GA’s Most Wanted – Rd. 4, Hip-Hop Soul Reigns Supreme
When it comes to music, Georgia doesn’t just make waves in the hip-hop arena but the Southern state also has its fair share of notable vocalists. As XXL continues to highlight the main movers and shakers with our weeklong GA’s Most Wanted series, we shed light on the 10 most notable hip-hop soul artists laying down vocals and tossin’ up hits in the process. —Rondell Conway
If you’re talking Georgia star power in the realm of R&B, the conversation has to start with Usher Raymond. The Grammy Award-winner is a supernova in the ATL’s galaxy of stars. Ush made his debut in 1994 among the original class of musical luminaries—TLC, Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, OutKast—that helped put the A on the map. With his silky smooth vocals, suave dance moves, and over 15 million albums sold to date, the R&B crooner stands as the standard bearer for today’s generation of hip-hop/soul acts. His catalog of hits, “Yeah,” “Burn,” “U Got It Bad,” just to name a few, have opened the door for the entertainer to take on roles in Hollywood and hock fragrances in his spare time. Now, with his sixth album, Raymond vs. Raymond, forging two No. 1singles—“Papers” and “OMG”—it’s safe to say that Usher has more than put on for his city.
Few ATL artists made as immediate an impact on music as Ciara did with her 2005 debut Goodies. Crowned the “Princess of Crunk&B,” the Atlanta transplant (by way of Texas) dominated the airwaves with her dance-friendly mixture of crunk music and R&B. Ubiquitous singles like “1, 2 Step,” and “Oh” helped Ci-Ci rack up triple-platinum status on her debut LP. Though Ciara’s career has since come back to Earth following the release of her third album Fantasy Ride, things are set to blast off again thanks to the buzz her 2010 single “Ride,” is generating. The seductive, Ludacris-assisted single is steadily rising up the Billboard charts, and Andre 3000’s recent contribution to the remix is sure to give it a nice boost. And just in case you haven’t noticed Georgia still wants to see Ciara’s goodies.
Singer/songwriter Terius “The-Dream” Nash will be the first to admit, he’s not the best vocalist. He’ll tell you himself, he’s not the best dancer out there, but he’s consistent with making street but sweet love jams. On all three of his love-themed albums—Love/Hate (2008), Love vs. Money (2009), Love King (2010)—the falsetto-voiced crooner has not been bashful about delivering explicit bedroom anthems. Prolific with the pen, The-Dream has penned a Grammy Award winning smash, “Umbrella,” for Rihanna and an infectious chart-topping banger, “Bed,” for J. Holiday. He most recently helped fellow ATLien Ciara find her groove back by co-writing her current hit “Ride.” [Any excuse to watch that video again.] Mr. Nash has also been a go-to guy for rappers in need of a winning radio-friendly hip-hop/soul collaboration. See: Fabolous “Throw It In The Bag,” Snoop Dogg “Gangsta Luv.” Though he’s hinted at retirement The-Dream is probably going to be around for a while given the desire for his brand of music, from fans and his peers alike.
Keri Hilson is everything you want in your R&B siren. She’s easy on the eyes. She’s sassy with an approachable around the way girl appeal. And last but not least, she’s a gifted singer/songwriter, who can pen her own hits if needed. Born and bred in the A, Hilson got her start penning tunes for the likes of Britney Spears, Usher, and Ciara. She teamed up with super-producers Polow Da Don and Timbaland in 2007 to become a solo artist on their joint venture Zone 4/Mosley Music Group signed through Interscope Records. With Polow and Timbaland laying the track work for her songs, Hilson went from obscurity to stardom in a major way. Now as she works on her still untitled sophomore album, she’s lent her talents to the comeback single from T.I., “Got Your Back,” while becoming the new face of Avon cosmetics. Ms. Keri Baby is certainly one of Georgia’s Most Wanted in more ways than one.
If Usher is the king of R&B in Atlanta, Jermaine Dupri the mayor of the city, then call Monica the First Lady. Like Usher, when Atlanta first started to stake its claim as Motown South back in the early 90’s, Monica Denise Arnold was right in the thick of the action. At 15, her 1995 debut album Miss Thang was a multi-platinum success, thanks to hit singles “Don’t Take It Personal” and “Before You Walk Out Of My Life.” Over the years, Monica has drawn comparison to Whitey Houston for her potent pipes and Mary J. Blige for the stirring heartfelt emotions her vocals conjure up. Six albums and 15 years into her Grammy Award-winning career, Monica is still loved and recognized as a matriarch of music in her hometown. Don’t take it personal, young’ns, but y’all got some catching up to do.
While the former Murder Inc. artist was born in New Orleans, Louisiana he spent his formative years in Atlanta, where he grew up with fellow R&B star Ciara. Though his 2004 debut Southside boasted the catchy title track duet with label mate Ashanti, it wasn’t until his sophomore album, Street Love in 2007 that Lloyd became a major player in the ATL’s hip-hop/soul scene. Thanks to the Top 10 single, “You,” featuring Lil Wayne, the album went gold. Blessed with a distinct falsetto, he has matured delivering explicit relationship based lyrics. His contagious chorus on Young Money’s “Bedrock” helped the song become one of the biggest rap singles of 2009. He’s currently trying deliver the same success as the featured artist on new single from G-Unit’s Lloyd Banks, “Any Girl.”
As the standout voice of the Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo Green cooked up some flavorful country-fried hip-hop soul music. On his two critically acclaimed solo efforts, Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (2002) and Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine (2004), he did the same, but it took the release of the universally loved single “Crazy” for the world to realize his dopeness. As one half of the alternative rap duo, Gnarls Barkley, Cee-Lo went from a regional talent to an international star in 2006, thanks to the group’s debut album St. Elsewhere. Prepping his first solo album in six year, Cee-Lo is sure to deliver that appetizing hip-hop soul food the game’s been craving.
Dondria Fields, a.k.a Phatfffat, is a shining example of an online sensation making the successful leap to the big stage in a similar fashion as Soulja Boy. After creating a YouTube page in 2006 to showcase her church-honed vocals, she was an instant fan favorite. Videos of her singing a capella to classics like Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” received thousands of views. Eventually her talent caught the ear of Jermaine Dupri who signed her to his So So Def Records label in 2008. Dondria’s first official single “You’re The One” is in heavy rotation on Atlanta radio and it has earned her much deserved attention as one of the new upstart talents to keep an eye on in 2010.
With a plethora of songwriting credits that include hits like Usher’s “Yeah!,” Ciara’s “Goodies,” and “Beyonce’s “Upgrade,” Sean Garrett has earned the moniker “The Pen.” The Grammy Award-winning songwriter has proven to be a go-to guy for a hit record. As a solo artist he hasn’t quite hit his mark yet, but he’s got a few top-notch features under his belt in Mario’s “Break Up” and Ludacris’ “I Know What Them Girls Like.” As the big name collaborations continue, like Nicki Minaj’s “Massive Attack,” and as he preps his sophomore solo album, The Pen is sure to make his mark.
Bobby V may not be able to match Trey Songz’s buzz right now. Nor be as universally recognized, as say a Chris Brown, but the Georgia native is good for R&B. His effective mix of club-friendly singles and vintage mid-tempo grooves keeps the diminutive crooner on a short list of artist to check for in the hip-hop soul arena. His upcoming Fly on the Wall album will feature more high-powered love anthems and infectious tunes to appease you R&B G’s.