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Hip-hop and basketball have always had a deep fascination with one another. They borrow from each other culturally and commercially like cousins that grew up in houses next door to each other. We’ll forget about athletes trying to put albums out for a minute and focus on rappers metaphorically comparing themselves to the sport’s best to illustrate their standing amongst their musical peers—whether it’s Jay-Z referring to himself as the “Mike Jordan of the mic recordin'” or some up-and-coming rap phenomenon thinking that he’s the Lebron James of the rap game. And while the argument about who’s best gets stale after the same 10 names get shuffled in some random order the debate over who’s next refreshes every year when a new crop of rap prospects looking to make their mark in music step up.

With March Madness calling it a wrap, sports writers shift gears and kick start fans’ anticipation of the upcoming NBA season with a bevy of mock drafts, where “draft experts” take educated guesses on which college and international prospects get picked to play in the league, and when they will get selected.

Since hip-hop journos such as myself are obsessed with analyzing new artists in hopes of finding the rap heir apparent I thought it would be interesting take this year’s promising rap rookies and put them into a fictional “rap draft” where music label executives would be forced to draft their talent instead of sweet-talking them into shitty contracts.

For the two-round mock rap draft I’ve selected the most noted rookie rappers that have yet to put out a major label album—this includes prolific unsigned rappers, those signed to indies and also those signed to a major but still have no album out yet. For the sake of sanity, I intentionally excluded rappers that are older than 30 years old like Jay Electronica and/or those that have been hanging around the national scene for more than 5 years like Saigon & Bishop Lamont.

The Lottery

(Note: Click on the artist’s name to see their video)

  • 1. Asher Roth: It’s easy to peg the melanin-deficient emcee as just another Marshall Mathers clone, and while there are obvious similarities in rhyme style and flow to Eminem, Asher more than holds his own as a supremely talented and charismatic rapper with his own identity and will have his own fan base. For label suits, Asher Roth is a one man Beastie Boy—an engaging personality that’s able to bust onto the pop scene and connect with record buying suburban slackers like a Seth Rogan giving away free weed. We like him also. Okay, I think I used up all of my cool Caucasian guy references for the day.
2nd Draft Pick: Drake
  • 2. Drake: A few months ago nobody talked about Drake. These days, I can’t go anywhere without hearing somebody mentioning the name of Lil Wayne’s well-manicured homeboy. The Toronto rap export, who’s also a damned good singer and a pretty decent actor, is a legitimate triple threat and, in that, has star written all over his forehead in permanent black marker. Think of him as kind of a not-so-PG Will Smith with a singing voice. Heartbreak Drake is probably the first new rapper who’s actually had more females download his mixtape than fellas. That, people, is a very good thing.
3rd Draft Pick: Wale
  • 3. Wale: Wale is this rap class’ Lupe Fiasco—an acclaimed lyricist whose critical appeal will far outpace his commercial success. The Washington, DC-bred emcee is his city’s best rap prospect ever, which isn’t saying much because the nation’s capitol has churned out as many rap successes as Albuquerque. Wale’s go-go infused hip-hop sound, link to international cool guy/ DJ Mark Ronson and appeal to tight pant enthusiasts means the Mixtape About Nothing emcee will enjoy a loyal fan base for years to come.

4th Draft Pick: Bobby Ray
  • 4. Bobby Ray: The artist formally known as B.o.B. is a soulful crooning rapper that sounds like the accidental offspring of the Dungeon Family and Dave Chapelle. His sound is entertainingly unconventional and his content unapologetically revealing. The problem with Bobby Ray is sound consistency. You never know what he’ll sound like from one song to the next, which may be refreshing to listeners but it frustrates the hell out of his label. Atlantic Records doesn’t know what to with the promising yet raw 19-year-old A-town rapper. They just transferred him to the label’s rock department.

5th Draft Pick: Kid Cudi
  • 5. Kid Cudi:Kanye’s newest prodigy is a continuation of 808s & Heartbreak. While not exceedingly blessed as a rapper or a singer Ohio’s lonely stoner is a superb songwriter who has a gift for melody, which he stuffs into his expertly crafted emo raps. When we debuted his “Day n Night” video on Black Planet readers overloaded our servers with love/ hate comments about the song. Expect that same response when his album drops.

The Remaining First Round

(Note: Click on the artist’s name to see their video)

  • 6. Nipsey Hussle: In person, he reminds you of a young Snoop Dogg- a lanky, long-braided crazy skinny dude with a laid back Cali vibe. Musically, he reminds you of everything that made that gangsta shit so appealing. Nipsey maintains LA’s classic set claimin pedigree sonically but progresses it lyrically with his contemporary swag and grimy narratives. This Slauson boy is most promising thing to come out of the West since Crooked I & Game.
  • 7. The Cool Kids: Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks’ nostalgic anti-pop music worked well for rap nerds and music journalists but still failed to stick to the walls of sales charts with their independently released EP the Bake Sale. The Chi-Town duo has an undeniable energy and a distinct fresh sound- and with a decent budget behind them and little more development the Cool Kids could be among the rap group greats.
  • 8. Blu: This kid does it for me, no bromance. His problem is that he’s so nice that he’ll never go mainstream. Leaning on classic boom bap production Blu is a throwback-type with a Pharcyde slant and a Mos Def-like liquid delivery. The Left Coast rhymesayer is a refreshing reminder that California is more diverse than rappers that bang and go dumb.
  • 9. Cory Gunz: They’ve been talking about this kid for a few years but he’s just now old enough to really step out. The son of Peter Gunz’ is a rap phenomenon but he’s this generation’s Jadakiss—he murders it on other people’s tracks (see “A Milli”) but pump fakes when it comes to his own. Like many mixtape greats before him he has trouble making sustainable album cuts. He’s like a young street ball legend unable to adapt his game to the NBA. I’m not sure he can carry a whole album on his own—unless he gets under the right production situation.
  • 10. Charles Hamilton: Charles Hamilton is an enigma. The Harlem rapper is either inconsistent as hell or simply raw. He’ll show flashes of brilliance on one song but then will turn around and sound like Jo Jo from Run’s House on the next. His success with “Brooklyn Girls” propelled him onto everybody’s radar as a potential star but his lack of follow-ups anywhere near the same caliber makes me question if he was grossly overhyped. With a little more seasoning he should be pretty solid because he has the potential to be something good—that is, unless his obsession with all things pink and Sonic does him in first.

Second Round Gems

(Note: Click on the artist’s name to see their video)

  • Black Milk: The good and bad thing about this Detroit rapper/producer is that he’s trying to be the second coming of the late producer J Dilla. He’s dope nonetheless.
  • Diamond: We need some female representation on this list and before this Crime Mobster defected Diamond was the strongest member of her group- it also helps that her easiness on the eyes will make her just as easy to market. The lack of any legitimate female rappers leaves this particular lane wide open and so, Ms. 32 can tap into her Crime Mob fan base, take the fans that Trina left behind when she fell off, for starters, and then work on everybody else as she picks up steam.
  • Micky Factz: There are kids who think they are from the 80s and there are cats like Micky that belong there. That’s not a slight, he’s good. As a matter of fact, he may very well become an underground legend when this is all said and done I just don’t see the mainstream eating him up. Pause.
  • Tyga: Travis McCoy’s little cousin is a good pick up because he has some pop appeal. Surround him with people that can churn out hits, put money behind one or two singles and then call it a day because he may become irrelevant like Chingy. He has a fickle style.
  • Curren$y: The New Orleans rhymer brings name recognition because of his one-time association with Lil Wayne and his hit “Where Da Cash At.” Since Weezy’s former protege broke off to do his own thing I haven’t heard much but he’s still a beast on the bars when he’s on.
  • Pacific Division: Pac Div is LA’s answer to Slum Village. They dress well and make good music so does that make them hipster-hoppers? I don’t know but these guys, along with U-N-I and Blu & Exile, embrace that classic Native Tongue-esque sound and are leading the West Coast’s reemergence into the boom bap.
  • Brisco: The Opa Locka, FL goon brings the goon to the music. He goes hard on top of the 808 kicks and when he’s not leaning heavy on Lil Wayne for his singles he’s exhibits a distintive rhyme style that works.
  • Donny Goines: Goines is my sleeper pick. The NY spitter’s profile is still beneath the surface but he gets my nod because he not only throws out quality joints but he stays on his grind like a prostitute trying to make quota.

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