Last year, hip-hop witnessed the return of Kanye West, Drake, and J. Cole, as they each released their respective albums after years of delays and speculation. While their splashy returns caused an uproar among their fanbases, it also raised questions about whether the music space would see more comebacks from some of our past favorites — especially after Kanye West unveiled the release date for his highly-anticipated sequel to his Grammy-nominated effort Donda today (Jan. 27).
Will Kendrick Lamar gift fans new music before Super Bowl? What’s the latest on Rihanna’s long-awaited R9 project? Is Frank Ocean finally going to return before hitting Coachella 2023? Billboard explores the whereabouts of some of R&B and hip-hop’s most anticipated albums below.
Kanye West, Donda 2
Several months after releasing his 10th studio album Donda rumors circulated about a possible sequel for Ye’s Grammy-nominated effort. In an interview with Complex earlier this month, CEO of Victor Victor Worldwide, Steven Victor, confirmed that West was back in the studio working on Donda 2. Though details remain sparse, West’s litter of text messages shared on social media fall in line with Victor’s response. First, MoneyBagg Yo shared a conversation between him and West in which the Chicago MC said, “I got to lock in with you on Donda 2.” Subsequently, videos of Bagg and Ye in the studio surfaced.
Then, a week later, Jay Electronica shared a text exchange with Ye gushing about his “Eazy” collaboration with The Game. During their chat, West sent a message saying, “Donda 2 starting now.” After an interview with Complex this week where Victor said that Donda 2 was coming “very soon,” today West announced the release date on Instagram and said the project would be executive produced by Future. “Donda 2 coming 2 22 22,” he revealed.
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Kendrick Lamar, TBD
Last year, Lamar made a valiant return with his scene-stealing verse on Baby Keem’s “Family Ties.” Then, the duo doubled up and gifted fans a second collaboration in “Range Brothers,” which resided on Keem’s project The Melodic Blue. With Lamar ending his hiatus last summer, speculation grew regarding his seminal 2017 album DAMN. Last August, Lamar broke his silence with a short letter to fans on a new website called Oklama, where he referred to his next effort as his “final TDE album.” CEO and founder of Top Dawg Entertainment, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, responded to Lamar’s message on social media, writing: “With this being Dot’s last album on TDE, this is more of a VICTORY LAP, a celebration. I know he will be successful in whatever it is he decides to do and will have our FULL support.”
Next month, Lamar will perform alongside Dr. Dre at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. Sources told Billboard that a possible Lamar single could come either Feb 4. or Feb 11 ahead of the star-studded performance.
Frank Ocean, TBD
After it was announced last August that Frank Ocean will headline the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, reports soon surfaced that the Channel Orange mastermind is also readying a new album. Since the fiercely independent Ocean signed a publishing pact with Warner Chappell in 2019, early speculation pegged Warner Records as a potential suitor. But to date there’s been no definitive word regarding other possible distribution/label alliances, what type of deal Ocean and his camp are actually seeking or even a release date. In the 10 years since the release of his aforementioned, Grammy-winning debut album, Ocean has solidified his reputation for eschewing industry traditions in favor of taking alternative detours both creatively and professionally.
Orange’s jazz-, funk- and electro-infused R&B gave way to 2016 sophomore album Blonde’s more experimental and psychedelic tones. Now certified platinum, the self-released set arrived a day after his second and final Def Jam release, the visual project Endless. In addition to featured guest roles on projects such as Calvin Harris’s “Slide” and Tyler, the Creator’s current Grammy-nominated Call Me If You Get Lost, Ocean released two singles in March 2020: “Dear April” and “Cayendo.” Then on Christmas Day 2021, during a surprise episode of his Blonded Radio show, he gifted Apple Music listeners with a nine-minute rough draft of a new song. The piano-driven track features Ocean in a conversation about handling grief (his younger brother Ryan Breaux died in a summer 2020 car accident) with motivational speaker and extreme athlete Wim “Iceman” Hof. And the countdown to what else Ocean has up his sleeve continues.
Nearly five years have elapsed since SZA sizzled onto the scene with her 2017 breakthrough debut album Ctrl. With its fresh take on neo-soul — sparked by elements of R&B, hip-hop, electronic and pop — coupled with SZA’s subtle-yet-powerful vocals and vulnerably honest yet defiant lyrics, the Grammy-nominated set resonated with fans and music critics alike. Starting with “Love Galore,” a parade of multi-platinum and platinum singles followed through 2018 including “The Weekend,” “Broken Clocks” and “Garden (Say It Like Dat).”
All of which has since begged the question, when will the first lady of TDE release a second album? Over the last several years, she’s been featured on projects such as the Black Panther soundtrack (“All of the Stars” with Kendrick Lamar), Trolls World Tour soundtrack (“The Other Side” with Justin Timberlake) and, most recently, the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack (“The Anonymous Ones”).
Then in the wake of alluded-to skirmishes with her label via social media, SZA scored her first top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist with the 2020 track “Good Days.” Next came the singer-songwriter’s cameo on the Doja Cat hit “Kiss Me More” followed by the late 2021 release of the viral TikTok hit “I Hate U.” Hopefully, this recent activity means fans’ watch for SZA’s next album won’t be much longer. In fact, sources tell Billboard the highly anticipated project is slated for second quarter.
The last time Rihanna released a studio album was in 2016 with ANTI. Since then, the Bajan icon became a billionaire and a make-up and fashion savant with the booming success of her Fenty empire. Though music took a backseat, Rihanna continued tantalizing fans with news about her elusive project R9. The most recent report came during her Savage X Fenty show last September during an interview with AP. “You’re not gonna expect what you hear. Just put that in your mind,” she said. “Whatever you know of Rihanna is not gonna be what you hear,” she said. “I’m really experimenting, and music is like fashion; you should be able to play. I should be able to wear whatever I want, and I treat music the same way.”
The last time fans heard anything new musically from Rihanna dates back to her featured appearance on PartyNextDoor’s 2020 single “Believe It.” In previous interviews, Rihanna alluded to “experimenting” on R9 and even doing a deep dive into reggae. Last July, fans chirped when photos from a Rihanna and A$AP Rocky video shoot surfaced, but neither party commented on the pictures.
Rihanna says her next album is “going to be completely different.” Promoting her latest Savage X Fenty Show, the pop star says she’s been “having fun” recording new music. pic.twitter.com/tOkty4ONAf
— AP Entertainment (@APEntertainment) September 22, 2021