In these traditionally fallow first months of the year, with events (understandably) being dominated by tragedy (Haiti) and triumph (Tiger Woods), we at least have a touch of breathing space in which to look forward to “Reasons for Renaissance in 2010.” Last Thursday, I went to an intimate live show at the historic Jazz Café, London. There on stage was a “rookie” in the rap game, Jay Electronica (dude’s actually like 34 or something). His two performances there last week may already have been written into hip hop folklore – expect a review of the live show next week – and the renewed positive energy that flowed through the crowds veins made me think about what other artists might lend a firm helping hand to this beloved genre of ours in 2010.

At the end of my “Blueprint 3” review, disappointment and dejection set in as I called upon all of us to usher in the winds of change, and let the relative newcomers establish themselves. That doesn’t mean take Jay-Z behind the shed and put him down. No, it simply means we should SUPPORT the genuinely talented artists trying to breakthrough. That also means for you, dear Reader, to put your money where your mouth is and actually purchase albums that you really like, legally. A lot of people download albums on the sly, but – in my eyes – the real crime isn’t downloading it, realising it is shit, then let it linger/dump in recycle bin. In my humble opinion, the true “law” being broken is: if you download an album illegally, listen to it all the time and absolutely love it, yet STILL don’t buy it! Not cool. You have to have some sort of moral code, otherwise the system collapses. Last year, one of my good friends bemoaned the fact that hardly anyone had bought her album. I told her yes, that is a real shame, but that she constantly downloaded albums illegally and never purchased them. That’s called “hypocrisy.” Hey, you could even call it “karma.”

Every few years, major events pump adrenaline into the rap game, and there is a rebirth of sorts. The last few months of 2009 have actually set up this year very nicely. There was Raekwon and co, Kid Cudi, Slaughterhouse and Wale, to mention but a few. Their success levels varied wildly, sure. However, there is SOMETHING in the air right now. Without further ado – and in no particular order – let’s have a look at the movers and shakers hoping to make a splash in 2010…

JAY ELECTRONICA. If there was one single act that has got the potential to hype heads more than anyone since Nas blew, it could well be Jay Electronica. Everything he does seems so different from the rest, yet wildly familiar. His flow is truly impeccable; the wordplay borders on genius; his voice is perfect, as is his subject matter. Plus I don’t think I’ve ever heard him spit on a wack beat, so that helps a lot. Whilst he is not really an official “rookie” – potentially releasing your debut LP at the age of 34 is strange but awesome too – the word is now spreading like wildfire. His “Exhibit C” single was just made available for official download, and tore shit up on the charts. Don’t forget, before that he hadn’t released a single thing legally. But if anyone is going to drop a classic this year, a lot of people in the know think it could be him.

DRAKE. The Canadian former TV star turned rapper has built more buzz than any other newcomer in recent history, so for that alone he deserves props. His impressive and historic “So Far Gone” mixtape did well (understatement of the year) but also established him as something a bit different. To be honest, I still find the majority of his characteristics annoying. His melodies are pure gold, but he almost over-annunciates his raps to us as if speaking to morons. He’s doing too many media-trained, play-it-safe, goofy-smile interviews. However, that could all change within 70 minutes if “Thank Me Later” ends up being brilliant. Plus I kind of liked it at the Grammys – he looked to his left, seeing Lil Wayne and Eminem, and started bugging OUT! It was endearing, because it showed that he does seem to care. Let’s hope it’s not all just an act.

J.COLE. The only young guest out of himself, Drake and Kid Cudi to actually get a verse on “Blueprint 3” and my, oh my, what a verse (“A Star is Born”). He can sound a little shouty at times, but his lyrics and flow have the potential to be breathtaking. He also seems to rip any type of track he’s on, and, in a vaguely similar style to a lucid Lil Wayne, he occasionally seems to veer off track but always ends up winning out. Doing wondrous things as a guest MC is, however, very different to carrying your own LP, so perhaps this year may be too soon to expect an official release, let’s see. But he has the power of Jay-Z directly behind him, so if Jigga decides to live out his ’94 Nas fantasies vicariously, we could be gifted with a very hot album.

KANYE WEST. He’s on the down low right now, but we can safely assume that it’s just the calm before the storm. Expect Kanye to come back HARD this year, taking no prisoners. The Taylor Swift thing was a bum move, but it may have been a blessing in disguise. His last two albums have disappointed me: whilst the first half of “Graduation” was hot, the rest was somewhat mixed; then “808s” was a hugely promising idea that just, unfortunately, seemed a bit too rushed. He should be focussed and battle ready, hopefully armed with top quality production and the kind of verses he guest spat in 2009. I’d also love it, ironically, if HE didn’t hype up his own music too much, and just let the quality speak for itself. But that probably won’t happen.

LUPE FIASCO. Bizarrely enough, a lot of people seem to have completely forgotten about LF (bloody hell, you take a break for two years and it’s almost like you don’t exist). This site is clearly big fan of Lupe. His “LASERS” LP will hopefully hit stores in the next few months, and live up to the promise of his stellar first two albums and a recent mixtape. Lupe has it all, in abundance, and expect it to be STRONG. One of my esteemed friends, however, made a perceptive point about Fiasco. I find myself absolutely rinsing his albums for months immediately after their release, but rarely returning to them. Why? My friend thinks it may be due to a slight lack of long-term emotional resonance, and there may be some truth in that. Interesting, no?

KID CUDI. This guy absolutely smacked it with his debut, and it’s wonderful to realise that he was pretty much a polished product by the time he was presented to Kanye. I can believe that, as Cudi’s influence on “808s” is self-evident now. His follow up should wicked, simply because I believe the Kid to be a near-unique artist in this genre and he knows the important of stellar production. His star is rising, and if he can step his rapping up a gear a two, he could start to become a major threat – pretty much everything else is in place, and he has a mean left cross, too.

NAS. Huh? Why is Nas here? Well, if there’s one thing you should know about Nasir Jones, it’s that you should never ever write him off. Last year, due to a messy separation with Kelis (which, by all accounts Nas really screwed up in), he missed out on OB4CL2. If that wasn’t bad enough, he then missed out on New Yooooork, the concrete jungle where dreams are maaaaaade of… But this year, “Distant Relatives” is definitely being released – a collabo LP with Damian Marley that appears to be promising and not too sanctimonious. Expect him to also feature on Jay Electronica’s work, and probably release his first solo album in his third decade of recording. (Just don’t expect 100% hot beats).

BIG SEAN. Being associated with GOOD music, Kanye West’s label, is pretty much all you need to know for now. With a debut lined up (“Finally Famous”) and, you know, being on Kanye West’s label, there isn’t too much that could royally fuck up Big Sean’s road to riches. He’s young, brash, flash and stylish, and – at the very least – he’s on Kanye West’s label.

COOL KIDS. When I proclaimed them ones to watch a few years back, I thought they’d hurry up and release something. However, they’ve taken their sweet time perfecting their craft – hey, they were well young when “Black Mags” was released, anyway so this is perhaps a good thing. Whether the Cool Kids debut album will be the original iteration of “When Fish Ride Bicycles” or not remains to be seen – ideas frequently go stale and undergo reincarnation. But think back to “The Bake Sale” and get hyped. Now would be the PERFECT time for them to drop something big.

THE GAME. Huh? Why is The Game here? Well, dear Reader, I have a hunch. If you look at The Game’s record, it’s actually not so bad. First album, a commercial classic, if still rather raw/name-droppy. Second album was DAMN good, earning him rispetto. Third was distinctly average. However, chuck in a dope fourth and his batting stats look mighty fine. “The R.E.D. Album” is coming. So why the hunch? Well, the album is complete, apparently, and then Aftermath and Dr. Dre came calling. Call me crazy but that MUST mean the album is: a) Critically acclaimed, and b) Commercially viable. Ok, more b) than a) but still. Expect a lot more from “R.E.D.” than “Before I Self Destruct” (snigger snigger).

BIG BOI. Also know as “Sir Luscious Left Foot.” This is an album that fully deserves the “eagerly-awaited” moniker, and I’m 99% certain it will be fantastic, if the leaks are anything to go by. Is it fair to call Big Boi a “legend” without mentioning Andre 3000? Maybe, maybe not. At this point, Outkast look sadly defunct, so we’ll gladly take what we’re given from one focussed member. But rest assured, BB will bring the heat with (mouthful) “Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty.”

SEQUELS. No, not a new rapper called Sequels (though that name would be sorta dope). Following Raekwon’s wildly successful sequel to OB4CL, expect a WHOLE BUNCH of other motherfuckers to do exactly the same thing. Seriously. Over the last few months, a depressing bunch of rappers have jumped on the bandwagon, but HEY it could all work out just fine!! Much of this is conjecture, but I mean, “Relapse 2” should come out (that doesn’t really count); Capone & Noreaga are finishing up “The War Report II”; KRS One and DJ Premier are making “Return of the Boom Bip” (or something); Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV” once he’s out of jail; I think AZ said he’s “Doe or Die 2” as well. Plus remember last year… You had BP3, OB4CL2, Meth & Red’s “Blackout 2” and serial follower Fat Joe’s preposterous sequel to a sequel, “J.O.S.E. 2.” In other words, expect MC’s in desperate need of a return to the “glory days” to light a fire under they ass and get focussed (this isn’t a bad idea after all). Plus you’ll have awesome treats like the Meth/Ghost/Rae collabo LP “Wu-Massacre” which should be fun, not to mention most of the Slaughterhouse boys releasing solo albums.