Kevin Rudolf played a major role in the fusion of Hip-Hop, pop, and rock at the turn of the 2010s. So why aren’t people talking about him anymore?
From humiliating commercial failures to dark personal and legal struggles, there are countless reasons why you may not hear a once-prominent artist’s name pop up in conversation anymore. With that being said, it’s always an interesting experience to be reminded of one of your past favorite artists who didn’t necessarily experience a tragic downfall but seemingly stepped away from the limelight nevertheless. One such artist is Kevin Rudolf.
Although he has recently been the target of an internet death hoax, the New York-bred artist, music industry veteran, and former Cash Money Records signee is very much alive and well, and he is also still actively releasing music, with his latest single — “Summertime” — arriving just a couple of months ago.
Rudolf, who is perhaps most well known for his classic late-oughts rock-rap record “Let It Rock,” played a crucial role in the bridging of Hip-Hop and rock at the turn of the 2010s through his own solo output and his work on Lil Wayne’s infamous Tha Carter III follow-up, Rebirth.
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While contemporary rap-adjacent pop rockers like Post Malone and Machine Gun Kelly have most certainly carved out their own lanes in the music industry, it’s hard to imagine how fans — who used to have much more static genre preferences — would have reacted to them in a reality in which Kevin Rudolf didn’t exist and help pave the road for artists like them to shine. With a four-times-platinum hit record, several collaborations alongside some of the music industry’s most legendary talents, and an ambitious sonic path that was a bit ahead of its time but perfectly suited for today’s popular music landscape, Kevin Rudolf should definitely be an artist whose name pops up a lot more.
So why is that not the case?
To better understand “what happened” to Kevin Rudolf, let’s take a trip back in time and re-familiarize ourselves with the In The City and To The Sky artist’s career.
Before he became one of Cash Money Records’ most unexpected signings of the late 2000s, Kevin Rudolf was already somewhat of a music industry veteran, with experience as both a major label artist and a behind-the-scenes contributor on a considerable number of iconic songs.
While his music experience dates back to his adolescent and teenage years, a great starting point for revisiting Kevin Rudolf’s career is his major label debut, which was released as far away as possible from the Hip-Hop world that would embrace him later that decade. The album, which was self-titled after Kevin Rudolf’s former pseudonym Binocular, dropped in 2001 via Madonna’s now-defunct record label Maverick, and unless you have done a deep dive into Kevin Rudolf’s career, that’s probably not something that many Hip-Hop fans even know. Binocular essentially went overlooked, and as a result, Kevin Rudolf’s time with Maverick came to an abrupt end.
A couple of years later, Kevin Rudolf was introduced to Timbaland, and during one of their first studio sessions together, Timbo invited Kevin to play the guitar on Lil Kim’s classic 2003 hit single “The Jump Off.” With a certified banger under their belts, Timbaland and Kevin’s working relationship continued to grow and develop over the next handful of years, as the Shock Value artist helped Kevin land musician and production credits on a plethora of well-known 2000s tracks, from David Banner’s “Thinking Of You” and The Black Eyed Peas’ Justin Timberlake-assisted “My Style” in 2005 to Nelly Furtado’s “Say It Right” and Timbaland’s Keri Hilson and Nicole Scherzinger-assisted “Scream” in 2006.
During this period in Kevin Rudolf’s life, he was living in Miami and spending a lot of time at the Hit Factory (currently known as Criteria Studio) — which had become a hot spot for popular music in the 2000s and housed sessions for everyone from Cee-Lo Green, Jennifer Lopez, and Alicia Keys to Shakira, Monica, and Lil Wayne. Eventually, Kevin crossed paths with Ronald “Slim” Williams, and he played some of his songs for the Cash Money Records Co-CEO. From there, Kevin Rudolf’s connection with Cash Money was born.
In a recently posted Instagram reel, Kevin recounts his signing with Cash Money and the lead-up to his commercial breakthrough by saying the following:
“I played [Slim] a few of records, and he fell in love with this one called ‘Coffee And Donuts.’ So I just kept bringing him more and more music,” Kevin Rudolf explains. “After about a year, we got Wayne on one of my songs, but I still didn’t know what was going on. I was down to my last $18 in the bank, and then [Tha Carter III] happened. Tha Carter III comes out and sells 500,000 copies in one day. That day, Slim called me and said, ‘Kev, I want to put out this “Let It Rock” record. You’re up next.’”
After being dropped from Madonna’s record label, relocating to Miami, and spending years honing his craft at the Hit Factory, Kevin Rudolf had worked his way into the fold of one of the most notable Hip-Hop labels of the last decade, and in the wake of Tha Carter III’s massive success, Kevin’s trailblazing run with Cash Money had officially begun.
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The Cash Money Era
A month after the release of Tha Carter III and just 14 days after its double-platinum certification, Cash Money released Kevin Rudolf’s debut single: “Let it Rock” featuring Lil Wayne. With Wayne at the crux of his commercial dominance, Kevin Rudolf’s self-produced single was sure to get a major boost in sales and radio play, and soon after its release, the unlikely rock-rap crossover record actually proved to be one of the biggest hits of 2008.
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Even though Kevin had previously played more of a behind-the-scenes role in Hip-Hop, “Let It Rock” was still able to achieve significant chart success, debuting at #80 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September and eventually peaking at #5 in October. The single would grow to become a sports arena mainstay, and while Kevin Rudolf admitted in a 2009 interview that he was “not much of a fan of rap/rock at all,” the song served as an important contribution to the evolving fusion of Hip-Hop, pop, and rock at the turn of the 2010s.
With a top five hit on their hands, Kevin Rudolf and Cash Money prepared the release of the new star’s Cash Money Records debut. That November, Kevin unleashed his second studio album, In The City. The 13-track concept album notably embraced a fluidity of alternative rock, rap, and pop, and in addition to Lil Wayne, Nas and Rick Ross also made huge guest appearances on the record. “Welcome To The World,” the album’s second breakout hit, even featured Kid Cudi on the post-album single release.
In The City was met with middling critical reviews and modest commercial success, but in hindsight, it arguably laid the foundation for how rap-adjacent pop-rock records have been constructed over the last decade, with no clear genre lines and a bunch of high-profile rap features. While In The City is far from a perfect record, it remains an eclectic offering from one of Cash Money Records’ most interesting signees.
During the year between his two Cash Money albums, Kevin Rudolf had a prolific period in which he continued to work on his own music while collaborating with artists as disparate as Leona Lewis (“Love Letter”), Cobra Starship (“Good Girls Go Bad”), and Lifehouse (“Halfway Gone”). In 2009, Kevin made an appearance on Birdman’s fourth studio album Priceless alongside Lil Wayne on the track “I Want It All,” and he also made multiple contributions to Wayne’s notorious rock foray, Rebirth. The “Let It Rock” collaborators joined forces on “One Way Trip,” and Kevin produced the emotional Rebirth standout “Paradice” — which also was way ahead of its time — alongside Cool N Dre.
At the start of 2010, Cash Money set out on Kevin Rudolf’s junior studio album campaign, and once again, they struck gold — or platinum, rather — with his first post-In The City single, “I Made It (Cash Money Heroes).” The single featured Kevin’s Cash Money labelmates Birdman, Jay Sean, and Lil Wayne, and it was released on the same day as Wayne’s Rebirth. Although it was undoubtedly covered in the stench of the incredibly negative reception surrounding Wayne’s Tha Carter III follow-up, “I Made It” gradually climbed up the charts and managed to peak at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 2010, and a month later, Cash Money pulled the trigger on Kevin Rudolf’s third studio album, To The Sky. Interestingly enough, the record was released on the same day as Drake‘s debut album, Thank Me Later.
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To The Sky further explored the intersections of rap, rock, and pop, and this time around Kevin had even more high-profile guests attached to his album. To The Sky boasted a feature from Flo Rida on its second single “You Make The Rain Fall,” another major look from Lil Wayne on “Spit In Your Face,” a non-Hip-Hop feature from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, and two guest appearances from Three 6 Mafia. As with Kevin Rudolf’s first Cash Money release, To The Sky wasn’t met with incredible reviews, but outlets like Billboard argued that Kevin was “confus[ing] the listener by refusing to focus his musical style in one direction,” the album generally received higher ratings than In The City.
However, To The Sky not only became Kevin Rudolf’s final album to be released on Cash Money Records, but his final full-length project to date.
Life After To The Sky
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Sales and critical reception considered, To The Sky seemingly should have marked another step in the right direction for Kevin Rudolf, but the New York-bred artist’s career took an unexpected, and rather lengthy, detour. Following the release of his second album on Cash Money, Kevin spent the early 2010s appearing on a myriad of tracks from popular acts like DJ Khaled’s “A Million Lights,” Natasha Beddingfield’s “All I Need,” and Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV Target exclusive track “Novacane.” During that time, Kevin Rudolf also wrote and produced for a wide range of artists — including Selena Gomez, Jesse McCartney, Fefe Dobson, Big Time Rush, Hollywood Undead, and more.
In 2012, Kevin Rudolf released the singles “Don’t Give Up” and the Birdman, Lil Wayne, and Fred Durst-assisted “Champions,” with the latter seemingly poised to become the lead single on a To The Sky follow-up. Although “Champions” had a similar anthemic quality as “Let It Rock” and “I Made It (Cash Money Heroes),” the song didn’t land on the Billboard Hot 100 at all, and in 2013, it was added to Young Money and Cash Money’s Rich Gang compilation album as a Best Buy exclusive bonus track. That same year, Kevin Rudolf released his final single on Cash Money Records, a sentimental track titled “Here’s To Us.”
Throughout the remainder of the decade, Kevin Rudolf continued to work as a songwriter and producer for artists like Keith Urban (“Little Bit Of Everything”) and Gavin Degraw (“Different for girls” and “Leading Man”), and he also sparingly released more singles, including “Blaze of Glory” and “That Other Ship” in 2015 and “Nobody Gets Out Alive” in 2017. In 2019, Kevin independently release the three-track EP Do You Feel Me?, which featured “Hold Your Head High,” the titular track, and “I Will Not Break,” his most recent collaboration with Lil Wayne.
HNHH reached out to Kevin Rudolf’s team for comments regarding the reason why he didn’t release an album after To The Sky, and the former Cash Money artist revealed that he actually had another record ready to go.
“I did make a third album which was never released [and] included the single ‘Champions,’ featuring Lil Wayne, Birdman and Fred Durst,” Kevin Rudolf confirmed. “We couldn’t get a release date for the album, so I just kept working behind the scenes, producing, and writing. After I was released from Cash Money I put out a song called “I Will Not Break” feat. Lil Wayne and a few singles but nothing felt like a real body of work that should be turned into an album project.”
Independence & The 2020s
The 2020s have so far marked a decade of complete independence for Kevin Rudolf, and although a full-length project has yet to materialize, he has released a slew of singles over the last three years — including “Watch Me Now,” “Social Anxiety” with Jared Evan,” “Never Know Why,” “Babylon,” Generation Maybe?,” “The Introvert’s Anthem,” “Are We Having Fun?,” and “Escape That’s OK” in 2020; “Live Your Life” in 2021; and “Summertime” earlier this summer.
As for what’s next, Kevin Rudolf has confirmed to HNHH that he does have new music coming very soon.
“I’m dropping a new single called ‘Gold’ on October 7 and one called ‘Samurai X-Ray’ on October 21,” Kevin Rudolf stated. He also hinted at his potential involvement in the highly-anticipated Tha Carter VI, saying that he has “also been sending music over to Wayne for Tha Carter 6.”
Based on all of the information presented, it’s safe to say that “What happened to Kevin Rudolf?” isn’t actually the question that fans should be asking. As an artist whose debut and sophomore albums arrived seven years apart, Kevin Rudolf has consistently been someone who hasn’t rushed his creative process. In a 2009 interview with Clash Magazine, the independent artist was asked why he waited so long to transition from a behind-the-scenes role in the music industry, to which he responded, “I didn’t wait. I was always making my own music. It just took time for it to all come together. Nothing happens overnight. Most people don’t know half the story behind successful artists.”
Roughly 13 and a half years later, Kevin’s exclusive HNHH comments about “working behind the scenes” carry that same sentiment.
With new music slated to release soon and his potential involvement in yet another highly anticipated Lil Wayne project, perhaps the question we should have been asking all along is “What the hell does Kevin Rudolf have up his sleeve?”