The Regional Report: West Coast Up-and-Comers
It was a monster November/December combo for hip-hop, with leaked albums springing up everywhere, the Game emerging triumphantly from his Aftermath feud(s), Jay-Z returning with a legendary seven-city, 26-hour tour and not-so legendary album, Snoop releasing a keeper, Nas declaring that hip-hop is dead, Ghostface putting out a second album in '06, and the Clipse making hipster hip-hop fans drool with the release of Hell Hath No Fury. There's been a lot to keep track of.
So you can forgive me for taking a break from the Regional Report's "up-and-comers" theme. It's hard to stay focused on the next breakout star when Jay-Z is flying around in a plane that has his face painted on it, and putting on concerts in Atlanta at seven in the morning. The tail end of 2006 was all about the heavy hitters.
However, the first quarter of 2007 stands to serve as a breakout campaign for new hip-hop stars across the country, and nowhere does the youth movement seem to be picking up more steam than in sunny Southern California. "New West" is the catch phrase in L.A. as a bumper crop of stars look to make their mark early and often in the year to come.
The dynamic for emerging rappers on the West Coast is different from other regions of the country. Artists in Chicago are grappling with the challenge of maintaining Kanye's aesthetic while sidestepping his rather large shadow. Those in New York are trying to bring the birthplace of hip-hop back to the forefront while competing for airtime against veteran heavyweights like Jay-Z and Nas. In the South the new guys are finding it tough to get a piece of the limelight, with fairly new stars like Young Jeezy and Chamillionaire (not to mention "King" T.I.) already in place. In the Mid-Atlantic, some incredibly talented artists are simply trying to put cities not named Virginia Beach and Philadelphia on the hip-hop map. Everywhere you look, there are substantial challenges.
Then there is the West Coast. Always one of the powers in hip-hop, L.A. has been in rough shape for the better part of the last decade. Dr. Dre continues to loom over the rap industry, but he's become less regional and more national with each passing year. He hardly qualifies. Snoop's Tha Blue Carpet Treatment is probably his best release since Doggystyle in 1993, but even Snoop is more of an MTV star than a West Coast gangsta rapper. That pretty much leaves the Game to hold down the entire fort, and he's actually doing an admirable job. More important to would-be stars in the L.A. area is the fact that the Game's success has put the whole region back on the map. Game will be the first to tell you that he's saved the West Coast and brought it back to prominence.