Lovebug Starski almost recorded the first rap song to crack the charts back in 1979. Almost.
The 55-year-old rapper-DJ’s “hip-hop-you-don’t-stop” routine piqued the interest of producer Sylvia Robinson, but when he couldn’t get out of a conflicting contract, she assembled the Sugar Hill Gang to replicate it in “Rapper’s Delight.” Starski still pops up to perform DJ gigs from time to time, where he often plays hits by the next generation—Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” for example.
“I’m a professional,” he says. “If the crowd likes it, I play it.”
Starski was one of hip-hop’s pioneers, and now he’s helping to anoint the genre’s next generation of stars: the Hip-Hop Cash Princes Class of 2016. Together with list alum Hit-Boy, radio/TV personality Charlamagne Tha God, Atlantic Records chief Craig Kallman and three FORBES staffers, Starski handpicked ten of the most promising acts under the age of 30—the ones most likely to ascend to ourHip-Hop Cash Kings list someday.
Perhaps first and foremost among this year’s crop of princes: Fetty Wap. The pride of Patterson, N.J. rose to fame after being discovered by an intern at record label 300 in 2014, earning superstar status—and two Grammy nominations—thanks to multiplatinum hit “Trap Queen.” No wonder he told FORBES that his eponymous debut, released this fall, is his favorite record of all time: “It’s the album that changed my life.”
The Cash Princes list is not limited to men—following in the tradition of Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea, lady rappers Dej Loaf and Little Simz made the cut this year. The former earned a deal with Columbia after 2014’s “Try Me” and swiftly signed to Columbia; her debut EP,#AndSeeThatsTheThing, reached No. 47 on the Billboard 200 last year.
Simz, the North London rapper touted by Kendrick Lamar as one of the “illest doing it right now,” recorded a series of well-received mixtapes before self-releasing debut A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons in 2015. The album included “Dead Body,” which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard + Twitter TWTR -3.36% Emerging Artists chart; Simz is now touring the world.
“Little Simz is very, very gifted and focused,” says Cash Princes judge Hit-Boy, who collaborated with Simz on the track “Don’t Forget.” “I think she definitely has the mind to take it all the way.”
And then there’s Logic, whose real name is Sir Robert Bryson Hall II—he’s living up to his royal birthright. After his mixtapes helped him land a deal with Def Jam in 2013, he went on to release two near-chart-topping albums, most recently last year’s The Incredible True Story, which debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart with sales of more than 135,000 units.
“Logic is interesting because he doesn’t get radio play, but he has one of those cult-like followings fueled by social media and they actually support him when his album drops,” says Charlamagne. “That fan base is going to give him staying power. I would rather have real, loyal love from a couple hundred thousand people than fake love from millions that may or may not translate into any revenue.”
As for Lovebug Starski, like many of his generation, he still prefers old school rap. But he’s happy to give the younger generation a chance.
“I don’t try to learn the words,” he says. “But as long as it has the tempo, and along as it’s in the ballpark of what I’m playing at the time, I’ll play it.”