2021-02-03T14:59:01-05:00 2021-02-23T12:35:45-05:00

The top 15 highly anticipated rap releases of 2021

Written by Gregory Castel and Ashton Howard

This is a very important year for hip-hop music as the art form has often been the vessel of crucial expression during times of significant change and hardships. Coming off one of the most eventful and heavy years in history, many artists, rap fans are likely in for a treat as many of the industry’s heavy hitters have hinted to some major project drops in 2021. 


15. Saweetie

The Bay-area rapper has been knocking out hits year after year ever since her debut in 2018. Saweetie arrived with guns blazing in her first single "ICY GIRL", followed by a major breakout hit in 2019, "My Type." ICY, her latest EP of 2019, peaked at 85 in the US charts with heavy radio play, and a viral TikTok dance challenge. After promising that this next album will change her life in an interview last summer with PAPER, she said that before lockdown restrictions, Saweetie "never really campaigned for my first two projects. I always had to meet these deadlines, and I was recording in so many different cities like NYC, Atlanta, Miami, LA and the Bay. I never really got the time to advance myself. It always felt like I was rushing. This is the first time where I can honestly say I have the hottest sh*t out there."

Just one month into 2021 and Saweetie has already released a fiery new single featuring Doja Cat, "Best Friend". News of a full-length debut album titled, Pretty B*tch Music have many critics in the hip-hop world excited. We also know that her album title consists of an acronym. According to PAPER, “‘B’ means bossed up or bossy. ‘I’ means independent. ‘T’ means tough because you have to be a tough individual to survive in the music game. ‘C’ is for creative. Then, ‘H’ is for hyphy because I am from the Bay."

14. Baby Keem

In 2020, Baby Keem left us with a tasty two-pack and a XXL Freshmen’s List cover feature. The rising star has been rumored to be prepping his “there’s a new sheriff in town” full-length project this year to follow up his eyebrow-raising mixtape, DIE FOR MY B*TCH, of 2019. This time, the music will be under the mysterious new label of sorts, pGLang.

13. Nipsey Hussle

It’s been reported that there is a posthumous first album in the works from the late Crenshaw legend, Nipsey Hussle. Close friend of Nipsey, J Stone, confirmed recently on The Bootleg Kev Podcast that "we're not going to do it just because – Nip had his brand and image so tight." 

J Stone said, “It's so much music this n***a done did, bro. Like you wouldn't even imagine, bro. There's sh*t I haven't even heard when I thought I heard everything.” Nipsey's last album, Victory Lap, came out February 2018 and the world tragically lost the prolific rapper March 2019.

12. Bobby Shmurda

At the drop of a hat, or lack thereof, it seemed as if the rising star that was Bobby Shmurda was suddenly halted just as abruptly as he was introduced. Following the release of his video for “Hot Ni**a,” Bobby’s charm and charisma quickly made the BK native one of music’s most hyped prospects. But that was then, and this is now.  After serving nearly seven years in prison, the Brooklyn native has a release date, and is set to come home and light the world on fire with one of the most anticipated releases in recent memory. Missing out on the recent resurgence of New York hip-hop as drill music blazed his borough, the culture has been looking to him and his partner Rowdy Rebel to grab a hold of the reins of a movement they essentially pioneered.

This will be Shmurda's first full-length album.

11. Joey Bada$$

At only 26-years-old, Joey Bada$$ has already lived multiple lives through the hip-hop world over the past decade. After starting out as a high-school prodigy, he parlayed his early success into a record label, acting opportunities and gained a handful of writing credits on some major releases. But through all of these accomplishments, the one thing that has escaped him is a full-length album. With so much time left and a few ncouraging moments in 2020, it’s obvious that this hasn’t gone over his head. If his new singles are of any indication, it seems like he’s heading straight for that direction.

10. Roddy Ricch

This time last year, Compton native Roddy Ricch was at the center of the world. After gaining steam off the back of his mega-smash, “The Box,” he parlayed a critically acclaimed album into a handful of Grammy nominations and a spot among hip-hop’s elite. Roddy contributed on two of the three most streamed songs of 2020 with "The Box" and DaBaby's "Rockstar". After taking most of last year to regenerate, his follow up to the brilliant Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial album has been something fans have been looking forward to for a while now.

A snippet of music with Atlanta rapper, Rich the Kid has recently be cycling around the internet and Roddy has as well told his fans via an Instagram live that he also has work with Travis Scott on the way.

9. Meek Mill

Often ridiculed for his social media takes, people tend to forget that Meek Mill is one of the best rappers on the planet. Those memories are usually refreshed when he drops bangers like his 2020 EP, Quarantine Pack. After proving he was still one of the game’s best by going bar for bar with in-the-moment favorites like Lil’ Durk, 42 Dugg and Vory, the anticipation for his next full-length album is expected to be even bigger. 

8. J.I.D

J.I.D was one of the brighter acts to take part of the Dreamville Revenge of the Dreamers III tape. He has a junior-album titled The Forever Story that has been growing in suspense. The East-Atlanta rapper has been teasing the project by publicly talking to features online requesting for their guest verses.

The lyricist has been connecting with Kenny Beats, Kodie Shane, and Kitty Cash.

As a part of the hip-hop group Spillage Village, he let his electrifying verses fly all over their 2020 album, Spilligion. In January, he tweeted the album title, The Forever Story, making it more clear for his awaiting fans that music is impending. 

7. Migos

The pandemic took many things from us, but perhaps the most damaging was not being able to get the third installment of the Migos’ highly enjoyable Culture series. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most damaging — they also postponed F9 — but not being able to get a new pack of party pleasers from our favorite trio was definitely a gut punch in an already tough year. But, never fear, as recently as last week, there was a trailer posted for Culture III on their Instagram.

6. Cardi B

When Cardi B beat out Mac Miller, Pusha T, Nipsey Hussle and Travis Scott for Best Rap Album at the 2018 Grammys, many thought we were seeing the coronation of Hip-Hop’s next Queen. While “WAP” surely kept her in the conversation, the combination of a recent surge in DOPE female emcees and a lack of music has kept Cardi from running away with the title completely. Still, she’s positioned herself to be more inviting than some of her rivals, allowing for her to stay in the forefront while she finishes this new expected full-length album, which will hopefully bring together some of rap’s impressive roster of women emcees, much like “WAP” did.

Her new single "UP" is announced to be released this Friday.

5. Tyler, the Creator

Coming off back-to-back Grammy-nominated albums and winning the most recent award for Album of the Year off his 2019 album, IGOR, Tyler, the Creator has innovatively and consistently released an album every other year like clockwork. From the release of his debut mixtape, Bastard in 2009 and ever since, the high-energy character that is Tyler, has wowed a niche community of music lovers and has developed into one of the music industries purest and most dynamic stars. We have entered another era of his career and the world awaits for what Tyler presents 10+ years into the game.

4. J Cole
Tier 1 MC, label head, and now owner of a Puma sneaker-line, J Cole just celebrated his 36th birthday. Before the year 2020 ended, the North Carolina-rapper announced his next album, The Off-Season. In a recent social media post, Cole insinuates in his caption that he mentally has three more projects in mind to release before he retires or "scrams". He calls this "The Fall Off Era".

Potentially, this may be his fourth quarter, as he focuses on the Dreamville label and his footwear endeavors. There is also the potential that he channels more energy into telling stories as the alias, kill edWard, who he introduced in the album KOD as a moniker he'd use to rap from perspectives outside of himself. Dreamville cofounder, Ibrahim Hamad shared online that Cole is working on visuals for The Off-Season. With all the social turmoil about, J Cole fans always seem to take heed to his point of view because he has a deep history of digging and observing social matters in America.

3. Drake

Last month, Drake announced via his Instagram that due to his knee surgery and rehab, the process of making his sixth studio album titled, Certified Lover Boy, is going to have to be extended. Many have been anticipating a full project since last summer’s hit single featuring Lil Durk “Laugh Now, Cry Later”. His mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes was released in May 2020 as well and caused even greater anticipation for what was to come. A knee injury likely from competitive hooping, as he has been hosting basketball tournaments in his new mansion, has him in rehabilitation.

Drake Instagram Story

As he bounces back, many fans have their hands on unreleased snippets, and there has been a parade of leaks surfacing the internet. There is no confirmation to any of these leaks being part of Certified Lover Boy, so it is likely to look forward to new singles from Drake this Spring. My bet says we're going to get an early summer album from 'the boy' in classic Drake fashion. For now, go ahead and get the heart designed into your hair in preparation.

2. Travis Scott

Utopia is the name. Travis Scott season is approaching. After taking over the world all 2018 with his album ASTROWORLD, his festival headlines, tour, and chart success. One of the more decorated offseason you could argue in all of hip hop history. In the past two years, Travis Scott has stayed busy outside of the studio with scoring collaborations and deals creating products with major brand endorsements like McDonalds, Nike Jordan, Playstation, Reese's Puffs, and Fortnite.

Travis likely is going into his next project with a chip on his shoulder after losing the Best Rap Album category to Cardi B's Invasion on Privacy at the Grammys. His releases since the ASTROWORLD days include his collaboration with Kid Cudi, Kanye West, and his group, JACKBOYS' debut self-titled project that featured the late Pop Smoke, Young Thug, and members of the Migos. His focus during the off years was zoomed in to his personal brand, and his Cactus Jack artists, Sheck Wes and Don Toliver.

Scott tells Zane Lowe in the interview above that, he's "building up these walls" of Utopia. The word 'utopia' means a place of ideal perfection. There isn't much more revealed about the album but that. The song, "Franchise", was also dropped last fall with Young Thug and M.I.A. and the single peaked at #1 on the charts. "Franchise" will likely be a part of the Utopia project, and as you'll be able to see in the interview, working with M.I.A. was a dream of his. We also know that there's a chance Roddy Ricch will be a part of the album as well. He and his camp have been reported to be working in Mexico on Utopia and we'll just have to wait for more to be revealed.


1. Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar seems to do the whole reclusive act as masterful as the rest of them. Easily a figurehead in the hip-hop Hall of Fame, he has managed to stay inactive online for the better part of his time away. But his close circle and TopDawg Entertainment camp have assured that the Grammy-award winning Compton-artist has been in the studio and that he has been putting in hours. Like Cole, Lamar's mentions were blowing up in 2020, as the conversation on racism in America was refueled as the world marched and protested the unjust killing of black Americans of names like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" once again spiked on the charts as it has become an anthem for recent struggles. Activism has been a priority and prominent aspect to his career and he was indeed spotted marching in LA. Lamar doesn't make many public statements and doesn't raise his pedestal by his own merit by promoting his activism and charity. So many fans were waiting for new music to hear his commentary on these matters as he so very eloquently and poetically does – quite literally in every album of his. To keep it simple, this upcoming project is highly anticipated.

Meanwhile, Kendrick's latest album, DAMNwas the subject of the fifth season of hit podcast, Dissect.  He and his manager, Dave Free, founded pglang, a mysterious endeavor for creators. He was also caught him filming visuals for his upcoming album at a California beach. The Pulitzer-prize winner has also been a mentor to his protégé, Baby Keem. Last year, former Billboard editorial director and current columnist for the publication, Bill Werde, tweeted that he's heard that Lamar's fifth album will pull from rock sounds, and turn a new direction. Are you excited to hear the new music Kendrick's been sitting on? Check out his latest interview right here with the other highly anticipated artist on our list, Baby Keem.

Hip-Hop · Main Stage · Rap


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