At the end of last year the hip-hop community got some pretty exciting news from TDE CEO Top Dawg, tweeting that the buzzworthy label would drop six projects in 2014. Well, half the year has passed and we have received four out of the six projects so I wanted to do a mid-year check-in on how I feel about the projects so far and make some predictions on what to expect for the rest of the year.
The year started out great with the release of the Cilvia Demo by newcomer to the roster, Isaiah Rashad. This project was one I was really looking forward to so I had high expectations and they were all met. I enjoyed Cilvia Demo and had it on repeat for a long time with some stand out tracks being “Modest” and “Shot You Down”. I have really high hopes for Rashad and I’m excited to hear a full length album from him in the future. It was a great start to the year for TDE and I was anxious to hear how Schoolboy Q would follow-up with the highly-anticipated Oxymoron.
Almost a month later, at the end of February, Q dropped an album that shot straight to the top of the charts but whenever people ask me what I thought about this album, the only answer that comes to mind is just “pretty good”. It wasn’t a great album but it wasn’t a bad one either; I didn’t keep it on rotation as much as I did compared to the Cilvia Demo, but it definitely got some play in my iTunes. It was well-produced and put together decently with that new budget really making an impact on the quality. Compared to his previous work, you could really see the growth but to me, it just wasn’t enough. Habits and Contradictions was a damn good album that had Schoolboy Q completely tearing apart every beat making each track more infectious than the previous but on Oxymoron I just heard a bunch of pretty good songs, and some not so good, thrown onto a project that really lived off of its singles.
A couple months later SZA dropped Z, the second part of her series of projects in which she spells out her name (next-level stuff). This project didn’t really capture my attention very much, I think I listened to it two or three times but it didn’t really grab me. None of the tracks were very bad; they were just uninspired and downright boring. SZA has an alright voice and I trust that Top saw some potential in her that could be reached with the right guidance because she seems like she might be onto something but, like Lana Del Rey, I think she needs to be pushed into the right direction to help find her voice.
Alright, I am a huge Ab-Soul fan, from a creative standpoint he is a big inspiration for me, and I still bump Control System today even though it dropped in 2012 because it’s so solid from start to finish and no one has been able to copy it. It’s no exaggeration when I say I’m a big Soul fan so I was really excited for These Days… but that excitement quickly diminished as I finally sat down to listen to this album. The album is not bad, it’s really just average and I expected a lot more out of the MC. People defend These Days… by saying “oh did you think he was going to drop Control System 2”, well obviously not, because he is not even in the same place he was when that album was being recorded but Ab-Soul has the capability to drop a masterpiece because he is on a completely different level compared to a lot of rappers out right now. I was expecting to have my mind blown once again but I just got a loosely put together project of what sounded like a bunch of b-sides and Ab-Soul doing his best Ab-Soul impression. On a positive note, a wave of nostalgia hit my ears with “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” that acted as a spiritual successor to “Ab-Soul’s Outro” on Secton.80 in which Kendrick channeled his flow from Overly Dedicated and Section.80. There are a couple other songs on this project that I enjoyed but as a whole, to me, it was mediocre.
So we have two more projects left from TDE coming out: Kendrick’s follow-up to the classic good kid, m.A.A.d city and Jay Rock’s first release in three years. I am really hoping they are saving the best for last because based on the releases from the first half of the year I don’t know what to expect from TDE anymore. I doubt Kendrick has the ability to put out a bad project because his track record has been great so far but I’ve learned not to get my hopes up and maybe I’ll be pleasantly (not-so) surprised. I think everyone and their mother is excited for the new Jay Rock album. He completely destroys every feature he has been on and has an unmatchable energy and delivery that will definitely make some waves when he makes his return.
So TDE, you got 6 months to drop the two albums everyone has been waiting for for a while now, don’t mess this up.