Talent tends to bring people together, if the stars align just right. A rapper who’s already established themselves with their own record label—not the one they signed to themselves—is usually able to see the potential in a peer while also having the selflessness to help elevate them. It’s a trait that isn’t common but pays dividends. This is especially true within hip-hop, an art form that has always been community-based, and came to fruition from believing in the skills of the person next to you. Throughout rap’s history, rappers have discovered other rappers and showed them the ropes, leading to success for both parties. Highlighting artists from past and present, here, XXL shines a light on some of the most impactful moments when a rapper put another rapper on, and gave them a chance that would change their life.
The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur will always be intertwined due to the storied East Coast-West Coast beef, their personal issues with each other and the fact that they were both murdered within six months of the other passing away. What’s interesting about their respective rise to fame is that they were both found by other artists, and got their first real opportunity from those men. Tupac was added to the Oakland rap group Digital Underground as a hype man and dancer in the 1990s. His then-manager, Atron Gregory, also managed the group. Digital Underground, led by Shock G, blended hip-hop and funk. Eventually, Shock G cleared the way for Tupac to appear on the group’s track “Same Song” in 1991, and Tupac the rapper was born.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Sean “Diddy” Combs, still an A&R at Uptown Records, signed The Notorious B.I.G. in the early 1990s, after hearing his demo tape. He brought Biggie along to Bad Boy Records, the label Diddy launched, immediately after he lost the Uptown job. By 1994, Biggies debut album, Ready to Die, was out, and a smash hit. If it wasn’t for Shock G and Diddy making room for Tupac and Biggie to fly, their careers could have turned out much differently.
There are also more recent examples of rappers discovering other rappers. Kanye West signed Big Sean to G.O.O.D. Music in 2007, after Big Sean went to a Detroit radio station and freestyled for West two years earlier. Sean stayed patient and kept releasing mixtapes, and finally got to release his debut album, Finally Famous, in 2011. Nowadays, Sean has multiple No. 1 albums—most recently 2020’s Detroit 2—huge hit songs like “IDFWU” and has established himself as one of Detroit’s most successful rappers ever. However, now he’s no longer on G.O.O.D. Music and has parted ways with Ye.
Young Thug met Gunna through a mutual friend in 2015, and signed Gunna to Young Stoner Life Records by 2016. Gunna is now one of the more successful young acts who comes out of a rap hotbed like Atlanta, where the competition is thick. Wunna, Gunna’s first No. 1 album, dropped just last year, and he was also heard on collabs like Internet Money’s triple-platinum streaming hit “Lemonade” last year. Patience pays off.
Check out the gallery below for more rappers who discovered other rappers that took over hip-hop.