Music’s Greatest Mentors, From the Beatles to Kanye West

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Kanye and Mr. Hudson. Photo: Courtesy of GOOD Music

Here’s Kanye West on his latest protégé, British pop singer Mr. Hudson: “I believe [he] has the potential to be … one of the most important artists of his generation.” We’ll see about that when Hudson’s album Straight No Chaser comes out later this year, but for now we’re asking a different question: Is he one of the most important protégés of his generation? Acts from the Beatles to the Beastie Boys have coached, signed, mentored, or otherwise launched baby acts as ways of extending their own achievements, but some have done much, much better than others. We’ve ranked the top ten mentors based on the quality and success of their musical offspring.

10. Diddy
Diddy blurred the line between artist and A&R better than anyone, but, notably, he pulled off his greatest signings (with the exception of the L.O.X.) before his 1997 debut, No Way Out. Which means that, for the purposes of this list, we can’t give him full credit for Biggie, Jodeci, 112, or Mary J. Blige. But we can credit him for Ma$e, Shyne, Black Rob, Loon, G Dep, Danity Kane, and Day 26. And let’s not forget Sarah Stokes, formerly of Da Band, who stabbed her husband in front of her children earlier this year. Well chosen, Diddy!

9. Prince
Arguably no one has tried harder, with less to show for it, than the Purple One. His roster of nearly interchangeable sexpots — Vanity, Appolonia, Sheena Easton, Bria Valente, and even Carmen Electra — has had some chart success, but no career longevity. His high watermark would have to be the Time, which launched Morris Day’s solo career and, less ignominiously, the production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Also to his credit: Sheila E.’s “A Love Bizzarre,” a righteous jam.

8. Kanye West
’Ye’s Technicolor style has been more influential on the new class of emcees than the output of arguably any other contemporary artist, but when it comes to the minions officially within the domain of his G.O.O.D. Music imprint, the list is less impressive. It includes promising newbie MC Big Sean, unpromising veteran MC Consequence, and ambiguously promising Mr. Hudson (seriously, we can’t tell with this guy). West has also brought Kid Cudi into the fold, although points must be detracted for doing so after “Day-n’-Nite” became an underground hit. Most notably, Kanye signed John Legend back when he was the decidedly un-legendary John Stephens.

7. Pete Wentz
In an impressively short period of time, Wentz has built an emo empire: Acts signed to his Decaydance Records include Panic! At the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, the Academy Is..., and Cobra Starship (who have a song called “Pete Wentz Is the Only Reason We’re Famous”). You may want to quibble with those bands' artistic merits, but a nation of Alternative Press–clutching youth will quibble right back.

6. The Beatles
Apple Records was home to Cilla Black (Updated: Cilla Black was not actually on Apple Records, although she was down with the Beatles), Badfinger, and Jackie Lomax, all of whom are now best known for having awesome Beatles-penned singles (except Badfinger, who only got “Come and Get It”), and not being super-famous. James Taylor was actually the imprint's first signee, and released his proper debut album on Apple. Then there’s Billy “Fifth Beatle” Preston, sitarist Ravi Shankar, and Yoko Ono, who was, let’s remember, a pioneering conceptual musician, and can still be heard in dance clubs today.

5. Jay-Z
Hov has two distinct but equally checkered mentoring eras: the late-nineties–early-aughts, when the talented, hardened – and now mostly forgotten — Freeway and Beanie Sigel led the prime-years Roc-A-Fella entourage; and his Def Jam presidency days, when he scooped up Rihanna and Rick Ross, and nurtured Ne-Yo’s career amid constant internal criticism. He has also taken credit for Kanye West, though that signing appears to have been more Damon Dash’s. His greatest misses: Teairra Mari, Young Gunz, Amil, and, of course, longtime weed-carrier Memphis Bleek. Next up is J. Cole, a North Carolina emcee who makes a guest appearance on Blueprint 3. Good luck, buddy!

4. Miles Davis
While he didn’t necessarily have much to do with developing their actual careers, a bunch of jazz greats got their start with Miles, including Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Gerry Mulligan, Herbie Hancock, and John Coltrane. And not one of them could have straightened him out when he started wearing stuff like this?

3. David Bowie
A concise, but impactful mentorship track record: In the early seventies, the solo careers of both Lou Reed and Iggy Pop were on life support; then Ziggy Stardust showed up, produced Reed’s breakthrough second album Transformer, and co-wrote and produced both Iggy’s Lust for Life and The Idiot (he also had a hand in the Stooge’s last album, Raw Power). Additionally, he wrote Mott the Hoople’s biggest hit, “All the Young Dudes,” and that right there is just a good song.

2. Dr. Dre
Interminably delayed Detox–era Dre seems hell-bent on stalling out careers (ask Stat Quo, Joell Ortiz, and G.A.G.E. about that), but he could go around breaking the shins of every promising new artist in the Western hemisphere till the end of days and he still wouldn’t lose his Midas-touch reputation, thanks to his history with superstars Snoop and Eminem (and, to a lesser extent, 50 Cent and the Game).

1. Timbaland
We’ve cracked on him for his latter-day sins, but for a while there Timmy could do no wrong. First he waged a war on the traditional sounds of the pop charts, with Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, and Ginuwine (be honest, you got down to “Pony” too) as his frontline soldiers. Later, he rebirthed crunchy Nelly Furtado as a sultry siren and boy-bander Justin Timberlake as a superstar. In between he worked with future $100,000-a-beat producers Danja and Scott Storch, and backed the better-than-you-remember Bubba Sparxxx. Most recently, Keri Hilson has come out of his pop-production training camp. And then he squanders all that goodwill by making OneRepublic famous.

Honorable (Niche) Mentions:
Thurston Moore, the avant-garde punk: His label Ecstactic Peace! has released Be Your Own Pet, Magik Markers, Tall Firs, and Awesome Color.

Beastie Boys, the hip-hop hipsters: Grand Royal was a highly active vanity label for the Beasties during its brief lifetime, with releases by Luscious Jackson, Ben Lee, Atari Teenage Riot, Sean Lennon, and At the Drive-In.

Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, the Canadian scenester: Acts signed to BSS’s Arts&Crafts or otherwise affiliated with BSS include Most Serene Republic, Apostle of Hustle, Emily Haines/Metric, Stars, and Feist.

Birdman, the Southern rap impresario: Cash Money records has been home to Juvenile, B.G., Mannie Fresh, recent Billboard no. 1 Jay Sean, and Lil Wayne.