With 2012 literally right around the corner and the momentum that’s been gained by Carolina natives in 2011, I’m now excited and really looking forward to 2012. Both Carolinas are in an interesting space in regards to the attention the industry is paying our scene, the quality of the music being released (read: The Top Carolina Hip Hop Releases Of 2011) and the moves our artists are making.
If you are an artist/photographer/model/videographer, etc interested in achieving success in hip hop and/or the music industry in general, have you ever taken time to step back and observe the movements of those who are where you want to be?
South Carolina native Charlamagne Tha God, one of (several) my inspirations in regards to Carolina-born folks who are successful in the business, recently sent out a series of Tweets about preparing yourself for success in 2012. His thoughts made me pause and also take time to reflect:
As Charlamagne notes, working your way into position takes time in addition to strategic and consistent moves. Over the course of 2011 there were several Carolina artists who made moves from the top of the year all the way to the end. These are folks who released material consistently to the internets/streets, have a solid and professional looking digital presence, were recognized by a variety of media outlets, have buzzes within and outside of the Carolinas, formed beneficial business partnerships, have strong relationships with the right people, performed outside of the Carolinas, have a great team and/or seemed to be everywhere. In addition to releasing material consistently, their music resonated with hip hop fans everywhere which in turned increased the artists’ fan base and influence.
With the combination of these key elements plus a couple of intangible others –i.e. timing, being prepared for an opportunity when it presents, having the right attitude– that were applied in 2011, there’s a good probability these artists will make an even bigger splash in 2012. I would go so far as to predict that one of them will land a major label deal.
So without further ado here are the top Carolina artists to watch out for in 2012. Over the course of 2011, these artists worked themselves into position. I’m looking forward to seeing how their 2012 plays out. This list is in no particular order.
1. Artist: Lo Keys (@LoKeys910)
Lo Keys is one of the Carolina artists who appears to have a solid understanding on the importance of a great digital strategy and execution of that plan. Just take a moment to Google search his name. More than 40 relevant pages will be returned.
Lo Keys has a blog that is updated regularly with his music, interviews, and videos. It also includes correct links to all of his social media pages. You’d be surprised at how many Carolina artists miss out on the piece to not only brand themselves via their own URL, but also make sure all of their social media and relevant website links are current and unbroken.
Beyond the digital piece, Lo Keys has consistently (y’all seeing a theme here?) dropped material over the past year, sometimes in conjunction with a well known blog. His projects usually include titles and/or themes that are in sync to what’s relevant in popular culture. Mixtapes include Twitter Freestyles Vol. 1 & 2, The Front Street Cafe, Glee Season 1, and his most recent project, The Green Hornet.
Beneficial business partnerships in 2011 for Lo Keys include sponsorships with Seattle, Washington-based brand Shocking Goat Watches , Los Angelos based clothing brand Scandolous Social Club and NYC’s Good Wood Beads.
Lo Keys spent a good amount of time on the road this year, performing in NYC, Philly and Cali. It looks like that paid off as he was able to get Fred The Godson, French Montana, Mistah F.A.B., plus several other indie favorites on The Green Hornet.
Lo Keys had a strong 2011, all independent and with no deal. 2012 should be real interesting for Lo Keys.
2. Artist: Jus Nice (@JusNice)
Hometown: Monks Corner, SC
Jus Nice is a South Carolina native who is finishing up his senior year at Lander University. On top of being a full time student, Jus Nice has managed to build a movement and ride the momentum off of it. This is where having a solid team, all of whom have the same focused goal, comes into play.
Jus Nice’s movement is FRESSH, which I had the opportunity to take in while at A3C this past October. In addition to the requisite promo team of cute chicks rocking FRESSH apparel, I saw FRESSH stickers in several places throughout ATL. As a matter of fact, when I interviewed Lo Keys in the A, after the footage was posted I noticed a FRESSH sticker posted in the background.
Strategic business alliances Jus Nice has in his corner include Rocksmith Clothing and Livemixtapes.com. Earlier this Fall he released The Cool Table mixtape, which was produced almost in entirety by Atlanta’s well respected production and development group SMKA. The project featured Detroit’s Young Scolla (a personal favorite), ATL’s Aleon Craft and South Carolina songbird Asia Bryant.
When you take into consideration all that Jus Nice accomplished in 2011, with the continued support of his manager Jah and their team, in 2012 I expect to see Jus Nice and the FRESSH movement to start growing beyond the South.
3. Artist: King Mez (@KingMez)
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
King Mez has been seen literally everywhere in 2011, including network television. King Mez appeared in publications such as The Source, Vibe, XXL and The Niche Magazine. The appearance that really got the RDU hip hop scene talking was King Mez’s MTV2 Sucker Free Freestyle, which aired globally.
When Murs’ Love & Hip Hop Tour stopped in Chapel Hill back in October, Ski Beatz called an unsuspecting King Mez to the stage. Ski Beatz made a beat on the spot, which Mezatron proceeded to kick an ill freestyle over. Planned or not (I’m just saying), it was another moment in which it’s apparant King Mez has the right alliances in his corner.
Another coup for King Mez is that since this Summer, his "From The South" video began airing in Foot Locker and Foot Action stores nationwide. It’s important to remember that King Mez is currently unsigned. Which means he’s achieved all of this without a major label push behind him, and goes back to my original point on the importance of strong relationships with the right people.
As a matter of fact with all of "the looks" King Mez was receiving, back in March 2011 so much hate (or was it jealousy?) began occurring over him, some folks in the RDU hip hop scene accused him of being secretly signed to 9th Wonder’s IWWMG/Jamla record label. Doesn’t sound like a big deal does it? Well it was, so much that it escalated to the point where 9th Wonder himself addressed the entire North Carolina hip hop scene. Yes, people were that envious. To quote Katt Williams, "you need haters!", so King Mez is obviously doing something right.
Anyway with these moves in 2011, a well branded and regularly updated website (another ongoing theme here, hope y’all take note of that), the critically acclaimed King’s Khrysis EP, and an ongoing sponsorship from Stussey, don’t be surprised at all if King Mez shows up on XXL’s Freshman 2012 cover or featured elsewhere within that month’s issue.
4. Artist: T. Will (@T_Will4Real)
Hometown: Columbia, SC
Out of all the artists on this list, T. Will’s 2011 has been most interesting to me. I’ll be honest and say that before this year, I’d never heard of him or his music. But right around February 2011 his movement picked up to the point where I took notice, by way of Trapp over at The Mic DVD, and followed it over the course of the year.
T. Will came into the rap game by way of football and the NFL. In the early 00′s he played for Auburn University and then went on to play three years for the Atlanta Falcons. An injury cut that career short. T. Will is currently the defensive coach of Auburn University and has used a good part of 2011 to make moves in the rap game.
Like the others listed here, in 2011 T. Will used the strategy of a well branded website, strong team and business alliances. He had several high profile appearances with New York media outlets, ESPN and also won an Underground Music Award for Best Southern Rapper.
With the support of SC DJ’s, T. Will had several records that made impact on South Carolina commercial radio, including "Tiger Walk" and "Goosebumps". The "Tiger Walk" song sold thousands on iTunes, landed him a licensing deal with Auburn University and is now the official theme song for the school’s football team.
For 2012, with a growing career as a college football coach, it’ll be interesting to watch how his succes in the music industry plays out, as well as his next moves.
5. Artist: Bettie Grind (@BettieGrind)
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Bettie Grind has been on my radar since 2008, however without a doubt he’s had a very strong 2011. Bettie Grind has been making moves since 2005, consistently (there’s that word again!) releasing mixtapes via the streets. Over the course of this year, I noticed Bettie Grind’s movement take flight online via his professional looking website, an active and engaged 12,000+ Twitter following, plus the other requisite social networks.
A big move in 2011 for Bettie Grind came in the form of an official distribution deal with Select-O-Hits Records. Since inking that business partnership, he released T.G.F.C. (Thank God For Crack, music that is). The album dropped last month and is not only available online, but retailers throughout North Carolina and South Carolina. In addition to the album, his single "Ciroc Money" is produced by Drumma Boy (Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Gucci, Waka Flocka, etc) and impacting commercial radio throughout the Carolinas.
Bettie Grind has a strong team, well connected publicist and a connection to the Carolina streets. In 2011, many of the newer artists are focusing their movements on the digital platform exclusively. It’s important to have a digital strategy, but don’t forget there’s a street platform and that fans can be well served that way with the right strategy.
With a distro deal, plus all of the key elements already mentioned, Bettie Grind is one to watch in 2012.
Additional Notable Carolina Artists To Watch For In 2012:
Sadie Hawkins (@SadieHawkinsSC). Hometown: Columbia, SC. Sadie Hawkins has a strong team, an ear for selecting radio-ready beats, and had several high profile NYC media appearances throughout the year.
J. Gunn (@JGunnMusic). Hometown: Durham, NC. J. Gunn signed with MC Lyte’s Duboise Music Group over the summer.
Saint Nick (@SaintNickMC). Hometown: Columbia, SC. Saint Nick recently inked a deal with Devyne Stephens Management (Akon’s business partner and Kelly Rowland’s manager).
Rebellious aka Shawt & G (@RebelliousMindz). Hometown: Florence, SC. Shawt & G has released two well-received mixtapes (The Carolina Blueprint Volumes. 1 & 2), several high quality videos and has performed throughout SC, GA as well as NYC.