NOTEWRTHY: Hip-Hop’s Future Big 3?
Welcome to Notewrthy, a new blog dedicated to talking about music and music adjacent content/news.
Today, let’s talk about the concept of “The Big 3” of hip-hop, what it means for the past generation, and what the current generation or rappers could have defined as theirs.
When we refer to The Big 3 of hip-hop, at least when it comes to the 2010s, the easy and most common answers you’ll hear from people is Kanye West, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and rightfully so. All of these artists released fantastic projects over the course of the previous decade, and some of those albums are considered by many to be some of the greatest rap albums of all time. From albums that tell a cohesive story over the course of the album like Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012), to albums that have a strong message prevalent throughout such as Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only (2016), it’s apparent that these artists take copious amounts of time and care in constructing their craft. This level of consistency and creativity elevates these artists to the status often attributed to them. Of course, however, these artists won’t be around forever. So the question remains: who will step up to take their place? Fortunately, we don’t have to look very far for the answer.
When you make it as big as the aforementioned artists have, you tend to have an eye for young talent that may one day match or surpass your own. In the case of J. Cole, he found Atlanta-born rapper JID.
JID is the first person I have on my list from the current generation of rappers who will go on to form the next “Big 3.” At 31 years old, JID isn’t much younger than Cole or Kendrick, but he hasn’t been making music for as long as they have. That isn’t to discredit JID, however. After being signed to Dreamville, J. Cole’s record label, he released his debut album The Never Story in 2017. While the album may have only peaked at 197 on the U.S. charts, his next release in 2018, DiCaprio 2, would go on to peak at 41 on said charts, and 21 on the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Having listened to both projects myself, there is a definite increase in quality over the course of his releases. However, his most recent project, which came out this year, The Forever Story, is definitely JID at his best. While both of his previous solo projects were great, his most recent album was a cut above the rest. With fast-paced, clever songs like “Raydar,” and slower and more melodic and storytelling songs like “Kody Blu 31,” the album is exceptionally entertaining while also being very good at telling a story of struggle and trauma. With the aptitude JID shows when it comes to constant improvement, and just raw rapping talent, he definitely deserves a spot in consideration for the new “Big 3.”
But JID isn’t the only rapper who found a mentor in a massively influential force in hip-hop, Baby Keem found something similar in Kendrick Lamar.
Though it was definitely in Baby Keem’s favor that he’s related to the Grammy Award-winning rapper from Compton, his skill and unique flow set him apart regardless. Coming in much younger than some of his counterparts at just 21 years old, Keem has still been in the game for a while, going back to him helping his cousin with his 2017 release DAMN. and receiving production credit on 2018’s Black Panther: The Album at just 17 years old. With his mixtape Die for My Bitch (2019), and the widely popular single from that tape “Orange Soda,” Baby Keem first started to make waves in the scene, eventually releasing his 2021 debut album The Melodic Blue. Balancing hype songs like “family ties” and “trademark usa” with songs like the soul-filled and thoughtful “16,” this project earned its Gold certification and peak at number 5 on the US Billboard 200. Keem’s unique flow and voice, but also his talent for production, songwriting, and beat selection, make him a force to be reckoned with and definitely one of the biggest names of the current generation.
Finally, let’s talk about a Florida native and member of XXL magazine’s legendary 2016 freshman class, Denzel Curry.
While Denzel’s status as far as what generation he’s in can be debated, he didn’t break out into the mainstream until later in his career. Regardless, he became known and widely popular through the release of his song “Ultimate” from his 2015 double EP 32 Zel/PlanetShrooms. Thanks to the song’s beat drop, the song was used in tandem with the “bottle flip” challenge which had blown up on platforms like Vine (RIP) and YouTube. Because of his massive success with this song, and the relative success of his second album Imperial (2016), he was offered a spot in the aforementioned “Freshman Class” from XXL magazine in the same year as its release. Denzel didn’t stop there. Following the release of some singles and an EP in 2017, Denzel wouldn’t drop another full album until the next year in 2018; my personal favorite album of his, Ta1300. With Denzel’s trademark high-energy flows on tracks like “SUMO | ZUMO” and “VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE,” he shows why he excels at what he does. He brings variety within a specified area, while also adventuring outside of it on more solemn tracks like “CLOUT COBAIN | CLOUT CO13A1N.” His most recent release Melt My Eyez See Your Future (2022) also brings the same hype we’ve come to expect from him, while also adding a bit of a jazz-inspired twist to the tracklist, which I found quite enjoyable. For me, the album got better with each listen, as with the rest of his discography that I’ve listened to. With all of this in mind, despite his first mixtape releasing in 2011, I still consider Denzel a great part of the most recent generation of rappers and one of my personal picks for a new set of massive influences in the scene.
Given all of this, I think it’s a fair statement to say that JID, Baby Keem, and Denzel Curry are this generation’s best contenders at the moment for a new “Big 3” to be formed.