Music

The Burning Questions For Rap In 2020

Author Tom Althouse once said, “fear not the unknown. It is a sea of possibilities.” That quote is dead-on in the context of the rap game. We don’t have to fear the unknown, but we can incessantly speculate the possibilities on Twitter.

Uproxx put together 15 questions about what 2020 has in store for us. This list isn’t simply about anticipated albums — we did that earlier this week. This list is focused more on certain artists, movements and trends that have taken place in the last year or so:

Will Nicki Minaj stay retired?

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Nicki Minaj is a student of the game. She’s long professed admiration for Jay-Z. Could last year’s retirement (to raise a family) be similar to Jay-Z’s 2003 “retirement”? The Brooklyn rapper laid the groundwork for his corporate takeover in the period after 2003’s The Black Album, becoming President of Def Jam Records and jumping into other entrepreneurial ventures. But skeptics contend that the consummate rhymer had no real intentions of leaving the game and cloaked his absence as retirement in order for fans to clamor for his return.

Could Nicki be planning similar comeback? After a year of newlywed bliss with her husband, will she decide to put her hat back in the ring? Time will tell. The Barbs will be eagerly awaiting.

Who will be hip-hop’s new blood?

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Last year DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, and Benny The Butcher, among others, entrenched themselves as the rap game’s new blood in their respective lanes. Who’s next? Will a collective of spitters mimic Griselda’s success with a slew of independent releases that leads to mainstream visibility? Will artists like Baby Keem, Calboy, Don Toliver, Big Klit, Rod Wave, Akai Solo (and your new favorite that I didn’t happen to mention) reach the next plateau as artists?

Will Megan The Stallion reach a new plateau of stardom in 2020?

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As someone who primarily listens to rap music, I’ve seen how big Megan’s star is in Black culture. She has fans eating out of the palm of her hands with her charismatic mic persona, ingenious branding, and fan-friendly personality. As much as I believe that the way fans interact with entertainers is flawed, and the concept of celebrity needs a massive overhaul, it’s also true that some people are just natural stars.

Megan has it. And the only obstacle left in her ascent to a pop-culture staple is a stunning debut album. Megan has said she’ll be introducing an alter ego named Suga on her new album and has hinted at making more personal records on the project. We already know she can rock a party. But if she chooses to, impactful songs about losing her mother, the “female rap” fallacy, and her Houston upbringing could vault her into a new level of artistry. It would be dope to see a woman be widely recognized as the hottest rapper in the game sooner than later. Why not a rapper with bars, the right temperament, sex appeal, and an impending degree? It’s in the Stallion’s reach.

Which hip-hop vets will drop albums?

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This year should represent a strong showing from hip-hop’s old guard. We know Jay-Z has some music with Zaytoven in the stash. Eminem is rumored to be working on a new album as well. Lil Wayne’s The Funeral album is set to drop this year as a follow-up to his long-awaited The Carter V.

DMX has been crafting his own comeback album. The process may have been halted after X’s recent rehab stint, but he’s been in the lab with Swizz Beatz and showed that he’s still got it on “Just In Case” with Rick Ross. Will the dog be able to pull off one of hip-hop’s biggest comebacks?

How will hip-hop handle the upcoming election cycle?

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If the past week hasn’t been yet another indication, we’re headed into a tumultuous Presidential election season. It was easy for artists like Jay-Z and Chance The Rapper to throw support behind Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee in 2016. And it will be just as easy this time around for those artists to stand next to whoever opposes Trump. But maybe artists should do a little more than performing for the choir.

Many potential voters are feeling disillusioned by the perceived impotence of the Democratic party (and the two-party system in general). Will artists releasing music in 2020 reflect that discontent in their upcoming music and in interviews? Voter suppression was one of the biggest scandals of the last election cycle. Will artists use their voices for voter’s rights campaigns?

What new ways will the internet affect the Billboard charts?

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In December, Billboard announced that YouTube plays would count toward the Billboard 200 charting figures. This new wrinkle would bolster the Billboard relevance of artists like NBA Youngboy, the highest-viewed rapper on YouTube. Will artists and video directors feel compelled to get even more creative with videos to garner higher viewership (and hence more units sold)? Will YouTube become a more regulated space, with labels cracking down even more on independent channels uploading popular songs? It’s always fascinating to consider the ways in which commerce affects the craft.

In another YouTube-involved development, Canadian singer Marylou Villegas recently called out Mozzy and Tsu Surf for their “Who Woulda Thought” track, which sampled her cover of Daniel Caesar’s “Get You.” Will more producers start sampling YouTube covers without crediting the vocalist? What recourse would these singers have?

What does the future of Drill music look like?

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Drill music started in Chicago, but the scene is now making waves in Brooklyn and the UK. Artists like Brooklyn’s Pop Smoke, Sheff G, 22Gz, and the UK’s KO, Headie One are infusing the lingo and overall energy of their respective locales to the sinister subgenre. What’s next for the scene as a whole? Will there be cross-the-pond collaborations? Will Pop Smoke be able to fully infiltrate the industry in a manner that most drill artists were unwilling or unable to? Or will local police departments do everything they can to stifle these artists, like the NYPD did with their recent Rolling Loud crackdown? Also, how will the impending December return of Bobby Shmurda bolster the scene?

Will more artists start Book Clubs?

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Noname’s Book Club is one of the best things in hip-hop. The Chicago artist is using her influence to put fans on to a wide variety of literature. The LA Times recently reported on the Marathon Book Club, which was inspired by the late Nipsey Hussle’s readings. More artists should follow suit and galvanize their fanbase to read. Not only is it simply a great idea to read as much as possible, book clubs are a powerful way to shift the fan-artist dynamic.

When knowledge is shared communally instead of merely pontificated from a pulpit, no one in the collective garners inordinate power that they can later exploit. And as Kanye said and showed us throughout the 2010s, “no one man (or woman) should have all that power.

Is Kanye really done with secular music?

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Kanye West has always explored Christianity and spirituality in his music, but his 2019 Sunday Services, Jesus Is King album, and condemnation of his previous music showed him all the way in on Christ. He’s recently railed against secular music AKA non-gospel music, but he’s as unpredictable as they come. This time two years ago he was a devout Trump supporter. In 2019 he was a devout Christian. Will something inspire him to rethink his assertion that mainstream hip-hop is the “devil’s music” and deliver that “old Kanye?”

Can we stop calling everything from Africa “Afrobeats?”

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Artists like Burna Boy, Davido, WizKid and more are making commercial inroads in America, but the scenes they represent aren’t getting fair coverage. Artists from all over the world are still lumped into “International music” categories at domestic award shows, despite not necessarily making the same music.

House, hip-hop, soul, and more from across the diaspora is homogenized as “Afrobeats,” even as rappers like Cassper Nyovest reject the label. Drake said he popularised “Afrobeats” with the WizKid-assisted “One Dance,” and fans believed him because not enough of them have been made privy that WizKid and others had bustling careers before the smash single. It’s time for music institutions, media outlets, and fans to dive deeper into the varied music scenes on the African continent — our favorite artists are, after all. But this circumstance speaks to the west having a monolithic perception of Africa in general.

What’s up with Eternal Atake?

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I literally wrote about Eternal Atake as if it was imminent last year. The album has had numerous false starts since Uzi announced it in the summer of 2018. But after the release of “Futsal Shuffle,” (and some interesting Instagram activity) it seems like the album could finally be coming this year after what seems like an eternal wait. Uzi recently tweeted that Tyler The Creator gave him some advice on the album’s production. Who knows how much that delays the drop. But we’ll be here, waiting.

Will more artists work to revamp the fan-artist dynamic?

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Earlier this week, DaBaby set his fans straight on the fallacy of social media. Before that, Noname discussed her discomfort with performing for white audiences, and Summer Walker let fans know that her anxiety means that she simply can’t interact with them at their whim. It’s long been time for artists to continue poking holes in the unhealthy relationship between artists and entitled fans.

It would be great to see more “underground” artists collectively cultivate an ecosystem that works for them. What does that look like? More artists should bypass major labels (and their demands) to be as direct to consumer as possible, be selective (and creative) when it comes to venues to perform in, and refuse to work with outlets that can’t frame them or their art correctly.

Is the new Black Star album really coming this year?

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Last November, rapper and People’s Party host Talib Kweli said that the Black Star album is done and that he listens to it “all the time.” Hopefully it’ll be “time” for us to get a listen this year. 40+ rappers are the norm nowadays, which means that there’s space for Black Star to follow Little Brother and A Tribe Called Quest’s leads with a “comeback” album that makes us fall in love with them all over again.

What’s going to happen with 6ix9ine?

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It appears that 6ix9ine has intentions to continue his music career after being released from a two-year federal prison sentence this upcoming August. Last October he reportedly re-signed with 10K projects for a $10 million, two-album deal — and the label will want a return on their investment.

As a genre derived from the streets, hip-hop collectively loathes so-called snitches. 6ix9ine is the most infamous snitch in recent memory. He told the FBI that Kintea “Kooda B” McKenzie shot at Chief Keef on his orders, and Kooda will likely be doing prison time behind that charge. What reputable rapper is going to actually collaborate with him? Which producers are going to send him beats? Will venues feel safe booking him without the kind of security that he may not be able to afford with a lower profile?

There are a lot of questions surrounding the 23-year-old, and he’s sure to seize the media cycle and let us know everything in August.

Will Drake and Kendrick cross paths in 2020?

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This question is last because it’s completely baseless speculation, but it’s important. Kendrick, Drake, and J. Cole were widely regarded as mainstream rap’s 3 kings of the 2010s. Cole and Drake are cool, as are Kendrick and Cole. Where are Drake and Kendrick in 2020? After making music and touring together in the early 2010s, they fell out when Kendrick called out Drake (among many others) on 2013’s “Control.” Drake allegedly fired shots at Kendrick in a canned ESPN interview, but their tension never escalated in the way that Drake’s other beefs have.

Drake favorably referenced Kendrick on 2016’s “For Free,” which is something. But maybe it’s time for a formal move to show that there are no hard feelings. If Drake can reacquaint with Meek Mill after the Philly artist accused him of having ghostwriters, it seems like Drake could let the “Control” issue go.

With both artists likely dropping new albums this year — and Drake perhaps wanting to sweep the Pusha T debacle under the rug once and for all — it would be nice to see them on a song or stage together for old times’ sake.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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