‘Charting Black Excellence’ celebrates black artists and their current accomplishments on the Billboard charts, which often don’t receive the proper recognition and attention.

It’s December 21, which means tomorrow is Capricorn season! This also means that my birthday comes up in five days, and then a New Year in ten— which means my personal quarter life crisis has been stronger than ever. Yikes!

Lately, I’ve gotten angst from just looking at the calendar and doing yearly reflections on just about everything. Through that reflecting, I was able to recount what accomplishments I’ve been grateful enough to earn in 2018. Charting Black Excellence happens to be one of them. It’s not often that disgruntled writers get the opportunity to flip media narratives of our people with a column focused on honoring music’s exemplary artists.

Although Charting Black Excellence celebrates the success stories of the industry’s most popular artists, this task can become a bit repetitive. After a while, the narratives start to mirror each other, and like a GOAT once said, “Now I look at Billboard like, ‘Is you dumb?’” So, this won’t be much of a surprise when I say that last week’s year-end review of said charts didn’t feel like the proper way to close out this column in 2018.

While I’ve been buried in all the competition surrounding streams and radio, the discrepancies with in award shows, and re-examining genres; there were a few artists that caught my attention outside the Billboard charts. One thing about Capricorns is we pay attention to details, enjoy building up cases, and structuring paths to success. Another thing about (self-neurotic) December Capricorns is we’re the children of the holiday season and therefore, most of us love to give and show tremendous gratitude around this time.

That’s why this moment feels right to focus on nine new narratives for 2019, from artists who might headline this column in the near future. The selected nine individuals in this week’s Charting Black Excellence have buzz around their camps and fanbases. Some have even contributed to the mainstream culture of today— but, still seek a further push into solo hit-making territory.

None of these nine artists have received a solo or lead Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100; or a Top 20 album, mix-tape, or EP on the Billboard 200. Although each of the following candidates have ranging resumes of experience and fan followings; they all share a hustler spirit, driven attitude, and diverse catalogue that could help them break onto the charts and reach a wider audience come next year.

Arin Ray

The Comeback Artist

As many best of, year-end lists close out, one artist who rarely appeared (if at all) was Arin Ray, who released his debut album Platinum Fire in March. Back in 2012, the Cincinnati native made it on Team Britney Spears of FOX’s X Factor US. During his tenth place run, Ray actually partnered with then-contestant Normani for a boot camp audition. Six years later and he’s dropping a project that’s definitely Fire, but also should have been certified platinum.

Since deciding to re-release Platinum Fire as a deluxe edition this month, Ray has the opportunity to re-do his first era with precise radio play and single releases. There’s much he could select from the cannon. His smooth-R&B ticker “Take,” which features Ty Dolla $ign; or his Marvin Gaye-esque groove “Communication,” which features DRAM. Ray’s style of singing with an enunciated flow directed by hip hop and trap cadences suits the present airwaves. But, he will add an individual flavor contrasting enough to the Chris Browns and Bryson Tillers of the market.

On Platinum Fire, Ray sets a potentially nice course for 2019 with some of our brightest stars today. He floats over a tropical wave on “HMU [Hit Me Up],” which matches the vibes of Childish Gambino’s (whose also featured) “Feels Like Summer.” And although he delivers an anthem alongside YG on “We Ain’t Homies,” a more impactful statement for 2019 would be the Busta Rhymes-sampling banger “Fuck Y’all.”

Candice Pillay

The Artist Who Shall Reclaim Her Time

There’s always that talented songbird of the mix-tape and SoundCloud circuit who can’t seem to break beyond the songwriter’s room. If you’re into hip hop, you’ve most likely heard Candice Pillay’s voice cooing “blank face” on ScHoolboy Q’s “Groovy Tony” or heard her give “doctor’s orders” on Dr. Dre’s “Medicine Man.” If you’re into R&B and pop, then you’re being reintroduced to the co-songwriter of Rihanna’s “Cockiness (Love It)” and “American Oxygen.”

To say the least and to make the backstory brief, Pillay is sort of going through her own Tinashe conundrum of sorts. She’s been releasing mix-tapes and EPs for a bit to gain a buzz, but no outlet is truly hanging on to her every move. To get familiar with the South African native’s work, it’s best to take a listen to her 15 track cruiser The Mood Kill (2015), then follow that up with “Lost Without You” and “Party 4 Da Low” on her warpy EP The High.

Why Pillay still has a chance in 2019 is because the market is finally more accepting of the R&B sound she helped foster in the middle of this decade. If there’s room for Kali Ulchis and Alina Baraz to make their mainstream splashes, then Pillay has a body of work ready to match. For those into chillwave meets R&B, check out “Lady Fox” and her latest release from this year “Missing U.” She also has a bit of gangsta-edge that compliments her faint falsetto, as her SoundCloud contains the banger “Coke On The Table” and a hot 16 over Yo Gotti’s “Down In The DMs.”


The Artist With An Audacious Following

Judging by her often raunchy and comedy-baiting tweets; Elizabeth Eden Harris, aka CupcakKe, already has a strong presence and growing fanbase online. Some thought it was a detrimental mistake for the rapper to drop out of Cardi B’s Fashion Nova launch party back in November when her time was cut short. Still, CupcakKe stood by her decision, showing the world she plays the game by her own rules and will make her way.

CupcakKe has shared her broken cadence and diction-intense rapping flow over two studio albums this year, Ephorize and Eden. Like her album art, the songs from both projects are bold and in-your-face, her lyricism the most hard hitting and her punchlines darkly humorous. For instance, “Niggas claim that they’re charged up but got a whole shortage in their dick” makes its way on “Quiz.” “Cartoons” goes into rapid fire and showcases CupcakKe’s hyperactive style. She also looks into deeper messages about self-esteem and social media, resonating with younger demographics on confessionals like “2 Minutes.”

What will carry CupcakKe forward into 2019 is her artistic curation. She’s one of the fresher crop of rappers out right now who has a thematic throughline for her work musically, conceptually, and visually— and in the realm of Travis Scott or Cardi B. Next year, the school of charts could be in session for CupcakKe.


The Head Afrobeats Commander-In-Chief

Hailing from Nigeria— with Atlanta as his birthplace— David Adedeji Adeleke, aka DaVido, won Best International Artist at this year’s BET Awards. The ceremony still manages to celebrate artists from overseas who are impacting their homeland’s culture, while also starting a musical infiltration stateside. It wasn’t the first time DaVido captured the trophy, as he also claimed it in 2014. This year, his speech graciously brought up the importance of collaboration amongst black Americans with black Africans— and expanding that reach internationally.

Although it was released in 2017, “Fall” felt like one of 2018’s songs of the year. Arguably, DaVido’s proper introduction to US radio, clubs and functions; serves as a gem that has taken the mass umbrella of afrobeats music to a new level. By the ear, “Fall” could be mistaken for a soca riddim— especially when DaVido gets to the chorus “money fall on you.” However, the song’s drums are what powers its afrobeats base— DaVido riding out the beat with Joe and Big Pun’s most famous “playa” interpolation.

Pioneered by the likes of Wizkid in recent years, afrobeats’ surge in America has formulated its cultural authenticity with the attitudes, and trends of modern pop and trap rap. For 2019, DaVido stands the tallest as DJs nationwide are replaying 2017’s “If,” which constitutes as an R&B love ballad that samples Lil Jon’s ad lib from “Yeah!” DaVido is becoming the power-player of afrobeats, as “If” was produced by Tekno, he was featured on Popcaan’s 2018 dancehall album, Forever, and he pushes his latest single “Wonder Woman.”

Plus, be sure to check out “REVOLT Rewind” on Dec. 24 – Dec. 28 at 10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., and then, all weekend long on Dec. 29 – Jan. 1 only on REVOLT TV! Find out where you can watch the channel here ! And be sure to join the conversation using #RevoltRewind.

Flipp Dinero

The Rookie With A Current Hit On His Hands

One thing to note about 2018’s music scene is the constant wave of trap and cloud rap (particularly, from Gen Z SoundCloud spheres) that’s getting more vulnerable and slightly more defensive when depicting relationships. They’ve revealed the paradox of playing the game, and the hardships that falling for someone can cause. Oddly enough, these songs manage to still have a hard exterior. But, the artists rapping and singing offer their own embarrassing truths behind the interior. These songs deliver the traditionally favorable narrative of loving someone you can’t stand to be with. Many fit this category— from Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” to Playboi Carti’s “Mileage.”

However, none have cleverly topped Flipp Dinero’s “Leave Me Alone.” “Leave Me Alone” holds the hottest and most candid hook of 2018 for its style of music. First, the Brooklyn native bellows, “Leave me alooonnneee-ohh-no” before slyly grunting, “Is you dumb as fuck?” before contradicting that diss with, “Are you down or what?” Flipp’s delivery is indescribable to write out, but magical when actually listened to. It’s cunning to say the least.

“Leave Me Alone” is now rising up the charts, so far peaking at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 11 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs charts. This is thanks to co-signs from Drake and Jordan Bell, as well as a viral video from Odell Beckham Jr. Going into 2019, Flipp Dinero has the chance to follow this momentum as he gears up to possibly release his debut studio album and potentially collaborate with big names.


The Artist Who Could Set An International Firestorm

I still debate amongst myself what the best song from Swizz Beatz’ POISON could be. Right now, the race is between four songs, and “Come Again” featuring Giggs is one of them. The way he attacks the song’s beat is powerful, but also grabs the track’s attention. Giggs’ flow commands and directs the musical romper, not the other way around— which is hard for many mainstream rappers to achieve today.

That being said, the London rapper has been active since 2005. So, he’s not necessarily new to the craft. Having released four studio albums and a slew of mix-tapes in the UK, Giggs still has to find his big solo break stateside and internationally. He had a brief glimpse of these implications, as a featured guest on Drake’s More Life from 2017. “Come Again” displays that Giggs can apply his style to potential commercial smashes, and dominate a track by his own doing.

In 2018 going into 2019, it’s now a necessary trait in hitmaking land to possess the capability of flowing on ranging genres. Though hip hop listeners have always recognized this attribute when determining their GOATs, the charts and labels are starting to really recognize this importance— look no further than Drake and Cardi B.

Giggs exemplifies on his latest commercial mix-tape, Wamp 2 Dem, that he’s able to do more than flow on different genres. His voice manages to meld them into a mega one. For example, “Times Tickin’” blends dancehall (of Popcaan) into grimes hip hop, mosh-pit trap, and east coast hip hop. It’s very similar to what’s experienced on “Come Again,” which might be what the singles market needs in 2019.

Queen Key

The Rap Gangstress Supreme In The Making

Ke’Asha McClur, aka Queen Key, is merciless. I’m expressing that she’s a diamond in the rough. This is evident by the cover of her mix-tape that’s aptly titled Eat My Pussy. Being served a rose, and a grapes and strawberry platter by two topless men, Queen Key sits crosslegged in a negligee, sporting blonde hair in rollers and smoking a blunt through a cigarette holder.

But, what’s more striking are the subtitles on the cover, which is stylized like PAPER magazine. From Queen Key, we’re bound to get ratchet with a more thought-out purpose and overall message from someone aware of how “empowering” and “disruptive” her flow can get. The Chicago native has a country twang to her voice, as heard on My Way,” an unique opposite of sorts to Kodak Black’s menacing style.

It’s on the mix-tape’s opening track where Queen Key turns into a problem for the mainstream. She opens up her verse by rapping, “I preach what I practice/That’s why the streets been reactin’/Can’t match this rapper-actress/More powerful than two Cleopatras/I got it from Lauryn/These bitches too dumb and they borin’/You play some of they shit and I’m snorin’.” As women in hip hop are earning more spotlight with every passing day, Queen Key shows raw talent that promises to flourish if cards are played right in 2019.


The Critics’ Prospect

The music industry has experienced its share of hardknock poets from America’s ranging concrete jungles. Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, and J. Cole all fall into this category. Who’s up next to join them is Tahj Malik Chandler, aka Saba. The Chicago native has been receiving rave reviews for his floetic album Care For Me— which harkens to the earlier work of fellow natives Common and Kanye West, and the current of Chance The Rapper.

Through a loopy world of neo soul depression that’s consistently balanced out by positive pockets of free jazz, Care For Me captures the deeper sentiments of relationships and love. What makes the project stand out is the album’s transitions, particularly from the piano that closes out his heavy breathing on “LIFE” and leads into “CALLIGRAPHY.” Moments like these are an indicator that Saba’s capable of crafting conceptual projects that understand the world’s juxtaposing nature with human conflict and existence.

The reason why the aforementioned poets were brought up is because we can hear traces of them in Care For Me. When he approaches the sped up hook of “LIFE,” Saba tackles Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, discussing the details of dying young based on “Pac was 25, I know Jesus 33.” “FIGHTER” atmospherically applies to its title by speaking of different coming-of-age scenarios experienced by Saba, something Lauryn Hill mastered on her debut project. At the song’s conclusion is a reminder of how J. Cole enjoys upbeat switches at a track’s exits, akin to those on KOD. Now that the attention is on Saba, let’s see if he can keep the same company in 2019.


The Next King of R&B

The internet plunged in pleasant chaos during last week’s King of R&B debate, bringing attention to the names of budding artists. Of them all; Sir Darryl Farris, aka SiR, seemed to be the most recognizable name (taking into account his lack of charting presence at the moment). His label, Top Dawg Entertainment, has shown that its roster isn’t worried about the charts because in the cases of SZA and even Kendrick Lamar’s growing dominance, it can happen overnight.

November happens to be SiR’s first studio album released under TDE this year after two EPs and an independent LP from 2015 – 2017. By this go-round, he’s finessed psychedelic neo soul with the spirit of Rock N’ B (Rock and R&B). He harmonizes through spoken poetry on “Never Home” and tenor floats over “Dreaming of Me.” Released in the winter of January, November plays best in winter season now here.

Songs such as “D’Evils” and “I Know” recall how in the aughts, Bilal had an ability for riding out the grooves of his R&B cuts like “Fast Lane” and “All That I Am (Somethin’ For The People).” This type of technique has carried on to the likes of BJ The Chicago Kid, Miguel, and Anderson .Paak. However, at the moment, SiR still has more time to make a statement noticed by the world. And it may be very possible that after the King of R&B debate emerged, TDE will want to make another statement come 2019.

More by Da’Shan Smith: