Have you been sleeping on some of the soon to be big names in music and entertainment for the past six months? Between the top of this year and last, scores of new talent has been bubbling up on the airwaves and the deep web.
Maybe you haven’t given much thought about some of the streaming service discover mechanisms (shout out to Spotify, Tidal and SoundCloud), but your potential next favorite artist has been slowly stirring beneath the radar.
Need to know where to start? Allow us to catch you up on who’s going to be NEXT.
Standout Project: AURA II EP
Excerpt: Right now he’s on a wave with his newest release, a sexy assemblage of moods strung together by thudding 808s and high hats, warped organs and hollowed reverb, and he doesn’t plan on taking a toe off the board while he’s riding it.“At this point, it’s just catering to what people love from me.” Right now, people love the consistency of his singing voice, as evidenced by the nearly two million SoundCloud streams amassed by AURA II’s predecessor. His voice, a polished confection of futuristic hip-hop autotune and the prodding love notes of R&B’s past, is a go-to millennial sound. It’s the same equation that made new voices like Bryson Tiller, 6lack and Tory Lanez hard to turn away from.
It’s the bridge that connects new school kids to old school sounds. He was raised on a singer’s diet of church tunes, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye and The Police, but was also drawn to the diverse hip-hop sounds of Pharrell, T.I., Jay Z, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. That fusion music has now become his hook, line and sinker. “I don’t want to stray away from [this]… I try to refrain from that as much as possible. I know eventually I’m gonna want to switch things up again, but I don’t think right now is the time.” He flirts with the thought of pulling an Usher or Chris Brown and veering into the pop lane down the line, but he assures that at the root of everything, his foundation will always be R&B.
Standout Project: A Gorgeous Fortune EP
Excerpt: With every track connecting to the other—the howls and growls of wolves are deep messages throughout the project—A Gorgeous Fortune is essentially a story of the self, enriched with a keen outlook on love, race and society. With the help of in-house production company, The Invisible Firm, the visuals tell larger story of brotherhood, lust and political challenges African Americans face. The audio narrative starts with the free-wielding “Jambo,” where KAMAU transforms into Bo (played by Excell) with the help of a little Animorph magic by video’s end. Bo then finds himself in a battle for the heart of Esha (played by Candace Fong, a familiar face in many of KAMAU’s projects) against his best friend Magua (played by KAMAU’s real life brother and rapper/actor, Nkō Khélí ) in “Jusfayu.” As the dream or premonition would have it, Bo isn’t fighting anyone but himself and his own battle to steer the ship of two-way love. The series continues with “Gaims,” “BooDah” and the dynamic “FoolMoon” before turning to the challenging and emotional “PohLease.”
“It’s like an extremely sudden halt to a character,” KAMAU says of the video. Bo and Magua are harassed by police officers that are more focused on feeding their primitive hunger for black agony than protecting and serving. In the end, Bo meets an unfortunate end that’s [been] seen one too many times by pedestrians live streaming and tweeting police shootings. “That’s happened countless times,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s just going to the store or walking to a car. I wanted to extend it to oppression in general, but in this country right now, very, very, very frequently, African Americans are being killed by people who are supposed to protect us and that’s extremely scary. It’s not a black problem, it’s a human problem. Humanity should not feel some type of aversion to admitting it is a human problem that happens to a specific target consistently. It’s a problem, that concerns black lives.”
Ravyn LenaeRavyn Lenae
Standout Project: Midnight Moonlight EP
Excerpt: Just the same, her passion for patterns rolls over into her musical style, which she trademarks as “dream-scape.” “I don’t like the tag R&B,” she declares. “I think [my music] is beyond that; it’s more cosmic.” Although it’s unlikely to catch Ravyn sporting a galactic-themed ensemble, constellations may be her favorite pattern. After all, the singer has a fascination with the night sky. More specifically, she is captivated by the moon. “I have an obsession,” she admits. “I feel like the moon is a very beautiful woman. She’s in control. I feel like I’m [her] sometimes.” As she attempts to form clear sentences to explain her deep connection, she suddenly remembers a mission she and the rest of her band and crew have on their next tour stop in Canada. “We’re actually going to Toronto, and we were all going to get a tattoo,” she says as she turns to her iPhone for her tattoo sketch. After a couple of seconds of fishing through her media library, she finds what she’s been looking for. It’s a black and white sketch of a crescent moon incorporated with the bottom half of a woman’s face. “But a black girl,” she chuckles, suggesting the artist will have to alter the skin complexion and make her nose a little “fatter.” Soon, Ravyn will be inked with Earth’s favorite pendant, but in the meantime, she has integrated it into her musical projects.
Her latest EP, Midnight Moonlight, the follow up to her debut project, Moon Shoes, drops only hours after her New York show. Just casually conversing with her DJ during soundcheck, Ravyn comes to the realization that the name of her EP might have been drawn from a “cute little saying” she learned in choir practice when she was a sophomore in high school. But delving even deeper into the reason behind the album title, she reminisces on the feeling she had while recording it. “The name [Midnight Moonlight] stems from me listening to the songs. It was always 1 a.m. or 2 a.m, and I was like wow, this music feels like midnight, sitting under the moon,” she remembers. “So I was thinking that it was kind of cool to put those together. And I’m still flowing with the moon thing.”
Standout Project: Debut album, blkswn
Excerpt: Similarly to how he digests his own music, Smino fans have the same musical appetite. It takes a lot to get down to the nitty-gritty of what Smi spelled out for listeners on blkswn. The ears of lazy listeners are challenged from the first second of the album to the very last, with all dead space and wasted words nixed from the final product. “I try to keep it that every second of the song is interesting,” he says, reflecting on how he strung together the 18-track project. In addition to that, one of Smino’s most noticeable and most intriguing attributes is his thick St. Louis twang, stretching vowels and clipping words and phrases basted in Southern flavor. Paired with his penchant for riddles, stacked metaphors and run-it-back plays on words, it makes for a difficult, yet rewarding musical experience when it comes to decoding his discography.
While his lyrics are akin to the standard rapper material his contemporaries are also putting out, the difference is in the packaging. “Good riddance/Shawty she be comin off the top like some good writtens/Pulpittin,’ Every time I speak, where the deacons?/Need a good witness,” he raps charismatically through the bass lines of “Father Son Holy Smoke.” A clear understudy of Twista and Eminem, he can shoot out rapid-fire, tongue-twister couplets when he wants to. “I’m from the Lou, Gimme Da Loot, All of my n***as shoot/Pocket on Winne the Pooh, I’m feelin’ my juice, she feelin’ it too/I’m in a league of my own, nobody putting me on,” he spits on “B Role.”
Michaela CoelMichaela Coel
Standout Project: Season 2 of Netflix show, Chewing Gum
Excerpt: “[Tracey is] a black, dark-skinned woman, who is just being free and crazy, and she’s vulnerable, and she’s funny, and she’s cute, she’s endearing and she’s messed up,” Coel says. According to her, there is a need for more “nearly invisible” black characters on television who represent the imperfect woman and their navigation through life.“I don’t see it on TV enough, and that’s why I made the character,” she continues. “If I wasn’t black, I would have wrote that part for a black person and cast someone else. I want people to watch it and to feel liberated and do whatever they want.”
Black female creatives like Coel, The Chi’s creator Lena Waithe and Coel’s close friend, Insecure’s “super dope” Issa Rae, have gone over massive hurdles to create television shows and films featuring characters who are relatable to one of television’s most important demographics. However, Coel says the entertainment industry itself still couldn’t be further from the finish line when it comes to inclusion and acceptance.
“Being a dark-skinned woman right now is interesting. It is really, really interesting,” she says as her brows furrow and the energetic tone in her voice shifts to something more serious. “At awards shows, you win an award, right? And you get your gift bag, and it’s like M.A.C makeup or something, and it’s all for white people. You get tanning lotion, white people’s foundation, and it’s just a constant reminder that I can come to this party, but it’s not my party. I’ve been allowed in. This is not my home, and I don’t really have a real space here.”
Big Wins This Year: Debut studio album, Nü Religion: Hyena
Excerpt: Drew’s melting pot of Go-go, R&B and pop influences combined with Dante’s fusion of punk rock, 80’s R&B and soul doesn’t exactly sound like a platinum record in the making. In fact, the duo joked that their respective music scenes and influences don’t mesh at all. But even so, the two have been able to create cohesive bodies of work, starting with their EP Nu Religion. “We have such diverse influences and to be able to take them and cohesively put it into a song and combine it with new age R&B and 808s from the trap world, that’s one of the things we’re able to do really well,” Drew says.
Their three-track EP, which came as a pleasant surprise in 2015, was a beautiful and raw blend of Dante’s rock and Drew’s pop. Although it was just a quick teaser, the project represented the new era and direction of the R&B genre. “I remember back when I was growing up, R&B was Jaheim; it had to be slow. But now the context of what R&B is [has] expanded,” Dante notes. As a result, they say, the doors opened up to variations of the category like Bryson Tiller’s “trap soul” and their own, which they peg as “grunge n’ b.” But where does that leave the state of R&B? Both agree the once-definitive lines have been blurred, which could be considered a gift and a curse. On the positive end, Drew says the new age gives “real creatives and musicians a chance to be different.” On the other end, it welcomes the “five-minute” artists—ones who take only five minutes to create a record and then label it a “fire” track. THEY. value the craft and wish to continue to focus on the foundations that R&B undoubtedly builds upon, one of which being its melody. “Melody is winning right now, and I think that me and Dante [are] probably some of the best people in the game as far as melody is concerned” Drew says. “We respect it and have always respected it. That’s our first and foremost priority,” Dante adds.