After a relatively quiet year, 2019 is primed for an all-out assault from Top Dawg Entertainment
“Content or Credibility?” I’m curious," inquired TDE’s President Terence “Punch” Henderson in a recent tweet. "What’s more important?" Posed as an open-ended question, the figurehead not only touched on a debate that plagues hip-hop as a whole but shed light on the philosophy at the heart of his label. Known for their consistency and creativity, the energy of its roster has often meant that Top Dawg projects are encased in a healthy dose of mystery, taking longer to flesh out than your average record.
Validated by their status as one of- if not the- finest distributors of modern hip-hop & R&B, their status as a perennial force was kept intact in 2018 courtesy of Jay Rock’s Redemption LP, alongside strong showings from prospects Reason & SiR on There You Have It and November respectively. Save for Zacari’s “Midas Touch” and "Don’t Trip" singles, the west coast giant has remained coy about what’s to come over the next few months. As we speak, TDE’s most fearsome lyricists, profound thinkers and enchanting vocalists are preparing to mount up and reassert themselves at the genre’s forefront. Ranging from underground phenomenons to bonafide superstars, it’s time for an update on new releases from their lauded Black Hippy contingent and beyond.
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The long-awaited fifth studio album from Schoolboy Q was brought to a screeching halt by tragedy. Viewed as an honorary member of Black Hippy by TDE’s MixedbyAli, the untimely passing of Mac Miller derailed all hopes of hearing Groovy Q’s new record by the end of 2018. From the stage at Chicago’s House Of Vans, the Hoover Street native spoke of how his friend’s death upended his plans whilst detailing just how much music he’d accrued:
“You know I drop albums every two years, right? In the process of dropping every two years, I ended up making four albums, right? But listen, with my n***a gone right now, I just don’t feel right putting out an album. As y’all can tell, I’m not my real self right now. I shouldn’t even be here right now.”
Amid the grieving process, Q did confirm that “y’all gonna get this album” but provided no solidified timeline as to when it would be rescheduled. Beloved for his vividly raw depictions of life and its many pitfalls, Q’s Blank Face LP was the project that finally took him out of the shadow of his peers. All signs point to this three-year layoff finally coming to an abrupt end if his recent social media outings are anything to go by. Somewhere between a PSA and a mission statement, Groovy Q used his Instagram to outline his trajectory for the year in early January: “New album, new house, new kid, new car. Goin for 4 dogs. New goals.”
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While every member of TDE is enigmatic in their own way, no-one maintains a mystique quite like Ab-Soul. Part existential philosopher, part wizened mystic, the Carson, CA’s every word is clung to by his fans and supporters. Eight years on from Longterm Mentality, his debut album’s title proved to be a prophecy. In typical Soulo fashion, the status of his first project since 2016’s Do What Thou Wilt has been kept out of the public domain, but we can conclusively say that the wheels are in motion.
After voicing his discontent with hip-hop’s “narrow subject matter” and his “refusal to read the same book ten times” back in 2017, Ab-Soul has largely remained under the radar aside from a feature on Daylyt’s “Talk To Em 2” with UTK & Loaded Lux. Known for his lack of pretense, a fan’s cursory inquiry of “what’s up with soulo???” to Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith last August yielded some concrete evidence as he retorted that “he’s working…. He gave me some records last nite.” Following this admission, the wall of silence was re-established and remained intact apart from one tiny morsel of information. Tweeted out by longtime TDE affiliate Gionardo Burg, the words “Soul new shit sounds CRAZY!” was all it took to send fans into mass hysteria.
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During Isaiah Rashad’s now infamous live stream, the TDE rapper gave an update on SZA’s status in unique, irreverent style as he proclaimed that “SZA hair green so you know it’s finna be fire.” Yet nearly two full years on from the release of her critically-adored debut CTRL, the new album has yet to materialize. Back in September 2018, the Grammy and Academy Award-nominated artist claimed that a project tentatively entitledA was already done but to no avail. As the year drew to a close, enterprising hackers decided to take matters into their own hands and steal an entire project entitled Comethru that briefly turned up on streaming services.
In the wake of this mishap, Punch was quick to clarify the scenario: “There is no new SZA album out. Old songs were stolen and leaked. We are currently fixing the issue. Please feel free to continue enjoying Ctrl until the next album is ready.” Disheartening as it must have been to the TDE camp, the singer/songwriter has been open about the fact that there’s a myriad of unreleased material lurking on hard drives. The leak notwithstanding, SZA’s decision to conspicuously wipe her Instagram set the rumor mill back rolling, making it likely that we’ll see something emerge before the festival run.
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Following the release of The Sun’s Tirade, many felt that Isaiah Rashad had all the talent and conviction to leapfrog the competition and become one of the heirs to the hip-hop throne. A triumphant return after he was nearly kicked out by TDE over drug use, the momentum was in his favor and fans waited for his next move with bated breath. Barring a few loose singles and guest spots here and there, we’ve yet to receive anything else that attests to his full range and unmistakable ability since 2016.
Thankfully, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before that is put right. As outlined during a performance at BUKU Festival in New Orleans, Isaiah Rashad had every intention of dropping his album in Summer 2018. Made all the more tantalizing after “How I Started” leaked in October, Zay raised the temperature earlier today after he took to his Instagram story flanked by YBN Cordae and MixedbyAli. When one of them playfully asked where he’s been, his response was as heartening as they come: “Um… making an album and being great?”
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Ask anyone from TDE right now and they will vehemently deny that K-Dot has anything new in the works. Known for his penchant to surprise audiences with a brand-new opus whenever he sees fit, few artists understand the importance of keeping audiences in the dark like Kendrick Lamar. Beyond Tae Beast’s claims that the notorious “beat hoarder” is sitting on “97,000 gigs of beats”, the only new, semi-concrete information we have is from a hastily deleted Polydor Records Instagram story that placed him on their 2019 release schedule.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Reason will waste little time in following There You Have It. In conjunction with a trip to Dreamville’s Revenge Of The Dreamers sessions, he’s spoken of his desire to do what Kendrick & Cole haven’t by teaming up with J.I.D, shedding light on where’s at in a recent interview with Okayplayer:
“I’m probably 90-95% done. I have a name, but they don’t want me to put it out yet. I actually have a name for my next two albums; I’m just different like that. I’m hoping to announce it really soon. Top knows where I’m at with the process. Before you can release a project, you have to be able to sit with the project with Top and explain to him what you think the singles are, what are the big records — basically what you think about the project that way he understands it."
When SIR’s November arrived in early 2018, it proved that the self-styled vocalist was more than capable of being the label’s next breakout star. Drenched in thick layers of haze and with replay value to spare, it was arguably the first great record of the year. Not one to fall into complacency, he’s spent much of 2019 teasing his fans on social media and let fans that he’s “workin’ on it fasho” this morning.
The melodic Zacari, who recently dropped off his "Midas Touch" single, has also planned to drop an EP in the coming year. The wolf-heavy project, Run Wild Run Free, is set to arrive on March 15th. The piece of music is set to be his first official contribution to the TDE cause, though it's unclear whether he'll bring out a full-length later on in the cycle.