“2013 was a great time [for] hip-hop,” tweeted Punch, TDE’s full-time president and part-time lyrical philosopher.
While Jay, Nas and Eminem are a perfect model for how figures in rap transcend into road-pavers for the next generation, there has to be a point in time when the next generation picks up the paving.
Torches aren’t easily passed in hip-hop, either. There was once a point in history when Jay envisioned Memphis Bleek as his successor, yet by the end of Roc-A-Fella’s reign, it was a soul-sampling Chicago rapper/producer throwing up the diamond and assisting in the blooming of a new age. Royalty in rap isn’t gifted on a silver platter. Promising faces are forgotten every day.
Today, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are acknowledged as hip-hop's big three, but did the transfer of power actually take place in 2013?
In 2013, Eminem had the highest-selling rap album with The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Jay had the third-highest with Magna Carta Holy Grail, and Nas' Life Is Good was one of the most critically acclaimed releases the year prior. But as the 2010s progressed, their moves became less industry-shaking earthquakes that rippled throughout the genre and more bolstering of long-cemented legacies. Artists still aspired to be like Jay, Nas and Em, and fans still wanted to hear from them, but the landscape of hip-hop was drastically changing.
As Punch's tweet indicates, 2013 was the year Kendrick, Cole and Drake began to make noise that was no longer possible to ignore.
For J. Cole, changing the release date of Born Sinner wasn’t just a competitive decision. He made a declaration by going head-to-head with Kanye’s Yeezus. This was a newcomer gutsy enough to challenge the establishment; a man with no intention of playing it safe by living in the shadows. A victory would have to wait until the third week, but Cole eventually overcame the same giant that squashed 50 Cent six years prior.
That September, Drake released his third studio album, Nothing Was The Same. Over 658,000 copies were sold in the first week alone. Even more impressive, though, is that he had a better first week than JAY-Z and MCHG. Over 130,000 copies separate the two first-week performances. Jay once famously rapped, “Only dudes movin' units - Em, Pimp Juice and us,” and in 2013, Drake would be the only worthy candidate to replace Nelly.
Of course, one of the most unforgettable moments in 2013 was the release of Big Sean’s “Control.” Despite belonging to Sean, the record was made legendary by Kendrick’s verse. By now, every hip-hop listener knows how he sent ripples through the industry by acknowledging his peers by name and declaring a gentleman’s challenge for their fans. Months removed from the first universally deemed-classic debut of the decade, Kendrick felt the need to give a nod of respect to those making moves and, in the process, placed a bigger bullseye on his own back. He didn’t feel the need to be humble; “Control” was Kendrick appointing the court to his King Arthur. It was one of those culturally significant moments bound to be enclosed in the hip-hop history books.
Despite monstrous years from Eminem, Hov and Kanye, it was impossible to overlook the new blood running through hip-hop’s veins in 2013. The artists who we saw start from humble blog beginnings were starting to take over the world.
A new generation was upon us, but, unlike Punch, I view 2013 as the year we merely recognized our future leaders. The year they were no longer in the shadows of legends but drafted into the league. Most of us had assumptions early on. We saw a lot of artists come up through blogs with the potential to make it big, but getting out of the fishbowl was a task few could successfully accomplish no matter how much we wished for them to ascend. 2013 represents the year a handful of rap stars escaped online notoriety to impact the mainstream, but the verdict was still out on who would stay above the waters.
It wasn't until two years later, in 2015, when this generation's big three were firmly established. In the span of 365 days, J. Cole went double Platinum with no features with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Drake became such a massive force that even the taboo allegations of ghostwriters couldn’t kill him and Kendrick traveled beyond Billboard and commercial success with To Pimp a Butterfly, presenting a GRAMMY-winning body of work that was deeper than rap and ascending to one of the most respected voices in the entire music industry.
From December 9, 2014, through December 31, 2015, Kendrick, Drake and J. Cole accounted for the four highest-selling hip-hop albums of the year and completely dominated conversation.
The only "veteran" to crack the top 10 in 2015 for first-week sales was Dr. Dre. There was no Eminem, JAY-Z or Nas to rumble with the young men. They were no longer rookies in the league but championship-worthy artists. It's like when Jordan and the Bulls beat Magic Johnson and the Lakers in '91—the beginning of a new regime. 2015 was that year for hip-hop. The entire year was dominated by today's chart-toppers: Meek Mill, Future, Big Sean, A$AP Rocky, Logic and G-Eazy all had fanbases that showed up to support their releases.
With all due respect to Chance The Rapper, the undisputed top three of Kendrick, Cole and Drake have held their positions for the past 19 months. Their places are cemented; stars of this generation and legends in the making. Idols.
Jay, Nas and Em are prolific figures who will always be leaders, but kids these days are no longer looking to them to lead the way. The natural progression of the guard changing.
2013 is when they came and saw, but 2015 was when the next generation truly conquered.
By Yoh, aka Generation-Y(oh) aka @Yoh31