Given Name: Kendrick Lamar Duckworth
Alias: K.Dot, King Kendrick
Releases: Y.N.I.C. (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year), debut mixtape, 2003; Training Day, solo mixtape, 2005; No Sleep 'Til NYC, collaborative mixtape with Jay Rock, 2007; Do It Nigga Squad, Vol. 1, collaborative mixtape, 2008; C4, mixtape, 2009; Kendrick Lamar, EP, 2009; Overly Dedicated, mixtape, 2010; Section.80, debut album, 2011; good kid, m.A.A.d city, album, 2012.
Career Highlights: In 2006, Kendrick started popping up on songs by big-name West Coasters like The Game and Snoop Dogg. On his 2009 mixtape C4, he received a crucial co-sign from Lil Wayne. In 2009, he formed the group Black Hippy with Schoolboy, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock. His 2010 mixtape Overly Dedicated peaked at number 72 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. After seeing the "Ignorance Is Bliss" music video, Dr. Dre became interested in working with Kendrick, and eventually executive produced good kid. In 2011, Kendrick made XXL's Freshman Class. good kid mA.A.d city went platinum, won five BET awards, and was nominated for seven Grammys. In September 2013, Kendrick's verse on Big Sean's "Control" sparked controversy after he called out several rappers by name and called himself the "King of New York."
Sound: Generally speaking, Kendrick's music alternates between breezy West Coast jams, and harder-edged, updated NYC boom-bap. He cites 2Pac as his biggest influence, and although his music may not seem as immediatly "gangster rap" as Pac's, his storytelling, ghetto narratives and relative hesitation to produce club bangers are all reminiscent of Shakur. Beginning on good kid, Kendrick popularized a technique of double-tracking his vocals, rapping in a low voice on one while in a higher, sing-songy register on the other -- this can now be heard on almost every song he puts out.
Strengths: Frequently hailed as the best pure lyricist in modern rap, Kendrick writes brainy, technically impressive verses that often address inner city drama in unique ways. On good kid, m.A.A.d city, he gathered a great selection of beats from big-name producers like Pharrell, as well as ones from TDE's Digi+Phonics and THC, that showed his versatility. His storytelling abilities are thrilling, often recounting tales from his youth, and are notable for their ambiguous treatment of the gangster lifestyle, being both informative and objective. The sky's the limit for Kendrick at this point, but following up good kid (an opus-like, autobiographical masterpiece) will be quite a task. But with a consistent discography, and access to pretty much any collaboration he could ever want, odds are "King Kendrick" will have a long, fruitful reign.
Given Name: Quincy Matthew Hanley
Alias: Groovy Q
Releases: ScHoolboy Turned Hustla, mixtape, 2008; Do It Nigga Squad, Vol. 1, collaborative mixtape, 2008; Gangsta & Soul, mixtape, 2009; Setbacks, debut album, 2011; Habits & Contradictions, album, 2012; Oxymoron, album, 2014.
Career Highlights: After being involved with the label since 2006 (including a stint as Kendrick's hypeman), Schoolboy signed to TDE in 2009. Setbacks reached number 100 on the Billboard 200 chart. Habits & Contradictions debuted at number 16 on the Top Rap Albums chart. In 2013, Schoolboy was part of XXL's Freshman Class. Oxymoron debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
Sound: Though he's also quite gangster, Q is no doubt TDE's resident party boy. He's got turn-up anthems as well as dark street parables, the common thread between the two being drugs. Q's ability to rap over many styles of beats is aided by his flexible vocals, which range from wheezy, high-pitched squawks to a lower growl. On Oxymoron, Q offered an update on the classic West Coast gangster rap album, mixing old-school tracks with trap and dance-influenced sounds.
Strengths: Early on, Q was a thrill to listen to because of his varied delivery and knack for catchy hooks ("There He Go," anyone?), but lately, he's evolved into a much more mature and introspective rapper. Oxymoron wowed audiences with its personal stories of Q's childhood and gang days, but didn't sacrifice any of the fun factor. Especially now that he's able to attract big co-signs, Q thrives on varied tracklists and conflicting personas, weaving himself into his albums as if he were playing several versions of himself. This approach has the potential to yield a mix of hot and cold tracks, and some have lamented the length and lack of focus of his projects, but for his fans, Q has enough personality to float 05 Fuck Em-length releases.
Given Name: Herbert Anthony Stevens IV
Aliases: Soulo, Back Lip Pastor
Releases: Do It Nigga Squad, Vol. 1, collaborative mixtape, 2008; Longterm, mixtape, 2009; Longterm 2: Lifestyles of the Broke and Almost Famous, mixtape, 2010; Longterm Mentality, debut album, 2011; Control System, album, 2012
Career Highlights: After graduating high school in 2005, Ab-Soul signed a deal with StreetBeat Entertainment and was in a group called Area 51 with Snake Hollywood. Longterm Mentality peaked at number 73 on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.Control System debuted at number 83 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart. In 2013, Ab-Soul was chosen as one of XXL's Freshman Class, along with Schoolboy.
Sound: Ab-Soul has the most relaxed sound of anyone in Black Hippy, with breezy, jazz-influenced beats driving most of his projects. Slightly contrasting with this is his voice, which is usually raised to a strained-sounding tone, but is also capable singing a catchy hook or two. Control System saw him branching out a bit, with members of Digi+Phonics providing more modern instrumentals, all of which added to the slightly paranoid feel of that album.
Strengths: In an interview, Kendrick once called Ab-Soul a "nerdy, wizardish genius." He's eccentric, filled with conspiracy theories, and has dedicated entire projects to DMT, a powerful hallucinogen. As TDE's resident weirdo, he's seen himself barred from the label's recent big-ticket releases (good kid and Oxymoron), with his brainy, strange lyrics most likely deemed too distracting from the mostly-dramatic content of those albums. That's a damn shame though, as Ab-Soul might be the most unique member of the label's roster, and has previously dropped phenomenal guest verses on songs like Schoolboy's "Druggys wit Hoes Again" and Kendrick's "Ab-Soul's Outro." Said to be releasing the album Black Lip Pastor later this year, Ab-Soul has a very promising future.
Given Name: Johnny Reed McKinzie, Jr.
Releases: Watts Finest Vol. I, mixtape, 2006; Watts Finest Vol. II: The Nickerson Files, mixtape, 2006; Watts Finest Vol. III: The Watts Riots, mixtape, 2007; No Sleep 'Til NYC, collaborative mixtape with Kendrick Lamar, 2007; Do It Nigga Squad, Vol. 1, collaborative mixtape, 2008; Coming Soon to a Hood Near You, mixtape, 2008; Coming Soon 2 a Hood Near You, mixtape, 2009; Gudda Muzik, mixtape, 2009; From Hood Tales to the Cover of XXL, mixtape, 2010; Black Friday, mixtape, 2010; Follow Me Home, debut album, 2011.
Career Highlights: Although he only released one album on the label, Jay Rock was signed to Warner Brothers from 2007 to 2011. His debut single "All My Life (In the Ghetto)" featured guest verses by Lil Wayne and will.i.am. In 2010, Jay Rock made XXL's Freshman Class. Follow Me Home debuted at number 83 on Billboard's Hot 200 chart.
Sound: Having toured with 50 Cent, and rapped on songs by the likes of Freddie Gibbs and The Game, Jay Rock is probably the most legit gangster rapper in TDE's roster. His beats (especially recently) still largely reflect the general sound of TDE's in-house specialists, but his voice sounds very hard, and is much more indebted to fierce battle rappers than the rest of Black Hippy's more left-of-center influences.
Strengths: Although he was the first artist signed by TDE, and has a more extensive discography than his labelmates, Jay Rock hasn't seen as much commercial success as everyone else in Black Hippy. That may be due to his relative lack of the type of quirky personality that makes people interested in Kendrick, Schoolboy and Ab-Soul, with many believing he's capable of solid guest verses, but not unique enough to carry a long project himself. From a more purist standpoint though, Jay Rock is the classic workhorse rapper who's technical abilities are stellar, and doesn't rely on gimmicks in his music. Although he hasn't released a solo project since 2011, he's appeared on most TDE albums, as well as recent tracks by Ty Dolla $ign and YG. Jay Rock has some work to do if he's going to succeed in the same way as other TDE artists, but he seems very comfortable in his current role of the label's resident reality checker.
Given Name: Isaiah Rashad McClaine
Releases: Cilvia Demo, debut EP, 2014.
Career Highlights: In 2012, Rashad toured with Juicy J, Joey Bada$$ and Smoke DZA on the Smoker's Club Tour. TDE announced they had signed him on September 20th, 2013. Cilvia Demo debuted at number 40 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart.
Sound: Originally hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rashad has the most Southern-influenced sound in TDE, drawing a ton of influence from ATLiens-era OutKast. Surprisingly, this smooth sounds blends well with TDE's already-established sound, with smokey keys, laid-back beats and weed-centric lyrics bridging the perceived gaps between the South and West. Cilvia is a largely piano-driven EP that reflected jazz and neo-soul sounds through the aforementioned Southern lens, with Rashad delivering wordy, dramatic bars for most of its nearly 50-minute-long runtime.
Strengths: As he was the first rapper signed to TDE who didn't grow up in L.A., Rashad's greatest strength has to be his ability to adapt his sound to match the overall character of an established group. His intelligent rapping must have been what attracted TDE to him, with smooth, pensive beats being an easy backdrop for the label to assimilate into their own sound. On Cilvia, his only release to date, Rashad sounds mature for his age, rapping about love and drama, and showing that he's an interesting enough lyricist to carry an entire project himself. Though it's still early in his career, he's had the quickest rise of any TDE member, and has a promising future ahead of him.
Given Name: Solana Rowe
Releases: See.SZA.Run, debut EP, 2012; S, EP, 2013.
Career Highlights: Signed to TDE in late 2013.
Sound: On her pair of existing EPs, SZA paired her soulful voice with chillwave-y beats largely produced by ex-Odd Future affiliate brandUn DeShay. Both short, tasteful releases, See.SZA.Run and S have pretty chill vibes, with SZA's voice cloaked in reverb while she coos dreamily. Those projects had more indie-influenced sound than the tracks she's released since signing to TDE, which have been more closely aligned with neo-soul. On Oxymoron, SZA showed her trippy side on the strange, seductive "His and Her Fiend."
Strengths: While the rest of TDE seems to feel that they consistently need around 15 songs on each project, SZA's EPs show that she's confident enough to put out smaller chunks of music. That's led to a consistent discography with little to no dud tracks, and although she's young, SZA had already done a great job of separating herself from the R&B pack before signing to TDE. With her first project for the label, the Z EP, dropping on April 8th, we'll soon see what SZA's planning for her official coming-out party.
Get familiar with TDE's roster in this week's edition of Crew Love
Top Dawg Entertainment, or TDE for short, is one of the biggest success stories in hip-hop in recent memory. Founded in 2004 by Anthony Tiffith, the label didn't release its first mixtape until 2008, and its first album until 2010, but since then, has reached commercial and critical heights the likes of which most other independent labels couldn't imagine.
With a relatively small roster, comprised of core Black Hippy members Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, as well as recent signees Isaiah Rashad and SZA, the label's strength has been the distinctive personalities of each MC and the relatively similar vibe of most of its music. Lots of that is thanks to in-house production teams Digi+Phonics and THC (who will probably get Crew Love features of their own at some point), who have produced tracks for nearly every artist on the label.
Read on to get in-depth information on every artist currently on TDE's roster, and check out a detailed timeline of the label's rise to the top right here on HNHH.
Catch up on past editions of Crew Love here.