With year-end lists and endless Songs of the Summer behind us, it’s time to look to the future. There’ll be plenty of music narratives to follow in 2016, but there’ll also be plenty of actual albums to listen to. These eight albums also have firm release dates — sorry, Kanye and Rihanna — so we can actually get excited about them. Here are eight of Inverse’s most highly anticipated hip-hop and pop albums for Winter 2016.
1. Migos: Young Rich Ni$$a$ 2, January 18
Migos are finally properly following up on their breakout 2013 mixtape YRN (Young Rich Niggas) — the one that had “Hannah Montana,” “Bando,” and “Versace,” which Drake famously remixed. Since then, their single “Fight Night” scored a Gold certification. They’ve also had near-hits in “One Time,” “Pipe It Up,” and, most recently, “Look at My Dab,” a song that’s notable enough for Diplo to put his spin on.
YRN is perhaps Migos’s most important project — and that’s including their frustratingly stagnant 2015 debut studio album Yung Rich Nation — so the followup comes with weighty expectations. There aren’t advance singles yet for Young Rich Ni$$a$ 2 — although that Diplo remix was used as a promo — but it will be the group’s first project as a trio since Offset was released from jail. Migos will have their full arsenal, and should be expected to deliver.
2. Chairlift: Moth, January 22
We last heard from Chairlift in 2012 when they released their excellent synth pop album Something. In the meantime, frontwoman Caroline Polachek has released a solo album and written for Beyoncé. The latter experience has certainly helped shape Chairlift’s upcoming album Moth. Lead single “Ch-Ching” finds the duo embracing bonafide pop music, working in strong R&B influences, as well.
On second single “Romeo,” Chairlift return a bit more to their familiar synth pop sound, but with much more propulsion. With Polachek already having made a name for herself behind the scenes, and the band now signed to major label Columbia Records, Chairlift are poised to breakout into the mainstream in 2016 behind Moth.
3. Sia: This Is Acting, January 29
Sia is a music video superstar and she, of course, does not appear in her work, nor does she even show her face anymore. 2014’s “Chandelier” stunned audiences for its choreography and massive chorus. The album to which it belonged, 1000 Forms of Fear, catapulted Sia into uncharted territories of fame just — and, six albums in, gave Sia her first number one album — as she was trying to retreat into herself. So while she remains mysterious in the public eye, This Is Acting’s lead single, “Alive,” proudly proclaims that she’s back.
Sia is no slouch as a songwriter. She has written for Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, Beyoncé, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more. The trick is giving the same energy to her own music that she’s so generously provided for others. With “Alive” and “Bird Set Free” she’s showing that she will not hold back for This Is Acting. Everything sounds engineered for a triumphant singalong.
4. Anderson .Paak: Malibu, January 15
Anderson .Paak had a huge 2014. He first appeared on Dr. Dre’s comeback album Compton, and then dropped a self-titled EP. Now, he’s releasing Malibu. It’s not his debut solo LP, but it’s certainly his first since anybody’s known who he is.
.Paak is something between a singer and a rapper, with a rasp that would make Bilal proud. He’s quick-tongued but also melodious. With high-profile rappers Schoolboy Q and the Game set to appear on Malibu, .Paak has a real chance at making a statement as a unique voice in the hip-hop world.
5. Kevin Gates: Islah, January 29
It continues to look less and less likely that Kevin Gates will find true commercial success, given his propensity for gritty street raps and very regrettable behavior. But Islah, which is being billed as his debut studio album, will be Gates’s opportunity to make an artistic statement, even if his personal choices are often head-scratchers.
Buoyed by just enough Auto-Tune, Gates sounds like he’s constantly emoting. He also has a knack for hooks, as on “Really Really.” He says it himself on the track, “Make ’em believe, I made ’em believe / A lyrical song writer and he can sing.”
6. A$AP Ferg: Always Strive and Prosper, TBA
The only thing keeping Ferg’s sophomore album from placing higher is that it currently lacks a release date. But unlike other promised projects, this one is almost certainly on the way. Ferg just dropped the album’s first single, “New Level” featuring Future and production from Honorable C.N.O.T.E.
Like Rocky on At.Long.Last.A$AP, Ferg is honoring the late A$AP Yams by calling his effort Always Strive and Prosper, which the Yams-created A$AP acronym stands for. “New Level” is a straightforward banger — a sensible lead single. If Always Strive and Prosper can live up to the hype song, it’ll be a solid album for Ferg, who appears to be shooting straighter than ever.
7. De La Soul: TBA, April 29
So De La Soul’s upcoming Kickstarter-funded album doesn’t have a title yet, but it at least has a release date! The trio has also promised two new songs: “Train Wreck” (set to arrive soon in “late December”) and “Pain” with Snoop Dogg.
The currently-untitled project will be De La Soul’s first proper album since 2004’s The Grind Date, although they did release the free mixtape Smell the Da.I.S.Y. in 2014. And in addition to Snoop, the album will feature Damon Albarn, David Byrne, 2 Chainz, Little Dragon, Usher, Pete Rock, Roc Marciano, and Estelle. That’s enough star power to make a 12-year-old comeback record hold up, right? Right?
8. Elliphant: Living Life Golden, March 25
On her next album, Living Life Golden, however, it sounds like Elliphant is embracing her singing vocals more. Lead singles “Love Me Badder” and “Step Down” fit into the recent trend of more downbeat, low-key EDM songs. Considering she’s on Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records, though, it’s likely she’ll retain some of her dance music edge on the new album. Fellow Scandinavian and collaborator MØ broke out in 2015 behind her Major Lazer and DJ Snake hit “Lean On.” Maybe it’s Elliphant’s turn in 2016.