11 Predictions for 2023
What to expect in rap for the new year.
Welcome to 40th issue of Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links (15-30 of them) to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. You can check out the archive, here, and read more about me, here. If you’re already a BF subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. And please share this newsletter with your circle so that they can enjoy it, too; personal referrals are my best path to long-term growth. With that said, let’s get into it….
Editor's Note: I spotlighted this in my last issue, but I think it's worth mentioning again: you'll notice the new digs. Originally, when I launched Backseat Freestyle I used Substack as my email service provider before switching over to Revue, which was operated by Twitter. I had to uproot from Revue, however, as Twitter's new owner decided to sunset the product. Here I am now with Beehiiv. What's that mean for you? Primarily, that this newsletter lands in your inbox with better efficiency and not in your spam folder. There's also some additional tools and features I'm going to take advantage of in the future. But for now, I hope you like the view. And, as always, enjoy the content. Also, yes, I know, it's not Friday. Resuming my regular publishing cycle is the next thing to expect.
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
ENTERING THE 50TH YEAR OF HIP-HOP, which will arrive this August, there’s a lot to be said about the culture. Yes, the bars aren’t there like they used to. And your heroes in the 90s dressed in fatigues and Timb boots while today’s rappers wear tight (or baggy) leather pants and ruffles on their shirts. But make no mistake: hip-hop is as good as it’s ever been—if not better. The sheer breadth of talent is staggering. Consider this: the 15th (Pusha T?) or 20th (Polo G?) or 30th rapper (Latto?) of this era would smoke their counterpart of another time in terms of musical ability. The bench right now is full of would-be starters. There may be eras where the topline stars were bigger and you could compare Jay-Z’s reign to Drake’s dominance, Eminem’s feats to Jack Harlow’s, or Run-DMC’s influence to the Migos and the debates would ensure.
Today, though, hip-hop has evolved beyond underground and mainstream, East and West, pop and sell-out. The scene is as varied and full of subgenres and splintering scenes as it’s ever had. To me, that’s a sign of a healthy culture, one that’s iterating and growing. Take Atlants, for instance. Long boosted by Crunk, Trap and the strip clubs, over the past 10 years we’ve seen alternative movements led by Trinidad James, Makkonen and Playboi Carti (not to mention incoming stars like Ken Carson and Destroy Lonely) take shape. Or New York, who’s rising stars have long lived in the shadows of Boom Bap, but now is seeing a multi-sector Drill movement and a thriving Jersey Club influence helping to define the city in a way that can finally help to distance itself from its ‘90s heyday.
Once the business of measurement and the business of consumption reconciled and rappers moved from tapes and loosies to projects, the industry finally ratified what we long expected: rap runs shit.
I know much has been made about hip-hop and the Billboard charts and what that may mean for its dominance. Before rap was officially recognized as the preeminent music force—and this was after it was already the prime cultural influence among youth—hip-hop was hard to register by metrics because of its bifurcated existence. There was an entire co-industry of hip-hop that lived below the fold in mixtapes and later SoundCloud loosies. Once the business of measurement and the business of consumption reconciled and rappers moved from tapes and loosies to projects, the industry finally ratified what we long expected: rap runs shit.
And it continued to, for a while, as the culture took to streaming and feeding the meter like no other genre. Inevitably, there’s the reset when the first adopters are met with more company and pop, country and Latin figure out the new ecosystem of rollouts. We saw that last year as Harry Styles and Bad Bunny dominated.
The thing is, those two, along with, say Burna Boy, did it in such a hip-hop way, that it’s beginning to look like the days where it was difficult to quantify rap’s influence in metric terms. For example, squint and you’ll see the way Harry Styles’ populates his YouTube channel is just taking a page from NBA YoungBoy. Or Burna Boy’s big radio hit last year, “Last Last,” had all the hallmarks of hip-hop, from its sample selection to its refrain in the chorus. And Bad Bunny flat out raps, see his and Eladio Carrion’s “Kemba Walker” record for proof. There’s no measurement Luminate Data can create to recognize this, but the culture should absolutely feel like they had a hand in those act’s successes.
Now, we’re entering a year where we’re going to celebrate the culture, hopefully revisit under-heralded acts from the past, while also witnessing the first London rapper to infiltrate the States successfully in Central Cee. Meanwhile, Saucy Santana and Kidd Kenn are putting on for the LGBTQ+ community. And the women continue to run it.
I get it if you like bars and boasts. And all this addition feels like subtraction. That plate never moved from the menu. Aside from Griselda, there’s Roc Marciano’s continued polish, Stove God Cook’s come-up, the emergence of Che Noir, plus all the greybeards still rapping at a high level. Just don’t miss out on all the new and young talent. As I often say, I don’t go home at night to watch a 1996 Bulls game; I’m watching Ja Morant, Anthony Edwards and Embiid ball. Last newsletter I closed out by saying the choice is yours, and I hope you take the opportunity to make use of AND in that decision and not solely OR. Because what you hear is not a test….
Now, onto the predictions.
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
NICK LOVE (@nickloveatl @nickloveatl)
Product Manager, Urban @ ONErpm
You're going to see more prominent names in hip-hop opt for independent distribution rather than re-upping with major labels. The artists who have already established their names and brands will lean towards having more control and seeing their true worth in the market versus just taking a big check from one of the Big 3.
There won't be a new, big superstar coming out of hip-hop this year. In fact, the next big superstar in Black music will be from R&B.
Amazon Music becomes a bigger player in the DSP wars. They already have the biggest built-in customer base. This should be the year that they go out of their way to make their music platform cooler and attract more users by using bigger names and personalities, specifically in hip-hop.
DERRICK AROH (@doubleduzit @doubleduzit)
SVP, A&R @ RCA Records
Women in hip-hop will have the biggest year of their run thus far. And on top of all the women who have been killing it thus far; there’s gonna be a huge wave of women from NYC taking the overall convo to new heights. Between Ice Spice, Lola Brooke, Maiya The Don amongst others, there is gonna be a big wave of women from NYC that pushes the female rap convo to another level.
Central Cee is going to breakthrough in a way that hasn’t really occurred for a UK MC in rap history in the U.S.
Playboi Carti’s Opium Label is going to be the next rapper lead label to fully dominate.
WHITNEY-GAYLE BENTA (@iamwhitneygayle @iamwhitneygayle)
Chief Music Officer @ JKBX (Jukebox)
Retail investors will begin buying stock in artists royalties and unlocking new ways to invest their money.
We will see collaborative stop the violence records a la “Self-Destruction.”
This being the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, I think you will see a rebirth of the true emcee being more prominent.
VOKARONDON (@vokarondon @vokarondon)
VP, A&R @ Capitol Records + Founder @ The Culturvated Agency
2023 is gonna be the year of artists becoming creative once again with how they release new music. No more microwave hits!
The artists to watch this year: Shawny BinLaden, MaiyaDaDon, Lambo4oe, Ndotspinalot, DD Osama, C Stunna.
The industry is coming back to NYC and Drill is gonna be the main sound leading the charge.
JEFF VAUGHN (@jeffreybvaughn @jeffreybvaughn)
Founder and CEO @ Signal Records
Milwaukee emerges as the most distinctive regional scene and produces a series of viral moments that have a broader industry impact as more established artists tap in.
"Rage"-inspired production declines as the dominant underground/Soundcloud sound but replaces "Detroit/Flint type beats" as the most influential and fresh street music sound of 2023.
Rap/R&B suffers another year of declining streaming marketshare in 2023 and healthy conversations about the disconnect between creativity and commerciality reach fever pitch as new stars are difficult to come by.
ZEKIEL NICHOLSON (@zekest80s @zekest80s)
Co-founder @ Since The 80s
We see the next generation of rappers solidify themselves as top earners (it won’t be a male).
A decline in rap festivals worldwide (Rolling Loud survives).
JID does 80k first week on his next album release.
VP/Co-Head Of Urban Music @ Arista Records
Lola Brooke becomes the biggest artist in the game 😀
I don't have inside information but I just feel like this is the year we get another Hov album.
Young Thug escapes his legal troubles and drops a classic album.
DJ R-TISTIC (@djrtistic @djrtistic)
Nationally-acclaimed DJ (Ed.: he also curates a Westside Wednesday stream on his Twitch that’s can’t miss.)
The rap girls will continue to have the biggest songs in the club.
We will see a lot of Afrobeats-infused records, especially for the songs made for the radio.
We will get a lot of these Drill/Jersey club hybrid tracks from the East Coast rappers.
MC and songwriter + host @ SiriusXM and The Hard To Earn Podcast
I think the NY drill sound is going to die down.
Quavo and Offset do a few songs together but not a whole album.
Cardi B finally drops her follow-up album— and it goes!!!
JOHN VINCENT SALCEDO (@johnvincent @johnvince)
VP of Digital Marketing @ Columbia Records
Hip-hop will break a new social platform to the masses (as usual, by the way).
There will be a week (most likely two or more) where the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 will be majority female emcees.
We’re going to see a wave of rapper/producer, rapper/DJ albums and projects. Some from OGs (who've already done it) and some from new combos.
ANGIE ROMERO (@angiejromero @angiejromero)
Global Latin Editorial Lead @ Amazon Music
A focus on lyricism will return to Spanish rap again and Residente won’t feel like he’s riding solo in that lane anymore.
After a record-breaking year in live music and game-changing artistry on display onstage (see Rosalía’s Motomami tour) Latin artists will continue to elevate their game to give fans an experience worth their hard-earned cash.
Argentina’s Bizarrap will continue to perfect the craft of creating pop culture moments via expertly curated and unexpected collabs. (Editor's note: You've prolly seen Shakira trending in the past week because of her BZRP Music Sessions performance. To give you an idea, consider this: Luis Fonsi doing "Despacito" with Daddy Yankee was like if Michael Bolton did a song with 2 Chainz (h/t Marleny for that comparison); in Shakira's top trending track she's channeling Beyonce's "Survivor" opening verse with a Megan Thee Stallion delivery. I'm sure Madonna has already booked her flight to his studio.)
Music, news, reads, podcasts and videos that I’m checking for this week.
Ice Spice dropped her debut EP, LIke…?, a nice nod to her familiar ad-lib, and there’s the familiar “Munch” and “Bikini Bottom” on it but “Gangsta Boo” featuring Lil Tjay (and it’s “I Need a Girl Part 2” flip) and “Princes Diana” that show this Bronx bomber doesn’t have as much to prove as the Twitter critics say. Like…she can rap. [Listen]
After listening to “King Snipe,” I really could go for a full project from Kodak Black and Gucci Mane together. [Listen]
I think Trippie Redd is undervalued in the post XXX/Juice WRLD world. While the SoundCloud rap movement has morphed a few times over, Trippie is as influential and productive as ever. His latest, MANSION MUSIK, is heavier on features than his usual output, however, it’s on those star-laden tracks where he shines brightest. “DARK BROTHERHOOD” with Lil Baby and “ROCK OUT” with Chief Keef are early standouts. [Listen]
Another new NBA YoungBoy album. [Listen] Related: I had to update my newsletter about him, since he dropped more music, so check it out if you want a playlist or to read about one dope record from all 31 (!) of his releases.
Would love a docuseries on the making of Armani White’s debut, because of how big “Billie Eilish” hit on TikTok, then went to radio all the while it seemed as if DSP rap playlists only begrudgingly supported it despite the demand. It's a very now as can be case of consumption. Anyway, he's got a follow-up in “GOATED” featuring Denzel Curry that isn’t the same type of smash, but it shores up his bonafides. [Listen]
New York Drill is in an interesting place: is it going to be a scene that powers larger stars and a subgenre that grows as a result or will it tap out as a more polished niche? Bizzy Banks will have a lot of say in the discussion. His new one, “OK Ok OK," projects his growth, with a flow that keeps refining. [Listen]
I went to Puerto Rico this past September to see Myke Towers perform a hometown show. He killed it. One of the premier lyricists in the Urban Latin game is teasing big things to come this year with his Sweat & Sour EP; check “Pauta & Flow.” [Listen]
The New York Times Magazine tapped Mitchell S. Jackson for the making of (cover stars) Kendrick Lamar and Dave Free. [Read]
GloRilla gets the star treatment from Complex in a nice collab between Jessica McKinney (words) and Jerald Cooper (visuals). [Read]
A look back to 2002, when Virginia “rewrote the rules of popular culture.” [Read]
An excerpt from the book, "The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop." [Read]
Nick Minaj names a new manager. [Info]
Vibe is ranking the top 50 rappers of all time ahead of hip-hop's 50th anniversary later this year; here's the first 10. [Info]
RollingStone names their 11 rappers to watch, including Lola Brooke, Ben Reilly and Kidd Kenn, among others. [Info]
NPR’s Code Switch pod takes a look at Bad Bunny’s political prowess. [Listen] Related: I was a guest on the UNHEARD podcast to talk about my “A Bad Bunny Primer for Hip-Hop Heads” post. [Listen]
No better podcast the past few weeks than "Caresha Please" featuring G Herbo. [Listen]
Jinx and company get wavy on the latest season of Gimlet’s Conviction that features the story of Max B. [Listen]
I don’t know if Drake’s Instagram is a feeder for his videos or vice versa but “Jumbrotron Shit Poppin” is, as the saying goes, a movie. [Watch]
J.Cole typed “J.Cole type beat” into YouTube, listened to the first listing, wrote to it and sent the finished product, “procrastination,” to the producer to post on his channel. Pretty cool. [Watch]
Moneybagg Yo connects with GloRilla for “On Wat U On,” a fiery relationship back and forth that winks at “Baby Boy” in the visual. [Watch]
Quavo’s “Without You” is a tough watch, but it's an endearing look (and listen) at the Migos star coping with the tragic killing of TakeOff. [Watch] Related: Hit-Boy teamed with OffSet for “2 LIVE,” an ode to indulgence in the M.I.A. (and likely released without knowing the Quavo record was coming at the same time.) [Watch]
J.I. The Prince of NY has got a good one in “Officially Done” with a nice flip of 112’s “It’s Over Now,” but I can’t help but feel like the clock is ticking for him to really deliver. [Watch]
What a time for Real Boston Richey. He dropped a new set, Public Housing pt. 2, at the top of the year, which features “First Time” a number where he’s firing back at allegations he’s an informant. [Watch] Related: Spotify’s Most Necessary named Real Boston Richey one of their Artists to Watch. [Info] Also, End of Sentence with their story on RBR’s cooperation. [Watch]
I like my Griselda to be Benny the Butcher centric, but when I do tap into, say, Westside Gunn, I prefer his tracks that are heavy on the collaborations. I made an exception for this visual, though, because Gunn put Eastside Flip on at the end of “Super Kick Party” to rock a verse. Flip is on 10 album cover and is also recovering from a recent overdose. [Watch] Related: Westside Gunn’s Rap Rapar Podcast takeover. [Listen]
Just before 2022 ended, Lil Durk dropped Lil Durk Presents: Loyal Bros 2 and an easy standout was “Mad Max” featuring Future; the pair took to Jamaica and Miami to plot their missive for the video. [Watch]
I like the original, I like the first remix and I like the second remix. Coi Leray has a certified banger in "Players" and she took to the street of Jerz to shoot the DJ Smalls 732 remix video. Bite that. [Watch]
Lil TJay’s has managed the comeback from his shooting with a certain grace about himself that I appreciate; his latest (“Clutchin My Strap”) might be his loudest track since then but it still has a deft touch to it. [Watch]
NLE Choppa chops his hair off in “23” and that’s enough for me to tune in. [Watch]
Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q together chopping it up about high school equals comedy. [Watch]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by me, Jayson Rodriguez, for Smarty Art. If you have any comments, feedback or questions, feel free to email me: [email protected] If you would like to discuss sponsoring an issue of the newsletter, contact: [email protected] smartyartllc.com and check out the rates, here. And follow me elsewhere:
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