The nature of the music industry is such that predicting when or if a major label release will actually hit shelves has devolved to one step above guesswork. In January of 2013, HipHopDX trotted out an annual list of our most anticipated albums. Out of 15 total entries, 12 actually saw the light of day. The surprises weren’t all of the bad variety either as A$AP Rocky, Juicy J, Rittz, Illogic & Blockhead, J. Cole, Ghostface Killah and Earl Sweatshirt delivered what we considered some of the year’s best albums. And hopefully projects like 50 Cent’s oft-delayed Street King Immortal escape from label limbo one of these days.

In the meantime, we’ve earmarked another group of albums that have us excited. They vary between works that have been promised for at least a year (or longer) to sets that are reportedly already in the works if the various recording sessions captured on Instagram are to be believed. As usual, each monthly flip of the calendar should bring increased anticipation of more good music.

Lord Steppington – Stepbrothers (Alchemist and Evidence)

The chemistry between Alchemist and Evidence can’t be denied, the evidence (no pun intended) goes back to earlier Dilated People’s projects and Al’s various one-offs. With the anticipation at an all-time high, the pair of childhood friends is set to drop their collaborative album, Lord Steppington, in January of 2014. While Alchemist has brought the best out of other emcees with collaborative projects from Curren$y and Planet Asia to name a few, the first full project between the two Los Angeles underground kings is sure to satisfy.

Oxymoron – ScHoolboy Q

While Kendrick Lamar dropped his album in 2012, 2013 still belonged to “K Dot.” Being the second member of TDE to drop, following the success of good kid mAAd city is a tall task; yet, the artists currently referred to as “Puffy” seems more than up to it.

“If he didn’t drop that album, there’s no telling how good my album would’ve been,” ScHoolboy told HipHopDX in June of 2013. “It’s competition. I gotta be better than his shit or just as good. It has to be just as good or better.”

While it’s been almost two years since the release of Habits & Contradictions, collaborations with A$AP Mob, Game, Mac Miller, and Macklemore among many others have helped to keep Q’s name buzzing. Now, fresh off murdering fellow TDE affiliate Isaiah Rashad’s “Shot You Down” remix, and with tracks like “Man of the Year” and “Banger (Moshpit)” being well received, “Groovy Q” is set to carry the TDE torch in 2014.

Mastermind – Rick Ross

As cliché as the phrase sounds, Mastermind may very well be a “make or break” album for Rick Ross. He bucked the odds by shrugging off documented proof that he was a correctional officer and a beef with 50 Cent when both could have been career killers. But any setbacks in 2013 were of his own doing. He suffered through a self-inflicted PR nightmare courtesy of a perceived date rape reference on Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.,” and leaned too heavily upon the repetitious ratchet formula that powered mixtapes such as Rich Forever. “The Devil is a Lie” featuring Jay Z definitely had everybody talking. And Ross, known for having some of the most well-crafted albums, is a year-and-a-half removed from his last album God Forgives, I Don’t which debuted at the #1 spot with 218,000 copies sold. If he is truly taking extra time to put the final touches on his latest album (as he told DJ Scream on December 5, 2013), then deviating from his original December 17 release date may be just what the “Bawse” needs.

FILA – Raekwon

The Wu-Tang “W” is arguably the most significant logo in all of Hip-Hop. While it’s been a decent while since the clan as a whole has dropped a complete project that fans celebrated, there have always been solid products dropping courtesy of the Shaolin collective. Ghostface has carried the torch for a while, and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II signified the official return of the Chef. Since it’s release, everything Raekwon has released has been loved by the fans, and for the most part, critically acclaimed. In an April 2013 interview with HipHopDX, Raekwon shared two fairly significant details about what to expect from his seventh album.

“I want to make an album where people in London or people in Germany will love it,” Rae revealed. “There are certain sounds I want to explore and not make it just a hardcore album from a hardcore emcee… This album may have more features than I’ve ever had in my life in a good way where it’s a different soup for y’all.”

Given his rededication to “cooking up some marvelous shit” to keep fan’s collective mouths watering, disappointment is highly unlikely.

King Push – Pusha T

Let’s be honest, My Name Is My Name was met with a lot of mixed feelings, mostly in regard to the production. When word got out Pusha was going back in the lab with the Neptunes, Pusha basically acknowledged the problem with his debut solo album himself. Hearing the Clipse over that Neptune’s sound had become a new staple in Hip Hop, and while Pusha’s brother No Malice will most likely be absent (but hopefully featured) for the album, the new and improved Pusha T backed by the production team that first introduced him is something to get excited about.

Run The Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P)

When El-P laced Killer Mike with the production for R.A.P. Music, the result was one of the best albums of 2012. In 2013, HipHopDX voted Run the Jewels the album of the year. Duos have played a large role in Hip Hop since the inception of the culture, but the combination of El-P’s violent production, and cynical wit with Killer Mike’s aggressive honesty and brute lyricism is almost unlike anything heard before. All it took was one tweet on November 1, courtesy of El-P to pique interest in what is officially the third full collaboration between the pair. While there is a lot of competition for 2014, it’s hard to imagine the combination of Jamie and Mike not being anywhere near the top in terms of quality Hip Hop music.

Pink Slime – Mac Miller and Pharrell

Very few things are as exciting as the unknown, and very few things are as unknown as why and how this Pink Slime project exists. Pharrell is a tastemaker of sound rivaled by very few for a generation of Hip Hoppers that are now becoming the elder statesmen. With Mac Miller’s relocation to Southern California, he has become a figure in the new generation of soundsmiths. Mac’s improvement in terms of lyricism and beat making were evident on his last album Watching Movies with the Sound Off, and earned him HipHopDX’s “Comeback of the Year” during HipHopDX’s 2013 Awards. Combining the two? The resulting music should be interesting to say the least.

B4 Da $$ – Joey Bada$$

In 2012, Joey Bada$$ dropped 1999 and immediately all the pressure of holding down New York within the world of Hip Hop was heaped upon the shoulders of the then 17-year-old Brooklynite. Fast forward to 2014, some Pro Era tapes, and the release of Summer Knights which dropped around the time of some of Hip Hop’s heavyweights without being drowned out, and young Bada$$ now prepares for his debut, retail, full-length release. With rhymes over instrumentals from some of Hip Hop’s legendary producers already under his belt, expectations are high for Joey Bada$$’s B4 Da $$. While the public’s view of the New York Hip Hop scene may have changed since 2012, anticipation for B4 Da $$ is just as high, if not higher.

Cadillactica – Big K.R.I.T.

Suffice it to say Big K.R.I.T.’s Live From the Underground was a bit of a stylistic departure from the mixtapes that garnered him so much critical acclaim. It certainly wasn’t a bad album by any means, but it had the feel of major label concessions because well, it was his major label debut. Besides, can you really knock any Hip Hop album with a feature from B.B. King? K.R.I.T. has gone on record as saying his sophomore set will be more soulful while eschewing samples (and most likely the high price tag and annoying clearance process).

“I’m getting the opportunity to be in the studio with some dope producers,” K.R.I.T. said in a HipHoDX interview published in August of 2013. “You know, Terrace Martin, DJ Dahi, Chad Hugo and people like this.”

The shared production duties—which we’ve also seen on the mixtape King Remembered in Time—should ideally lighten K.R.I.T.’s load and add to what is already a vibrant sonic bouquet.

Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco

While Lupe Fiasco has been very vocal through social networks and his work with several foundations, in 2013 he seemed to remain pretty quiet on the music scene. While the end of 2012 found Fiasco releasing the sequel to his classic debut, Food & Liquor, in 2014 finds Lupe dropping Tetsuo & Youth, his final contractual obligation to Atlantic Records. While his shaky relationship with his label may have affected Lupe’s release of retail projects, no one can question the conceptual creativity or lyricism Lupe has displayed throughout his career, whether it be through his retail projects, like Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt.1, or his free releases, like Friend of the People. With “Old School Love” already released, and a preview tour, the anticipation for Tetsuo & Youth can’t get much higher.

The Ecology – Fashawn

In 2009, Fashawn introduced himself with an impressive showing, Boy Meets World, a project released via One Records. The album, which was entirely produced by Exile, championed Fashawn’s lyrics and made him one of the most critically acclaimed up-and-coming rappers of the year, certainly one of the most acclaimed out of Fresno, California since Planet Asia. Since then, Fashawn has quietly continued a consistent display of lyrical dexterity and he added range to his arsenal. In 2012, Fashawn released two projects, his own Champagne & Styrofoam Cups via The IAN Group and This Generation, a collaborative album with Murs released through Duck Down. Both projects helped Fashawn grow as an emcee, helping his upcoming The Ecology, his official sophomore studio album, become one of 2014’s most anticipated.

The Last Zulu – Q-Tip

Remember the musical mea culpa that was Kanye West’s “G.O.O.D. Fridays?” On November 13, 2009, Kanye surfaced with the track “Chain Heavy.” Much like his current material in was left of field and packed with talk about race relations and class warfare. But there were no leather kilts nor involvement from Daft Punk, Rick Rubin or Chief Keef—just an eerie, boom bap inspired track with a heavy Native Tongues influence. Thank Q-Tip for that one. “The Abstract” has been linked to various ‘Ye projects before and after performing what was allegedly A Tribe Called Quest’s last show together. And he’s said his fourth solo outing, The Last Zulu, is still on the way.

“It’s gonna be like the bad twin of Tribe,” Tip told Elliot Wilson when the pair sat down for his “The Truth” series for “I’ll still have those same harmonic qualities, but it’ll be minor instead of major.”

If 2008’s The Renaissance was any indication, some major label muscle courtesy of Def Jam and rebranding from Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint may give Q-Tip the most visible platform he’s had since his first solo outing in 1999.

Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 – Vince Staples

Vince Staples’ rhymes contain a rare blend of lyricism, insight and menace. Others have taken notice of the Long Beach rapper’s raucous rhymes. The husky-voiced rapper has worked extensively with Odd Future members Syd tha Kyd, Mike G and Earl Sweatshirt, as well as producer Michael “Uzi” Uzowuru. In 2013, he released the Stolen Youth mixtape with Larry Fisherman, better known as Mac Miller. This year, the freshly minted Def Jam Recordings artist is slated to release Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, a follow-up to his acclaimed 2011 project. Vince Staples: real name, no gimmicks. Just lyrics to go.

The Victory Lap – Nipsey Hussle

Now that the novelty has worn off from Nipsey Hussle’s Crenshaw and the narrative of person worth investing $100 in for a physical copy of a project (and an exclusive concert), what remains? Essentially, the same emcee Epic Records granted a record deal in the first half of the aughts. Ideally, Nipsey’s forthcoming album, The Victory Lap, showcases a more seasoned artist with the same access to top-notch production and any featured artists of his choosing. Perhaps the scariest part is that Nip mistakenly called Crenshaw’s material “throwaways,” meaning that he saved the most compelling material for his 2014 retail offering. Can he top the headline-grabbing buzz of his “Proud 2 Pay” campaign one more time? Considering he’s survived a stint with a dying traditional record industry model and going to war as a member of the Rolling 60s Crips, getting heads to check for his next album is light work.


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