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Top 15 Things to Anticipate in 2007

As with any year, some of the best releases of '08 are sure to be out of nowhere, but there are a few projects you can go ahead and anticipate. I don't know if Detox is still scheduled, so I didn't include it.

Saigon - Greatest Story Never Told

No need to point out the incredible irony of this album title. After releasing a nice single in 2006, another one in 2007, and a remix featuring Jay-Z, Atlantic Records is still determined to push back Saigon's debut album. Being fed up with the record industry, Saigon turned to blogging to vent his frustration. After punching Prodigy in the face and giving a drunken interview, the NY lyricist attracted a grip of negative attention and decided to call it quits before his career even began. Producer Just Blaze and fellow-artist Lupe were able to talk some sense into him, and he's still on course. Moral of the Story was solid, despite being throw-away material, so a serious album full of Just Blaze production and A-game Saigon is a guaranteed album of the year candidate, whatever year it's released.

Nas - Nigger

This album was originally scheduled for December 2007, but it's just like a Nigger to be late. Get used to these. Nas has abandoned his old formula of actually making great albums, and now relies on "controversial" album titles to build his buzz. He most likely named this album Nigger because only 1 in 3 of the beats work. Okay, let's start over. The greatest living rapper of all time is releasing another album, so if you're a fan of great rapping, naturally you're already anticipating this release. Nas fashions himself a conscious rapper now, but many of his fans agree his best conscious rap was in the form of the street tales he naturally excels at writing. Still, it's hard to imagine a Nas album without at least a handful of great songs. This will be no exception.

Lil Wayne - The Carter III

It's been an interesting ride watching Lil Wayne progress from the child prodigy on Get It How U Live!!! to the most-talked about rapper in hip-hop. His flow and creative use of vocabulary have garnered him a coveted spot in the game, but his unmatched work ethic seems to be the biggest factor in his popularity. Carter I and Carter II are solid releases, and his Sqad mixtape series is legendary in the South. While he seems to have peaked years ago as a rapper, he's now about to drop what may be his career-defining album. Can he compete commercially with the T.I.'s and Kanye's? Can he convincingly carry the torch from his idol Jay-Z? Will he ever reach his full potential and make an actual classic record? These questions have yet to be answered, but he already sees himself as "the best rapper alive." He'll need more than syrup-influenced freestyles to back up that claim, but the talent is there.

West Coast Renaissance

As far as national acclaim and popularity goes, the West pretty much died with 2Pac. Snoop is still lingering, and Dr. Dre's "one hot album every 10 year average" still generates interest, but it's been difficult for new artists to break, especially without their co-sign. The failing music industry, cheaper technology, and the internet have somewhat leveled the playing field, so some new talent is definitely on the horizon. Regional acts like Blu, Pacific Division, Inverse, U-N-I, and TiRon all share a growing fanbase, and Aftermath's Bishop Lamont is already releasing music independently without waiting for Dre. Ice Cube is coming back, and both Murs and Mista FAB are gearing up for major label outings as well. The momentum is building; it should be interesting to see who capitalizes on it.

Joe Budden - Padded Room

ARE YOU IN THAT MOOD YET?!?! Budden's sophomore album The Growth has been leaked in various forms through the Mood Muzik series, and with Def Jam's help, it's since been scrapped all together. Having left the label that kept him back for years, New Jersey's best has a new outlook, and plans to release music on his own terms now. His street album Mood Muzik 3 will be available for purchase in the beginning of the year, followed by his much-anticipated 2nd studio album. No word on what we can expect in the way of producers or guest appearances, but Budden is still in his prime as a rapper. He has plenty to write about, and he's given us no reason to doubt his ear for beats just yet. Expect greatness.

Black Milk for President

After a busy 2007, Black Milk isn't showing signs of slowing down. He's almost finished production for the Sean Price/Guilty Simpson album, he's producing an EP for the slept-on One Be Lo, a lot more collaborations with Pharoahe Monch, and is even in talks with Detroit's top two emcees, Elzhi and Royce da 5'9," to do a group album. If even half of these projects actually come to fruition, he will inevitably be a top producer of the year again. The boom bap is going strong.

More Crooked I

Crooked I is allegedly releasing his long-awaited debut album B.O.S.S. this year, but who knows when it will surface. In the meantime, his series Hip-Hop Weekly was one of the best parts of 2007, and he's vowed to continue to week 52. That's another dozen tracks, and undoubtedly more mixtape and guest appearances to follow. His consistency as a rapper has never been in question, so any new Crooked is good news.

New Outkast

Music is all subjective of course, but there is one constant. Outkast is the greatest rap duo of all time. Classic albums back to back? Check. Elite rapping and timeless production? Check. Evolving with the times and succeeding with multiple formulas? Check. Being commercially and artistically relevant for 14 years? Check. They are the measuring stick for greatness, and if you've been listening to them since 1994, you're better rap fan as a result. Andre 3000 and Big Boi have teased fans with several proposed comebacks for years (10 the Hard Way?), but they finally seem serious this time. The two are still recording separately, but the difference between now and Speakerboxx/Love Below is that Andre is rapping again and Big Boi no longer seems to be trying to launch his own label. If they're focused, there's no reason this won't be one of the best albums in years.

Paper Route Recordz - Still Headlinin'

It's near impossible to keep up with all of the artists on (and affiliated with) Paper Route Recordz. But what remains consistent is the Huntsville producer Mali Boi, and his Block Beataz team cranking out bass hits, one after another. The crew spent a greater part of 2007 on fire, making their way to SC's top albums, producers, and mixtape lists with ease. Aside from the handful of projects released last year, numerous tracks have been leaked from the label's supergroup project, Hood Headlinaz. Their album Still Headlinin' features "Woodgrain," one of the year's most talked about singles, and the full album is scheduled to drop shortly. After building up a buzz this large, from a region that's virtually unknown in hip-hop, the only question now is can they deliver.

The Roots - Rising Down

I have to start by saying The Roots' 2006 Game Theory was criminally slept on. Black Thought gave a brilliant performance, and the production was more aggressive than Phrenology and Tipping Point combined. We could blame Def Jam for dropping the ball, or-- actually I don't know who else you could blame, considering how well the group was doing before signing there. Anyway, it appears the group, and its fans, have given up on their sound from the 90's, and we're now at a point where each record is a completely different approach. While I miss some of the smoother instrumentation from DYWM-Things Fall Apart, I've come to enjoy a lot of their new records just the same. Rising Down should be another solid addition to their catalog.

T.I. - Paper Trail

Tip has a strange pattern of following up great albums with mediocre ones. His break-through sophomore LP Trap Muzik is both critically acclaimed and popular, but his third album, Urban Legend, was a huge letdown. He followed that up with King, another solid release, then disappointed again with T.I. vs Tip. We're about due for some more heat from the Atlanta superstar. Serious legal trouble, rap beef with local rivals, and high expectations are historically the best motivators for rappers in T.I.'s league. He has all three working for him. Word is he's returned to writing his rhymes down, but we've heard that before. Still, T.I. has been amazingly consistent for a rapper in his position; the only question is if his ear for beats will lend itself to his writing talents. Apparently 808 monster Shawty Redd is having issues with long-time partner Young Jeezy. Hmmmmmm.

State Property Revival

One of the worst tragedies of Roc-A-Fella Records breaking up has been the estrangement of State Property. Including solos and collaborations, the Philadelphia supergroup is arguably responsible for more great music this decade than any other East Coast rap group. In-house producers Chad West and Boola are extremely consistent, and the rappers (Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk, Oschino and Sparks) have distinctive styles and great chemistry. In the past few months, Beans and Freeway have both stated that the group is coming back, and Young Chris seems more than ready. Oschino has publicly spoken out against Beans, and Peedi isn't too happy about his treatment either. But with the new Roc-A-Fella signings and projects slated, and everyone pointing the finger at Def Jam, you can count on a lot of music to come from them, solo and collaborations.

Royce da 5'9" - Bar Exam 2

Since linking with Eminem in 1999, Royce da 5'9" has consistently been one of the nicest rappers in the game, but his career has never quite taken off. Disappointing music on Sony, beef with Dr. Dre, and trouble with the law have all been a hindrance, but Royce always managed to keep food on the table with mixtapes and ghostwriting. His 2004 album, Death is Certain was solid, as are his mixtape performances. He was scheduled to drop an album executive produced by DJ Premier in 2007, but it never surfaced. No word on whether or not it's still in the works, but a sequel to The Bar Exam is coming very soon, and every track leaked thus far is hard. Expect more solid rhymes and key beat selection.

Gemini Debut

Once upon a time, rappers used limited guest appearances and strong singles to create interest for their debut albums. Somewhere along the lines, it became customary to release multiple uninspired mixtapes, to give off the impression that "if this throwaway stuff is good, just imagine how good the official album will be..." But the "official" albums rarely come out, and by the time they do, the artist has run out of steam. Gemini (aka Gemstones) is in a unique position. He's shined as a feature on Lupe Fiasco's album, and his first single "We On" was one of the most infectious records of 2007. I know absolutely nothing about him other than he's on Lupe's label, FNF, he's from Chicago, and he can rap really good. Honestly, that's all I really need to know to wanna hear more. Hopefully his debut sees the light of day.

Heltah Skeltah - D.I.R.T.

Since their 1996 debut Nocturnal, Heltah Skeltah has been one of my favorite duos of all time. Ruck and Rock are both top notch emcees, and their skill is only matched by their chemistry. After their sophomore album Magnum Force, Rock distanced himself from BCC and tried to become a solo star. With his partner fading into obscurity, Ruck linked up with Justus League and launched his own solo career under the stage name Sean Price. While his performances have been consistent, his beat selection has always been questioned by boom bap fans not moved by 9th's terry cloth drums. Rock rejoined his team a couple years back, and the duo dominated BCC album The Last Stand. Now, after a decade off, the two are finally about to release a third album with production from Marco Polo and other underground heavy hitters. Rock was reportedly arrested for trying to murder a pimp, but the trial is months away, so hopefully they can finish wrapping up the album before then.

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