This will be an important year for Top Dawg Entertainment.
It’s not just the label’s tenth anniversary, but also one that follows an impressive run. Last year, Jay Rock dropped the critically acclaimed 90059 and Kendrick Lamar earned an extraordinary 11 Grammy nominations for To Pimp A Butterfly (that's one nomination short of Michael Jackson's all-time record). But TDE isn’t just looking back on a phenomenal 2015; they’re also pushing forward in a major way.
"This year was a great year, but 2016 is going to be an amazing year,” TDE President Dave Free told MTV News. "We’ve got a lot more music coming."
Free says 2016 reminds him of 2013 in that regard. Why? In 2012, Kendrick was the only TDE artist to drop a project with good kid, m.A.A.d. city. The following year, however, TDE opened the flood gates with projects by Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad and SZA. And similar things seem to be brewing once again.
"A lot of artists didn’t come out in 2015,” Free said. "By the time we come back around on this next go? Oh my goodness. It’s gonna crazy. We’re gonna have everybody hittin'. That’s what's gonna be sick. That’s what’s gonna be fun. That’s what I’m excited about."
There’s a lot for fans to get hyped about, too, as the TDE roster seems fully loaded for the next 12 months.
“I'm excited for people to hear the new SZA album,” Free said. "I’m stupid excited for y’all to hear the Isaiah Rashad album. I’m stupid excited for y’all to hear the new Ab-Soul. I’m so excited for y’all to hear Q’s album. Oh my God. These are songs I’ve been living with. I already know what it’s gonna do."
Fans can expect growth from these projects too, according to Free, who attributes a lot of that to the crew’s chemistry and dedication to quality.
"Forget everybody on the outside,” he said. "Within our camp, we challenge each other. We push each other to get to the next level. Nobody’s gonna sit there and hold their tongue and let nobody walk out the house with dirt on their face. We’re gonna tell you, ‘You got a bugger on your nose. You know that, right?’ Ain’t nobody gonna half-step. Everybody’s gonna bring that sh-t. That’s the tight part...We’re pushing each other."
Of course, a conversation about TDE's 2016 wouldn't be complete without mentioning Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole's much-discussed and highly anticipated collaborative project.
Back in 2013, you might recall, J. Cole told MTV News that they "already got too many songs" and that at least a joint EP was “coming." K. Dizzle was just as optimistic. While we never received that offering, we did get another update last year when Kendrick said he “still would love to do” the project.
Then, Cole and Dot unleashed “Black Friday” freestyles on Thanksgiving, in which each MC recreated a cut by the other. That fueled excitement for the project and talks that it'd drop in 2016, so MTV News asked Free about the likelihood of the joint album dropping this year.
"Anything’s a possibility,” he said. "Everything’s a possibility, but I’ma say this, too: Kendrick and Cole are in a place in their careers and in their lives where they have to keep going. Of course they’re two of the biggest rappers out, but they still have to keep grinding. There’s so much work that they have to continue to do.
"A joint album does sound great, but people need to understand, these are two geniuses," he continued. "These are two creative guys. It takes a long time for one of them to get in a space to create a song, so to get two of them in a space to do that, it takes a lot of time and energy. It all has to be a singular project, but it just can’t happen overnight."
Fans have been pleading about this collab for years. Free's heard the constant talk surrounding the potential album, but he says timing is a crucial element here.
"Sometimes, fans feel like people can create songs so quickly,” he said. "Yeah, some people can, but you have to do it when it’s right, when the timing is right. Sometimes, that’s not when the fans want it; it’s when the fans need it. So, if the fans need it, it’ll happen. But right now, the only thing I can speak for is TDE and what we’ve got."
Clearly, what they've got is a line-up of projects ready to be unleashed. While SZA, Soul, Isaiah and Q gear up drop their new material, one has to wonder if Kendrick's also plotting a follow-up to TPAB. And yes, he is, though it's unclear when that will drop.
"It’s hard to say right now," Free explained. "Kendrick’s always working. He’s never not working. He’s always thinking of the next idea, writing down ideas or mumbling sh-t to himself...It’s too early to say right now, but just know that Kendrick is always working."
That's the same type of attitude that Top Dawg Entertainment is taking into 2016. It's the same message the label conveyed late last year with a video that celebrated K. Dot's 11 Grammy nominations. It was titled "Hard Work." It's because the label's focused on more than just one year or one artist or one album, according to Free. They've got much more in their sights.
"That’s what excites me," Free said. "We had a great year. We did some great things. But guess what? We gotta do it again. Jay Z, Nas, Beyoncè -- all the greats -- they still work to this day and we ain't put in half the work, we ain’t even put in 25 percent of what they put in, so until everybody’s sitting up with big-ass houses, crazy cars and families taken care of with whatever they want, I’m not satisfied and Top’s not satisfied."