Autumn isn't only representative of a change in vegetation. The cooling season also brings a rather drastic turn in the entertainment community. The summer blockbusters fade away into a stream of Oscar fodder while the more superficial albums disappear for more thought-provoking, hotly anticipated projects. It's like clockwork, really, and this coming fall is no different than what we have seen in the past.
And on the first release Tuesday of the season, Sept. 27, some of the bigger hip-hop albums in recent history are set to hit shelves. Unfortunately one of them has already been delayed -- we won't be getting Yelawolf's debut, Radioactive, until Oct. 25 -- but others have remained firm. In the following piece, you can find a rundown of just what will be dropping on this absurdly holy day for hip-hop along with what the albums mean for the artists. Well, that's assuming their dates hold.
J. Cole: Cole World: The Sideline Story
OK, obviously, this is easily the biggest new rap release until Drake drops his sophomore album, Take Care, in October. It's also the biggest project in J. Cole's career to this point in terms of reach. Like other burgeoning rappers of our times, the Fayetteville, N.C. native made his come up (no pun intended) in the online mixtape circuit. He even, like Kanye West before him, approached Jay-Z to just get the Jigga-man to listen to his material.
It would take a lil' while for him to finally hear Cole's stuff, but when he did, he quickly swooped up the young rapper-producer for his Roc Nation roster -- and a guest feature on The Blueprint 3. While we're sure the signing bonus was great, it was unclear exactly whether or not this was the right move. Cole's fan base has become increasingly rabid and faithful, so did he really have to sign to another artist's label pet-project? Probably not. But, of course, he did and so began the slow-rolling delays until Cole World: The Sideline Story actually received its name and release date.
In terms of Cole's career, this isn't necessarily a do-or-die situation. He will do well in the future even if his debut flops. What this essentially means for him is whether or not he'll become a middling B artist or make his ascent to the next level. Luckily for him, he does have a hip-hop giant in his corner (Jay-Z) and some big names in his Rolodex (Drake, Kanye West), but is he ready to reach their status? Not yet, but it is indeed coming. Cole is simply too talented and versatile to fade away or become a star-but-not-really like Wale, Big Sean, and B.o.B. Big things are in store for Cole, just as long as he writes some good hooks.
Big K.R.I.T.: Live From The Underground
Big K.R.I.T.'s story might sound similar to that of many other newer major label rappers -- guy drops a successful mixtape, receives tons of critical love, and gets signed by a major (in this case, Def Jam). But the Meridian, Miss. native didn't just fall out of the sky one day with 2010's superb K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. He had been hustling for several years prior and trying to do his thing on his own terms, something he clearly was able to do once he got his deal with Def Jam. He dropped Returnof4eva on his website and let the label put together an EP of some of its choice tracks so they could get some cheddar.
K.R.I.T.'s appeal, for better or for worse, isn't really one that needs a major label anyway. His name is probably too "huh?" for some people and he hasn't really made a record that panders to a mainstream audience. Well, except for the "Country Shit" remix with Bun B and Ludacris, but it was still too hometown-y and niche to really blow-up.
As such, K.R.I.T.'s proper label debut, Live From The Underground, will more than likely be another notch in his belt than some kind of chart-topping monster. It's sure to sell well given his ever-growing fan base, but as its title implies, it's going to still be just as honest and raw as his previous efforts. Yes, his song writing, particularly in the hook department, has improved with tracks like "Rotation" and "R4 Theme Song." But look at how long it took his heroes in UGK to reach the charts. We don't think things will go the same way for K.R.I.T. thanks to his widespread acclaim, but we don't see him becoming a huge pop star, either.
Phonte: Charity Starts At Home
This album is a long time in the making for the Little Brother faithful who sobbed uncontrollably when Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh decided to call it quits -- quite some time after they split with former producer 9th Wonder. Because, really, Phonte has stayed busy enough working as part of the Foreign Exchange, which brought him his first Grammy nod. He's also churned out some pretty great material with the group, including 2010's stunning Authenticity. But LB fans still yearned for more straight-up bars from Tay, who only spit one verse on Authenticity and rarely shows out for guest verses. When he does, though? Well shit, you better stop everything because it's become just as much of an event as when Jay Electronica crawls out of his cavern.
So you can imagine how squeal-happy his fans became with the announcement of his solo debut, Charity Starts at Home. That high-pitched sound of glee grew exponentially and quickly as Phonte revealed that he and 9th Wonder had reconciledand that the producer was handling a majority of the album. It's almost like the proper follow-up to The Minstrel Show that never happened, though you have to replace that record's biting tenacity with a more sentimental, nostalgic, and loving approach.
With all of that in mind, Charity Starts at Home carries a lot of weight for Tay. There are still fans who will track down every Foreign Exchange single and/or video to bitch and moan that he's not rapping as much anymore. So this could potentially be the album to shut them all up. It could also serve as some kind of precursor to a LB reunion, though Tay's said that will likely never happen. For us, it's mostly just a way to hear him rap again -- and that alone is worth the cost of admission.
Evidence: Cats & Dogs
When you're in a seminal underground outfit like Dilated Peoples, you tend to develop a fan base that's as ravenous as they come. And Evidence, who is one-third of the group, is no exception. There's a great reason for that, though: Dude tends to excel on his own. His full-length debut, 2007's The Weatherman LP, wasn't only one of the best albums of the year; it was one of the best albums of the past five years. It also further proved that some artists can survive outside of their groups, particularly when they're as versatile as Evidence, who raps and produces.
But like oh so many hip-hop albums before it, Ev's sophomore album, Cats & Dogs, kept facing delays. He would go on to keep his fans sated, however, with the release of I Don't Need Love, a Beatles-sampling EP that hit the web for free. All the freEPs and mixtapes in the world can't make up for a proper album, though, so maybe that's why it kind of stung when Ev dropped those "To Be Continued…" visuals in August 2010 and didn't give Cats & Dogs, you know, a release date.
That would change this past summer, when he apparently became OK with the idea of dropping his first album on Rhymesayers Entertainment. That announcement immediately shot the record up our most anticipated list and, as a result, has kind of turned up the pressure for Evidence. It's not an album that will suddenly propel dude to the limelight or anything like that, but it could be the one that causes him and the Alchemist to finally drop their Step Brothers project. The success of Cats & Dogs could also mean that he won't take so goddamn long to release an album next time.
9th Wonder: The Wonder Years
No, it's not the Durham, N.C.-based rapper-producer's dedication to the classic family sitcom. So, apologies everyone, but you probably won't be hearing lyrical shots fired at Kevin and Paul or a Joe Cocker sample. Well, you might hear the latter. Anyway, The Wonder Years is 9th Wonder's proper debut album. We know: He's dropped two volumes in his Dream Merchant series and release joint projects with Jean Grae, Murs, Buckshot, and David Banner.
But none of that really applies here. What does apply is the fact that 9th probably didn't even really need to get to this point. I mean, he already got his break when he produced "Threat" for Jay-Z's The Black Album, so what took so damn long for this to happen. I guess you can blame those aforementioned projects along with his time as part of Little Brother. Whatever the case, he's done supporting others, which include artists on his own label and his collaborators. Sort of.
With his growing status, The Wonder Years is just as much about his own work as that of his guests on the album. As you might have guessed, the feature lineup is very heavy and there are clearly two things that can and will happen when this album drops. Folks will get a chance to hear 9th working with some high-profile guests, such as Erykah Badu, Blu and Phonte, while also getting an earful of some rookies. From more established newcomers like Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar to his own artists like Rapsody and Actual Proof, 9th must know he's dropping an album that's just as important for him as it is for hip-hop as a genre.