50 Cent, Kanye Lead Fall Album Rush — Mariah, Chris Brown, Lupe Fiasco, Alicia Keys Follow

LPs from Nelly, Carrie Underwood, Chamillionaire, Foo Fighters, Eve, Cassidy, Will.I.Am also on the way.

Opening the fall album-release season with discs by 50 Cent and Kanye West is kind of like kicking off your show with the encore. You could stick around for the rest of the gig, but what’s the point?

Luckily, after the dust clears from the September 11 showdown between the rap heavyweights, the next few months will bring plenty more fresh tunes worth checking out from fellow rappers (Eve, Chamillionaire, Ja Rule, Rick Ross, Nelly and Lupe Fiasco); R&B divas (Mariah Carey, Nicole Scherzinger, Mya and Jennifer Hudson); rock bands (Foo Fighters, Coheed and Cambria, Hot Hot Heat and Avenged Sevenfold); and smooth singers (Chris Brown, Mario, KT Tunstall and James Blunt).

Who will raise their “Umbrella” this fall and have the back-to-school jam that rivals Rihanna’s unstoppable summer hit? We’re not sure (though we suspect we know what Kanye’s answer would be), so we’ve laid out the contenders for you. (These release dates and album details are based on MTV News reporting — information supplied by labels is subject to change, of course.)

September 11

Heavyweights: When the first two singles from 50 Cent‘s twice-delayed Curtis album didn’t catch fire, he went back to the lab and cooked up eight new tracks. With collabos featuring Justin Timberlake, Akon, Mary J. Blige, Robin Thicke, Will.I.Am, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz and Kanye West, 50 says the new album will be a break from his usual G-Unit posse tracks. As for Kanye, he’s not worried about taking on 50 with Graduation, which boasts guest spots from T-Pain and Coldplay‘s Chris Martin. How sure is he? “I’m ready to take over the world once again,” he humbly told MTV News.

Middleweights: Twitchy rockers Hot Hot Heat will return with their third album, Happiness Ltd. The album features production by Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne) and Rob Cavallo (Green Day), and a sound singer Steve Bays has described in a statement as “big” and “aggressive.”

September 18

Heavyweights: It’s been five years since we last got an album from Eve, but the former Ruff Ryder has come back hard with the booty-shaking “Tambourine,” from Here I Am. Her first effort for Dr. Dre‘s Aftermath label features assists from Sean Paul, T.I. and the man who’s turning into the R&B Weezy, Robin Thicke. James Blunt gave up on trying to match the success of his debut, Back to Bedlam, on his follow-up, All the Lost Souls. Instead, he recorded a ” ’70s rock album,” he told MTV News. Mixtape messiah Chamillionaire isn’t worried about a slump with his new album Ultimate Victory. The hot Houston MC gets topical on “Hip Hop Police,” a metaphor for attacks on rap, and he recruited Kelis, Snoop and Busta Rhymes for the two-part single “Not a Criminal.” Nelly is prepping his first album in three years, Brass Knuckles, though at press time information on it was scarce.

Middleweights: We were talking about Mya‘s album, Liberation, last fall. Now, the highly personal disc with contributions from Lil Wayne, Game and Scott Storch is finally set for release. And Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall has something Drastic Fantastic for everyone who loved her moody pop 2004 debut, Eye to the Telescope, which sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.

Contenders: Keyshia Cole‘s Just Like You, New Found Glory‘s From the Screen to Your Stereo Part 2, hot R&B singer Kevin Michael‘s self-titled debut, Eddie Vedder‘s “Into the Wild” soundtrack and Twista‘s Adrenaline Rush 2007.

September 25

Heavyweights: Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl would seem to be poking fun at emo rockers on “Cheer Up Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running),” from the band’s sixth album, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. But that’s not the case, he told MTV News — the title is really there to break up an otherwise heavy couple of tunes that precede it on an album that Grohl said mixes a lighter touch with more serious lyrics. And though it sounds like a party disc, Black Eyed Peas rapper/producer Will.I.Am‘s Songs About Girls is actually a kind of concept album about a harsh breakup and includes songs like “I Got It From My Mamma” and “I’m a Heart Breaker.”

Middleweights: MIA hero Rick Rosswho earned an honorable mention on our Hottest MCs in the Game list — has packed even more hip-hop heavyweights onto his second LP, Trilla, including Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, Lil Jon and more.

Contenders: The second, yet-untitled album from San Diego rockers Louis XIV and PJ Harvey‘s White Chalk.

October 2

Heavyweights: A lot has happened to Cassidy since we last heard from the Philly MC, who spent a year in jail and suffered serious injuries in a 2006 car accident. But he’s back with his third album, The Barry Adrien Reese Story (B.A.R.S.), which has production from Scott Storch, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Cool & Dre. Guests include Angie Stone, Eve and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Contenders: Latin rapper Baby Bash‘s Cyclone and Boyz N Da Hood‘s Back Up N Da Chevy.

October 9

Heavyweights: It’s been four years since we last heard from Kid Rock, who has practically abandoned his hip-hop swagger on Rock & Roll Jesus. The album leans on hard-rockers like the first single, “So Hot,” and includes a country tune with a dis aimed at ex-wife Pam Anderson. Speaking of long layoffs, Mario has been ready to Go! for a while now. So, after numerous delays, the singer’s new album, with production and songwriting from Timbaland, the Neptunes, Akon, Sean Garrett and Dre & Vidal, is ready to drop, although it’s not known yet whether it will feature the tune “Do Right,” a personal account of the singer’s childhood in Baltimore.

Middleweights: How can you count out a man like rapper David Banner when he calls his new album The Greatest Story Ever Told? ‘Nuff said.

October 16

Heavyweights: It’s not like Avenged Sevenfold are not gonna say their new album is their heaviest effort yet. Singer M. Shadows described the self-produced follow-up to City of Evil as “the most down-to-the-bone” album they could make, with “no glitz or glamour.”

Middleweights: Lead Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger busts a solo move with Her Name Is Nicole, which features guests T.I., Timbaland and Will.I.Am.

Contenders: Hurricane Chris51/50, the rapper’s major-label debut; the yet-untitled debut from the Naked Brothers Band; and R.E.M. Live.

October 23

Heavyweights: One of the biggest stars to emerge from “American Idol,” country singer Carrie Underwood, will release her second album even though her 2005 debut, Some Hearts, continues to spin off hits. The yet-untitled sophomore effort was produced by Mark Bright, who handled seven tracks on Hearts, and will feature songs co-written by Underwood.

Middleweights: System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian drops his debut solo album, Elect the Dead, which he promises will be full of the hard rock you’d expect, but also … something different. “There are a lot of instruments — there are layers of pianos and strings and weird synth stuff. There’s a lot of guitars and lots of different affected guitars, heavy guitars — way too many guitar tracks. It’s just a different vibe,” he told MTV News. Prog-tastic rockers Coheed and Cambria will unleash their fourth album, No World for Tomorrow — which features drumming from Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, who stepped in for departed drummer Joshua Eppard. As promised, the album wraps up the story of the Armory Wars, for those of you keeping score.

Contenders: Yet-untitled albums from Erykah Badu and Ashanti.

October 30

Heavyweights: R&B singer Chris Brown serves up album number two with Exclusive, a more mature effort that will feature songs produced by Pharrell, Will.I.Am and Bryan-Michael Cox. Also returning for his sophomore year is skateboarding rapper Lupe Fiasco with The Cool. He’s hoping to avoid the pre-release leak that dogged his debut by keeping information about the album tightly secured until just weeks before its release.

Middleweights: Birdman is tentatively slated to drop Five Star Stunna, which will contain the recently leaked track “Pop Bottles,” as well as other spots from his son, Lil Wayne.

Contenders: Lil Mama‘s Voice of the Young People and the first, yet-untitled album from the now-four-member Backstreet Boys.

November 6

Heavyweights: Though she’s talked about jonesing to work with the White Stripes, Alicia Keys has to be content with John Mayer and Linda Perry collabos on her more rock- and funk-oriented third album, As I Am.

Middleweights: Wyclef Jean comes in from the cold with The Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant, with cameos from T.I., Chamillionaire, Paul Simon, Akon and Mary J. Blige. A yet-untitled greatest-hits album from Nas is also on the schedule.

November 13

Heavyweights: It’s been a tough couple of years for Ja Rule, but on his first album in three years, The Mirror, Ja took his time and came up with tracks like the Lil Wayne duet “Uh Oh,” which has already heated things up. And for their first album since the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and first since 2001, the Wu-Tang Clan are drawing up 8 Diagrams. The album features an ODB tribute, “Life Changes,” along with cameos from System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian and Q-Tip.

November 20

Heavyweights: They don’t get any bigger than Mariah Carey, and while details on her yet-untitled follow-up to the career-reviving The Emancipation of Mimi album are scarce, she recently told fans via a voicemail on her Web site that she’s got 10 songs in the bag and is planning to work with old pal Jermaine Dupri.

November to-be-announced: Yet-untitled albums by Jennifer Hudson, Spice Girls (greatest hits), Daft Punk (live), Mary J. Blige, Slim Thug, Gnarls Barkley and Sean Paul.

While we don’t have any confirmed dates or titles yet — except for the HivesBlack and White Album — the end of the year could also bring long-awaited albums from the likes of Courtney Love, Radiohead, Duran Duran and JC Chasez, as well as new ones from Angels & Airwaves, the Mars Volta, Murphy Lee, Kem and Beanie Sigel. There might also be a Cash Money compilation, a Q-Tip live album, the latest LL Cool J joint and a fresh Missy Elliott effort. And, don’t hold your breath, but the long-gestating efforts from Britney Spears and Michael Jackson might even leave dry dock, though we wouldn’t put any cash on it.

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