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 2014, HipHopDX trotted out an annual list of our most anticipated albums. Out of 14 total entries, roughly half saw the light of day. The surprises weren’t all of the bad variety either as Vince Staples, Run The Jewels, Schoolboy Q, Alchemist & Evidence, delivered what we considered some of the year’s best albums. And hopefully projects like Raekwon’s oft-delayed Fly International Luxurious Arts 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.
Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
It must feel like Groundhog Day to Lupe Fiasco. The build-up to his fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth is looking like a remix to the leads-in to Lasers and Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album. Lu’s still not cool with Atlantic Records, and again he voiced publicly that he’s not happy with the way the album turned out before it hit stores, just like he did during the Lasers media blitz. That time his fans had to protest Atlantic to secure a release date. This time it took a Twitter threat from hacker-group, Anonymous. Instead of #OccupyWallStreet, it’s #ICantBreathe dominating the national conversation; instead of Pete Rock being pissed-off over a beat, it’s GrandMarshalle (Not to compare the two, but still… ).
Sonically, Cornell Westside’s on a winning streak, though. Lu lyrically hijacked Big K.R.I.T.’s “Lost Generation” off Cadillactica and Ab-Soul’s “World Runners” off These Days… (Black Jesus, just imagine an EP with those three), just as he did to Wale and Rick Ross on the 2013 gem, “Poor Decisions.” Then there’s the moving “Mission” which was dedicated to cancer victims, the “Dumb It Down”-esque “Pu$$y,” the infectious “Next To It” with Ty Dolla $ign, and the vintage “Old School Love” featuring Ed Sheeran—all of which scream quintessential Carrera Lu.
With Food & Liquor and The Cool, there’s a strong argument that the Chicago-emcee dropped back-to-back classics straight out the gate. That’s half of his catalog, and that second half is largely questionable only in comparison to the first. In a weird way, it’s as if his career is the embodiment of the second verse on “Mean & Vicious.” So if there are two reasons to be excited about Tetsuo & Youth, it’s because for the general population, even Lupe’s underappreciated albums notch Grammy nods. And for his core fans, he’s finally starting to sound like he’s regained the inspiration to spar.
Kendrick Lamar – Untitled
Kendrick Lamar looked like two different people during his recent appearance on The Colbert Report. There was the even-keeled, soft-spoken K.Dot who did little more than smile and grin during the conversation, as if cameras still make him uncomfortable despite the fact that’s he’s spent the past two years essentially performing in front of millions of people. Then like a light switch, King Kendrick—or maybe now “King Kunta”—drops a captivating performance while sipping from a flask only minutes later. He moves like a more evolved artist; like he’s emerging from the metaphorical woods with grizzly hair and creatively ready to flex more than ever.
In his XXL cover story, Kendrick explains how he shields himself from outside influences. “But me creating music, I never really play music for anybody, even people inside the camp because it can almost sway your creative process 100 percent,” he said. “So along with that, I cut off everything on the radio; I really just duck off from music. Because I’m gonna be influenced and I don’t want to be. That has always been my process. I just feel like, it’s really the only prized possession that I actually can control, you know? It’s selfishness for sure, but it’s my selfishness and I own it.”
“i” and the still-untitled track Kendrick performed on Colbert are resolute offerings that stand-out in a sea of similar sounds. They’re dynamic and lathered in contextual relevancy while still forcing you to move. But the sophomore slump is real, unfortunately. Few artists have ever put together back-to-back classic albums and the bar set by Good Kid m.A.A.d City is extraordinarily high. In that sense, Kendrick’s already reached rarified air. It’ll be fun to witness whether he can make history twice.
Kanye West – Untitled
Overall, not much is known about Kanye West’s next solo album. There’s a lot of conjecture, but very few facts. There was a leaked tracklist for a project called Paris that was proven to be false. There were rumors that a possible joint project with Paul McCartney would contain a song called “Piss On Your Grave,” but that appears to be inaccurate as well. Yeezy did drop a song from his collaborative sessions with the Beatles-legend on New Years Eve and made the world get all misty-eyed right before the ball dropped. “Only One” was unexpected in timing, in sound, in execution, in just about every way possible—and it was awesome.
According to the “Only One” press release, Paul McCartney and Kanye began working together in early 2014 in Los Angeles, CA. “My mom was singing to me, and through me to my daughter,” Yeezy is quoted as stating. It’s dope to ponder the direction Ye´ will head next. After Yeezus’ polarizing reception, there’s a thread of anticipation that Yeezy would move closer to quintessential Kanye as he did when he followed 808s & Heartbreak with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But on it’s own, “Only One” doesn’t obviously fit that assumption. Nevertheless, if it’s foolish to creatively bet against one artist, that artist is Kanye West. In the 11 years since his solo debut, the cocky college dropout has arguably assembled an all classic catalog. Every time he releases new music it’s a major event. Why would this go around be any different?
Drake – Views From The 6
After images of a fiery number “6” flashed three times consecutively on the screen during the OVO Fest in Toronto last August, Drake was forced to reveal the title to his next album. “My album title is Views From The 6,” he tweeted in response to the allegations. “The 6 is Toronto. Rih is a great girl who I know is about to kill this tour with Eminem. It’s all love!!”
Later that month, a version of the supposed title track leaked, followed by “How About Now,” “6 God” and “Heat Of The Moment” in October, along with “0-100/The Catchup”— all of which we were tremendously popular, just like every other loosie Drake let loose in 2014. Drizzy dominated the charts and clubs and whips (and probably most people’s relationships) last year without releasing an album, which is the truest testament to the creative zone he currently owns. Couple that with a couple of harassment allegations, an altercation with Diddy, an airball at Kentucky Basketball’s midnight madness scrimmage, an artist who got assaulted on a Tuesday, and a possibly crumbling Cash Money dynasty going down around him and suddenly the artist who most effectually leverages real-life encounters directly in his music has a slew of new anecdotes to kick on his next full-length.
Raekwon – Fly International Luxurious Arts
Raekwon explained to DX in October that he chose to put his long-awaited solo release, F.I.L.A. (Fly International Luxurious Arts) on hold to work on of Wu-Tang’s troubled, A Better Tomorrow. “I decided to stand for my brothers right now and push my album to the backburner,” he said. “My album will be coming out next year, in the Spring, you know, around March. I felt I did it for a great cause because this is the family. I had to do that. I feel good about it and I understand more the direction of where everybody wants to go. And we happy. Like I said, you just getting great music at its finest right now.”
Though critical reaction to A Better Tomorrow was less than stellar, Rae’s been consistent in his desired approach to album creation. As he described in a conversation with B-Real, F.I.L.A. is “stadium style music catering to every audience” focused on showing people that his “pen game is right” and that he’s being “smart about the records he’s making.” The album will reportedly be released through his Ice H20 imprint in conjunction with EMI and features Estelle, Akon, Jerry Wonda, Melanie Fiona, among others. Look for F.I.L.A. in the first quarter.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
From mic to plug, is there a more consistent duo than Killer Mike and El-P in modern Hip Hop? Hell, outside of OutKast, is there a more consistent duo than Killer Mike and El-P ever in Hip Hop history? That’s a real question.
With R.A.P. Music (which DX dubbed Runner-Up Album Of The Year in 2012), Run The Jewels (which DX dubbed Album Of The Year in 2013) and Run The Jewels 2 (which DX railed against for not voting the project Album Of The Year or Runner-Up in 2014), the lyrical odd couple has released a triad of incredible projects receiving nearly universal acclaim at a time when it seems Hip Hop rarely agrees on anything. So when El-P revealed during a recent Reddit AMA that Run The Jewels 3 is on the way, the culture (on the Internet, at least) breathed a collective sigh of relief. We are in a time of great change. People are protesting all over the globe. Powerful voices that can contextualize the gravity of the shifting world around us are needed more than ever—especially in Hip Hop. Run The Jewels never shirked at that responsibility and never did so over incredible sound-beds. The countdown to Run The Jewels 3 is officially underway.
Joey Bada$$ – B4Da$$
The album drops in about a week and a half, but it’s been a raucous few years since Joey Bada$$ specifically, got everyone hype with 1999. It was a NYC-esque odyssey through his childhood, hopes and dreams. And it was the beginning of what some would dub a kind of NY renaissance, bringing to the fore an updated boom-bap sound with prodigious sampling.
He’s signed to Cinematic Music Group, which is out here nurturing some of the youngest stars in the game, with K.R.I.T.’s Cadillactica, the most recent feather in its cap. Joey is no different. As they’ve allowed him to find his groove with experimenting on Regex and Summer Knights, along with coming under the wing of Statik Selectah — a literal gatekeeper to classic sounds of NYC ‘s past. He has endured his fair share of tragedy. Most recently his cousin Junior B passed away on tour in Europe, and in 2012 Capital Steez (friend, Pro Era member, and collaborator) also passed away. So, unfortunately, he’s been forced to deal with great personal gut checks while battling the “90s Era Box” people often put him in.
Of course that means we’re all ridiculously curious about this new project, and where we can place it in the realm of New York Hip Hop lore. Look out for the album review when it drops.
Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon III
Kid Cudi dropped the particularly nuanced Indicud in 2013. It was also criminally underrated. And although Cudi seems more focused more on acting right now than music, you can never underestimate just how talented he is at making the kind of alt-Hip Hop that’s exploded over the last few years.
The bookend to the Man On The Moon trilogy is set to be his most mature offering yet, and he said as much in an interview with Music Connection, offering his now renewed perspective after getting sober and making his fair share of mistakes in life. It may also feature a reunion of sorts with Emile and Plain Pat, setting the team up for one last flight into the spaced-out badlands of the Cudder’s mind.
The Lox – We Are The Streets 2
The Lox most recent reunion came virtually out of nowhere, with the triumvirate releasing a trinity of albums in 2014 affectionately called The Trinity. The triple release both elated and, to some degree, disappointed. And the best of the three was undoubtedly the second edition, which seemed to see the three emcees gel in a way they haven’t in quite a while.
For this release, we’re more excited for a return to the gritty three way back and forth bars of Lox’ projects past. And with the Ghost and Sheek spitting at a level that they haven’t in some time, We Are The Streets may just find the platinum selling group setting those streets on fire this year. New York Hip Hop may be set to explode with Fab’s late-last-year release leading the attack of the elders army. And if last year is any indication, legacy acts like The Lox should be taken more than seriously.
Frank Ocean – Untitled
Franky is beloved since setting the trend for Pop Culture after his incredible album Channel Orange. It’s been two-and-a-half years since then. And the musical landscape has yet to find someone to fill his white, Band-Of-Outsiders loafers. Consider the cohesiveness and the conceptual richness of his last full length effort. And consider how The Weeknd has yet to release something truly competitive although Nostalgia, Ultra and House Of Balloons dropped around the same time.
Since, he’s only dropped one mesmerizing loosie by the name of “Memrise,” a rough cut of a song just 1:57’s thick. But the ambient cut is both vintage Frank and pushing the proverbial envelope. Either way, everyone should be more than excited, as the man who pushed us all into the Pop future is gearing up to do it one more time.
Meek Mill – Dreams Worth More Than Money
Maybach Music’s retail output last year solely relied on general Rick Ross due to two factors, Wale’s Festivus collaborative mixtape with A-Trak, low sales expectations for Stalley’s debut Ohio and Meek Mill spending some months in the slammer. Spending time in prison delayed the much anticipated sophomore release of Dreams Worth More Than Money. The Philadelphia MC couldn’t have come back at a better time near 2014’s end. By then, he found himself earning not one but two guest spots on Nicki Minaj’s then highly anticipated album The Pinkprint.
Two years have passed since his MMG debut Dreams and Nightmares and releasing a follow-up in the near future is clearly on Meek’s agenda. If the dreamchaser can avoid violating his probation, expect an even hungrier MMG soldier with much more to prove. From what is known now, the album is essentially complete but surely more material is being recorded. In terms of guest appearances, Meek has some heavy hitters from Rita Ora, Big Sean and French Montana. Tentative producers for Dreams Worth More Than Money include Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, DJ Mustard and past collaborator Key Wane.
Migos – Untitled
Migos’ can attribute wise management and heavy output of club bangers for their rise to stardom. Though Quavo, Offset and Takeoff for the past two years have become one of “New Atlanta”s faces due to 2013 breakout hit “Versace” along with the Drake assisted remix, 2014 was even bigger. Alongside delivering two major mixtapes through No Label 2 and Rich Nigga Timeline, “Fight Night” and “Handsome and Wealthy” were considered impactful singles.
Now it’s time to prove the three can put out an album listeners are willing to pay for. There are some sure signs that the Northside trio can pull it off. First is their recent deal with Lyor Cohen backed 300 Entertainment through Atlantic Records. Second is their association with some of the best hit makers today from producer Zaytoven to much sought after artists Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan.
Chance The Rapper And The Social Experiment – Surf
April 2013 was the year Hip Hop was delivered the magical package through Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap. Since then, the Chicago MC has made a nice living performing just that album at times with his live band The Social Experiment. Then there’s his ability to land guest features that almost run the entire gamut of music including Lil Wayne, Rapsody, SZA, Skrillex, Common and even Justin Bieber. This is what makes the possibilities of Surf damn-near endless.
Clearly, adding The Social Experiment to equation will lend to an organic approach to where the album will go sonically. There isn’t a better example than the project’s first single “Sunday Candy.” If Surf sounds anywhere near that transitional masterpiece of footwork and gospel plus Chance’s loosely introspective lyricism, there shouldn’t be much to worry about.
Pusha T – King Push
King Push dropped a surprise mid-November last year with the pretty much forgettable “Lunch Money.” The track felt very usual of the typical rhyming that has cemented his legacy in Hip Hop for better or worse. Are those trademark cocaine-raps find themselves finally having an expiration date? That’s a question for some other time. The good thing that came from “Lunch Money” was one-half of Brothers Thornton found himself sonically in a different place with Kanye’s production that some felt were pre-Yeezus throwaways.
There is hope however. This could mean some interesting experimentation musically for The G.O.O.D. Music member for King Push. He also may be reaching into his past as well. Many fans of Pusha should be excited when he found 2014 spending time with The Neptunes which potentially lead into a Clipse reunion. Hell, that’s what more people are look forward to anyway.
Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant who’s contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Senior Features Writer for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Justin “The Company Man” Hunte is the Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX. He was the host of The Company Man Show on PNCRadio.fm and has covered music, politics, and culture for numerous publications. He is currently based in Los Angeles, California. Follow him on Twitter@TheCompanyMan•