Jay-Z And Memphis Bleek To Cam’ron And Vado: 10 Rap Protégés

By Chris Yuscavage

Being a protégé to a big-name rapper is a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, you have a wealth of knowledge, experience and, most importantly, a co-sign on your side. For a new rapper, this is invaluable and can often be the difference between achieving some light buzz with a mixtape and actually releasing a debut album through a major record label. On the other hand, most rap protégés fail to live up to their potential thanks to the monstrous success that their mentors have enjoyed (see: Jay-Z) and his protégé Memphis Bleek.

However, there have been a handful of rap protégés over the last few years that have enjoyed commercial and critical success in spite of the fact that they’ve had to endure a lot of pressure early on in their careers. Most recently, Cam’Ron‘s protégé Vado released his debut album Slime Flu after building a healthy buzz through the DJ Drama-hosted Boss of All Bosses mixtape series alongside Killa Cam.

To help celebrate the release, RapFix collected a list of 10 more rap protégés who have used a co-sign from a big-name rapper to get their foot in the door—and then broken it down by showcasing their own skills on the mic. So far, these folks have definitely done their mentors proud.

The Protégé: Drake
The Mentor: Lil Wayne
The Result: Though Drizzy’s standout 2009 mixtape, So Far Gone, was stellar on its own merits, it’s safe to say he caught the attention of plenty of people thanks to the fact that he included Weezy on the tape and more than held his ground rapping alongside him. Since then, he’s gone on to become one of the biggest names in rap and continues to show love to the CEO of Young Money on most of what he records.

The Protégé: Kid Cudi
The Mentor: Kanye West
The Result: While Lil Wayne was busy molding Drake into a superstar, Kanye West was preparing a protégé of his own. After his 2008 mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, spawned the smash hit, “Day ‘n’ Nite,” Cudi appeared on Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks and rode the success (and the Kanye co-sign!) all the way to his 2009 debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day.

The Protégé: J. Cole
The Mentor: Jay-Z
The Result: Okay, so Cole hasn’t released a proper debut album. Yet. It’s only a matter of time, though, for the Fayetteville, N.C.-born MC, who caught his first taste of national success after appearing on “A Star Is Born,” a track from his mentor’s last album, The Blueprint 3. After that, a star was born.

The Protégé: Waka Flocka Flame
The Mentor: Gucci Mane
The Result: Say what you want about Waka Flocka—or Gucci Mane, for that matter—but he’s gone from “that dude with the dreads in Gucci Mane’s videos” to a full-out Southern hip-hop star. With two chart-topping singles to his name (“O Let’s Do It” and “Hard In Da Paint”) and another one that looks like it might end up there (“No Hands”), Waka has turned himself into a legitimate rapper—whether you like it or not.

The Protégé: Tyga
The Mentor: Lil Wayne
The Result: Another Lil Wayne protégé? Yeah, another one (and, for those keeping count, it won’t be the last one, either!). Tyga first got on thanks to a co-sign from his cousin Travis McCoy (you remember “Coconut Juice,” right?) but he’s currently enjoying success thanks to his affiliation with Wayne’s Young Money imprint. He may not have Drake’s buzz, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see his promise grow with the release of his sophomore effort, Careless World.

The Protégé: B.o.B
The Mentor: T.I.
The Result: Patience pays off. Need proof? Check B.o.B, who spent nearly three years trying to land on the right single for his debut album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, before finding the hit “Nothin’ On You.” We’re not sure how involved Tip actually was in helping him find it (sounds to us like Lupe Fiasco passing up on the opportunity to record the song is what actually helped him land it) but the Grand Hustle CEO gets credit for sticking with the talented rapper/singer through the good and bad.

The Protégé: Diggy Simmons
The Mentor: Rev Run
The Result: You might think that when your dad is a rap legend, you’re destined to have a long and fulfilling rap career. But, um, you guys have heard Diggy’s older brother JoJo rap, right? Yeah, so let’s give credit where credit’s due: Diggy deserves props for bringing a fresh style into the rap game—and Rev Run deserves credit for deciding that he wanted to have kids in the first place. Either way, both the protégé and the mentor win.

The Protégé: Lil B
The Mentor: Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em
The Result: We can’t say Lil B’s made much of an impact offline yet, but he has built his name on the Web and become more than just another member of The Pack thanks to his viral presence and SB’s relentless Internet grind.

The Protégé: Big Sean
The Mentor: Kanye West
The Result: Kid Cudi isn’t the only rapper who’s done well after getting a co-sign from Mr. West. Detroit rapper Big Sean also built a buzz, created a style of dropping similes that’s been utilized by Drake and Nicki Minaj (think: “It’s going down, basement!”) and nearly made himself a household name without dropping a debut album. He hasn’t landed on a strong radio-friendly single yet. But when he does, expect Big Sean’s name to get even bigger.

The Protégé: Nicki Minaj
The Mentor: Lil Wayne
The Result: Come on, you didn’t seriously think we’d do an entire list of rap protégés and leave Nicki Lewinsky off it, did you? Though she built her early buzz up on the streets of New York City, Nicki got her first real commercial co-sign from Wayne and parlayed it into more than a dozen guest appearances on other artists’ records and a deafening buzz in preparation for her debut album, Pink Friday. The lesson from all this? Lil Wayne’s protégés pretty much always win. Word to Curren$y!

Who is your favorite rap protégé of all-time? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!