These days, trying to forecast the biggest pop and rap albums for an entire year is a fool’s errand: most major stars either drop their albums by surprise or set deadlines that they then miss. It’s entirely possible that Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Rihanna release their long-awaited projects in 2021; it’s also possible we won’t hear from them for another half-decade. Here are the top albums we know with certainty will arrive in the coming twelve months.
Protective CoversCat Power (Jan. 14)
Singer-songwriter Chan Marshall has long excelled at reinventing other people’s songs. The new album features tracks from Billie Holiday, Iggypop and Frank Ocean.
Sick!Earl Sweatshirt (January 14).
Tyler the Creator’s longtime compatriotHe is an independent hip-hop trendsetter. A brooding lyrical technician and a head-spinning sonic experimentalist, he often seems to float his words hazily over his soul samples. Earl says these songs, written during the pandemic, “are what happened when I would come up for air.”
Laurel Hell, Mitski (Feb. 4)
The indie-rock star returns to the stage after a period of silence. This collection has songs that combine elegance and existential terror. “I used to think I’d be done by 20,” she sings on “Working for the Knife.” “Now at 29, the road ahead appears the same.”
Everything was Beautiful Spiritualized (Feb. 25)
They will be touring North America and Europe with the ninth studio album by British superstars of shoegaze.
CrashCharli, XCX (18 March)
Over the course of her decade-long musical career, this English songwriter has had to change between several different identities. (Charli herself, perhaps not surprisingly, says she doesn’t identify with music genres.) Her latest album features a Who’s WhoThe pop avant-garde includes Caroline Polachek and Rina Sawayama are the Oneohtrix point Never.
ForeverPhife Dawg (March 22)
Known as the Five Foot Assassin, the rapper from A Tribe Called Quest became a hip-hop legend in the ’90s for his raspy flows, punchy one-liners and infectious enthusiasm. He He died of complications from diabetes in 2016. The posthumous album, which will feature collaborators Redman and Busta Rhymes, will be released six-years after his death.
The DawnThe Weeknd (TBA).
Next, what happens? After hours? The Dawn obviously. In October, the most recent Super Bowl participant stated that his fifth studio album had been essentially completed and was inspired by musicians ranging from Britney sings to Nas.
Motomami, Rosalía (TBA)
Even as Rosalía has become one of the world’s biggest stars, she’s kept her avant-garde impulses both in music and visual style. So don’t expect her to aim for the center on her upcoming album. “I didn’t begin my career by making hits,” she told Rolling Stone. “I think I’ll try to continue working like this … making music I believe in.” (TBA)
Where we started & Country Again Side B, Thomas Rhett
Georgian-born legend scored another No. 1 U.S. Country Airplay hit with “Country Again.” He recently announced not one but two albums slated for 2022. (TBA)
Over the years, this boyband, which is unruly and genre-bending has enjoyed a loyal following. However, their next album as a group will not be the last. “Everybody just getting a lil older and got a lot to say outside of group projects,” leader Kevin Abstract explained.
Untitled, Cardi B (TBA)
Cardi B gets bombarded daily on social media by requests to release a new album. But the Bronx rapper prefers to take her time. “I think I’ve got like 50 songs recorded, and I’m just still not satisfied,” she said last February. Since then, she’s dropped verses on two hits: Normani’s “Wild Side” and Lizzo’s “Rumors.” Don’t be surprised if the album packs just as much firepower.
Untitled, Lizzo (TBA)
Lizzo is facing a daunting task to recreate the Cinderella success on her last album. Cuz I Love You: she scored a pack-leading eight Grammy nominations in 2020, with the single “Truth Hurts” inescapable for months. While the numbers for her latest single, the bubbly “Rumors,” pale in comparison to those of her prior hits, the song still has a cool 90 million Spotify streams and counting.