9 MC’s to Watch in 2010
In no particular order…
Lupe Fiasco – I feel for Lupe, I really do. I know what it’s like when you try to do too many things at once, and end up not having enough energy to finish anything you’ve started. For our friend Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, the heady heights of 2006-07 must have seemed like they were from centuries past. GQ Breakout Man of the Year. 3 Grammy nominations for his debut album, “Food and Liquor”, 4 for “The Cool.” And then, in the middle of 2007, he started to overreach. The band CRS (Child Rebel Soldier) with Kanye West and Pharrell that produced a single, but never did anything else besides a couple of appearances together on Kanye’s Glow in the Dark tour. The novel he was writing, Reflections of a Window Washer, that he never finished. The electro-funk remix of The Cool with electronic/house group Justice, that also produced a track but never ended up going anywhere. Finally, there was what could only be described as an artistic meltdown, culminating with him announcing his retirement following his “final” album, LupE.N.D., before…I’ll just let good ole’ Wikipedia expand:
Fiasco announced at a Chicago concert late in 2008 that his next and most likely final album would be a three disc album and that the first disc “Everywhere” would come out in June 2009. The trio was going to be named LupE.N.D. On January 30, 2009, Lupe Fiasco originally announced that LupE.N.D. would be postponed indefinitely. Instead, he would release three albums; The Great American Rap Album in June 2009, two following albums in December 2009 and June 2010, with LupE.N.D. following afterward. However, it was announced by Fiasco that his next album would instead be titled, “We Are Lasers“; yet later his official rep announced and confirmed that it would instead be titled simply “Lasers“.On June 26th, Fiasco announced at the Chicago Theater that the album would be released fourth quarter 2009, most likely in December.
Four announced albums? Great! Zero released albums? Not so great.
But all is not lost; it seems Lupe’s creative flame may have been re-lit just in time for the new year, and from two sources that couldn’t be more different. A few songs from Lazers have leaked onto the interwebs, and oddly enough, one entitled Solar Midnight ended up as an iTunes bonus track to the New Moon soundtrack. A few hundred thousand downloads later, Lupe found his name being mentioned among bankable industry acts again – not in time, though, for him to avoid getting “snubbed” (his words, not mine) by MTV when he didn’t make their 2009 “Top 10 Hottest Rappers” list.
Ever since, a focused, re-energized Lupe has been making Leviathan waves, dropping Mixtape of the Year candidate Enemy of the State: A Love Story on the unsuspecting masses, as well as essentially shutting down his label, First and Fifteenth Records, letting go of everyone except himself, Matthew Santos and Sarah Green. Again, his words, not mine:
It was just such a ‘this isn’t right for you right now. This isn’t gonna work for you right now. You need to be focused on you. Do you really want that, do you really have the capacity to do it?
Then came the surprising (less so in hindsight) news that Lupe would be joining hotties like Jessica Biel and Isabel Lucas, along with a veritable ton of other celebrities, for Summit on the Summit, which has the notable luminaries climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in order to bring awareness to the growing water crisis across the world. So, to recap – one of the hottest mixtapes in hip-hop, a Pur/Dell-sponsored media event guaranteed to generate tons of good karma & free publicity, and a heavily anticipated album set to drop in the first quarter of 2010, followed by a huge tour across Australia? Yeah; I think it’s safe to say Lupe’s back.
Black Star – Can you believe it’s been over ten years since Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star dropped. While the seminal album is easily one of the top 20 all-time hip-hop records, helping to bring “underground” hip-hop into the public eye so as to provide an alternative view of rap in the wake of the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christoper “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, Black Star became more of a cult classic than a outright hit, a necessary addition to any backpacker’s hip-hop bible. Afterward, the duo went their separate ways, although they still team-up on occasion. Kweli continued to hone his craft, putting out three solo albums as well as two projects as one half the group Reflection Eternal, while Mos seemed to do everything but rap, creating unique R&B/techno/trance/hip-hop flavored soundtracks, writing poetry, and throwing himself into acting, appearing in films like The Italian Job, Be Kind Rewind and Brown Sugar. Oh yeah, he’s also been on a couple of small cable shows, Chappelle’s Show (starting at 1:40) and The Boondocks:
Hey, look at that; while Mos Def was on Chappelle’s Show, guess who stopped by to freestyle a little with him:
If that didn’t get your head nodding, you’re dead. Songs like that are why people who love hip-hop have been clamoring for years for the duo to get back together in the studio for a full-length collaboration…and it appears that their prayers may have been answered. Unlike rumors of such a project in the past, Mos and Kweli have both been videotaped confirming it (kinda ridiculous that it’s come to that), and the pair have reportedly been holed up in the studio putting the final touches on what would easily be one of the top albums of the year, hip-hop or not.
Madlib – Odds are you have no idea who Madlib is, but you need to quit sleeping on him because he’s one of the top 5 producers in the game, drawing on everything from classic hip-hop to psychedelia to Brazilian music and everything in between. Seriously, the guy is incredible, and in 2010 he’s announced he’ll be releasing the audacious project The Madlib Medicine Show, a 12-CD/6-LP series with a CD coming out each month. The first one, Before The Verdict, stars underground sensation Guilty Simpson, which makes sense considering the two are dropping a collabo album soon called OJ Simpson. Check out leaked single “The Paper” if you’re not sure how you feel about one of the most innovative beatheads in hip-hop pledging to drop new material every month, like the next scheduled album Flight To Brazil, which is supposed to be heavily influenced by Brazilian jazz/funk and prog-rock. Crazy. While you’re doing that, mark this down now – Madlib, once a month; you’ll thank me later. How’s that for a segue, huh? (You’ll see).
Drake – OK, quick recap for everyone who was living under a rock in the Tanzanian wilderness for the last few years; the guy that played the paralyzed basketball player on MTV show Degrassi decides he wants to be a rapper, naturally. Drops a couple of mixtapes that get the attention of some industry heads, one of whom is some guy named Lil’ Wayne. Then in early 2009 he puts out So Far Gone, to an insane amount of positive reviews and sales, and spends the rest of the year popping up on literally everyone’s shit, and when I say everyone it ain’t hyperbole.
Now, after a year that saw him go from unsigned hype to next big thing, Drake’s one of the most recognizable and bankable names in hip-hop. But the reason Drake’s someone to watch in ’10? He still hasn’t dropped his debut album yet. Everyone is salivating for Thank Me Later, set to come out in March, and with names like Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne (along with the rest of the Young Money crew, of which Drake is a member) already attached, every indication says that we’re on the cusp of seeing one of the big new names of the decade drop one of the landmark albums of the decade.
Raekwon – Lex Diamonds. Ricky Rula. Rocky Boulders. Louis Rich. Raekwon the Chef has had a lot of nicknames ever since Wu-Tang exploded onto the scene in the early 90’s…more nicknames than commercial success, some would say. Actually, strike that – many would say it. Rae seemed to be stuck in the same situation as fellow Wu member GZA; huge amounts of critical respect, without the sales to back it up. After the legendary Only Built For Cuban Linx, Raekwon put out a couple more albums, but they never met the expectations of Cuban Linx, something that everyone seemed to constantly bring up. Which, naturally, led to constant questions of “So when’s Cuban Linx II coming out?”
Finally, in 2009, Rae acquiesced to the demands, and Only Built For Cuban Linx II was released to, like its predecessor, immense amounts of critical and commercial praise. After years of being perceived as a second-stringer behind “big names” like Method Man & the RZA, Raekwon joined constant compatriot and fellow super rapper Ghostface Killah in holding the Wu-Tang flag aloft. Now, in 2010, it seems Cuban Linx II was just the beginning. A Mafioso flood is about the hit the streets, as Raekwon is not only reportedly dropping two solo albums this year, but his oft-delayed group album with Ghostface and Meth (thanks a bunch Tical) is finally set to drop this February. Looks like it’s gonna be a snowy year…
Bonus – Not Even Remotely Safe For Work:
T.I. – OK, I’m gonna be dead honest with you; I’m really not a fan of Tip’s stuff. I know that since I’m from the South, I’m supposed to worship at the T.I. altar, but he’s never been a favorite of mine, even going all the way back to “Rubber Band Man”. That being said, his shockingly early release (seriously; all the shit that this guy’s done and he only catches a seven month bid?) changes the rap landscape in 2010 drastically. Like it or not, T.I. is one of the top 10 biggest names in hip-hop right now, and I feel pretty safe in predicting a hugely popular mixtape by February, and an album by May, just in time to be one of the biggest records of the summer.
Black Milk – Never heard of Black Milk, have you? It’s cool – initially, he made his mark more as a producer than rapper (funny how often that happens), but there’s a couple of mitigating factors to his career thus far. Number one, he’s based in Detroit. Now, if you read that and immediately started imaging some “8 Mile”, urban wasteland type shit…well, you’re probably right; that place has been absolutely fucking devastated. BUT, as often happens, economic tragedy and incompetence have given way to great creativity. The underground Detroit rap scene, burgeoning for years, is on the verge of bubbling over. Guys like D-12 (yes, they’re still around), Royce Da 5’9 and Elzhi have been ruling the underground for some time now, and while Black Milk is relatively young in the game, trust me; if you like good hip-hop, you’ll be hearing his name pretty often this year. Of course, that’s what happens when you release three albums in a year. But not just three straight up hip-hop albums – he’ll be doing his own unique sound on his solo Album of the Year (not my opinion, just the name), but he’ll also be crafting a grimy underground album as a member of Random Axe with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson (who is honestly making an early run at the 9 MC’s to Watch in 2011 list) AND a electro-R&B club oriented work with vocalist Melanie Rutherford, Searching For Sanity. That’s the literal definition of “something for everybody, and if they equal his past work, expect to see a lot of people chugging Black Milk as the year goes on. Oh, and here’s a sample of what you can expect.
Big Boi – How long does it feel like we’ve been waiting for this album? Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty seemed like it was on the verge of becoming one of those legends that crumble under the weight of their own hype, like Duke Nukem Forever or Chinese Democracy. But lo and behold, after distribution issues and tax evasion problems (been hanging out with Meth, Boi?) it appears that 2010 will be the year that we finally return to the world of Speakerboxxx. A couple of songs have already leaked onto the ‘net (see here and here) and if they’re any indication of the album’s quality, as I’m sure they are, expect Big Boi to be plastered all over radio stations this year. And according to Big Boi, there’s an outside chance we could get extra lucky:
“Believe me, it’s straight dope. I take pride in the lyrics as well as the beats and stuff so when ya’ll hear it, ya’ll gone love it, believe that. Dre is in the studio working on his and we also have started working on the new Outkast album.”
J. Cole – We end our list with a guy who might be the biggest outside shot. This guy has come out of literally left field over the last year; after dropping the lauded mixtape “The Warm Up“, he received top blessings from none other than Jay-Z himself, who not only made J. Cole the first artist to be signed to Roc Nation but also tapped the youngster to guest on a Blueprint 3 track, “A Star is Born“. From there, it was on to “Just Begun”, where he more than held his own against the likes of Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Jay Electronica. Not much else is known about him, but the appearances he has made, combined with the star power in his corner, give off the impression of someone who’s more than ready to blow up.