1. The Element of Freedom – Alicia Keys
Projected Release Date: Dec 1/2009
First single: “Doesn’t Mean Anything”
Alicia Keys is back with her fourth studio album, and even though we’ve been wondering “How could she possibly top what she did last time?”, she has always managed to do it. She went all for the Motown and old-school soul on As I Am, her last album, and on this one, she has said that she’ll be experimenting with new sounds as opposed to old – everyone seems to be saying that about his/her album these days. Let’s just hope she doesn’t abandon what makes her stand out from the typical R&B we hear on the radio.
In her own words: “The way that the songs progress [on the album] are gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired… you’re going to hear things that you probably didn’t think that I would sound like. It’s a journey.” – interview on 106 & Park
2. Raymond vs. Raymond (previously Monster) – Usher
Projected Release Date: Dec 8/2009
First single: “Papers”
After the absolute flop (well, by Usher’s standards, at least) that was Here I Stand, Usher is picking himself up and releasing another album. Amidst rumours and speculation that he had “gone soft” with his marriage to ex-wife Tameka Foster, the title of the first single, “Papers,” is definitely up for interpretation. Now in his thirties, Usher has to prove that he still has what made Confessions the massive commercial and critical hit that it was; two failures in a row would put him firmly in the “Up-for-retirement” class.
In his own words: “Racy, risky, and edgy” – interview with People magazine
3. Transition – Ryan Leslie
Projected Release Date: Nov 3/2009
First single: “You’re Not My Girl”
The strange thing about Ryan Leslie is that his career never really took off, despite lots of solid production work for artists like Cassie, New Edition, and Britney. He has earned the respect of many artists within the industry for his unique musical style, but his fame on the charts (and in the gossip columns) has been surprisingly limited. For a man who graduated from Harvard when he was 19, Ryan Leslie could be doing a lot of other things with his life right now, but his dedication to music is impressive, to say the least – he wrote and produced his entire debut album, which is almost unheard of in the music scene today. Transition is receiving the same treatment, but as of right now the odds of it being either a Confessions or a floptastic Here I Stand are pretty even.
In his own words: “I don’t really get into the idea of making excuses or giving explanations for why I’m not massively exposed… we’re at an age now where if people really want to expose something… they’ll expose it.” – interview with PinBoard
4. D.N.A. – Mario
Projected Release Date: Oct 12/2009
First single: “Break Up”
Sporting a new shaved head, Mario is back with D.N.A., an album that was supposed to be released ages ago, but kept getting pushed back. It’s hard to believe that this is his fourth album (he’s only 23), but Mario’s talent can’t be denied. He’s like a younger, more contemporary-R&B-sounding male version of Alicia Keys. He has all the producers that the hip-hop and R&B singers in the game want on their albums too, and seeing as this is Mario we’re talking about and add to that the fact that he’s been working on this album for so long, this will probably keep R&B afloat until the end of the year when all the other artists drop their albums.
In his own words: “… you’ve got the Trey Songzs, the Ne-Yos , and you’ve got the Chris Browns of the world—you’ve got all these new artists. This is my fourth album, and some of them aren’t even on their third [album]—I’m coming back with something fresh and new.” – interview with DJBooth.net
5. Echo – Leona Lewis
Projected Release Date: Nov 11/2009
First single: “Happy”
Is there a more anticipated album this year? Well, there probably is, but this one is up there with the rest of them. Spirit was the hit album that every American Idol winner after Kelly Clarkson desperately tried to attain unsuccessfully (with the exception of perhaps Carrie Underwood), and Simon Cowell is not letting go of the reins on this one, having once again chosen the producers for every song. If the first single is any indication though, she seems to be following the formula for her debut a little too closely – “Happy” sounds dangerously similar to, well, every single on Spirit that featured piano instrumentals. Leona Lewis might be toeing the line with this one.
In her own words: “I’ve taken more control this time and I feel more at ease with everything.” (Don’t make me wish that you pushed yourself more, Leona.)