Black Hippy — Photo by Ryan Bussard for Grimy Goods
2013 was a year of highs and lows in the world of hip hop, mixed with a bunch of other questionable antics, forcing fans to consider whether hip hop culture was on the brink of a nose dive. The term “ratchet” officially entered into the rhetoric, prompting a slew of strip-club friendly music encouraging us of all to turn up and get ig’nant. I’m always critical of self-degradation in hip hop, since it seems to reinforce stereotypes and dominant views of African American culture in general. Hence, I would call the ratchet sensation of 2013 a rather depressing dip in the timeline. In addition, we also witnessed the ever-plummeting reputation of Kanye West, who despite releasing one of the best hip hop albums of the year with Yeezus, continued his streak in proving to be the most unstable artist/terrible human being alive. With all the interviews, Twitter wars, and failed attempts at high-end fashion design, Kanye became a verified caricature of the image obsessed rapper, complete with an equally annoying spouse and a rather uncomfortable looking pair of leather jogging pants.
On the bright side, we also saw some really great moments in 2013, including the emergence of Kendrick Lamar and his self-proclaimed crowning as the new king of rap. Lamar, alongside Top Dawg Entertainment crew Black Hippy, revived the old school call-and-response style in Big Sean’s track “Control,” provoking current hit makers like Drake, J.Cole, and Wale to quit playing and step up their game. In a single verse, Kendrick managed to not only solidify his legitimacy as an artist, but he also succeeded in voicing the criticisms of a culture so at risk of becoming victim to its own adulterations. He forced people to listen to lyrics, not beats, and he bravely held a mirror up to the perpetrators in question. To Kendrick Lamar, I say bravo.
But now that 2013 has gone and passed, let’s put every bit of bad and ugly behind us and focus solely on the good, as it’s my pleasure to inform you that 2014 has nothing but positive things in store for hip hop heads and music fans alike. In no particular order, I’ve compiled a list of the most anticipated projects set to release this year, establishing an optimistic tone amidst hip hop’s current state of fragmented affairs.
Common — Photo by Farah Sosa for Grimy Goods
The Chicago native is on track to release his 10th studio album titled Nobody’s Smiling, a collaboration with super producer and Def Jam executive No ID. The album will be Common’s first studio effort since 2011’s The Dreamer/The Believer, a positively reviewed project despite lackluster sales. Following the lead of Kendrick Lamar, Common says Nobody’s Smiling is a call to action, urging listeners to end the ongoing violence in America’s inner cities. It seems as if Common is ready to return to his roots of conscious rap, which might indicate a new trend for 2014.
2. Top Dawg Entertainment Takeover
With last year’s hip hop MVP award under their belt, Kendrick Lamar and fellow Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) artists Ab Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock (collectively known as Black Hippy) have certainly become the most hyped group of 2014. Despite all the buildup, don’t doubt these guys. TDE is planning to drop not one, but several projects throughout the year, alongside other collaborative albums with Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky. “I feel like everyone’s being creative with how they’re presenting music,” says Ab. “We just want to present it in a cool way.” I’m excited to see how this crew develops in the months to come.
The Virginia Beach duo hasn’t released a single record with the Neptunes since their commercial smash Hell Hath No Fury in 2006. Since then, Pusha T and No Malice have completed solo projects and collaborated on records featuring production from DJ Khalil and The Hitmen. Still, nothing blended so perfectly than Clipse’s hard hitting coke-rap vocals on top of the futuristic sounds of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. The critically acclaimed Hell Hath No Fury scored the highest five-star ranking in XXL’s album review, a rare honor, as only five albums have received the rating on record. We’re hoping that boys really do get back together, since now Pusha T is saying otherwise.
4. Wu Tang Reunion – A Better Tomorrow
I couldn’t be more excited for this news. Reports have it that the Wu Tang Clan are planning to reunite and release a studio LP titled A Better Tomorrow early this year, pending verses from Raekwon and Rza. This would be the group’s first album since 2007’s 8 Diagrams, one of their most highly acclaimed studio efforts since the death of ODB. I’m sick of all the solo projects and cameo verses. I want Wu!
The new Wu album "A Better Tomorrow" coming soon.
— Wu Tang Clan (@WuTangClan) January 6, 2014
Wu-Tang Clan – Photo by Monique Hernandez for Grimy Goods
So there you have it. Hopefully as the year rolls along we’ll see some interesting changes and positive trends in the hip hop scene, and I’ll keep you all updated as the news comes. In the meantime, happy listening!
Words: Jane Dubzinski