A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Sarai, Billy Talent and Josh Turner.
A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
ONE OF THE LADIES: The success of Eminem has only left the music industry wanting more. When Bubba Sparxxx arrived on the scene two years ago, he was tagged the "Southern Eminem." Then last year, the overseas success of Mike Skinner's hip-hop project the Streets turned him into the "British Eminem." Now Sarai , a 20-year-old blonde from upstate New York, has inspired some to label her "Feminem."
Her label, Sony's Epic Records , is more than happy to play up the connection, giving the designation prominent display on her Web site . On her debut, "The Original," there are times when she does indeed recall Marshall Mathers, such as "It's Official," in which she comes on strong and fast and does a fair impression of Eminem's delivery. Yet Sarai's beats are given Southern rap trappings, and she prefers simple, easy-to-grapple rhymes over Eminem's dense, sometimes controversial wordplay.
Sarai, who hails from upstate New York, got her professional start after a chance meeting with producer L.J. Sutton while vacationing in Atlanta. She was only 15 at the time, but Sutton was impressed enough to invite her back, and Sarai recently relocated to the Southern hip-hop mecca. The demos the two recorded resulted in a deal with Epic, and two singles have already preceded her much-hyped album.
Current radio cut "Ladies" is a party-rap anthem, with Sarai resorting to old-school, crowd-pleasing tactics like telling the audience to "put ya hands in the air." First single "Pack Ya Bags" is a kiss-off to a former lover. Elsewhere on "The Original," Sarai tackles more weighty topics. "What Mama Told Me" and "Mary Anne" both touch on domestic issues such as child abuse and teen pregnancy, recalling some of Pink's recent material.
Thus far, perhaps indicative of her influences, Sarai hasn't had much success in urban markets, and her songs have performed best on crossover radio. "Ladies" reached a new peak position last week at No. 23 on Airplay Monitor's Top 40 Mainstream chart, and "Pack Ya Bags" peaked at No. 38 on the magazine's Rhythmic Top 40 tally in March. Last week, "The Original" debuted on The Billboard 200 at No. 187.
While "The Original" has been in the works for the past two years, Sarai is the first in what will be a wave of major-label releases from white female rappers. Timbaland protege Kiley Dean  will release her Interscope debut, "Simple Girl," later this year, and the Beastie Boys-influenced Northern State  are at work on their first offering for Columbia.
PUNK MODESTY: Canadian punk foursome Billy Talent  wrote its current single "Try Honesty" more than two years ago, but the song is just now penetrating radio. A deal with a major label helps, of course, but Billy Talent is also indebted to pop-punk legends the Buzzcocks, who pegged the band as an opener on their most recent tour.
The outing injected some instant credibility into Billy Talent's three chords, which possess the mid-'80s hardcore slant of groups like Black Flag and Minor Threat. Vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz drowns the lyrics with a punk sneer, a la Johnny Rotten, but he's also garnered comparisons to fellow Canadian Dave Baksh of Sum 41.
Billy Talent, which takes its name from a character in underground punk film "Hard Core Logo," just wrapped a handful of dates on Lollapalooza, and will continue to build buzz for its major-label debut with some dates in the U.K. later this month, including performances at the Reading and Leeds festivals.
The band's independently released 2001 EP "Try Honesty" paved the way for a deal with Atlantic Records , and Billy Talent will release its self-titled major-label debut on Sept. 16. Last week, "Try Honesty" squeaked its way onto Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks tally at No. 40. The song has already become a hit in Canada, and is quickly gaining airplay throughout the Midwest.
ON TRACK: Josh Turner  won't release his debut album until mid-October, but he already has a top-40 single on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks roundup.
The 25-year-old South Carolina native moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University, which is where he penned first single "Long Black Train." Turner had been singing most of his life at his local church, and his crisp baritone scored him a deal with MCA Nashville . Armed with just one song, Turner performed "Long Black Train" at the Grand Ole Opry in late 2001, and an unexpected standing ovation forced him to reprise the tune. He's since become an Opry regular, bringing with him a few more tunes for recent performances.
When it came time to create material for his first album, MCA hooked Turner up with producers Mark Wright (Lee Ann Womack) and Frank Rogers (Brad Paisley). The 11-song debut, of which "Long Black Train is the title track, is due Oct. 14.
The song has already spent 12 weeks on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks roundup, reaching a new peak position last week at No. 38. Last week, the cut debuted on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales tally at No. 36.
MCA introduced Turner late last year with the single "She'll Go On You," but the cut only spent seven weeks on the chart and never reached higher than No. 46. With "Long Black Train" suddenly taking off, Turner has gone from a relative unknown to one of the more talked-about new artists on country radio
Turner, who cites Randy Travis as a boyhood hero, is openly Christian and his music has maintained a gospel tinge. Those eager for more of Turner can head to his official Web site , where each song from his country debut is being streamed.
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