself, in a way they might not have been prior to this overall slowdown. 
  • Mulatto will be the breakout star of 2021.
Nigil Mack // CEO of Sugar Water Entertainment LLC // @mackattack007
  • My prediction for 2021 for rap is that we will see more social conscious artists rise to prominence. Music has always been a reflection of society, so rap will reflect that.
  • R&B will have a strong impact, at a mainstream level to rival pop music.
Chris Herche // CMO, Cinematic Music Group // @vicariousmusic
  • I think you’re going to see a lot more artist partnerships in 2021. With artists not being able to tour and make revenue in previously traditional ways, those that can partner (ie Travis & McDonald’s, Grateful Dead & Nike, J Balvin & Jordan, Bieber & Crocs) will be doing more of this during this upcoming year. 
  • I also think you’re going to continue to see people selling their publishing and ownership stakes in catalogues, i.e. Bob Dylan, or more recently Jimmy Iovine, to the same point above, to compensate for lost revenue. 
  • Finally, I think you’re going to see the rise of the indies and non-traditional companies putting out music and developing artists.
Courtney Lowery // Music Executive // @courtneycl
  • More female rappers will emerge and be prominent this year. 
  • Touring and going to shows will be a “process” now but will begin towards the end of the year.
Corey “CL” Llewellyn // Founder, DigiWaxx // @digiceo
  • Artist content will finally become tokenized, where fans will be able to invest [i.e. via cryptocurrency] and see their dividends grow as the artist’s popularity and metrics grow. 
  • We’ll finally get all-women posse cuts with more than just two of them on the track. 2020 was the year of the breakthrough for women. This year they have to level up, do the Voltron thing, and give the people (me) what they want. 
Dominique Maldonado // A&R, Warner Records & Founder, Leaders of the New Cool // @SunshineDBaby
  • There will be an even deeper bench of breakthrough female rappers. 
  • I think full-length releases will become less frequent, signaling a return to the model of building up anticipation with proper singles and ancillary activity to stay relevant in the meantime. 
Amir Abbassy // Head of Content, Empire & Founder, Blame The Label // @blamethelabel
  • I predict Quality Control’s Lakeyah is going to have an incredible year. She might not be on folks’ radar right yet, but that just means they aren’t paying attention. She can rap her ass off, her delivery just keeps getting better, her content is authentic as f*ck, her style is dope and she has a lot of character.
  • I’m definitely betting on the home team with Young Moe (Alexandria, VA native). He’s one of the standouts on the Blame The Label roster, and my team and I have been really helping him develop as an artist. He dropped eight songs and nine videos last year and with 12 million views and counting on YouTube since April 2020, he’s going to turn some heads this year. 
  • On that same tip, I think this new class of Virginia artists are going to really put the spotlight on the state, which we haven’t seen since the Clipse days.
Clayton Barmore // Artist Management, Lil Tjay // @claybarmore
  • Cryptocurrency will be the future of finance, the dollar is dead. Also, the first Black-owned crypto bank will be made.
  • The major labels will downsize. Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal will be the new major labels.
  • Lil TJay will have his first number 1 record in 2021.
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos I’m checking for.
Nipsey Hussle helped to save this L.A. skating rink. Now its future is uncertain. [Read]
Eminem Breaks Down New Track ‘Zeus’ During Album Special Hosted By Gray Rizzy. [Listen]
More DOOM tributes: Yasiin Bey and Lupe freestyles, Hua Hsu remembers DOOM via the New YorkerNew York mag writer Craig Jenkins’ obit, Jon Caramanica’s Popcast episode, and Stretch & Bob’s Apple Music 1 special
Rowdy Rebel speaks to Complex [Watch] and Karen Civil produced a doc on his first days out. [Watch
Missed this when it was first announced, but a Nicki Minaj docuseries is coming to HBO Max. [Read]
Chris Webber’s gonna have his say on the Fab 5 with a scripted series on the famed freshman hoops team. [Read]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art, Inc. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to email me: holler@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
Twitter: @jaysonrodriguez
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
Coffee/beer via Venmo: @jaysonrodriguez
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Jayson Rodriguez

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