This year has seen the release of major albums from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B — from neo-soul sister Jill Scott (The Light of the Sun) to rap kings Jay-Z and Kanye West (Watch the Throne). As 2011 heads into the twilight, here are a few more big names with albums on the horizon.
Drake, Take Care (Oct. 24)
The Canadian rapper has been busy this summer releasing singles to promote the follow-up to his platinum-selling debut, Thank Me Later. If the new tracks are any indication, the sophomore album will find the sweater-loving MC delving deeper into the darker side of fame, especially its effects on relationships.
There's "Marvin's Room," a drunk-dial plea delivered over a sparse drumbeat; and "Trust Issues," a gloomy down-tempo number in which the rapper-crooner wishes he could find someone to believe in. On "Free Spirit" (featuring Rick Ross), Drake demands that a lover "tattoo my name on you/So I know it's real." Guess that's one way to deal with trust issues.
Drake, who turns 25 on the album's drop date, says he plans to release a birthday edition that will include songs not available on the original album.
Mary J. Blige, My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act I) (Nov. 21)
The 10th studio album from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul is a follow up to her breakout sophomore album, My Life. The nine-time Grammy Award winner has always shared her personal struggles throughout her career, and this album sums up what she learned from it all: that life goes on. As Blige explained on Good Morning America, "[1994's My Life] was a very important record because it came from a very dark place where we all needed a lot of help … but our journey continues because we learn how to weather the storm."
The album comes with a roster of big-time producers — including Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams and Jermaine Dupri — and has a retro-soul sound, as heard on the latest single, "25/8," an ode to being so deep in love that 24/7 isn't enough time ("I need another hour and a day"). The album features a few collaborations, including Lil Wayne and Diddy, who produced the first My Life.
Although Blige famously declared "no more drama," her life is all about drama these days — at least on the big screen. Her song "The Living Proof" is featured in the hit movie The Help; she just wrapped up filming Rock of Ages, starring Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones; and she's slated to play music legend Nina Simone in a biopic that's expected to begin shooting later this year.
Monica, New Life (Nov. 8)
Like Blige, Monica has had her share of ups and downs, but New Life — her seventh studio album — finds the R&B star and newlywed in a very happy place. Anyone who follows her on Twitter knows that she's loving life with her new husband, L.A. Laker Shannon Brown, and two sons, Rocko and Romelo. One of her tweets provides a clue to the tone of the new album: "NEWLIFE. Yesterday is history, 2morrow is a mystery & Today is a gift. That's why it's called the present. Love & Embrace the new you … "
Though the album celebrates living for today, the Missy Elliott-produced single "Anything (to Find You)," featuring Rick Ross, gives a nod to the '90s with a sample from the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Who Shot Ya?" (Lil' Kim was originally featured as well, but apparently Biggie's mom, Voletta Wallace, refused to give clearance for the sample if Queen Bee stayed on the track.) Monica has said in interviews that the album will also feature ballads that capture the spirit and sincerity of her past hits.
Other Notable Releases
Common, Dreamer the Believer (Nov. 22): In his new memoir, One Day It'll All Make Sense, which hit bookstores Sept. 13, the Chicago MC admits that he almost quit the business after his first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar? sold only 2,000 copies. Fortunately the rapper-actor-author kept at it and is set to release his ninth studio album.
The Roots, Undun (late 2011): The hardest-working band in hip-hop has been recording its 13th studio album between tapings of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Though no firm date is set for the album, it is expected by the end of the year.
J. Cole, Cole World: The Sideline Story (Sept. 27): The North Carolina rapper — the first artist signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label — releases his highly anticipated debut after several successful mixtapes. The 26-year-old MC produced most of the album, which features collabos with Trey Songz, Drake, Missy Elliott and his mentor, Jay-Z.
Genetta M. Adams is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter.