If there’s one thing that gets most of us through the day, it’s music. Whether we’re scrolling through SoundCloud looking for mood tunes to help alleviate a case of the Mondays, or listening to a mixtape someone has sent our way, not a day goes by without some kind of music playing in our office.
Since our inboxes tend to get inundated with lots of projects from artists interested in coverage, we decided to spotlight some of the names we’ve been hearing about every month.
Take a look at past installments here.
“I’m a Muslim kid from East Atlanta who made a gospel song because anyone can catch these bars,” reads the pinned tweet on Phay’s page. The song in question is “Easy/Faithful,” slated to appear on the rapper’s Mama EP scheduled for release in 2017. “I actually really love gospel music. I even had a gospel choir come through to record that song. They were like 20 deep in my parking lot,” Phay says with a laugh.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, to Palestinian parents, Phay is one of many artists giving voice to a demographic that is making itself increasingly visible in popular culture; they are the first generation children of immigrants. Their parents came to the United States in hopes of securing a better future for their progeny, and their children are emissaries of the dreams of their dreams; they are the ones marked as destined for limitless success. Wherever these children go, the expectation they will validate the difficult decision their parents made to leave behind the familiar for the new and uncertain follows. It can be a crushing cross to bear, but there’s also a nuanced beauty to these experiences – it breeds the sort of everyman story that makes artists like Phay able to cross generational, regional and racial borders. In a time of increased Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia the stories of artists like Phay matter more than ever.
21-year-old Austin Lam is another emerging talent cutting his teeth in Atlanta’s vibrant music scene. A lifelong student of classic R&B, Lam’s sound is informed by his desire to reflect on human interactions and the nature of love. Though young, Lam is anything but new to music. He took up the guitar at six-years-old and was playing in local punk and reggae bands by high school. He also attended The School of Audio Engineering where he learned the skills to produce his own tracks.
Favoring dark, tropical production, Lam’s soulful proclamations on lust, desire and toxic attachments often go hand-in-hand with references to drugs and the pain of solitude. A self-described loner, Lam’s music paints a universally understandable narrative in which prioritizing love over self ends in heartbreak. It’s an emotive and relatable approach that most readily reminds those new to his sound of The Weeknd’s brooding vocals.
In a sea of aspiring pop star hopefuls Bay Area native and singer/songwriter QUIÑ is setting herself apart. Her signature style, heavy dusting of freckles and experimental approach to R&B have already snagged her features with established artists like G-Eazy. QUIÑ was introduced to music early through her father who played the drums and would take her along to jam sessions. She also sang in her Episcopal choir as a child, an experience that helped fine tune her ear for harmonizing and singing with other voices.
QUIÑ’s breathy, soaring vocals often favor upbeat tracks and pop-centered production that place her voice squarely at the center of the action. It’s a huge change for the songstress who told Vibe that she was extremely shy and never wanted people to know that she could sing as a child. Despite her bashfulness QUIÑ looked to songstresses like Keri Hilson, Celine Dion, Brandy and Ciara as role models for her future self, further telling Vibe, “Aaliyah and Ciara were the ones that let me realize that belting your voice doesn’t prove that you can sing, and using falsetto doesn’t mean you can’t sing. I learned this meaning of tone.” Whether she’s singing falsetto or riffing like Beyonce, QUIÑ has found a sweet spot with many. If you’re in Los Angeles and interested in seeing her live she’ll be performing in a showcase at The Mint on January 26.
In the past we described London-based chanteuse Laura Jae as a singer with a “rare talent for infusing soulful, electro-noir tinged vocals with a tangible, almost painful sense of yearning.” For Jae, her music is also her therapy and a chronicle of the good and bad parts of her life. Her most recent offering, “Underwater” is a follow up to 2015’s Single Hearts EP which found favor with publications ranging from the The Guardian to i-D.
When asked about the inspiration behind the track Jae explains that the lyrics were informed by her difficulty communicating at times, stating, “I was feeling overwhelmed with multiple changes in my life. I was having problems communicating in a relationship I was in at the time and felt I was sinking into nothingness with no emotional support. This song represents a search for freedom.”
Her forthcoming EP, Cut Piece, continues in the singer’s confessional tradition and will feature a video directed by designer Christopher Raeburn.
Stockholm-born producer and DJ Gud (formerly Yung Gud) is best known for his part in Yung Lean’s Sad Boy Collective. Still, the 21-year-old’s experimental production style goes far beyond the stereotypes of Internet rap. In fact, during an interview with Thump, the young producer shared that life experiences such as his struggles with substance abuse, his mixed race identity and the many conversations around cultural appropriation the Sad Boy Collective sparked, have led him to a more nuanced soundscape. “I’m stepping out of my own box, as well as stepping out of the physical box that is my computer. It’s all about making the music more physical and less internet.”
“Body Horror” the first track from his forthcoming EP is a reflection of Gud’s inner struggle; it’s also the producer’s first original project in two years. Featuring dizzy synths, malevolent drums and distorted vocals from Swedish alt-pop singer Erik Rapp, the song is a journey into the psyche of a young man with a lot on his mind. It’s certainly far removed from Gud’s first forays into music – he started producing psychedelic trance tracks at the age of 12. Now, with collaborations with artists ranging from Halsey to North Carolina rapper Deniro Farrar, the future is unlimited.
In the past decade rappers have become leading tastemakers in fashion, music and popular culture. Similar to the stereotypes of rockstars, there’s a certain mystique around rappers that makes them seem somehow different than the average person. Perhaps it’s the constant talk of bottle popping and flexing or perhaps it’s the high-flying lifestyle most of us could only dream about having. The wonderful thing about Boston-based Michael Christmas is that he is what can only be described as the everyman of rappers.
His first mixtape, Is This Art, received widespread praise and put the artist on the map as a talent to watch. It wasn’t just the clever wordplay or comedic punchlines that attracted many, rather it was the utter normalcy of Christmas. As an artist, he’s just as likely to rap about riding through the city in a Prius as he is to discuss the pros and cons of microwaving Hot Pockets, or even compare himself to Michael Cera. Christmas is proof that the essence of music and the ability for a musician to relate to their audience is a far more valuable talent than flash.
Melissa Jefferson or Lizzo is a Detroit-born dynamo best known for her alternative approach to hip-hop, unapologetic activism and outspoken stance on body positivity. The burgeoning rapper-turned-singer first gained recognition as the founding member of women-led music collectives like Grrrl Prty and The Chalice; both groups went on to produce albums that were successful in the Minneapolis area where the singer now resides.
In 2014, she released her debut solo album, Lizzobangers, which she followed up with the genre-bending, body celebrating project titled, Big Grrrl Small World in 2015. Between solo projects she also found time to be featured on English electro-classical trio Clean Bandit’s acclaimed debut album, New Eyes. The exposure led national success and a string of television appearances including a performance on The Late Show With David Letterman. In 2016 the rising star debuted a new EP called Coconut Oil. The project was released through Atlantic, marking Lizzo’s first major-label backed release.
North Philly emcee Ryshon Jones has quietly toiled away at his debut album You’re Safe Now for almost two years. The process has involved several false starts, do-overs and probably quite a bit of frustration. Yet for Jones, the pursuit of perfection takes time, focus and absolute honesty. Jones’ interest in music started in childhood when he would often battle rap with his father. He also immersed himself in hardcore hip-hop, citing influences like 50 Cent, Styles P and Jadakiss. As the years passed, he became more interested in emcees like Common and Lupe Fiasco who were known for their conscious approach to music.
Jones’ own sound reflects his later influences, chronicling everything from the pain of familial tension to failed relationships and depression. In an interview with Stereogum Jones described the core ethos of his music and upcoming album as being “inspired by the feeling of allowing yourself to get lost to get in touch with your inner world, and learning the cycle of the ups and downs most of us face but never tell anyone.” It’s an honest and raw departure from the posturing and machismo often associated with hip-hop acts.
Bed Stuy native Radamiz is an emerging emcee whose respect of classic hip-hop comes through in music that is often marked by understated beats and lean production. For the rapper who once moonlighted as an employee at Opening Ceremony, lyrics are where his power lies. His latest album, Writeous, runs the gamut on the emotional spectrum, offering a glimpse into the mind of an artist still finding his definitive voice.
Radamiz describes his music as a talent borne from the pursuit of truth and a desire to reflect reality. “I’m just an NY kid in his 20s that realized that if you’re not being 100 percent real with yourself, in every way, then your music will never be felt. Everything I do, everything I write, I stand behind it. I’m here to kick that uncomfortably real shit and just stand for something. My music sounds like someone who gives a fuck. My music is about believing in yourself no matter who is projecting darkness on you. My music is about being the illest mothafucka alive. The truer I’ve been with my point of view, the bigger my career has been becoming, so I’m putting my trust in that. My trust is in God, and a hope that the authentic is always in style,” he tells Highsnobiety.
Hailing from Brooklyn by way of Jamaica and Saint Lucia, Duck Down Records signee Chelsea Reject brings her brand of odd to hip-hop in the best way possible. During an interview with OkayPlayer, Chelsea was quick to explain that in her world being a “reject” was a good thing. “Reject’ means to reject the idea of being someone you’re not. To “reject” trends and trying to fit in, you “accept” yourself for who you are. It took me a while to realize that I had to accept myself and really grow with the gifts I’ve been given. My goal is not to be praised, but to inspire people to follow their dreams no matter what their circumstances may be,” she said.
This point of view undoubtedly ties into her background; she began as a writer of spoken word poetry. In high school she transitioned into writing rap lyrics after befriending AK of Flatbush hip-hop collective The Underachievers. To this day, Chelsea’s often insular and ironic lyricism remains rooted in poetry, giving her music a moving and emotive quality that is utterly captivating. Her sound follows in the same tradition as poetic lyricists like Saba and Noname who have enjoyed widespread success in the past year. Chelsea, who was recently featured on a track with Saba, Phoelix and Noname, seems to be up next.
If you’re looking for even more new music in 2017, take a look at our list of artists on the brink.