It’s been a quick rise to the top for Waka Flocka Flame.
The Queens-born, Atlanta-bred rapper began garnering attention in hip-hop circles after his mixtape Salute Me or Shoot Me Vol. 1 hit the streets of Atlanta in January 2009. It featured his breakout record “O Let’s Do It.” The rowdy club track quickly became a fan favorite, and a year later, after he peppered the streets with more mixtapes and a guest verse on “Bingo,” from Gucci Mane’s 2009 LP, The State vs. Radric Davis, “O Let’s Do It” got an official remix featuring Diddy, Rick Ross and Gucci Mane .
On top of all that, the singles “Hard in Da Paint” and “No Hands,” from his debut LP Flockaveli (released October 5), garnered him enough buzz and attention to be voted the #8 Hottest MC in the Game, his first time making the list.
While Atlanta has been a hotbed of hip-hop talent for many years, a lot of artists who make a name for themselves off club records disappear as fast as they arrive. Right now, though, Waka isn’t just hot in the clubs; he practically owns them.
“[Waka] put out three consistent records in a row,” MTV senior producer Rahman Dukes said during the Hottest MCs roundtable. “He’s coming out a region that’s known for putting out one great record.”
Still, there are many in hip-hop who question the upstart’s talent. Critics have derided him, claiming he’s more flash and rowdiness (witness his shouted ad lib “Waka! Flocka! Waka! Flocka!”) than lyrical substance .
“He’s not the most lyrical dude,” MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez admitted, defending Waka’s place on the list. “But these joints, they’re ubiquitous. You can’t go places without hearing ‘O Let’s Do It.’ You hear it everywhere.”
“There’s always been a lane for different artists who just control that ‘get drunk, get crunk, just go hard’ … and those artists usually haven’t always been the most lyrical,” said MTV News supervising producer Sean Lee. “Right now, he’s owning that lane.”
MTV News’ Shaheem Reid agreed. “When I listen to Waka, it just takes me back to the audacity when Onyx came out, that spirit,” he said. “You put the song on, you go into the club, and you just gotta be prepared for anything.”
But MTV Jams’ Tuma Basa wasn’t as easily convinced that having a handful of hot records in the club was enough to warrant the attention Waka is currently receiving. “Does Waka have the lasting power?” he questioned. “Does he have the ability to sustain, where a year from now everybody’s going to admit that they liked the song?”
These proved to be questions that opened up a great deal of debate among the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust, and Waka ultimately found himself pitted against eventual #9 selection B.o.B for his slot at #8.
“I feel like that’s a question of commercialism versus what’s hot in the streets,” said RapFix editor Hillary Crosley. Dukes added: “Waka, he has the soul of the streets right now.”
Lee felt that Waka’s music, because it’s so hard and so raw, hits listeners in a way that B.o.B’s shimmery pop tunes can’t. “You hear the B.o.B records, and you’re like, ‘I like that. It’s cool,’ ” he said. “But it doesn’t bring out the passion.”
MTV News associate producer Steven Roberts strongly disagreed, claiming that hip-hop music reaches more than just a street audience, and that another audience, perhaps one not being spoken for at the roundtable, felt just as strongly about B.o.B’s music as Waka’s.
“It’s definitely a different crowd,” Roberts said. “You have a song like ‘Nothin’ on You,’ which girls can gravitate towards; you have a song like ‘Airplanes,’ where it’s inspirational. You have to look at the hip-hop circle as bigger than just the streets. In hip-hop, there is a pop circle. [And] you got a lot of dudes in hip-hop who just don’t mess with Waka Flocka; who are like, ‘This is just ignorant.’ ”
“Waka’s charting,” MTV Jams’ Sheila Grullon countered. “Not on top 40 [radio], but he’s charting. And the urban charts are crazy right now. You go to the clubs, and nobody’s gonna play ‘Airplanes.’ ”
Grullon is right: “O Let’s Do It” hit #7 on the Billboard Rap Songs chart, while “No Hands” hit #6.
In the end, the Brain Trust kept Waka at #8, because he’s on the rise at the moment, his songs are continuing to get hotter, and the spotlight is definitely on him.
The 2010 Hottest MCs in the Game rollout is now complete! As in 2008 and 2009, the criteria is based on a combination of rhyme skill, flow, buzz, commercial success, business ventures, Web presence and cultural influence. Upload your comments, reactions, arguments and/or your own list to Your.MTV.com or send tweets with the hashtag #hottestmcs — the best responses could be on TV or our hip-hop blog, RapFix!