Top Dawg Entertainment’s Shining Stars

Kevin Costello

For those of you who have yet to be acquainted, it’s time to get familiar with the Carson, Cali. independent record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). What differentiates TDE from other labels isn’t just the high quality of music, camaraderie of artists or growing fan base. Over the past 10 years, TDE has become a movement with the potential to endlessly engulf and influence the course of hip-hop both now and for years to come. Founders Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and Terrence “Punch” Henderson have surely but carefully selected a range of underground artists who have been blowing up for some time, and it seems as though their domination of the genre is at hand. For those skeptical, meet the TDE roster.

Kendrick Lamar:Now a household name and international superstar, Kendrick Lamar has come a long way from his humble beginnings in Compton, Cali. Kendrick was TDE’s initial signee in 2004, and after a series of highly successful mixtapes, released his first full-length LP, “Section.80,” in 2011. A concept album describing the culture of Generation Y, the project was widely considered a masterpiece and earned Kendrick national acclaim. A year later, K.Dot released “Good Kid, m.A.A.d city,” another concept album detailing his adolescence in his native Compton. If you’re not familiar with what happened next, you need to crawl out from under that rock. Start by Googling the words “control verse.”

Jay Rock:Jay Rock is the epitome of what gangsta rap should sound like in the 21st century. Born and raised in Watts, Cali., he’s a bounty hunter blood with an intimidating voice and skillful lyrics, with a rather limited subject matter (gang culture, crime and poverty). He signed to TDE in 2005 and released his debut album “Follow Me Home” under Top Dawg and Strange Music in 2011 to

positive reviews.

Ab-Soul:The self proclaimed “king of Carson,” Ab-Soul is known for being a master storyteller, an intricate lyricist and a bit weird. While Soulo isn’t afraid to explore some of the grittier street themes that his labelmates often rap about, he sounds far more comfortable rapping about personal struggle, New Age philosophy, political conspiracies and drug experiences, and he particularly excels over spacey, neo-psychedelic beats. Ab-Soul signed in 2007, and after a series of “Long Term” mix tapes he released his debut, “Longterm Mentality,” in 2011. Never complacent, though, he dropped another LP, “Control System,” just a year later – an album considered to be his most defining work thus far. For what it’s worth, “Control System” is one of my favorite albums of all time.

ScHoolboy Q: Not many can walk the fine line between party rap and gangsta rap well, but Q does it with ease. The last member to join TDE’s Black Hippy supergroup (along with Kendrick, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul), ScHoolboy joined TDE in 2009. Q is unique in his ability to smoothly flow over any beat, effortlessly switching his subject matter from women and drugs to his earlier days selling Oxycodone and getting jumped into L.A.’s Hoover Crips. While some of his subject matter isn’t particularly distinctive in hip-hop, Q’s flow and lyrical ability differentiate him from the pack, as was evident when his 2011 “Setbacks” and 2012 “Habits and Contradictions” scored him rave reviews and international fandom.

Isaiah Rashad:The first TDE signee from outside Southern California, the Chattanooga, TN-based Rashad joined the label in 2013 and went on to release his “Cilvia Demo” EP in early 2014 to positive reviews. Next up for Isaiah Rashad is a full-length debut.

SZA:TDE’s first female R&B artist, Jersey-based R&B singer SZA joined the label in 2013 and is currently working on her TDE debut titled “Z.”

 What does all of this mean? Well, to provide some context, TDE has elevated itself to level of hip-hop juggernaut after successful releases from the four Black Hippy rappers over the past three years. Some called 2013 the Year of TDE after the vast amount of success these four rappers enjoyed. Here’s the catch: TDE didn’t drop a single project last year. They’re set to drop six in 2014. Yeah, juggernauts.