Hip-Hop Award Season 2022
Picks for MVP, Rookie of the Year, 6th Man and Most Improved.
Welcome to 39th issue of Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday (today on Monday, because, well, Holiday SZN is busy #coquitoboyz) focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days (in this case, the year). I also include links (15-25 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: You'll notice the new digs. Last year, I switched newsletter service providers from Substack to Revue, the latter of which was operated by Twitter. I say was, because Twitter announced they're going to sunset the service. So like Jay-Z switching from Priority to Def Jam, I uprooted from Revue and set up shop 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.
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
THE PAST 12 MONTHS have made for an interesting year in hip-hop, to say the least. It was a unique span that saw its top titans, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, both release new projects; while other heavyweights like J. Cole (features), Nicki Minaj (singles) and Future (an LP) were also active; and a slew of upstarts and ascendants (from Freddie Gibbs to Smino, NBA YoungBoy to Denzel Curry, Coi Leray to Jack Harlow) made noise with albums; all the while the underground scene (Roc Marciano, Larry June, Rome Streetz, etc.) remained vibrant and celebrated veterans (Nas, Jeezy, Black Thought with DangerMouse, among others) blessed us with sets. That's not even including all the artist who seemed to be gearing up for next year like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Tecca and (someday?) A$AP Rocky with their one-off tracks. It was a bountiful harvest for rap fans. We might have even had too much crop to wade through. There was also albums by Lil Baby, Wiz Khalifa, Joey Bada$$, Quavo & Takeoff (RIP), Megan Thee Stallion, Benny The Butcher, Coi Leray, Kodak Black, EarthGang and Earl Sweatshirt. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps the genre is feeling the weight of its success in the streaming era...
Which brings me to an article earlier this year where Billboard questioned if hip-hop's dominance was slipping because a lower percentage of the genre controlled the songs charts compared to year's past. I vehemently disagree. Outside of very little data used in the piece, year-to-year comparison over a short span (four years, in this case) makes for a lot of noise due to variance (like, say, new Harry Styles, Beyonce and Adele material in one year). And the piece didn't even address things like Burna Boy's "Last Last" and Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, which while not straight-up hip-hop material, both topped mainstream charts and the culture should absolutely feel like they have an ownership stake in those successes. That's not to say we aren't in the midst of something fundamentally happening within rap, though it's not a symptom of decreasing potency. Perhaps the genre is feeling the weight of its success in the streaming era and the subsequent grind to constantly feed the meter. There's so much new material arriving every week that consensus has never been harder to reach and attention as hard to hold. Hip-hop is literally bursting at its seams. As a result, subgenres (think Yeat or Ken Carson), generational preference (Over 40 acts, under 30 acts) and platform siloing (and its itinerant fiefdom, ie YoungBoy's YouTube dominance), are only gonna continue to splinter the available options. What's that mean for us? It remains to be seen, though I'm gonna write a lot about it in 2023. But, as Black Sheep's Dres once so remarked, you can get with this or you can get with that. And for listeners, the choice–now more than ever–is yours.
Now on to my best of 2022....
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
Kendrick Lamar (Winner)
Drake had maximum output with two albums during the calendar year and one of the top handful of rap tracks of 2022 via "Jimmy Crooks." Nas continues to forge ahead with a run deep into his forties that's unprecedented in hip-hop by way of King Disease's III. Latto delivered on her promise with a big debut and a radio smash in "Big Energy." And if Drake had one of the best songs of the year, GloRilla had two of them with "FNF (Let's Go)" and "Tomorrow 2" But in a year that was so full of music that no one artist seemed to capture the zeitgeist, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth certainly kept himself in the running conversation. His album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, was dense, devoid of the slappers like DAMN. and messy, the last of which was a first for a full set of his. Despite that, it was also a fascinating listen. An artist at his peak, ruminating on his psyche after previously waxing poetic outwardly about his neighborhood, his city, Black culture and religion on his past efforts. On Steppers he sought to provoke: by collaborating with Kodak Black throughout the album, in his record with Taylour Paige ("We Cry Together"), and all the shit he pops on "N95," among other tracks. On "Mirror" he takes a curious sort of victory lap after the previous track, "Mother," deems him to have broken generational curses. However, like the saying goes, it's not the destination rather it's the journey—and that's what we should bear witness to. He doesn't deserve a pat on the back for a progressive take on therapy (if that's what you even want to consider this collection; nor his forceful attempt to incite), but it's the ways in which he strives and stumbles while using themes from his discography to inverse the micro/macro relationship of his usual approach to music-making that was the most interesting thing in hip-hop over the past twelve months. This album might be his most divisive, yet it's also going to have a long tail of discourse that will run well into the new year.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
There was so many names I could have included here and I still wanna mention some like Central Cee (big NY show coming up soon), Symba, Lola Brooke and SoFaygo. Hip-hop has a healthier bench of rookies than folks wanna give it credit for. MAVI made one of the best albums of the year with his second album, Laughing So Hard, It Hurts. Babyface Ray dropped two solid projects in Face and Mob. But with all that talent, this category has a runaway winner in GloRilla, who, like mentioned above, had two of the best tracks of the year. And her EP, Anyways, Life's Great is setting her up for a big 2023. I could even put her in contention for 6th Man, as an artist who is set to level up. It's a good time to be Big Glo.
Denzel Curry (Winner)
I thought about slotting J.I.D here and he's deserving after the blistering verses on the Dreamville compilation and his own The Forever Story. I know a lot of people on my TL were impressed with his album, which was good and I'm probably nitpicking over my issues with the sequencing. I wouldn't argue with anyone making him as their pick. I think, though, that Denzel Curry has been so consistent and his growth on Melt My Eyez See Your Future is worthwhile. He's refining his flow, his sound, and the cards seem to be lining up for him to make a jump next year (when he gets to go back outside for real and performance it's going to be a real difference maker for him). Run this project back if you haven't in a minute or press play for the first time. And do yourself a favor and check out his LA Leakers freestyle.
Vince Staples (Winner)
Vince Staples has the talent to do almost anything that he wants and across his discography I found myself often admiring his ability....just never feeling like anything truly stuck. That's not to say his material was ever mid. Maybe unrefined. That's not the case with Ramona Park Broke My Heart. It's among my top albums of the year (up there with Kendrick, Freddie Gibbs, Pusha, Roc Marciano, etc.) and it's a fully formed version of Vince that offers perspective and a cohesive sound that fits the bill. He was always a star and now he has the signature album to go along with that designation.
Music, news, reads, podcasts and videos that I’m checking for this week.
(This is kind of a 2022 notes dump, with a lot of stuff from the past few weeks/months that I consumed but never got to include in BF.)
TDE is active to the end the year, first with SZA's album and now Ab-Soul returns with HERBERT. I wrote about "Do Better" in my last newsletter; it's one of the best videos of the year and the album is a pensive look at surviving life. [Listen] Related: Soulo also sat down with Elliott and B.dott for a thoughtful conversation on The Rap Radar Podcast. [Listen]
Dream Team: Dan Charnas is teaming with Questlove and Joseph Patel to turn his "Dilla Time" book into a documentary on the Detroit producer. [Info]
BET is getting in business with Mary J. Blige. The singer is entering into a deal with the cable network through her production company. The first project will be a talk-show fronted by the Queen. (We had MJB as a guest on The Bridge and she was great, looking forward to her on the other side of the mic in conversation.). [Info]
Another three-later acronym is in the news too, my homegirl, WGB aka Whitney-Gayle Benta has joined JKBX as their Chief Music Officer. Oh, you rich rich. Congrats, Whit! [Info]
Lupe Fiasco talked aging in rap, his MIT course and DRILL MUSIC IN ZION with The Ringer. [Read]
New York's vertical Vulture brought the heat with pair of thoughtful pieces on Flo Mili (Q&A)and GloRilla (profile). [Read] [Read] Related: Big Glo sat down with Ebro in the Morning earlier this month. [Watch]
With the way lyrics are being combed through and used in press conferences, The Face asks is the Young Thug/YSL bust "the biggest ever case of rap on trial?" [Read] Related: RS on Atlanta. [Read] Related: This rap song helped sentence a 17-year-old to prison for life. [Read]
Brilliant pairing by Interview mag: Earl Sweatshirt and Ta-Nehisi Coates. [Read]
RollingStone's Andre Gee (who has been doing brilliant work this year)talked to Roc Marciano to detail how he became the king of hip-hop's underground. [Read]
The 50 greatest samples in hip-hop history? BET says so. Have a look...and listen. [Read]
Future covered Billboard's annual Hip-Hop Power Players issues. [Read]
Daddy Yankee is bowing out as an active recording artist and NPR had a great look back at his career and influence. [Read]
Virgil Abloh's wife talksed about carrying on his legacy in this excellent conversation. [Read]
Fat Joe went deep on his past with GQ as he promoted his memoir, co-written by the OG, Shaheem Reid. [Read]
Pitchfork takes a crack at the best southern rap songs of the '90s. [Read]
The Bridge: 50 Years of HIp-Hop pod is on permanent hiatus, so I've been consulting on The RapCaviar Podcast and last week we published part one of our 2022 year-end recap. [Listen]
Disney launched a Black Panther podcast ahead of the film's release, with the first episode featuring Ryan Coogler. [Listen]
I love what FunkFlex did this year; this might have been the highlight, his back and forth with Conway and then The Machine delivering a freestyle for the Hot 97 kingpin. [Watch]
Kendrick's approach to his album has been notable because he immediately went on tour after its release and now he's starting to slow release music videos. I don't know the strategy behind it, but it's not hard to think there's some intended meaning in it and the relationship to releasing art. That's some of what I got from "Count Me Out," his newest visual that arrived last week. [Watch]
Amazon Music is doing a lot of interesting things that often feels scattered more than strategic but I love that they're spending dollars and doing interesting things. It can all coalesce after the fact if the content is cool. And this Lil Wayne performance on Prime via Amazon Music Live is just that. [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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