Is Lil Wayne's Protege Drake The Next Big Thing?: 'Mixtape Monday'

Plus: Nipsey Hussle has 'high expectations for this industry and this game.'

Artist: [artist id="2481963"]Nipsey Hussle[/artist]

Representing: South Central L.A.

Mixtape: Bullets Ain't Got No Names: Vol. II

411: Soak up the swagger — Hussle's in the house! Coming into contact with gunplay as a teen, Hussle earned his name by his stringent work ethic as a, er, street pharmacist. One of the homies dubbed him "Nipsey Hussle," a play on the name of the always-rhyming comedian of yesteryear Nipsey Russell. Nip is so young, however, that he'd never seen Russell's breakout role as the Tinman in "The Wiz" (1978). He didn't get the joke, but he liked the name anyway.

For over a year, Nip has been back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, recording his debut LP for Cinematic/Epic, South Central State of Mind. Game and Snoop Dogg are the only guests on the record besides Hussle's crew, the Slauson Boys.

During the past several weeks, the lanky MC — who will remind you of Snoop Dogg (some fans thought Nip was Snoop's brother or cousin, but there is no relation) — hasn't been in one spot for long. He was opening for Game's LAX tour.

"I tell everybody that was the best sh-- we could've did," Nip said of going out on the road with Hurricane Game. "Just for the fact of getting in front of that many people and Game being an artist from the West Coast with — not necessarily style, but similar content to what I'm doing. When I got out there, they was loving me like they was loving [Game's] sh--. If you a Game fan, you're a fan of West Coast music. You're a fan of L.A. music, L.A. culture, L.A. lifestyle. When I went out onstage, it was preaching to the choir. It was A1. The best experience I could've had."

Nip promises a summer release for South Central State of Mind. For almost half a year, though, Nip's mixtape Bullets Ain't Got No Names Vol. II has been tearing up the streets, and true to his name, Hus has been on the grind, getting his tape from L.A. all the way out to NYC.

"I got high expectations for this industry and this game," he said. "I want a lot, so I gotta do a lot. I know I gotta feed the radio, do shows, I know I gotta convince people I'm the one. Let them know they can spend their hard-earned money on my product. Times is tough. Some people don't even have enough money to pay their rent or put gas in they [car]. To ask somebody to go out and spend their hard-earned money, you have to damn near give them an offer they can't refuse."

Hussle's first offering is his theme song, "Hussle in the House." The record resonates from the swap meet to the hardwood: The San Antonio Spurs practice to the song and come out on the court to the record during home games.

"You know, it's a lot of things at once," he said about his rising popularity. "It's confirmation. That's kinda what my goal was, to come in and be recognized and be established by my fans and the peers as the up-and-coming dude. It's kinda strange, too, because I see people's reaction to me change. I walk around my neighborhood, it's a little different now. It's not like I can't walk down the street where I'm a superstar, but people are starting to take notice. I walk in the mall, and little girls are pointing me out and giggling. I'm loving every second of it."

Joints To Check For

» "Roll the Windows Up." "That's not the official first single, but it's a record we're going with for the mixshow," Nip said. "A lot of DJs was asking for it. So I went ahead and put a third verse on it [so I could release it]. My group the Slauson Boys is on the second verse. We kept feeding them. My third verse on there, basically I'm talking about the element. 'Doing 60 in my city up the one-way/ Where all the young n---as take flight like a runway/ We never run 'way, we come from gunplay/ I see a halo on your head like Beyoncé/ ... Real boss getting money on his off day/ It's obvious I'm everything the song say.' My first verse, I was just clowning about when we was out here flossin', getting that street money."

» "Let's Talk Money." "Basically, you wanna talk paper? I'm an artist, I consider myself a lyricist, but at the same time, I like to party and have some fun. That was a record where I was doing the party swag and letting them know I do this too. All my diamonds are real. I was rockin' Rollies before this rap game. I was getting money, Cuban linx when I was a young n---a on the block. Basically, that's what that was about, showing off. Showboating."

» "Hussle in the House." "That was my vision of what a new West Coast artist coming from the streets of L.A. would sound [like] and how they would introduce themselves to the world. It's a small introduction to this Nipsey Hussle music. 'Guns, money and bi---es, that's the way we do it.' I try to embody the lifestyle of an L.A. dude in the street on that record. I was inspired by the beat, because Detroit Red killed that record on the production. It was the Kris Kross flip. Obviously, that was an era of my life. I was a young dude coming up. I was wearing my overalls backwards. I was 6 or 7 when that sh-- came out. I really did a show as Kris Kross, me and my brother. Just hearing that flip and how hard that beat was hitting. ... Honestly, when I heard the beat, I had to do it."

Hood's Heavy Rotation: Bubbling Below the Radar

» Rick Ross - "Valley of Death" and "Lay Back"

» Fall Out Boy (featuring Lil Wayne and Joe Budden) - "America's Suitehearts" remix

The Streets Is Talking: News And Notes From The Underground

All the greats — from Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas and Kanye West to Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy — have, at one point or another, made their way through the famed Hot 97 doors to visit Funkmaster Flex and spit live on the air to introduce themselves to the rap community at large. It's a rite of passage that has resulted in some of the most memorable freestyles in hip-hop history, like Big's Diddy-assisted "Unbelievable." Last Thursday, an artist many think is the next in line of great MCs, Aubrey "Drake" Graham, made his debut over the New York airwaves. The "Degrassi" actor-turned-Young Money affiliate kicked it with the radio kingpin, holding court on his career, talking about his latest mixtape So Far Gone, and traveling with Flex to Cam'ron's first Manhattan party in three years. He might not have made history just yet during his brief appearance. But this kid fits in pretty fast.

Yet to hear him tell it, the Toronto native thought he'd have a hard time breaking into the game because of his not-too-rapper-like background. He raps, he sings, and his mixtape is a mix of mellow love tunes along with the braggadocious lyrical onslaughts. Now, the 20-something upstart has one of the biggest buzzes going for a new artist since Jeezy first emerged.

"I'm very taken aback by [the reception to So Far Gone], because I used to be so self-conscious about the strikes against me, like coming from Canada, being on a TV show, being super light-skinned," he said, mildly joking. "There's just things where you be like, 'Is this gonna work?' But now it gives me a chance to really accept that I am something different and something new. I see it more as an opportunity to really be, like, 'Well I don't have to be the next 'Ye, I don't have to be the next Wayne, I can just be the first Drake,' and that's something I'm happy about. So Far Gone itself was me really doing something I felt was necessary. I wanted to give fans information about myself before we embark on this journey together, before I make this album, before I give them product that they have to really support, go out and buy. I wanted to gain their loyalty by telling them a little about my life, and I wanted to make sure I did it for free."

The mixtape — released in February — took the rapper six months to complete and features collaborations with heavy-hitters like Weezy, Bun B, Trey Songz and Omarion.

Drake said he approached the release like an actual album. His recording process is filled with plenty of actual writing. Songs like "Best I Ever Had" are not only favorites for the ladies, but should also be appreciated for Drizzy's attention to detail.

"I write in my BlackBerry, and I go online to research things if I need to. I take my time. I'm not really one of those rappers that pride themselves on, 'Oh, I did 50 songs tonight,' " Drake said. "I can do two verses, not finish the song and feel proud."

Drake's still riding high from his recent turn on Wayne's I Am Music Tour. But he's gearing up for his first major show in Canada since So Far Gone hit the Web. Next up for Drake is helping Wayne put the final touches on Young Money's group album, and then the rapper — co-managed by Weezy and Kanye's managers — will turn his attention to his yet-untitled solo debut.

Acting, however, will still be a bit part of Drake's plans. Maybe this time, though, instead of an after-school-special spin, he'll lean toward comedy fare — Big Willie Style.

"My dream is to be in a movie with Will Ferrell or Michael Cera. I'm a big fan of all those dudes," Drake said. "Steve Carell, [movies like] '40-Year-Old Virgin' and 'Knocked Up' and 'Superbad' — I'm a big fan of those movies. I feel like I've had the training, and I'm surrounded by enough funny people that I could probably pull it off. My goal is to get deep into acting. I want to be like this generation's Will Smith, just Canadian and light-skinned. I'm not gonna wear, like, the shiny clothes, and I probably won't take my shirt off either. I wanna be like [that], but not really."

Any upstart rappers would be happy to have just Wayne on their side, but it looks like Drake has another hip-hop heavyweight in the mix too: Jay-Z. On Wednesday, Drake posted on his Twitter page "Young Angel and Young Hova." The rapper confirmed that he was collaborating with Jay, on a Just Blaze-produced track, when he talked with Angie Martinez on New York's Hot 97 on Thursday.

For other artists featured in Mixtape Monday, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines.

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