December is the perfect time to reflect, to look back on the year that was while looking forward to the next.
Music tends to be at a standstill in December, as everyone gears up to make a big splash in the coming months. The final month of the calendar year is rarely busy, rarely full of heavy hitters, but by now we all know 2016 has been everything but ordinary. It’s incredible how full this month is packed with big musical projects. If you were expecting to use December as your month to catch up, that’s going to be difficult with the line-up of albums rolling out in the coming weeks.
For fun, we've decided to rank the 11 most talked about rap albums that are slated for release in December based on our level of excitement. The year started with a bang, and hip-hop is guaranteeing that it ends with one too.
11. Smoke DZA & Pete Rock "Don't Smoke Rock" (December 2)
Smoke DZA and Pete Rock, together, for an entire album? An unexpected duo, a collaboration no one foresaw, but it only takes one full listen of “Limitless” to know the two are sitting on something special. Also impressive are the other two singles, “Black Superhero Car” featuring Ross (bet you never thought you'd hear Maybach Music on a Pete Rock beat) and “Mile Stone” featuring BJ The Chicago Kid, Jadakiss and Styles P. Harlem’s DZA, Rock from The Bronx—this might be one of the most New York hip-hop records in years. When Royce created PRhyme with DJ Premier the album was well received, acclaimed, and sparked the next phase of their careers—DZA and Pete have a similar opportunity to open up a new chapter in their careers with Don’t Smoke Rock.
10. Tech N9ne "The Storm" (December 9)
Tech N9ne has been rapping longer than I've been alive. That’s not an exaggeration, he has been spitting words into a microphone for over 25 years. Look at him now—the biggest titan in rap’s independent underground releasing his 17th album, The Storm. It’s astounding that he still finds new flows, new concepts, new subjects—he is the definition of success and longevity in the music industry. Tech has proven time and time again that he delivers rhymes that will make your head spin, jaw drop, and heart race. The Storm is certain to only further solidify that Tech is one of rap’s most dangerous and exciting participants. If you need a reason to get excited, look no further than “Sriracha.”
9. Gucci Mane "The Return Of East Atlanta Santa" (December 16)
Few rappers are having a better year than Gucci Mane. After being released from prison in late May, Gucci has been on a five-month winning streak. Gucci has the work ethic of a madman; a studio rat who records more than he sleeps, and that’s why he has continued to flood the streets with music. His forthcoming album, The Return Of East Atlanta Santa, is the next installment of the East Atlanta Santa series. I didn’t care much until I heard, “St. Brick Intro,” a Zaytoven-produced version of "Jingle Bells" with a Guwop twist. A Gucci Mane street Christmas album would be the perfect gift to end the year. Can you imagine if he does a rendition of Frosty or Rudolph? I will shed real tears if he’s selling bricks underneath the mistletoe.
8. Post Malone "Stoney" (December 9)
Can you believe it’s been over a year since the release of “White Iverson?” The fire might have died on his biggest record, but Post Malone still has a chance to make a strong return with his debut album, Stoney. In 2017, Malone is only one hit away from extending his shelf life another few years. There was a moment when it seemed Post Malone couldn’t miss, a SoundCloud full of bangers; there’s no question he’s capable of doing it again.
7. Hodgy "Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide" (December 9)
Hodgy, formerly Hodgy Beats of Odd Future, is gearing up to release his debut album, Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide. Odd Future as a collective was successful, but since splitting, each member has started to see success as a solo artist. Tyler, Earl, The Internet, and Domo Genesis have all made the solo jump, now it’s Hodgy’s turn. The 13-song project has two big features—Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. Listening to “Barbell,” the album's lead single, you can hear the maturity in his rhymes—he has grown up beyond the horrorcore raps. It’s been refreshing to watch how the OF boys have become men, we believe Hodgy is more than capable of dropping a worthwhile album.
6. Yasiin Bey "December 99th" (December 9)
Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, left an unforgettable mark on hip-hop with his debut album, Black On Both Sides. He recently announced that he will be releasing his final album, December 99th, a collaboration effort with production handled entirely by jack of many trades, Ferrari Sheppard. The duo has named their union Dec. 99th, and it’s rather fitting that their album will be released on December 9th. While Yasiin awaited departure from South Africa (he was charged with a false passport and travel documents back in 2016), the two spent the year recording the album. December 99th could possibly be Yasiin Bey’s farewell to the music industry, and the grand finale performance by one of hip-hop’s most revered emcees. If you do nothing else in December, on the 9th, celebrate the career of Yasiin Bey/Mos Def. December 99th will be a Tidal exclusive, we haven't had one of those in a while.
5. Various Artists - "The Hamilton Mixtape" (December 2)
Hamilton brought hip-hop to Broadway in a very big way. I haven't had a chance to see the musical, but the reviews have been spectacular. From critics to some of our most respected rappers, Hamilton has received a big stamp of approval and its success has been another win for hip-hop. Once again, we see firsthand how far hip-hop can go. The Hamilton Mixtape further connects the Broadway hit and some of hip-hop’s most prominent emcees. If you thought DJ Khaled could bring out big names, you haven’t seen the tracklisting for The Hamilton Mixtape. With so much talent gathered there’s no doubt that this collection of songs will be a must hear.
4. Childish Gambino "Awaken, My Love" (December 2)
So far, this list has consisted of rap albums by rap artists (and whatever Post Malone considers himself). Childish Gambino may be a rapper, but "Awaken, My Love!" is not a rap album. There’s a complete absence of lyrical miracles, but eardrums will be blessed by soul, funk, and passion. You will be hard pressed to find another rapper who is going to take you on the journey that awaits on "Awaken, My Love!". “Me And Your Mama” and “Redbone” were only teasers, a taste of the direction, but it takes being immersed in the project’s entirety to appreciate all that it has to offer. I’ve seen comparisons to André 3000 (The Love Below), D’Angelo, Prince, and Parliament, and if those four names tell you anything, this is an album that is in a completely different solar system. It will surely keep you warm through the winter.
3. Kid Cudi "Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’" (December 16)
Passion and pain are two emotions that Kid Cudi is deeply in-touched with. He’s easily one of the most passionate creators in music, but also, fighting the most demons. Just like Kanye, his career is a twisted balance of tragedies and triumphs. I’m a bit surprised that he is moving forward with the release of this album knowing he is still fresh from rehab, but knowing Cudi, he has a lot to get off his chest: Kanye, Drake, Big Sean, his mental health, his personal life, his place in rap—there’s so much for Cudi to draw from. I expect this album to be very raw with emotion, deeply introspective, and extremely personal—three qualities that have made some of Cudi's best songs. It's worth nothing that “Surfin’” is still a very good song, and hopefully the album is full of records with that focus and execution. Dark times can produce the best music; let's see how Cudi channels the darkness that has surrounded him.
2. Drake "More Life’" (Unknown)
Views is commercially the most successful album of 2016 and it solidified Drake as rap’s biggest popstar but left many rap fans longing for something more. I don’t believe More Life will be any different, but anticipation is still rather high. How can it not be? “Fake Love” is painfully catchy, “Sneakin’” is a lukewarm trap banger, and “Two Birds, One Stone” gave hope he could still tap into the introspective rhymer. Releasing three very different songs makes me wonder what the overall direction could be? Regardless if More Life is a classic or the year’s biggest dud, it will be a huge event. The world stops when Drake drops a new song—imagine an album? Everything will stop, even Christmas if Drake dares to drop on the 25th. Drake is considering this release a “playlist” and not an “album”—without any further clarification, More Life could very well be game changing. No matter if you look at Drake with eyes of admiration, eyes of disgust, or eyes of indifference, no matter how you might view Drake, he is the biggest rapper in the world, and all eyes are on him. Hopefully, he doesn't let us down.
Editor Update: Drake's More Life not-an-album-playlist will now be released at the top of 2017.
1. J. Cole "4 Your Eyez Only’" (December 9)
If this was written yesterday, Drake would be number 1. But out of nowhere, a pre-order link for a new J. Cole album surfaced and nothing was the same. Surprise! J. Cole has once again snuck up on us when we were least expecting it. Drake might be the biggest rapper in the world, but Jermaine isn’t far behind. The lack of J. Cole in 2016 has only made us more pumped for new music. The only time I can recall hearing J. Cole rap this year was on DJ Khaled’s album, and even by Cole’s standard that was one hell of a verse. "Jermaine's Interlude" ended with him admitting contemplating retirement, a confession that sent his many admirers into a state of shock. At the end of a very successful tour, Cole told his fans it would be his last show for a while. All signs pointed that Cole would take some time away from rap, but with the release of a new album, it’s possible that new inspiration has found him or this could be his Black Album—one more release before fading to black. So many questions, so much excitement. Next week cannot come soon enough.
By Yoh, aka Yohleven, aka @Yoh31.