Last summer Ryn Weaver teamed up with all-star hitmakers Benny Blanco and Charli XCX for the out-of-nowhere hit “OctaHate.” It’s since racked up nearly 3 million plays on SoundCloud and—along with her short EP, Promises—made Weaver one of the most intriguing prospects in pop. Anyone would have a tremendous head start with Blanco and Charli XCX on their side, sure. But that boost combined with Weaver’s vulnerable songwriting and powerful voice make her pending EP as safe a bet as you can find.
If you thought iLOVEMAKONNEN’s head was spinning when news of Drake remixing “Tuesday” interrupted his psychedelic journey, imagine how he felt when he found out the song was nominated for a Grammy. Already buzzing from a deep SoundCloud catalog including his self-titled EP, the cosign from Drake made iLOVEMAKONNEN one of the most talked about new artists of 2014. As this year begins he already has the hit single, the OVO contract, and the highest of expectations. What will the bubbly ATLien do now that all eyes are on him and Drake has his back? We can’t wait to find out when Drink More Water 5 drops.
Timbaland isn’t going crazy over Chicago-born female MC Tink for no reason; she’s the real deal. With a rabid following in her city that she has cultivated through mixtapes and freestyles, Tink does it all from singing to rapping—with comparable skill at both. It’s not surprising that she would be the perfect foil for the legendary producer (Missy Elliott, anyone?), as she’s a musical chameleon who doesn’t box herself into one type of production or song. She can do aggressive drill music and can flip the script to radio-friendly R&B cuts. Jaded listeners may have thought her show-stealing appearance on Rick Ross’ “Movin Bass” was a fluke, but it is only the beginning for the artist who the world will be talking about very soon.
YouTube is flush with cover sensations, but Niykee Heaton is determined to take her stardom much further. Her acoustic cover of Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa” caught our ears more than two years ago because it was a legitimately beautiful, non-trivializing rendition of the infectious street single. The stark contrast between the Chicago teenagers—one a blonde bombshell in college, and the other a dreadlocked driller whose shirtless torso we’ve seen more than his face—made it all the more interesting. Last September, after years of turning to hip-hop for material, Heaton released her own EP of original work, Bad Intentions. It flirted with the acoustic sound that made her viral but mostly focused on creating a new pop star. Her recent stripped-down single, “Rain Dog,” makes us hope she never puts down the guitar for too long.
Bay Area songstress Kehlani moves to the beat of her own drum, eschewing the normal archetype of a pop singer and doing things her own way. With a unique look and a musical style that is more reminiscent of the early ’90s or 2000s than the current crop of singers, her edgy and star-making Cloud 19 EP is chock full of potential radio hits like “FWU” and “Deserve Better.” Her music has already given her a following, as she has her own fanbase named the “Tsunami Mob,” which is growing to be just as rabid as the #BeyHive as her notoriety increases. With a spot on tour with G-Eazy this year, Kehlani is showing us that she is more than just a pretty face.
Electronic R&B duo AlunaGeorge (Aluna Francis and George Reid) hit the road hard in 2013 after releasing their crisp and sweet debut album, Body Music. Then the two were relatively quiet in 2014, mostly popping up at festivals around the world, until finally revealing what they were up to with “Supernatural.” The new single, which will presumably appear on the follow-up to Body Music, brought a more haunted sound than we’d previously heard from the Londoners. If this is the year we leap into the future promised by Marty McFly’s second adventure, here’s to hoping AlunaGeorge becomes the future-pop band of 2015.
Next up to bat on the never-ending Chicago lineup is Lil Bibby. The 20-year-old East Sider explores some of the same harsh realities as his peers from Chicago’s South Side, but his delivery has been imported from the south side of the country. Bibby has the deep, commanding voice of Slim Thug and the laid-back flow of T.I. It’s only fitting that Free Crack 2 is flush with rappers from below the Mason-Dixon, including Kevin Gates, Juicy J, and Tip himself, as well as some of Chi Town’s finest. Bibby’s level of introspection grew stronger from Free Crack to its sequel, and we expect the growth to continue with his debut EP, The Book.
Kendrick Lamar isn’t the only TDE artist whose next release we’re eagerly anticipating. Isaiah Rashad, Top Dawg’s Chattanooga, Tenn., expat, had himself one of the first memorable releases of 2014 with his Cilvia Demo EP, the strength of which secured him a spot as one of XXL’s Freshmen. Before it dropped Rashad described his debut as a combination of “alternative, black-power shit” and “eclectic-alien shit.” The strange promise—one we could easily imagine coming from his idol Andre 3000—was fulfilled by his hyper-aware and often slick verses. What he forgot to mention was his talent for crafting hooks, another layer of skill that confirms his place on a stacked label.
Don’t bother trying to figure out whether Shamir’s voice sounds more masculine or feminine. That’s not important. The more pressing question is how a 20-year-old from a “cookie-cutter” suburban part of Las Vegas has become so comfortable, so skilled in a form of groovy R&B that makes Northtown sound more like Michael Jackson and Prince than anything else out today. It only took five wild songs to put Shamir on our radar. It shouldn’t take many more before he’s no longer working at Topshop.
When you finally get over their literally backward name, the Mississippi-born duo of Rae Sremmurd are undoubtedly making the best rap/pop music right now. Brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy reform the basic formula of “crunk” music and fit it to a new generation, with songs like “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” trading in the mostly violent representation of that genre for a huge party. Their hedonistic approach to life is shown off on their fun debut album, SremmLife, where they team with Ear Drummers head honcho Mike WiLL Made-It to make an amazingly solid debut album. This is poised to be the year of SremmLife, a carefree approach to music that is already seeing the brothers break through to the mainstream.
The city of Atlanta seemingly brings at least a dozen new acts a year, however 18-year-old Raury is an artist who doesn’t fit any of the genres we have heard from the area. Fitting into a category that is away from the party/trap side of things, he showcases a more soulful side. His critically acclaimed Indigo Child project got the attention of other trailblazing artists such as Kid Cudi, as songs like “Cigarette Song” picked up steam on social media and eventually spread to a wider audience, which has allowed him to take his act across the country on tour with SBTRKT. Raury has a sound all his own, with poignant and deep lyrics and lush, mostly acoustic production, with guitars and piano providing an organic backdrop to his vocals. With some high-profile collaborations with artists such as Lorde under his belt, he (and his signature hat) will make a huge splash this year.
Travi$ Scott is finally looking to step out from behind his legendary support group of T.I. and Kanye West. His critically acclaimed mixtape Days Before Rodeo found itself on a number of year-end lists in 2014, a surefire sign that the stars have aligned for him to break out as a legitimate singles star. He already has a distinct look and an unforgettable live show, but where Travis has stepped things up is his connection to the young generation. Mixing his own progressive and dark production with the likes of Metro Boomin, he has cornered a sound that matches his aggressive persona. With his debut album on the horizon this year, he is taking a giant step toward joining his peers in the spotlight.
This Haitian-born, Montreal-raised DJ and electronic producer has a prolific catalog dating back to just 2010. Louis Kevin Celestin has eight releases under the name Kaytradamas and another six as Kaytranada. He’s shone on his own mixtapes, throwing remixes of tracks from Missy Elliott, Pharrell, and Jill Scott in between his own funky instrumentals. Last year he also collaborated with rapper Louie P, his brother, for the Madvillainy-inspired Supreme Laziness. Whether it’s on tour dates across the world or on more production credits—he’s already linked up with Mobb Deep and Vic Mensa—you’ll be seeing a lot more of Kaytranada this year.
Contrary to the title of his ubiquitous hit single, no one guessed that Atlanta rapper OG Maco would leave the imprint he did last year. The brash and rebellious rapper launched out of nowhere catching the ears of social media on the wave of his outrageous single “U Guessed It.” One wild music video and thousands of Vines later, he has become a star to look out for in 2015. He’s also showing fans that he has other sides, releasing projects like his socially conscious Breathe EP, which sees him going for a more lyrical approach. However, his rambunctious style is front and center on his self-titled project, which will push him to the next level this year.
New York-based duo Lion Babe have quietly taken the underground by storm. Led by producer Lucas Goodman and beautiful songstress Jillian Hervey (daughter of Vanessa Williams), the group’s sultry and sexy music is unlike anything out right now. Hervey’s voice is distinct and unforgettable as she frolics over singles like the popular “Jump Hi” with cat-like grace (no pun intended). Their self-titled EP sees a team that has a load of creativity and chemistry, which bodes well for them as their original style reaches new audiences in 2015.