Instagram // Nicki Minaj
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—by Kemet High
We have to take it back to the skinny jeans and T-Mobile sidekicks for this one. Ten years ago, back in 2008, both fashion and music exemplified exuberance. Rap music was increasingly becoming interactive, and rappers like Kanye West, T.I., and Lil Wayne began proving that they were soon-to-be legends. Tracks like "Low" by Flo Rida and "No One" by Alicia Keys were played all over the radio, which made record labels seek those who could compete with songs that crossed multiple genres such as pop and rap. But, in appreciation for the art, artists' started signing artists. And one of the most successful to do it was Lil Wayne, thus giving birth to his record label, Young Money.
Wayne was already hot, he just needed someone to share the flames with. So, he started looking for artists. Back in 2005, Lil Wayne founded and served as the president of Young Money before stepping down just a few years later, passing the position on to Mack Maine. During the mid to late 2000s, Lil Wayne was in full stride, hot and ready to take over the rap game. Tha Carter III dropped, went triple platinum, and people were fascinated with his tricky wordplay and autotune on tracks like "A Milli" and "Lollipop." His mark was clearly being made, but in the meantime Wayne began to recruit a team of artists that could build an iconic empire. By the time 2009 hit, Young Money became an unstoppable collective consisting of 11 artists: T-Streets, Gudda Gudda, Jae Millz, Tyga, Lil Chuckee, Lil Twist, Nicki Minaj, Shanell, Mack Maine, Drake and Lil Wayne. Not only were they murking hits together on tracks like "Every Girl" and "BedRock," they decorated the mainstream hip hop game individually, as well as with songs like Drake's "Best I Ever Had," Nicki's "Your Love," and Tyga's "Rack City."
A decade later, they're topping the charts again, and it's hard to ignore just how significant their longevity is. Despite his woes with Cash Money and Birdman, Wayne's Tha Carter V finally dropped after four years, Nicki came for each and every head in music following her fourth studio album Queen, Drake dropped double-sided Scorpion and created the song of the summer "In My Feelings," and Tyga crept back into rotation with back-to-back hits like "Taste" and "Dip." Rap music is forever evolving and changing. But, Young Money seems to be the only label to avoid the negative impact of the change for this long. I guess legends create legends, and with Young Money, the best artists have actually prospered. Here's how they all did it:
Nicki Minaj a.k.a. The Queen: At the time, Queens, New York didn't a boss this lucrative since 50 Cent. Minaj's alter egos allowed her to redefine female rap through her ability to be flexible, whether she was rapping about shooting you in the face or how pretty she was as a black Barbie doll. Three tapes in, and "Itty Bitty Piggy" and "I Get Crazy" not only put her on as a woman in rap, but she put on for the entire city of New York, which bleeds high dance energy and "showoff" mentalities. Wayne signed Minaj and '09 and she instantly became the face of female rap. Whenever we heard Young Money, here was Nicki Minaj holding her own. Once "Roger That" dropped with Tyga, her lane and opportunity in music opened up like Moses parting the water. She did nothing other than pick up steam when her music started rolling in, and her debut album, Pink Friday, moved almost 400,000 copies in the first week. Nearly 10 years later, following Queen and excluding her beef with Cardi B, fans still rave over Minaj. She brought a confidence to the game that was unmatched, and musically, her legendary status isn't an argument. Don't get it twisted, she sells sex. But, she will also body you in a street cypher. That's exactly why her style works.
Lil Wayne a.k.a. Dwayne Carter: It's rather common now, but when it comes to autotune, Wayne definitely added that drip to the rap game. Along with T-Pain, Wayne used autotune as an artificial drug that seemed to serenade the ears of listeners all over the country. The two's single "Got Money" peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of his dozen songs to be charted at the time. One of those songs, "Let It Rock" by Kevin Rudolf and featuring Wayne, signified the redirection the rapper was taking with his music, as his next album was heavily influenced by rock music and electrical composition. Four Grammys richer, Wayne learned about not only his impact on rap, but in music as a whole and used the flames from his torch to light those of everyone else's. His follow up project I Am Not A Human Being was coated by his single "Right Above It" which featured his biggest successor to date, Drake. However, Wayne's frustrations will his main label Cash Money began to brew, delaying his anticipated Tha Carter V for four years. In September 2018, Wayne finally got his money owed from Birdman, and we finally got Tha Carter V.
Drake a.k.a. Drizzy: "Rich off a mixtape, got rich off a mixtape," he wasn't lying. Coming out of Toronto, Drake's Comeback Season and So Far Gone tapes caught the attention of Lil Wayne, so Wayne flew him out to Houston and signed him. At this time, Weezy hit the jackpot with Drake because this man starting pumping out hits like a boxer. His first few singles, "Best I Ever Had," "I'm Goin In" and "Successful" featuring Trey Songz would mark the start of a historical run; which seems to speed up each year. Drake hasn't missed yet. He adds richness to a song with creamy flows and conscientious bars. Not only was he pumping out tapes, but he was enhancing songs with soon-to-be legends in "Aston Martin Music" and "Forever." Now, back to those bars and flows... Drake was a steal because he can simply make music for the turn up and turn down. The long debate over which Drake is better -- "hard" Drake or "soft" Drake -- has recently been easier to narrow down. On his latest album, Scorpion, side A and side B catered to both. Side A was for those who prefer the harder Drake, and side B was for those who wanted "in the bag" Drake. His ability to transform music and stay relevant is unmatched, clearly. Drake is like the LeBron James of music.
Tyga a.k.a. T-Raw: Now Tyga… Tyga, Tyga, Tyga… Fans always act like Tyga wasn't one of the main names in hip hop back in the late 2000s. Following the steps of Lil Wayne, Tyga became good at killing other people's beats with his Well Done mixtape series, prompting his signing to Young Money. Aside from the tapes, though, his singles cracked the game and were considered as some of the greatest hits at that time. You probably remember Tyga wearing jerseys, retro Jordans, and rocking skinny jeans in the videos like "Faded" and "Rack City." Competing with Kendrick Lamar, YG, and The Game -- on the west -- he did find his own niche. Tyga wasn't making songs for the radio, but rather music that was true to his style of quick punches and frenzied subject lines. He dropped Fan of a Fan with Chris Brown in 2010, marking the last strong suit before his hiatus. As the game evolved, Tyga didn't. So, people stopped listening. Right when listeners figured he should stop trying, he came out with "Taste" and has been heated ever since.
Young Money has dropped two collaborative albums, We Are Young Money and Rise of an Empire since it was first created back in '08. Although some artists never made it past those two projects; Nicki, Drake, Wayne, and Tyga have put in so much work that the entire label seems to be hip hop royalty. Back in the early 2000s, none of them would release albums without features from one another. This made the label responsible for hits like "Up All Night," "Moment 4 Life," "Still Got It," "Miss Me" and "Money To Blow." It must be 2008 all over again because the Young Money takeover has been sparked this year. Regardless of your personal preference, it's impossible to experience hip hop and rap without samples of Young Money throughout. Now, with tracks like "In My Feelings," "Dip," and "Rich Sex," it's time to salute. Ten years later, fans still get excited to hear "Young Money" on a track.