10 Cassidy

ALBUM TITLE: To be determined
LABEL: Full Surface/J
ALBUM #: 3
BEATS: Swizz Beatz, Neo the Matrix, Hi-Tek, Nottz, Rockwilder, Bink
FEATURES: John Legend, Marsha Ambrosius

FYI: In March 2006, Cassidy was released from prison after serving eight months for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. Then in October, a near-fatal car crash left Cassidy hospitalized in critical condition with a fractured skull. “He’s doing very well,” says Full Surface Records’ Swizz Beatz on behalf of his recuperating artist. “His face healed tremendously. [After the accident], he wasn’t breathing on his own. His accident was worse than Kanye’s.”

STREETS WANNA KNOW: Have Cassidy’s life trials changed him as an artist? “It don’t sound like the old Cassidy,” says Swizz. “His voice changed to where you can feel him through the music more… The album has a lot of substance to it—we’re coming with songs like ‘Leaning on the Lord’s Side.’”

SALES PITCH: “It’s an album with real-life experiences,” says Swizz. “He’s not rapping about everything to capitalize off it, but it’s for people that didn’t really know. The whole album, though, isn’t going to be about jail and the car accident. He’s one of the best battle rappers, and lyrically, he’s challenging everyone in the industry.”

9 Papoose

ALBUM TITLE: The Nacirema Dream
LABEL: Streetsweepers/Jive
ALBUM #: 1
BEATS: Scott Storch, Pharrell, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, DJ Premier, HeatMakerz, DJ Kay Slay, Focus, E-Dubs
FEATURES: Jim Jones, Busta Rhymes, Bun B, Chamillionaire, Young Buck, Tony Yayo, Jadakiss

FYI: After making his name with a string of street releases, Papoose signed a reported $1.5 million deal with Jive Records in 2006. Now he’s focused on helping the Big Apple get its national shine back. “I grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn,” says the 29-year-old MC. “One of the most negative neighborhoods in the world. But not everything in this world is negative. I drop jewels for the world.”

STREETS WANNA KNOW: Can Papoose make a successful transition from mixtapes to albums? “If you observe my work patterns and what I put out so far,” he says, “you’ll see that I’m not just some ‘mixtape thing.’ My mixtapes are actually structured like albums. I feel like I took mixtapes to another level.”

SALES PITCH: “I aimed for the bull’s-eye on this one. If a person is sick, my album is medicine. If a person is hungry, my album is food. My album is freedom for a person that’s incarcerated.”

8 Fabolous

ALBUM TITLE: From Nothin’ to Something
LABEL: Desert Storm/Street Family/Def Jam
ALBUM #: 4
BEATS: Timbaland, Just Blaze, Jazze Pha, Rodney Jerkins, The Runners, Polow Da Don, Ne-Yo
FEATURES: Junior Reid, Cassidy, Lil Wayne,
Ne-Yo, Paul Cain, Red Café, Joe Budden

FYI: Breaking from his R&Bish formula for a street-centered single like “Breathe,” Fab had his last album, 2004’s Real Talk, be his first not to go platinum. Ditching Atlantic in ’06 for a new deal with Def Jam, the Brooklyn MC is ready to get his groove back. “I wanna make that connection with people,” he says. “I definitely wanna just go back to making hits.”

STREETS WANNA KNOW: How much of an influence will Hov have on the project? “Jay-Z gave me his creative input,” says Fab. “He’s a big artist and has put out a lot of well-rounded albums.”

SALES PITCH: “If you want to hear some good hip-hop that you can vibe to, you can cry to, you can get with your girl to, you can ride in the jeeps with niggas to—it’s good music all around. I just made sure that I made songs for different moods and that it worked collectively.”

7 Lil Jon

ALBUM #: 5
BEATS: Artist, Rob Cavallo (Green Day), Marcos Curiel (P.O.D.), and (tentatively) Timbaland, Nitti, Rick Rubin, Good Charlotte, Jonathan Davis (Korn)
FEATURES: Ciara, Lil Scrappy, E-40, Too $hort, Yung Joc, Nate Dogg, Lil Wayne, Three 6 Mafia, Chris Rock

FYI: In 2005, Lil Jon got into a public beef with his label, TVT Records, over unpaid royalties. After getting his paper and parting ways with his partners the East Side Boyz, the super producer is returning with an album heavy on rap-rock fusion. But stepping outside genre lines isn’t such a big deal to Jon. “I scream and holler, but I’m not a rapper,” he says. “I’m the guy that gets the party started.”

STREETS WANNA KNOW: Is Crunk Rock a sell-out move? “Nah,” says Jon. “I don’t wanna stray. But I gotta reach the White frat kid that might not listen to hip-hop and the fan in the ghetto. It’s just something new and different.”

SALES PITCH: “With the low point for record sales and all kinds of mess in hip-hop, I’m bringing freshness and newness. Every time people go to the store I’ve got good product. Two and a half million people bought the last album. I done done it twice. “That’s enough said.”


6 Raekwon

ALBUM TITLE: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
LABEL: Icewater/Aftermath
ALBUM #: 4
BEATS: Dr. Dre, RZA, Scram Jones, J Dilla
FEATURES: Wu-Tang Clan

FYI: After months of speculation, the Wu-Tang Chef officially signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records last year. For the official sequel to his 1995 classic, the veteran artist is taking the slow-and-steady approach. “I already know what the first one stands on,” says Rae, “so I’m not going to rush into something that I feel ain’t gon’ stand next to where it need to be standing.”

STREETS WANNA KNOW: Can a veteran MC still appeal to today’s younger generation? “Always remember, I’m the Chef. I’m going to give plates of whatever that’s up-to-date,” he says. “But this album right here is only built for cuban linx niggas. My album ain’t for everybody. I don’t recommend this album for no kids under muthafuckin’ 20. ’Cause under 20, you ain’t gon’ understand me and I ain’t gon’ understand you!”

SALES PITCH: “I’m a living legend. I’m a real nigga that lived it and knows what he’s talking about. If you look at Cuban Linx, you look at a nigga that took his time and made some shit that a lot of niggas bit off of. And it’s all good, ’cause I’m a Martin Luther King baby. Word up.”

5 Three 6 Mafia

ALBUM TITLE: The Last 2 Walk
LABEL: Columbia/Sony BMG
ALBUM #: 8
BEATS: Artist
FEATURES: Chamillionaire, Lyfe Jennings, 8Ball & MJG, Spanish Fly, Al Kapone, Project Pat
FIRST SINGLE: “Doe Boy Fresh”

FYI: After last year’s Oscar win for Hustle & Flow’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” Memphis’ “most known unknowns” are now even more known (and less unknown). Rather than softening their sound for a mainstream audience, though, DJ Paul and Juicy J decided to stay fly. “Every time you have a big success, you gotta slow down on the partying,” says Juicy J. “Just try to stick to your work because that’s what got us the success. We might drink a cocktail here and there, but we live and sleep in the studio. It’s all about working. You gotta stay focused.”

STREETS WANNA KNOW: What happened to Crunchy Black, and will his absence affect their sound? “Crunchy left the group ’cause he wanted to go solo,” says J. “Me and Paul wrote all the music. We produced all our music ourselves, so it won’t affect us on that end.”

SALES PITCH: “We never know what our albums are going to do, we just hope and pray for the best,” says J. “We been around so long that we’d be popping champagne over a gold album. We just keep it gutter and try to keep making good music.”


Read the rest of the list in XXL’s March 2007 issue (#89)