20. Chamillionaire - 'Venom'
Grammy-winning rapper Chamillionaire is gearing up his third major label effort, Venom, scheduled for an early 2009 release via his new home at Universal Republic Records. The much-buzzed about follow-up to 2007's Ultimate Victory is led by the single "Creepin' (Solo)," which features a powerful guest verse from Ludacris.
19. Slim Thug - 'Boss of All Bosses'
A distinctly voiced rapper with an imposing figure to match, Slim Thug established a huge following in such a short time. That's also because he's business savvy -— mixtapes released on his own Boss Hogg Outlawz label circulated throughout the Houston region. Slim's not-so-prophetic debut album, Already Platinum, dropped in 2005, while his group the Boss Hogg Outlawz released Serve & Collect and Serve & Collect 2 consecutively on KOCH Records. Now Slim is back on Koch to release his long overdue sophomore effort, Boss Of All Bosses, tentatively slated for March 2009.
18. Joe Budden - 'Padded Room'
After securing a release from his Def Jam contract in 2007, Joe Budden immediately became a much sought-after free agent. Though he was approached by several major labels, Budden didn't want to jump from frying pan to fire. Rather, he decided to go against the grain by signing with upstart web-based distributor, Amalgam Digital. Amalgam will release Padded Room with exclusive hidden bonus tracks later this year. Budden's erstwhile adversary, The Game, appears on Padded Room's lead cut, "The Future."
17. Jadakiss - 'The Last Kiss'
The Last Kiss is the final entry in Jada's Kiss trilogy, which began way back in 2001 with Kiss tha Game Goodbye and continued with 2004's Kiss of Death. Of course, a lot has transpired since then. Kiss left Ruff Ryders and joined Def Jam, at Jay-Z's beckoning. The Last Kiss is led by the Ne-Yo-assisted single, "By My Side." It also boasts guest appearances by Jay-Z, Faith Evans, Lil Wayne, Styles P, and Ghostface Killah.
16. Busta Rhymes - 'Back on My B.S.'
If you've been anywhere near a radio lately you've probably heard the trunk-rattling Busta single "Arab Money." Busta is taking no prisoners on this go-round. Busta kicked off his B.O.M.B. campaign by dropping the poignant street anthem, "Don't Touch Me." He then followed it up with the dancehall favorite, "Arab Money." Not bad for a senior citizen rapper.
15. Saigon - 'The Greatest Story Never Told'
Saigon's major debut has been delayed so much that I'll have to see it to believe it still exists at this point. Despite the cloud of uncertainty hovering around Sai-Giddy's album, one thing's for sure: with Just Blaze manning the boards and Sai on the mic, anticipation for The Greatest Story Never Told remains at an all time high.
14. Wale - TBA
Few new MCs have resonated with hip-hop heads as strongly as Wale. His 2008 mixtape, The Mixtape About Nothing, was superior to many of the hip-hop albums that dropped last year. Imagine the damage he could do if he can parlay those same skills to his full-length debut, due out this year via Mark Ronson's Allido Records.
13. 50 Cent - 'Before I Self Destruct'
Even if 50 Cent never sells another CD in his lifetime, he'll still have no trouble making his mortgage payments. After all, he's the richest rapper alive. That said, 50 has watched his popularity plummet over the last couple of years. Before I Self Destruct, the Queens, NY MC's fourth solo outing, gives him ample opportunity to win back some admiration from hip-hop heads. The album's lead single, "I Get It In," hearkens to bouncy bangers like "In Da Club" and "Candy Shop."
12. Lil Wayne - 'Tha Carter IV'/'I Can't Feel My Face'
Lil Wayne has a very busy 2009 ahead of him. In addition to a rumored Carter III re-issue, the New Orleans rapper is also hoping to keep our iPods fully employed with the following:
* I Can't Fell My Face (a joint album with Juelz Santana)
* An untitled collaboration with T-Pain under the moniker T-Wayne
* Tha Carter IV, and
* A "rock" album
11. Big Boi - 'Sir Luscious Left Foot'
Sir Luscious Left Foot is Big Boi's first solo album. In a 2008 Billboard.com interview, Big revealed that the album is "Big Boi to the extreme." "It’s like a recession special," Big Boi says of the album. "I'm talking about what’s going on in the world, with everything from rising gas prices to the election. It’s just my insights on life up to this point." Look for more guest appearances and production from Andre 3000, who helped make "Royal Flush" the best hip-hop song of 2008.
10. Clipse - 'Till the Casket Drops'
With the Clipse's disappointing Re-Up Gang mixtape behind them, brothers Pusha T and Malice have now turned their attention to the upcoming Columbia debut, Till the Casket Drops. The production cast includes The Neptunes, Justice League, Sean C and LV, Dame Grease, and DJ Khalil. Till the Casket Drops is Clipse's third full-length and a follow-up to the brilliant Hell Hath No Fury.
9. Raekwon - 'Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II'
Whether Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, the sequel to Raekwon's '95 street classic, will see its release this year is still anyone's guess. However, fans of the rap elder statesman may be pleased to hear that RZA will return to man the boards for Cuban Linx 2. Expect some viscous beats and witty, intelligent narratives.
8. Rakim - 'The 7th Seal'
When I interviewed Rakim in 2006, he was almost certain that Seventh Seal would be out in 2007. To the disappointment of many, that album is still in limbo. All hope is not lost, though; word on the street is that the eagerly anticipated Seventh Seal may finally drop this year.
7. Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic'
Propelled by the brilliant "Life In Marvelous Times," The Ecstatic marks Mos Def's long-anticipated return to pure rhyming. The album finds Mos as poetic and confident as ever. It's his first full-length since 2007's half-baked True Magic.
6. Kanye West - 'Good A** Job'
Kanye West was hoping to complete the college-themed series with Good A** Job, but he placed that project on the burner to focus on 808s & Heartbreak. With 808s & Heartbreak and all its eccentricities now behind him, 'Ye can re-direct his focus to the final installment of the college series, tentatively titled Good A** Job.
5. OutKast - TBA
OutKast's critically acclaimed double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was originally intended as two separate LPs. Apparently, packaging them jointly wasn't a bad idea, as that set went on to sell over 10 million units. There's no arguing that Big Boi and 3000 have been contemplating their respective solo albums for a long time. Thankfully, the two have confirmed that they're working on their respective solo projects, after which they'll reunite for another OutKast album.
4. Lupe Fiasco - 'LupEND'
How do you go out with a big bang on your final album? If you're Lupe Fiasco, you make it three discs long. Lupe's third album, LUPEND, is further divided into three sections: Everywhere, Nowhere, and Down Here, respectively.
Lupe is a talented MC, and Food & Liquor and The Cool deserve to be mentioned among the best hip-hop music of this decade. However, the cynical bastard in me is skeptical about a 3-disc rap album. Hip-hop double albums have been disappointing in the past, with a couple of exceptions. So, imagine how much of an uphill task he has created for himself. I'll be more than happy to eat my words if he delivers 100% pure quality on every disc, every verse, every track, every beat on L-U-P-END.
3. Jay-z - 'The Blueprint 3'
Ask any Jay-Z fan and they'll tell you that his 2001 CD, The Blueprint, remains one of his best albums ever. Jay has been trying to recreate the brilliance of that album ever since. The first Blueprint follow-up, 2002's Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, marked a low point in Jay-Z's catalog, as the album suffered from excessive filler material and forced collaborations. Cross your fingers and hope for Jay to recapture the magic on Blueprint 3.
2. Dr. Dre - 'Detox'
Dr. Dre swears that this is the year Detox will finally see the light of day. File this one under I'll Believe It When I See It.
1. Eminem - 'The Relapse'
Any hip-hop fan who isn't looking forward to Eminem's new album either needs to check his pulse or find a new hobby. Or both. A few missteps here and there notwithstanding, Em is still one of the nastiest MCs of our time. His fifth major album, The Relapse, is undoubtedly the most eagerly awaited rap project of 2009, rivaled only by Dr. Dre's Detox. Speaking of Dre, word on the street is that he's manning the boards on The Relapse. This is a welcome development because Eminem is a better rapper than he is a producer. It's a good idea to let Dre work the knob so that Slim Shady can focus on his rhymes. "Crack A Bottle," a mid-tempo collaboration with Dre and 50 Cent, is expected to be the first single from Relapse.