2012 was kind of a strange year for hip-hop. It was a year for the young—Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, and Wiz Khalifa all charted high—and it was a year for the weird—the Odd Future guys, Action Bronson, and Schoolboy Q, to name a few, found critical success while playing personas unthinkable in rap just a few years ago. It wasn't a banner year, but it certainly was an interesting one.
2013 will be different. Think older, more established tentpole releases from nearly all of rap's biggest names. Albums are expected from Drake, Kanye West, Eminem, and Jay-Z. (Kanye, actually, will prominently be featured on at least two, possibly three releases.) Two 35-plus guys, Jay Electronica and Pusha-T, will finally release their debut solo studio albums. And it's definitely possible that new releases will finally be coming from Andre 3000 and, yes, Dr. Dre. (Hahahah, okay, maybe not Dre.)
Other than No. 20 on our list, it's difficult to see who will be this year's Lamar—a mixtape wunderkind who finds enormous mainstream success. It's appropriate that a new Watch the Throne is in the works. 2013 may be a year for the old guard.
This list isn't in a particular order, because ranking albums you haven't heard is Lil Wayne-forehead-tattoo dumb.
20. Long. Live. A$AP, A$AP Rocky
BroBible got a chance to sit down for an extended interview with Rocky a few weeks ago (the full write-up is coming next week as a preview for Long.Live.A$AP), but I wanted to sample a bit of it here—both because Rocky is awesome and we've holding onto this for far too long, and because it gives his thoughts, before that disastrous leak, on what the album's impact would be. Without putting words into his mouth, he sees Long.Live.A$AP as a break from the private jets/popping bottles genre of hip-hop, and he places a ton of emphasis on how it can be a passing of the torch from the older rappers to the young guys.
And I’m not even saying that their time is over. I don’t mind older rappers… as long as their content is relevant to my era. When you have rappers that are out of touch, they get aggravated with the stuff that’s going on. They go: “Oh man, these young guys don’t know what’s going on out here. This ain’t rap. What the fuck is this shit? They ain’t rappers. This is some gay shit. These niggas are on some fuckin’ weird shit over here.” That’s all they talk about. They’re mad because what they’re doing is just not tasteful. They only appeal to a certain crowd – not even a demographic – a crowd, because it’s so small. You know what I’m saying? What you’re talking about everyone is talking about. You’re talking about how you’ve been in jail? I can put on Tupac for that. I don’t need no modern day motherfucker for that. You’re talking about how you got sliced in the face – I can put on some Mob Deep for that. Or you’re talking about how you sold drugs – I can put on some Master P for that, man. I don’t need an old nigga to tell me “oh shit.” That’s why I embrace young brothers and rappers like Earl Sweatshirt and Joey Badass and shit like that. Because you know why? Because those motherfuckers are actually saying something and they’re sick. And they’re young.
You're going to be hearing about this guy a lot this year. And if you haven't gotten the leak yet, and want to wait until the January 15th release to hear it for the first time, trust us: It's an amazing album.
19. Hall of Fame, Big Sean
Scheduled for a February release, Big Sean's Hall of Fame was supposed to have a little ditty called "Clique" on it before Kanye decided that track needed an earlier release. It'll still, by all accounts, be a dope record. The first single, "Guap" [above], is a banger, and everyone who's heard the whole thing has come away raving. "Everybody I've been playing it for has been shocked. From rappers, from ‘Ye. I played it for Cole to No I.D. Billboard magazine and all these different people and everybody’s just been blown away,” Big Sean told MTV News. “So you know I'm not trying to hype it up or talk it up, but it's obviously the best work I've done and I'm excited about it.”
Get that, guys? He's not trying to hype it up.
18. Born Sinner, J. Cole, TBA Release and Untitled J. Cole/Kendrick Lamar Album
J Cole's major-label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, will go down as a solid release destined to be seen by some as underwhelming, just because of how damn hyped it was. So with all that pressure off the North Carolina native's back, we're excited by what he has in store this year.
Born Sinner was slated for a January 28th release, however it'll be delayed for a few weeks at least. Its first single, "Miss America," an unusual and ballsy choice of song to release as the lead track, might give a hint at what's to come—socially conscious hip-hop with an angrier edge than what was found in Cole World.
After Born Sinner, expect to hear more about this J. Cole-Kendrick Lamar collaboration Out the Sky (which I'm unreasonably excited about).
17. Act II: Patents of Nobility, Jay Electronica
Fuckin' Jay Electronica. He burned down the Internet, what, four years ago? with "Exhibit A" and "Exhibit C." Quickly signed by Jay-Z and Roc Nation, Electronica soon announced he'd release his debut album Act ii: Patents of Nobility, and then we waited... and waited... and waited. Finally, in July of last year, we received a final track list, and word that the album would come out this year.
But there's still no definite release date. And we have to sit and wait patiently for the most mysterious man in hip-hop to gift us what will undoubtedly be a classic.
16. I Ain't Perfect, Wale
Wale took a strange route from Attention Deficit to Ambition, going from the Justice-sampling rapper hipsters loved to a member of Rick Ross's MMG, a guy churning out jams designed for strip clubs. I'm not cynical about this change; he had to do something to keep his career going after Attention Deficit bombed. But it does mean that I have no idea what to expect with I Ain't Perfect—will it be deep songs he became known for early in his career? or tunes in line with his label mates?—other than an expected February release.
15. TBA, Rick Ross
In 2012, Rick Ross released Rich Forever and God Forgives, I Don't (and a moment of silence, please, for that title, which was easily the best in music last year), but the big man isn't stopping. He's reportedly set to drop another collection this year, and a title should be coming any day now.
14. Dreamchasers 3, Meek Mill
One more MMG release! Mill may release Dreamchasers 3 this year, according to his producer Jahil Beats. Which would mean that Mill is really due for a vacation. Has he left the studio in the last two years?
13. Watching Movies With the Sound Off, Mac Miller
Miller says a new album is coming this year, and it'll be the first he can release while legally drinking at his album party. Miller has released some very cool (and strange) YouTube videos lately showing off his musical talent, some good ("Isn't She Lovely"), some shit ("I Got Drunk and Played the Piano"), so we're excited about where the production might go on this. Earl Sweatshirt is due to make an appearance, because he is a talented rapper and because he makes Miller look like a mature vet.
"Dog Pound" [above] rules, by the way.
12. Doris, Earl Sweatshirt and Wolf, Tyler, the Creator
Odd Future's two most famous members each should release solo albums this year. Wolf has been talked about for two years now, and it reportedly will place an emphasis on Tyler's production talents rather than his rapping, which may be a wise move for the talented beat-maker. And as for Doris? This is a fact: Anyone who downloaded that brilliant first mixtape from Earl three years ago is salivating at the thought of a full-scale production.
11. I Am Not a Human Being II, Lil Wayne
To be honest, I'm not that thrilled about this. After the last few Lil Wayne releases—Rebirth, I Am Not a Human Being and Tha Carter IV—is there any way to approach this release without more than a smidge of caution?
The second single, "Rich as Fuck," is above. Take some cough syrup before giving it a listen.