Five most anticipated albums for the rest of 2015

1. “Swish (maybe)” – Kanye West I started actively “following” music in 2010. I was a junior in high school, and up until then I had listened to music, maybe had a few favorite artists, but it was yet to be a passion. That all changed when I heard Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” a record that snatched my attention and changed my relationship with music forever.

My placement of Kanye at the epicenter of music culture felt validated in 2014. Kanye was absent from the game for the first time since 2009, and the result was an incredibly dry year. With all due respect to “Run The Jewels 2” and “1989,” two great albums don’t make a great year. While music fans sat around waiting for Kanye to make his next move, the industry seemed to do the same thing. My theory was confirmed; there was no excitement in music without Mr. West.

Kanye now finds himself in a puzzling position. The industry has started up again; they are no longer patient for their wise old grandpa Yeezy to show them the way. Between Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Future, Fetty Wap, Young Thug, and so many of the exciting young figures in hip-hop, there is enough passion and vision to find their own interesting direction. If we learned anything from Kanye’s last classic though, it’s that just because the culture has appeared to have shifted away from Kanye, that doesn’t mean Kanye won’t come through and shift the culture right back. 2013’s “Yeezus” may have been Kanye’s worst selling album to date, but it seized the cultural conversation in a way most, if not all, of this year’s releases have failed to.

Kanye has promised his fans an album. Whether it’s called "So Help Me God," "Swish," or hopefully something better than that, people will be there to receive it. Will Kanye wait for a year of his own or try to prove he can still steal the spotlight? Does he have another classic in store, or are we headed for another Cruel Summer? Only one man, and possibly Kim Kardashian, has the power to give answers to these questions.


2. “Purpose” – Justin Bieber

When will our time with Justin Bieber come to and end? For many lazy, humorless people, the answer would be “not soon enough.” If you take any indication from his latest mega-single “What Do You Mean” or the popularity of some recent paparazzi pictures of a before unseen side of him, it’s unlikely to be in the near future.

I’ve personally had a soft spot for Bieber for a while now. People like to act like they hate Bieber because of his misdeeds: an ignorant comment about Anne Frank, urinating in a mop bucket while bad-mouthing Bill Clinton, and, most seriously, a DUI. Bieber has been one of the most hated boys in America ever since “One Time.” This is partially rooted in misogyny; I still to this day see people insult Bieber simply by referring to him as a girl. Part of it is rooted in groupthink; Bieber has always been an easy target, and while the jokes may have been funny at first, we’re entering year six of the same old material.

Besides the exhausting and depressing “he looks like a girl” jokes, the reliable trope people fall back on is less offensive but just as out of date: “his music is terrible.” While I hate to spoil so many years of a fun joke, this doesn’t hold up anymore either. Bieber’s 2013 mixtape “Journals” featured collaborations with hip names like Future and Chance The Rapper, as well as straight up legends R. Kelly and Lil Wayne. It also showed a dimension of musical maturity that was neither expected nor required of Bieber. Put simply: it was a very good album.

“Journals” was by far Bieber’s best work but was light on hits and failed to make a lot of noise. It painted a vision of Bieber as a minor pop culture figure — the guy who used to rule the world now quietly turning out quality work without all the fuss. Bieber’s tumultuous 2014 managed to erase that vision and replace it with one more similar to Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. Bieber was headed down an all too beaten path with an anything but pretty ending.

With “What Do You Mean,” Bieber managed to rewrite his narrative a third time. The song is an absolute smash — one of the biggest of the year as well as one of the best. The Internet has forgiven Bieber for his sins as they are willing to with anyone making great music. Just ask R. Kelly. Now Bieber has one last item on the checklist to ditch all of the baggage: make a great album. “Purpose” aims to be Bieber’s “Futuresex/Lovesounds.” That’s a high bar to match, and I’m ready to see Bieber take the leap.

3. “Views From The 6” – Drake

Why am I always left wanting more from Aubrey Graham? He’s the biggest and most captivating man in music. His output is objectively good, and his career, in terms of quality and success, is undeniably superior to almost all of his colleagues. My frustration with him stems from high expectations combined with confusion about many of his decisions.

My relationship with Drake started in 2011 with the release of his best album to date, “Take Care.” I didn’t particularly care for Drake’s work before this album and I was particularly turned off by his radio singles. Something about “Take Care” was different though, and it’s something he has never been able to capture since. I have continued to follow his music, and I have continued to become more and more underwhelmed by each album. My excitement for “Views From The 6” was starting to fade completely, until I read the excellent profile of Drake in the October issue of The Fader. In it, Drake unveiled a piece of information that put much of his artistic decline in perspective and gave me reason to believe in VFT6.

Drake has had an excellent creative partner since day one in producer Noah “40” Shebib. 40 produced almost every song on “Take Care” and only slightly less on the follow-up, “Nothing Was The Same.” So far in 2015, 40 has disappeared from Drake’s producer list, working on only 3 songs on "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" and one song on “What A Time To Be Alive.” As 40 has disappeared from Drake’s music, so has his sonic cohesiveness, his distinct instrumental style, and any sense of broader vision for his albums as a whole.

Luckily for his fans, Drake unveiled to Fader that the process behind “Views From The 6” has involved his most intimate collaborations with 40 since “Take Care.” This means the return of hope, as well as the danger of high expectations.

4. “Radio Silence” – James Blake

James Blake came on the scene as a DJ, releasing a series of EPs that made him one of the hottest names in the electronic music scene. In the lead-up to his debut album, the world was unfamiliar with the sound of his voice. That changed when Blake converted himself into a post-Dubstep crooner — a singer-songwriter with the voice and the songwriting chops deserving of his excellent production.

“James Blake” was a fantastic debut album, and Blake followed it up with “Overgrown,” far from a sophomore slump. “Overgrown” felt like a career peak; it was a culmination and combination of all the different styles he had experimented with over his various releases. They came together cohesively and beautifully and made for a powerful and unique album.

Now it’s been two years since we’ve last heard from Blake, and I am as curious as ever about his next move. There have been teases of collaborations with Kanye, Drake, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Chance The Rapper — essentially a dream list of collaborators in my book. This list suggests that Blake may be using “Radio Silence” to try and conquer the music world. He has yet to be a crossover success, peaking as an indie/electronic darling. His intentions seem clear, but if Blake has been anything so far, it’s unpredictable.

5. “25” – Adele

There is an argument to be made that Adele saved pop music. In 2011, pop music was divided, reeling with no figure to rally around. Adele then unleashed “Rolling In The Deep,” the most unavoidable song in recent memory. Unlike so many other unavoidable songs, usually by men named LMFAO or Pitbull, “Rolling In The Deep” was deserving of its ubiquitous status (really, it may have been underplayed). Adele gave the music industry a massive jolt of energy and, just as importantly, money.

How often have smash albums as big as “21” been followed up with an album just as big? Adele emerged from her hiatus, which involved voice-threatening medical issues and a new baby, to announce that “25” may be just around the corner. Adele has already saved pop music; now we get to see where she thinks it deserves to go.