jodybreeze.jpgAlthough he’s just 23, Jody Breeze (he borrowed the name from the lead character in the John Singleton flick Baby Boy) is something of a rap veteran. In 2004, the Griffin, Ga., native became the first rapper signed to Jazze Pha’s Warner Bros.–distributed Sho’ Nuff label, releasing a single, “Stay Fresh,” that became an East Coast hit that fall. Breeze’s rise to stardom seemed complete when Diddy recruited him to join the Southern supergroup Boyz N Da Hood.

But as Breeze went about prepping his own album, A Day in the Life of Jody Breeze, and contributing to BNDH, he was overshadowed by the instant megasuccess of his group mate Young Jeezy. While he collected a platinum plaque for his standout work on BNDH’s ’05 self-titled debut, Breeze’s own buzz lagged. But in ’06, he returned with a stellar mixtape, The Best Kept Secret, Vol. 2, and—Jeezy having left the fold—solidified his spot as BNDH’s resident heartthrob. With his much delayed solo debut set for an early ’08 release, it seems Jody Breeze’s day may have finally arrived.

joebudden.jpgJoe Budden would have been on this list summer 2003. Two mixtape tracks that turned into club bangers—“Focus” and “Pump It Up”—and a Def Jam Records contract had the Queens-raised Jersey City rep primed for the big time. His self-titled debut album, though, while critically acclaimed, didn’t quite live up to expectations, selling fewer than 500,000 copies.

Having struggled with emotional issues for much of his life, the greasy-voiced MC spent 2004 mired in depression. Eventually, he started channeling his feelings into rap—his cocksure delivery an effective counterpoint to lyrics full of pained introspection and sarcastic self-loathing. Thanks to a pair of beloved mixtapes, Mood Muzik 1 and 2, and material released on the Internet, Budden has developed a fiercely loyal following centered around the fan site Originally slated for 2005, his second official album, The Growth, has been delayed to the point where most people doubt it’s ever coming. Mood Muzik 3 was supposed to arrive summer ’07, and it didn’t. But as long as he continues to come up with songs as honest and heart-wrenching as the recent “Where Did It Go Wrong?” his growing cult of online fans might just write Joe Budden a comeback story worth waiting for.


mistahfab.jpgStanley “Mistah F.A.B.” Cox is emblematic of hyphy’s escapism. With a father who died of AIDS, a mother who struggled with drug addiction, and a brother who spent 11 years in the penitentiary, the 25-year-old North Oakland native has used the Bay Area’s exuberant brand of hip-hop to transcend his painful family situation.

Ghost riding the whip one moment, battling Jin the next, Mistah F.A.B. (an acronym for money is something to always have [so stay] faeva afta bread) has earned endorsements from local patron saints Too $hort, who used to roll with his mom, and the late Mac Dre, who was floored by his appearance on the seminal hyphy DVD 23109: Exhibition of Speed.

Now, after several indie mixtapes and albums, Fab has inked a deal with Atlantic Records to take his stunna shades nationwide. In preparation, he’s just released Da Baydestrian on his own label, Faeva Afta/SMC Recordings, and is readying Sideshow, a collaboration with Glasses Malone dedicated to West Coast car culture. Due March ’08, behind a lead single, “I Just Want to Party,” featuring Snoop Dogg, the Atlantic debut, Da Yellow Bus Rydah, will be dedicated to cold gettin’ dumb enough to leave life’s troubles behind.


unclemurda.jpgEarly this year, with the argument over who will be New York’s next hardest rapper ongoing, Brooklynite Uncle Murda slipped in the back door. Looking to his heavily West Indian borough for inspiration, the Panamanian-American MC took hip-hop back to its essence, blending it with reggae. A menacing opening salvo called “Murderer” utilized the Barrington Levy classic of the same name. Then, “Bullet, Bullet” riffed on the popular reggae call-and-response “Pull It! Pull It!” The streets gave much respect.

Born Lenny Grant, raised in East New York’s Pink Houses Projects, the 27-year-old gangsta rapper’s been flying below the radar for years. He had a deal with Ruff Ryders back in 2000 that never resulted in anything. But in 2006, his manager, Manhood, introduced him to former Shady Records DJ Green Lantern, and soon Murda was building a buzz on radio shows and mixtapes like Respect the Shooter and Say Uncle: 2 Hard for Hip-Hop. This past April, Jay-Z signed him to Roc-A-Fella for a rumored million-plus, and this summer, the two joined Fabolous on the borough-pride anthem “Brooklyn.” Now, with a street single, “Informer,” featuring Wyclef and Mavado over an island-flavored riddim, and a first full album dropping at the top of 2008, the self-professed “No. 1 gunner” is ready to lick a shot at the big time.


webbie.jpgBalancing solo work with regular collaborations with Lil Boosie, Webbie has carved a lane for himself at the forefront of a new generation of Louisiana rappers. Born in the state capital of Baton Rouge, he grew up in the city’s rough Sherwood section, losing his mother when he was nine. But at the age of 15, he found a surrogate family at UGK legend Pimp C’s Trill Entertainment, where he was paired with fellow Baton Rougian Boosie on 2003’s Pimp C Presents: Ghetto Stories and 2004’s Gangsta Musik—albums that did impressive business for the indie label.

In 2005, Webbie recorded a couple solo tracks, “Give Me That” and “Bad Bitch,” that helped Trill secure a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. His major-label debut, Savage Life, came out that July, hitting Billboard’s Top 10 on the strength of a more polished version of “Give Me That,” featuring Pimp C’s UGK rhyme partner Bun B. Throughout ’06 and ’07, Webbie continued his joint effort with Lil Boosie, culminating with this spring’s Survival of the Fittest and its summertime ode to conspicuous consumption, “Wipe Me Down.” Whether he’s riding with his whoadie or cruising solo, Webbie’s shown no signs of slowing down.

AND DON'T FORGET TO CHECK OUT THE TOP 10: Next Up Pt. 1 & Next Up Pt. 2