Lupe Fiasco: Spend five minutes with a Lupe Fiasco fan and he or she will passionately tell you Lupe is A) the most underrated rapper alive B) the best rapper alive C) too smart for a genre that's currently uninterested in lyricism. All of these things are wrong, but the loyalty to the Chicago MC is admirable. Lupe has had a much-publicized and complicated relationship with his label, but his long-delayed Lasers LP was finally released in March. Although critical response was mixed, it spawned the double-platinum, Modest Mouse-sampling single "The Show Goes On," proving Lupe can still make new mainstream fans. With the label drama behind him (for now), he's working on the sequel to his debut album, Food & Liquor II. By the looks of recent YouTube footage, he's gunning for rap's titans, hoping to claim the spot his fanbase says is rightfully his. Check out this video (fast-forward to 4:22) where Lupe freestyles and has choice words for Lil Wayne, Drake, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Wale: Will Wale ever become a superstar? He's not there, but it isn't for lack of trying. He's managed by Jay-Z's Roc Nation team, had a recent smash hit with Waka Flocka Flame's "No Hands" and most interestingly, aligned himself with Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group, a hip-hop clique on the come-up. Yet there's a disconnect between how highly Wale thinks of himself (no fault there — rappers need that confidence) and the quality of his music. He'll tell you his Maybach signing was a powermove — and with Rick Ross' clout, it was — but it's also clouded his persona. Is Wale the thoughtful dude from "Diary"? Is he the blunted rapper tossing singles at King of Diamonds? Can he be both? His next album, Ambition, comes out Nov. 1 and he's been releasing behind-the-scenes videos from the recording process. (Check out the latest below.) He knows a lot is riding on his sophomore disc, and it could be the album that catapults him to the upper-echelon of hip-hop or solidifies his place as a background role-player. My only advice to Wale: don't put a picture of a Grammy on the cover.
Mobb Deep: The P is free, and has been since March 7. Prodigy was locked up for three years on a gun-possession charge, but since his release, the one-half of Mobb Deep has released an EP and a memoir. As gifted as Prodigy is as a rapper and storyteller, he's best with his Mobb partner Havoc. This recent interview with Havoc should excite fans, as the producer-rapper says he's saving his best beats for the next Mobb Deep album. Rap has shifted away from the gritty realism Mobb Deep chillingly perfected on its early records, so the time could just be right to bring some balance back to the game. The duo's recent Rock the Bells run, coupled with this short tour, could be the spark Mobb Deep needs creatively. (Update: One more reason to go? Baltimore's Bossman says he's performing, too.)