Yeezy season was fun but it’s time to move on. I’m done with Kanye’s mysterious process, constant and unexpected changes and social media sharing. There are so many more important things to focus on - like TDE’s mysterious process, constant and unexpected changes and social media sharing.
Earlier this week Anthony Tiffith unveiled some TDE-related bombs, which of course included what we now know is a new Kendrick Lamar project and the news that they had signed not one but two new mystery artists.
In the ferver of trying to figure out when young Zaywop’s album would finally drop, I completely overlooked the two new signings, but once I gave up on figuring out a release date for Rashad’s album, my attention turned back to John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. Who could they be? TDE adding to its tight knit roster is a big deal, what could possibly be more worthy of my educated guesses wild speculation?
Kembe X might be a new name to many casual observers, but to those who have their ear to the ground and eyes on the DJBooth Top Prospect series know that the Windy City up-and-comer has been poised to strike like a cobra for a hot minute. But this is more than just wishful thinking. Sure, the sounds match up and Kembe X feels “ready,” but there are also some very real links between Kembe and TDE. A year ago Kembe appeared with Isaiah Rashad on “Caged Bird (Jager),” which was followed by “Buried Alive,” an effort produced by The Antydote (who also produced a handful of songs on Rashad's Cilvia Demo) and tweeted out by Punch. The icing on the cake is the fact that Kembe's manager is TDE’s Moosa Tiffith. Also, he ate lunch with SZA one time. Case closed.
Back in December, Kembe tweeted that his Talk Back EP would be late because it’s now an album. Sure, makes sense, delay your EP, turn it into an album, and drop it as your first project as an official member of TDE. Also, it was written on a whiteboard, which apparently is how TDE prefers to detail their album release information. GOOD Music employs notepads, Jay Electronica uses an Etch A Sketch, and TDE has whiteboards.
I’d put money down that Kembe X is the newest member of TDE and I’d spend (some of) the money I win from that bet buying his TDE debut in the not so distant future.
I know what you are thinking, “Terrace Martin? But he’s not a rapper!” And to those people I would reply, so? It might sound weird at first, but the more I think about it, the more Terrace makes sense. The L.A. producer and instrumentalist has been rocking with Kendrick for sometime now (this is a personal favorite of mine), but the relationship reached new heights last year.
To Pimp A Butterfly was praised for its jazz influence and Martin played a pivotal role in creating that sound, behind only Thundercat and Sounwave (check the album credits). The success of the jazz-heavy TPAB shows there’s definitely room for jazz-inspired hip-hop on the label, and who better to bring it to new heights than Martin and TDE? Like Kembe X, Martin also has an album in the works, though his project seems much more of a finished variety. Velvet Portraits is due out on April 1, and what better way to build some buzz than with an official TDE signing?
This one is farther out than a Steph Curry three-point shot, but I had to include Rapsody in this conversation because if I'm going to speculate and make crazy assumptions I might as well go all the way in. No half measures. Here it goes.
Rapsody is the face of 9th Wonder’s indie label Jamla Records but she’s very connected to TDE as well. She had the only rap guest verse on To Pimp A Butterfly, and it wasn't the first time those two have worked together. Additionally she has a great rapport with other West Coast artists like Problem and Bad Lucc; she may be from North Carolina, but Rap has proven she fits in well with the West Coast. Additionally, Rapsody is a huge fan and supporter of everything TDE and even shouted them out on the ever-fresh tune “Thank You.”
She’s been in the studio with Dr. Dre and Aftermath’s new gun, Anderson .Paak, and though both are Aftermath, not technically TDE, it's all the same general environment and Rap is in the thick of it. She has some serious momentum going and this could be the final push, the call up to the majors. It's a stretch, but a joint deal between TDE and Jamla is certainly possible, both labels have similar outlooks. We know Rap's considered signing to a major label through Jamla before, why not do it via TDE?
I’m reaching, I know, but I just can’t shake the feeling that something is going on here. My brain says no but my gut says it’s Rapsody. If not, at the very least, I’ll be looking forward to more Rapsody and Kendrick collabs.
For the record I reached out to Rapsody for comment, but as of this article being published I have not heard back from her. This means she's either super busy, living life as a successful, amazing rapper and hasn't had the time to respond to a nerdy rap blogger....or I figured it all out. Likely the former.
UPDATE: Rapsody and 9th reached out to us to make it clear that she is not signed to TDE. My first swing and miss.
Working off the assumption that Kembe X is John Doe 1, TDE might have decided to go in a different direction (a la SZA) with their follow-up punch (pun intended). If that’s the case JaVonté may be at the top of the list. JaVonté has long been affiliated with TDE, going as far back as the Kendrick Lamar EP, so maybe now he will finally get the official nod? He released a project a year ago, so a "TBD" status would kind of make sense. Perhaps he's just getting back in the lab?
Like JaVonté, Ash is another safe pick (if we are locking in on Kembe as #1) because he also brings something different to the table and has experience with the TDE crew. In addition to appearing on The Kendrick Lamar EP, Overly Dedicated, Section .80 and To Pimp A Butterfly, he also appeared on Ab-Soul’s Control System. He and JaVonté have different sounds - Ash's approach is more rock/alternative based - but both are in very similar situation. I can’t see both getting signed at the same time, but one of them could very well be John Doe 2. The only hole in my Ash Riser theory is that he recently released a (very dope) project. If he was already signed at the time, I’d imagine the label would have pushed the project back; unless he has another one cooking, which in all theory fairness seems unlikely. Still, I thought of him almost immediately so he's in the running.
I feel like I could go on forever, there are so many more artists who could emerge from the John Doe shadows. There's D.R.A.M. (something different, might need a label to succeed and seems like he’s interested in signing to the right one), Anna Wise (she rolls with TDE but I just don’t see it), Jimi Tents (very green...maybe next year?), Two-9's Jace (who had Ali mix his latest project), and maybe, just maybe....CHANCE?!!? Ok, now I have to stop.
As for final guesses...I’m going with Kembe X and Rapsody. It feels like Rapsody is probably the wrong call, but I have to trust my Chipotle-filled gut and JaVonté.
Honestly, it’ll probably be a while before we find out.