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At the seasoned age of 30, Detroit rapper Danny Brown, with his lopsided cut, thrift store gear and lofty, off-beat flow, is at the height of his career. Several years after recording an album with Tony Yayo and narrowly avoiding a likely fatal signing with G-Unit, Brown recently aligned with DJ A-Trak's Fools Gold Records, toured with Das Racist and recorded a collaboration album with fellow Motor City rep Black Milk, and in 2012, Danny Brown is only getting higher.
Sounds Like: Casual, Ol' Dirty Bastard
The 23-year-old L.A. native, who refers to herself as a "hip-hop-influenced Sade" and sounds like a female Frank Ocean, received her first major label deal almost a decade ago, when B2K was first signed. Serving as their opening act on tour and appearing on their tracks, Jhené Aiko released her first chart-topping single, 'No L.O.V.E.' in 2003. Now, she's signed to Def Jam under the tutelage of No I.D., on the strength of her 'Sailing Soul(s)' mixtape, which features collaborations with Drake.
Sounds Like: Frank Ocean, Solange
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Piloted by A$AP Rocky, whose acclaimed 'Live.Love.A$AP' mixtape scored him a reported multi-million dollar deal with RCA subsidiary Polo Grounds and an opening role on Drake's Club Paradise tour, the young Harlem A$AP collective reference everyone from Max B to Bone Thugs and U.G.K. in flow and delivery, name-checking fashion designers Raf Simons and Rick Owens, and flaunting some of the best production in recent memory.
Sounds Like: U.G.K., Bone Thugs-n-Harmony
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Queens newcomer Action Bronson recently quit his position as a chef for the New York Mets, leveraging his masterful flow and signature tenor into a hilarious segment on 'Late Call with Carson Daly,' an appearance on the latest Wu-Tang Clan album, feature stories in the New York Times and GQ, and collaboration albums with the likes of Harry Fraud, Alchemist and Statik Selektah. Get used to the fact that in 2012, one of the most talented New York rappers is a bearded Albanian-Jewish chef from Queens.
Sounds Like: Kool G. Rap, Ghostface Killah
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Rico Love-signee Cherlise may have begun her career sweeping recording studios, but now she's cleaning up. The 23-year-old Miami native, who cites Fat Joe as her mentor, has notched collaborations with Lil Wayne, Young Chris and Brianna, and is scheduled to release her new mixtape, 'Ground Zero,' followed shortly by her Division 1/Universal Republic debut LP, 'Like a Woman,' in 2012.
Sounds Like: Kelly Rowland, Teairra Mari
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Beginning his career by penning love songs for a girl across the country, this 22-year-old Riverside, Calif. native's frenzied female fan base earned him a spot on the Vans Warped Tour, and his 'Scandalous' videos lead to a deal with Columbia Records, who recently released his free sophomore LP 'Leaving Home.' Combine Justin Bieber and Kreayshawn and you get the idea -- ladies love T. Mills, who are we to judge?
Sounds Like: Wiz Khalifa, Blink 182
Despite Schoolboy Q's rocky start, marked by a weed-related arrest during SXSW in 2011, the rising star of Kendrick Lamar's Los Angeles-based Black Hippy crew had one of 2011's standout verses on A$AP Rocky's mixtape, made crucial contributions on Kendrick's acclaimed 'Section.80' and released his own chronic-inspired album 'Setbacks,' which dropped in January of lat year, reaching No. 12 on the U.S. rap charts.
Sounds Like: Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco
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Bronx rapper The Kid Daytona was signed straight out of high school, and, despite label changes, has continued to build his buzz thanks to heavyweight support from the likes of Busta Rhymes and DJ Cipha Sounds. In December 2011, Daytona followed up his critically acclaimed 2010 mixtape, 'The Interlude,' with a sequel featuring Melanie Fiona and Action Bronson. With a voice and delivery reminiscent of an 'In My Lifetime (Remix)'-era Jay-Z, look for Daytona to be one of the first out of the gate.
Sounds Like: Camp Lo, Jay-Z
After wowing Lil Wayne with a Jackson 5 cover and Chris Brown-esque moves back in November, 14-year-old Georgia native Torion Sellers became the rapper's youngest signing on the label. If that wasn't enough of a co-sign, the dancing and singing tour de force was dubbed "not only the future of Young Money/Cash Money, but the future," by Weezy, a former child star himself. The newcomer is sure to stamp his name on a few tracks alongside his Young Money affiliates in 2012.
Sounds Like: Justin Bieber, Chris Brown
Wearing her flapper-era influences proudly on her sleeve, New Jersey-born singer-songwriter Lauriana Mae is equal parts Billie Holiday, Duffy and Chrisette Michelle, yet the former 'P. Diddy's Starmaker' contestant has an edge of her own in producer Kwame, who helmed her Atlantic Records-released EP 'Love Me.' With an old school approach -- she formed her band The Pains from members of her church group -- and a style that melds jazz and hip-hop, the voice of 'Money Mae' is sure to be heard this year.
Sounds Like: Duffy, Chrisette Michelle