On Sunday at noon at the "Sucker Free Summit," one rising hip-hop artist will be named "Hottest Breakthrough MC of 2010".
Fans voted online and whittled down 20 promising candidates to five finalists: Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Diggy Simmons and Travis Porter. MTV News hit up a bunch of hip-hop experts to find out who they think will take the title, and many of the pundits said the crown belongs to Nicki.
"You can't really mess with Nicki Minaj," said Brendan Frederick, deputy editor of Complex magazine. "She's everywhere, she's on every cameo. She finally has a single that is working for her, ["Your Love"], after her failed attempt [with "Massive Attack"]. Everything seems to be lining up for her," he added. "I love a lot of the people who are nominated but she kind of has everything lining up for her at once and it seems like this is gonna be her year to break out."
The executive editor of The Source, Amy Andrieux, agreed that 2010 is the year of Nicki. "I definitely have to say Nicki Minaj. She's got the whole Barbie collective out there. Everyone's changing their look, getting more, I guess, 'cutesy.' She's so animated. She's full of energy and Young Money's on top. Why wouldn't it be Nicki Minaj?"
Honeymag.com Editor in Chief Shanel Odum said that Nicki's singular style attracts all types of fans. "Obviously, she's got a look going but I think her look doesn't alienate women at all; she still takes that girl-power edge. She's kind of like a superhero: She's got the ninja thing going on [and] the Barbie thing going on but she's still very sexy. She oozes some sort of confident sexuality that women admire and guys just lust for."
The executive vice-president of AllHipHop.com and editor of its Breeding Ground section, Steve Raze, is putting his money on a finalist who has a cultish following similar to Minaj's, but who wins fans over with his decidedly chill flow.
"You got some amazing talent on the top-five finalists but I think who's gonna take it is Wiz Khalifa," Raze said. He added that the Pittsburgh MC's appeal lies in his ability to be himself.
"He did what he did. He smokes weed. He wakes and bakes. He does his thing and then he has his orange juice — that's his breakfast for the morning. When you talk about being real, this guy is the epitome of being real: he smokes, he parties, he has girls. That's what [his mixtape] Kush & OJ was all about," Raze explained.
Although Complex's Frederick chose Nicki as the ultimate victor, he also said Wiz's Kush is one of the best tapes of the year.
Another favored pick among the pundits is North Carolina MC J. Cole. Brian "B.Dot" Miller, content director for RapRadar.com, said the Fayettenam rapper's sharp rhymes push him apart from the pack. "I think J. Cole is just really dope because he's bringing back just pure raw lyricism," he said. "[He's has] the lyrics that makes you press the rewind button a couple times."
Cole has also scored what is arguably one of the most powerful endorsements in hip-hop as the first signee to Jay-Z's Roc Nation. Odum, who dubbed the star an "artist's artist," said the rising rapper's smooth flow and easy swagger perhaps best evokes the style of early Jigga.
"I think that J. Cole may have reminded Jay-Z of himself in the beginning. Just his persona, he's just not showy and big," Odum observed. "When he brags, he's just kind of subtle about it. I think he saw something of himself in J. Cole."
But Raze said fans shouldn't count out Diggy Simmons, who at 15 is the youngest of the top-five finalists. Simmons is filled with promise, and as the son of Run-DMC's Reverend Run, has hip-hop in his blood. "Diggy's amazing," Raze said. "I think that he's developing. ... The next couple years, this guy's gonna be a beast. He's a monster lyrically."
Andrieux bet that Travis Porter's Differenter Gang fans might boost the trio to the top spot.
"Travis Porter, how can you fight them? [They have been] unsigned for so many months [and are] killin' it with the mixtape [and] killin' it with 'Go Shorty Go.' I love that song, it's a party anthem. 'Bananas' is another party anthem. [They have] just like, a million views on YouTube. I'm sure fans will look to them to win," Andrieux said.
Regardless of who takes it, all of the top-five finalists have proved that they are stars to watch. "In the next two years, these guys are gonna all be on the radio," Raze predicted. "They're gonna be selling out concerts like they do now — just on a bigger level. That pack's the future."
Who do you think will be crowned "Hottest Breakthrough MC of 2010? Share your predictions in the comments below!