What makes a great rap label in 2016? Awards? Chart dominance? Lyricism? How about chemistry? Or a fusion of these four? There is no definite answer on what the magical formula is other than have a solid team. Dreamville and Top Dawg Entertainment have somehow managed to impact our beloved world of hip-hop in the short time that they have been around. Each label has exceptional talent (from their musicians to their producers) and are one well oiled machine.
The Ladies: SZA vs. Ari Lennox
SZA can do no wrong in my books. Ever since the first lady of TDE stepped onto the scene, she has captivated everyone’s hearts. In 2014 she released her outstanding debut project Z, which was filled with lush, hypnotic, R&B grooves which instantly resonated with me. Ari Lennox on the other hand is an entirely different story. I first heard her on the Revenge of the Dreamers II compilation album where my ears definitely perked up with interest; however, without a full project to digest and reflect on, this match up is stacked against her and SZA takes the W. One thing is for sure though - Ari can sing her ass off; check her out below.
Winner: SZA; 1pt: TDE
The Young Bloods: Cozz vs. Isaiah Rashad
Both Isaiah Rashad and Cozz can do no wrong. Both are extremely lyrical and both have released amazing projects. Cozz’s sound is hard knocking west coast inspired rap through and through while Isaiah’s is more hazy and laid-back. Both are very different and deserve a lot more recognition as two of the most exciting rappers that are on the come up.
Winner: Tie; 1pt: Each Label
The Muscle: Jay Rock vs. Lute
Sadly, Lute remains relatively unknown. His only release thus far is the 2012 exceptional West1996 mixtape - brim packed with 90’s inspired hip hop production, great lyrics and smooth flows. It feels more like an album rather than a mixtape. Jay Rock on the other hand has not been consistent. His 2011 debut album Follow Me Home was a disjointed mess. Last year, he finally delivered a proper album in the form of 90059 - which was good hip-hop but was sadly overshadowed by some of the other hip-hop albums that dropped last year. Jay is one of those artists who is exceptionally talented but for some reason has not reached his full potential.
Winner: Lute; 1pt: Dreamville
The Profound Ones: Ab-Soul vs. Omen
When I first heard Ab-Souls Control System, I was instantly drawn into Soul’s intense lyrics. He reminded me of a modern Del Funky Homosapian and in my mind could revival King Kendrick lyrically. Then he released the lacklustre These Days; by no means was it a horrible album, it just didn’t feel like Ab-Soul (if that makes sense). On the other side of the coin, we have Omen who has remained consistent since his mixtape days; and then goes on to absolutely blow me out of the water with his debut album Elephant Eyes (if you haven’t heard this album acquire it by any means now). It was at this moment, I realized that J. Cole was building an empire with his Dreamville imprint.
Winner: Omen; 1pt: Dreamville
The Righthand: Schoolboy Q vs. Bas
Bas just dropped his sophomore album Too High To Riot and it’s phenomenal, but how does one pick a winner here? This was the only logical match up - Q and Bas are both lyrical, both have solid debut albums and mixtapes, both put on great live shows. I want to call this one a tie because they are both great artists, but this defeats the purpose of this match up… F*ck it, Groovy Q wins. If you don’t like it let us know in the comments.
Winner: Schoolboy Q; 1pt: TDE
The Leaders: J. Cole vs. Kendrick Lamar
This match up is extremely difficult. Both artists are without a doubt the most lyrically unmatched hip-hop artists currently. While King Kendrick takes a more revolutionary route, one cannot argue that Cole is his equal. I personally like J. Cole a tiny bit more than Kendrick; however, I have to give the W to K. Dot. To Pimp A Butterfly was a modern masterpiece and has propelled the hip-hop movement to new heights; he barely, but deservedly beats J. Cole.
Winner: Kendrick Lamar; 1pt: TDE
Overall Winner: Top Dawg Entertainment
Both labels have an incredible roster and if you haven’t listened to all the artists mentioned in the posts above I highly suggest that you check them out. Which is your favourite label? Did we get it right? Let us know in the comments section below.