(Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for Def Jam Recording

Def Jam's Undisputed Freshman Class Are Shattering The New Artist Glass Ceiling

For its 35th anniversary, Def Jam—-the legendary record label that brought us LL Cool J, Jay-Z, DMX and more—-has injected their new generation of artists into the hip-hop world with a compilation album titled Undisputed.

In the span of six days, 17 freshly signed artists from all over the country trekked to Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, CA to record the label’s newly released compendium. The album showcases the label’s newest additions while giving listeners a chance to hear where the iconic label is going next. There’s a taste of all types of hip-hop on the album with standout performances by a number of upcoming MCs.

Def Jam Recordings teamed up with New York City radio station Hot 97 to present some of the artists who were apart of the “rap camp” recording sessions for Def Jam’s Undisputed. As a part of the radio station’s monthly "Who’s Next" showcase at SOB’s, Def Jam and a handful of its rookie signings including Dominic Lord, S3nsi Molly, Lil Brook, TJ Porter, Nimic Revenue and YK Osiris made the intimate venue their home on a cold Monday evening.

Hot 97’s DJ Drewski took on hosting duties for the night as the critical New York City crowd arrived in droves to catch their first glimpse of the new era of Def Jam. To get the night started, the label presented a video montage detailing the history of the label with images of the many artists and executives that called the label home.

The first neophyte to hit the stage was Harlem’s own Dominic Lord. In an energetic pace, the MC delivered solid performances of “Parade” and “Diamond Boo” but showed he needed some work on his stiff stage presence. Thankfully Lord’s confidence overshadowed the slight discomfort as he rapped through his lyrics without missing a beat. There’s potential in Lord and he can be a force within the label’s roster and he knows it. “I’m going to pack this up even more next time I come back,” he told the audience as they applauded. “I’m a savage!”

The aggressive, no-nonsense duo of S3nsi Molly and Lil Brook brought their brand of gun-toting, trap-heavy music to SOB’s but it barely left an impression on the New York faithful. Songs like “Big” and “Pop” were hitting but there was no lasting appeal as it soon became obvious how redundant the duo’s lyrics and production were. Their set was the weakest of the night. Molly looked much more comfortable on stage than Lil Brook as Molly actively participated with the crowd.

TJ Porter showed the hometown crowd exactly why Def Jam signed him. Porter’s swagger flowed throughout his entire performance as his vibrant stage presence thrilled the crowd. The audience bounced to “Tricky” and “The Don” while the charismatic Porter brought out fellow upcoming New York rappers Jay Gwuapo and KJ Balla for an electrifying rendition of “Harder Than Ever.” Orlando Magic center and Harlem native Mo Bamba even got on the stage to revel at the moment.

St. Paul, MN native Nimic Revenue’s energy rivaled Porter’s set as she blazed through an equally exciting performance. The audience was invested throughout Revenue’s set as she performed “Therapy,” “Awlorn Gang,” and a few other unreleased songs. Revenue made good use of the stage as well as she moved swiftly to each corner, interacting and actually rapping and singing to a few people stationed at the bottom of the stage. Between her and TJ Porter their sets were the strongest of the night.

Once Revenue closed her set, the crowd was treated to an impromptu performance by another Def Jam rookie, rapper-singer YK Osiris. The Florida native laced the New York crowd with smooth performances of “Worth It” and “Valentine” causing the women in the audience to voice their support of Mr. Valentines.

DaniLeigh hit the stage right after to close out the night as the special guest and the Miami native did not disappoint. Accompanied by two dancers, Leigh bopped her way across the stage while delivering a blend of singing and rapping on “Can’t Relate,” “Family Only,” and “Do It to Me.” She even teased the crowd with a preview of a remix with Chris Brown to her song “Easy.” Before Def Jam could close the lid on the night however, another one of their newest signees, Fetty Luciano, hit the stage with Casanova to perform their collaborative effort “WhatWeDoin’.”

Def Jam’s Undisputed showcase was a night for the iconic label to introduce their new cast of hip-hop artists that will possibly carry the label’s coveted torch.

Since 1984, Def Jam has always had its finger on the pulse of the culture and it’s no different this time around. It was an impressive night but it would’ve been better had they featured other artists who shined on Undisputed like Bernard Jabs, Billz, Pvrx, or Lul G. But regardless of who represented the label that night Def Jam has stamped their ticket to the journey through this new era of hip-hop music filled with melodic hooks and trunk-rattling tunes.

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J Balvin performs at Baja Beach Festival 2019 in Mexico's Rosarito Beach.
Baja Beach Fest/Jose Prado

Review: Baja Beach Festival Brings Reggaeton And Latin Trap Oasis To Rosarito

One of Mexico’s Hollywood-friendly beach towns got some action this weekend with the third annual Baja Beach Festival. From Friday, Aug. 16 to Saturday, Aug. 17, the serene beach just under an hour from San Diego transformed into a paradise for urbano music stans. With the weather clocking in at mid-60 to mid-70 degrees, the end of summer breeze blew just hard enough for attendees to throw their inhibitions to the wind. An idyll of booty cheeks, bikinis, and Tecate beer guzzlers, the outdoor venue that boasted one main stage was not only ideal for those who wanted to take a dip in the ocean then plop on the sand to indulge in live entertainment but also for those who caught the performances from the balconies of the adjacent hotels.

The line-up mirrored a well-curated playlist of today’s popular Latin trap and reggaeton acts. Singer Cazzu brought her Club Emo Tour to Mexico, evoking bad girl vibes. She could slow down the tempo for a sensual love note à la “Toda” -- she appeared on the remix for the song from fellow Baja Beach performer Alex Rose -- or body roll to a sexy number like “Puedo Ser.” R&B-leaning artists like the Brytiago (Night 1) and aforementioned Rose (Night 2) present as rappers on-stage with fitted hats and tees, designer gear and iced out jewelry but croon for a woman’s adoration. Ear-pleasing entries like Brytiago’s “Bipolar” and “La Mentira” as well as Rose’s “Darte” (which borrows the melody from Akon’s explicit “I Wanna Love You”) and contribution to Lunay and Baja Beach Fest act Lyanno’s “A Solas.” Reggaeton duo Jowell y Randy brought classic reggaeton feels with “Un Poco Loca,” which samples Chaka Demus & Pliers's "Murder She Wrote” while also reviving eternal party-starters like Casa De Leones’ 2007 debut single “No Te Veo.”

Despite missing Cardi B -- who canceled a string of shows recently -- the star power for both nights was not dimmed. J Balvin performed an hour’s worth of material that anyone who owns a streaming service account would know. The Balvin fiesta came with dancing figures like life-sized clouds, mushrooms, and colorful creatures including a Cookie Monster-esque octopus. There was no territory he didn’t cover on the music front either. He sprinkled in gems from the Bad Bunny joint project Oasis and collaborative tracks like “Con Altura” (which features Anita) and “Loco Contigo” (which includes DJ Snake and Tyga). After their earlier set, Jowell y Randy appeared for “Bonita” during J Balvin’s set. He then hyped up the late-night crowd with infectious mainstream hits like “Machika,” a Cardi B-less “I Like It” fused with Pete Rodriguez’s original “I Like It Like That” and the explosive finale “Mi Gente.”

The main event came with Ozuna. The 30,000 in attendance clung to every canción, from “Vaina Loca” to the Romeo Santos-assisted songs “Ibiza” and “El Farsante.” His solo rendition of “La Modelo” and the megahit “Dile Que Tu Me Quieres” had the hot girls -- and boys -- singing every word. “Baila Baila Baila” was an immediate call-to-action for twerking on the beach while the closing number “Taki Taki” preceded a nearly three-minute fireworks show, a fitting nod to Friday’s explosive performances.

Following a night of afterparties that rang off in las calles till 4 a.m., Saturday was still loaded with vibras. To set Day 2 off, daytime acts like Amenazzy and Lyanno provided a melodic yet nostalgic buffet of their catalog’s finest. Amenazzy performed a track that borrowed the beat to Rich Gang, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan’s “Lifestyle” while Puerto Rico’s own Lyanno brought “Se Cansó,” the Urba y Roma and Zion y Lennox-assisted “Te Veo” and “Dejarte Llevar,” which samples Mario’s “Let Me Love You.”

After an intermission of line dancing to Caballe Dorado’s “No Rompas Más (Mi Pobre Corazón)” (Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” morphed into a Spanish language hit), De La Ghetto stormed the stage with his latest release “Selfie,” the Nicky Jam collabo “Si Tú No Estás” and his verse on the “Escápate Conmigo” remix, an ideal soundtrack for lovers and lovers-for-the-night alike. He transitioned into a semi-bar fest by performing his solo take on Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” with “Estamos Aqui,” a track with Arcangel (the reggaeton artist De La Ghetto formed a duo with in the early aughts) and in a sense, an appropriate slogan for the sold-out crowd in attendance.

Now, full stop for Becky G. The fiery Chicana who hails from both Mexico and Inglewood, Calif. represented her two cultures with pride, telling the crowd in Spanglish, “I lived my life in between two worlds, representing two flags, y siempre me dijeron, ‘You’re either too Mexican for the Americans or too American for the Mexicans. You can’t be in the middle.’” But Becky G showed and proved she can keep the same energy for her peoples, bringing some hip-hop flavor to her crossover joints like “Mad Love” (which features David Guetta and Sean Paul) and the playful Anitta collabo “Banana” while dishing out Spanish-language songs like “Mala Mía” (Maluma and Anitta are on the original), “Que Me Baile,” the Myke Towers duet “Dollar” and the celestial love note “Cuando Te Besé.” Based on the hometown love she received from an audience that included her parents and siblings, claro que si, Becky G nailed it.

The roar of the crowd reached a fever pitch when one of the seasoned reggaetoneros, Nicky Jam, arrived. With the breadth of his catalog packed with, you guessed it, jams, the puertoriqueno effortlessly segued from his recent offerings (“El Amante,” “Si Tú La Ves” and the Silvestre Dangond’s wedding day-ready “Cásate Conmigo”) to the hits that cemented his reggaeton reign (2003’s “Me Voy Pal Party” and 2005’s “La Gata” which follows the same cadence as P!nk’s 2000 debut single “There You Go”). Nicky Jam then unleashed “X,” a continuation of J Balvin’s Night 1 performance of the Will Smith-co-signed single.

To note, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the same song performed by multiple acts. Rosarito was treated to three different verses of Nio García, Darrell and Casper Mágico’s 2017 smash “Te Boté” from Ozuna, Nicky Jam and Bad Bunny, who each appeared on the remix released in 2018. Same happened for J Balvin, who performed his parts in “La Canción” and “I Like It” on Night 1, followed by Bad Bunny, who delivered his share of the same tracks on the consecutive night.

To set the mood for Bad Bunny, Mexico’s own DJ Fredy Fresco dabbled in some hip-hop by spinning City Girls “Act Up” and a festival favorite, YG’s “Go Loko.” For context, the warm-up felt intentional as Bad Bunny’s melodic swagger and rap sensibilities have boosted his crossover appeal. Cue the summer smash “Mía," which features a Spanish-speaking Drake (Sadly, the 6 God was M.I.A. for the live rendition in Baja California), and definite crowd-pleaser. Still, the eccentric 25-year-old -- laced in a red tracksuit and his signature shades -- delivered other cuts across the spectrum from the high-octane banger “200 MPH” to the subdued “Solamente Soy Feliz." The YouTube phenom’s reach was palpable: for every track he performed, it sounded like his fans printed out the lyrics for a sing-along. He then brought el fuego (literally firing up the flame machines) for “La Romana” before bowing out with “Callaita,” a perfect send-off for Baja Beach Fest with this lyric alone: Si hay sol, hay playa.

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Janet Jackson performs onstage during her Metamorphosis - The Las Vegas Residency at Park Theater at Park MGM.
Farrenton Grigsby/Getty Images for JJ

Janet Jackson’s ‘Metamorphosis’ Show Is A Nostalgic, Necessary Escapade

Janet Jackson is having a full-circle moment. At Las Vegas' Park Theater, the 53-year-old entertainer recalled performing her first show in Sin City as a child alongside her brothers and sisters during her Metamorphosis concert residency on Friday night (Aug. 2).

“Forty-six years ago, when I was seven years old, I got my performance debut right here in Las Vegas, Nevada,” said Jackson, noting that the gigs were also an MGM affair like her residency. “We did two shows a night, 12-week stints. It was a lot of hard work for such a young child but I loved it.”

That same love for her craft is still evident in her stage presence four decades later. For 90 minutes, Jackson — or Miss Jackson if you’re nasty — body rolled down memory lane in Park MGM's amphitheater. Retaining the same sharp choreography from her iconic videos while backed by a live band and a fierce group of dancers affectionately known as The Kidz, Jackson ran a marathon covering the beloved deep cuts, dancefloor numbers and sensual classics that punctuated her lengthy career. Her personal evolution — from a young girl working through traumas and the pressures of show business to a self-assured woman and proud mother — put her highlight reel in perspective, as immersive visuals helped tie each chapter of her show together.

“I’ve gone through times of pain, uncertainty, and self-doubt,” a soft voice-over from Jackson shared before the opening number “Empty.” “I’ve known unexpected triumphs and I’ve also endured overwhelming tragedies. Through it all, I’ve clung to my sense of optimism — and optimism based on belief and change. I believe we can all change. Our ever-growing spirit can do more than support us. Our spirits can soar. Everyone’s metamorphosis can and will continue to bring out the essential beauty of our souls.”

For Jackson, change has been essential to her career. Pivoting from actress to music artist (away from the shadows of her older brothers), she was heralded as an unfiltered woman who kept it real — or nasty. While the entertainer has shied away from the risqué on-stage behavior that became her tour signature (i.e. gyrating on or planting kisses on her fans’ faces post-pole dance like the days of her Velvet Rope Tour), be clear that the sexy has never left her. It is worth noting that physically, Jackson is in fighting shape (thanks to intense, stamina-building workouts with her physical trainer Paulette Sibliss) and showed no signs of fatigue during the dance-heavy set.

In a city breeding vices, debauchery, and potentially bad decisions, her more erotic notes sounded right at home. During a sultry performance of “I Get So Lonely,” a solo Janet got down and dirty for some steamy floorwork. Like her previous productions, her troupe of female dancers scoured the crowd for a male fan, who was brought onstage for “Anytime, Anyplace” (which was intertwined with Kendrick Lamar’s vocals from “Poetic Justice” and Ginuwine’s “Pony”) only for Janet to pretend giving him a smooch as he sat strapped to a chair.


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Jackson’s sexiness has also translated to empowerment for minorities of every shade and struggle. Whether she’s calling out a lazy son of a gun on “What Have You Done For Me Lately” or chucking the deuces to a waste of space on “Pleasure Principle,” the performances of these tracks reminded supporters in attendance — which ranged from the ethnically diverse to queer — how Jackson laid down the blueprint for independent shot callers to get theirs in a world that often favors nasty boys (see current U.S. president). The live renditions of these songs in the age of #MeToo also affirm the timelessness and cultural relevance of Jackson’s musical inventory. The only minor downside of a mini-Greatest Hits concert is that not every song gets to shine in the spotlight in its entirety, leaving fans, both millennial and veteran, rabid for more.

Social change also fueled the residency. The final section of her tour celebrated 30 years of her breakthrough fourth album, 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814. A visual of Jackson standing in a room of mirrors surrounded by social ills written on pieces of black tape like “Police Brutality,” “Hate” and “Sexism” backed by audio of her vowing to “keep working for change” as she did in her 20s preceded the anniversary tribute. 2019 morphed into 1989 as Jackson and her dancers donned all-black, militaristic outfits, stomping to empowerment anthems like “Black Cat” and the LP’s title track. Anyone who previously didn’t pledge allegiance to the Rhythm Nation joined the party in Vegas as a quick scan around the theater saw most fist-pumping or mimicking the moves out of their seats.

Before bringing the show to a close, Jackson made her transformation complete and dedicated a segment to her latest life chapter: motherhood. “Love. Fate. Destiny. Hope.,” her voice-over echoed before cursive text flashed on the jumbo screen against angelic images of the singer: “I am a mother. I love saying those words. I love the fact that I never gave up the one dream that meant more to me than any other. To be blessed with the responsibility, care, and upbringing of another human being. I see this as my ultimate metamorphosis.”

In 2017, Jackson welcomed a baby boy, her first child, at 50. Though she put her Unbreakable Tour on hiatus at the time, she resumed the global trek — which was renamed to the State of the World Tour — months after giving birth. Being a multi-hyphenate and mother is no easy feat nor is performing one’s catalog like it's the first time in multiple nights for a series of shows tightly packed into a span of four weeks. But somehow, like her career and personal accomplishments, Jackson gives her all into everything she does, as the leader of a nation should.

Janet Jackson’s Metamorphosis residency runs on select dates from July 24 to August 17.

Set List: Empty Feedback Trust A Try If You What Have You Done For Me Lately Control Nasty Pleasure Principle When I Think of You R&B Junkie The Best Things In Life Are Free That’s The Way Love Goes Got ‘Til It’s Gone Come Back To Me Funny How Time Flies Let’s Wait Awhile China Love Together Again All For You I Get Lonely Moist (Sexiest part) Anytime, Anyplace Go Deep Come On Get Up Rock With You Throb State of the World The Knowledge Miss You Much Love Will Never Do Alright Escapade Black Cat Rhythm Nation

Encore: So Excited Made For Now

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Cardi B And City Girls Close Out The BET Experience With Black Girl Rap Magic

Hip-hop is the nation’s most popular genre, from underground house parties in New York, where rappers and MCs would display their capabilities through a devilish delivery, worthy of snatching the breath from your body. Over the past thirty years, rappers have ascended into modern-day rock stars; sold out stadium tours, overt interactions with the law, and for City Girls and Cardi B; the assimilation of popular phrases like, “Okurrr”, and “Periodt” into America’s vernacular.

Their cultural influence was felt among concertgoers on Saturday (June 22) at Staples  Center for BET Experience as fans armies like the Bardi Gang and City Girls transformed the venue into an old school kickback, as they went word for word with their favorite rappers.

Snatched waists, icy gold chains, furs, and the occasional twerk from a group of aunties, (they turned BET Experience into a millennial’s version of Girls Trip); featured fashions from the night resembled one of Cardi’s promotional shots for her Fashion Nova campaign. The diverse composition of fans provided evidence about Cardi and City Girls longevity in hip hop, despite claims about the womxn rappers only be worthy of “15 minutes of fame.”

“Hit 'em with that wet wet, I put a ring on it for a check check,” Yung Miami started her twenty-minute set with a live performance of “Soakin Wet “with Atlanta-based rapper Marlo, as fans witnessed the City Girl demanded the stage, twelve days after her pregnancy announcement. Followed by a live performance of “Throw Fits,” a Bounce-inspired summer anthem with G-Eazy, who performed his verse alongside Miami, and gave her a hug, an acknowledgment from the Oakland rapper, who exited the stage, as murmurs of “Act Up” quietly thumped in the background. “Shout out my bad b***hes in b***h! Who got two phones; one for their suga daddy, and one for they shoota. Free JT, QC until I die,”

Miami’s closing statements as she transitioned into the set’s closer, “Act Up.” Decked in a blue satin crop top, and high waisted tiger pants, Miami squashed rumors about her inability to rock the City Girls brand as an expecting mother with a “PERIODT,” and prepped the audience to secure their frontals for Cardi B’s headlining performance.

“I waited my whole life just to s**t on ni***s. Climbed to the top floor so I can spit on ni***s”, the Grammy award-winning rapper proclaimed her seat as one of the hardest working professionals in the game, among a packed stadium, and started her sixty minute set, with a South Bronx energy, that backed her up claims as “King of New York.” From pouring water on herself during “PRESS”, jumping on top of the stage’s speakers for “Money”, and an intermixed medley of throwing ass, twerking, and grinding on stage; her utilization of the stage is reflective of Cardi’s beginnings as a dancer, because every eye in the Staples Center were fixated on the rhythmic movements of Cardi on stage.

“This is for all the bad b***hes in the building. I did it for the bad b***hes, and you ugly a** b***hes too,” as she performed verses from charting singles, such as “No Limit,” “She Bad,” “Money Bag,” “Motorsport,” and “Thotiana.” A solo performance, Cardi’s presence engulfed the arena, and went non-stop in calling out haters in “Wish Wish.”

The self-described “ brightest motherfuckin star,” backed it up with, “All of that talk and I'm calling it out, Public opinions from private accounts, You not a check, then you gotta bounce” from "Clout," her collab with hubby Offset. 

Mixed throughout the set are essential comedic moments from the rapper, such as a little dance to her repeating “I ain’t going to jail. F**k you mean. I ain’t going to jail” after being charged with 14 counts, dancing like an auntie at the cookout to "Finesse," and camp-inspired moments of fake tears to emotional standbys, "Ring" and "Be Careful." The Cardi B experience closed with "Bodak Yellow," the second song to top Billboard Hot 100 since Ms. Lauryn Hill, is a Cinderella ending to Cardi’s show, a living testament to the rapper’s growth and development in the game, since its release date, two years ago.

In the beginning, music industry executives categorized hip hop as a short-lived phenomenon that scheduled to fade away as its content was too explicit and lacked the range to establish fan bases outside of the boroughs of New York. Similar to Cardi and Yung Miami, hip hop’s 15 minutes of fame will never be up, and thirty years in the future, attendees will still be playing the female rapper’s discographies at family cookouts, a testimony to Cardi and City Girls’ longevity.

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