The temperature is rising, the trees are blooming, but the eternal question remains: What are you putting on your summer playlist? We're not sure about you, but our trusty, beloved streaming accounts both need and deserve a thorough dusting at least once a year. (Yes, that means you should probably give Drake's "Toosie Slide" a break for now.)
Luckily, the rapidly warming months mark a time of discovery and trying new things, which applies to the music you're sending to your brain every day under normal circumstances — especially so now that we're all physically unable to go anywhere. How else are you to fuel those long nights of anxious spiraling and pining-for-the-sunlight through your bedroom window without getting bored? (And for those of you without a window in your bedroom, the situation may be all the more dire.) In all seriousness though, nostalgia and familiarity — which have unsurprisingly emerged as the reigning quarantine medicines-of-choice — may be a comforting blanket, but new blood will keep the stale from settling in.
That's why we've compiled a comprehensive list of the 18 most essential emerging artists to know and fall in love with right now. From the early-aughts-inspired R&B of Denmark's Erika De Casier and the aggro-raps of California's Hook, to the bright indie rock of Columbus, OH band Snarls, they're keeping us excited for what's next. All of that, and more, to rapaciously unearth below.
D.C. native Baby Rose, who released her debut album, To Myself, in 2019, already boasts co-signs from SZA, Kehlani, and J. Cole. She's been on tour with Ari Lennox, and even has her own Tiny Desk Concert. Yet, what those accomplishments still can't prepare one for, is the wonder that is her voice. Low, weathered, and unbelievably emotive, Rose's voice feels impossible to grasp. On her songs, like mid-album cut "In Your Arms," it rumbles like a cleansing thunderstorm. When she sings "In your arms, where I belong, you're all I want," it's devastating. She cites Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan as inspirations; it's not hard to imagine that in the future she'll make a just-as-formidable addition to that canon. —Steffanee Wang
Stumbling upon Sorry's music feels a bit like gaining access to a secret club. The London indie rock quartet have been making music together since 2014, though they gained traction after signing to indie label Domino in 2017. Their early mixtapes — formatted as VHS-esque home videos that often employed a voyeuristic POV — introduced them as a group digging at the less pristine areas of life. That has only gotten clearer with the recent release of their debut album, 925.
On "Starstruck," the band tells the story of a client-worker relationship, with lead singer Asha Lorenz preening over distorted guitar: "I don't talk the smart talk you do/ You're the phantom and I'm the fan." Completing the fantasy, Lorenz goes cam-girl in the accompanying video, talking with the object of her affection; for a second it feels bad to watch, but then you realize you're in on the secret, too. —SW
There is an airiness to Ebhoni's left-field pop, like smoke filtering through a dark room. A lot of that can be attributed to her delicate vocals, which allow her to bring her songs into a more experimental zone. Take 2019's "Street Lights" — a whirring, almost ambient track that ends with a droning siren, as she sings hymn-like about how she never meant to hurt a lover. On "Bentayga," she pivots to more traditional, slinky R&B, complete with an earworm-y "you-hoo-hoo-hoo" on the hook; while "Drama" is her ephemeral take on dancehall. And as chameleonic as she is on her tracks, so is she in her other business ventures, modeling for Savage x Fenty, and opening for Teyana Taylor — all without having even released a proper full-length. Clearly, that should be enough to keep her on your radar. —SW
You may already know her as Ariana Grande's bestie, and one of pop music's hit songwriters, but Victoria Monét is getting ready to step out on her own. The LA-based star is gearing up to release her solo EP Jaguar in May, a project of smooth, lacquered-up R&B that will make even the lamest of quarantined nights one for the books — if you get my drift. If you need it put in plainer terms, dip into the singer's most recent song, "Dive," on which she croons: "Make me scream, all aboard." —SW
Trying to understand Chicago artist NNAMDÏ's music is like peeling apart an onion: better to just leave it whole. The vocalist, instrumentalist, and DIY-er already claims an extensive back-catalog of material, at least 12 albums worth, but he really broke out on his last two, 2017's Drool and 2020's BRAT. The music is full and quirky, with flecks of hip-hop, rock, jazz, and reggae discernible in the greater soup; you never really know what you'll be getting, but it's good. "Flowers To My Demons," the elusive opener to BRAT, is a lovely introduction to the project's greater, welcomed clutter: fluttery guitar, a pitched devil-angel aside, and a swelling second-half that'll make your hungry for the rest. —SW
Riverside, California rapper Hook pushes aggro-rap to the extreme. Instead of yelling out her threats, Hook bites hers out, low and growly, like she's trying to stay calm while bursting at the seams inside. Her first project, aptly titled Bully and produced by SoundCloud rap-adjacent producer Nedarb, contained lines like "Take his lunch money, he blew it" and "'l'll break your leg 'fore I break bread, bitch." She's graduated since then, pushing her simmering anger to a darkly comical apex; "I crashed my car and I'm like, Damn," goes the title track of her latest record. It's roiling, entertaining, ultra-relatable angst about the world and all the losers that inhabit it. What more does one need? —SW
HAWA's "Frick" is only two minutes long, but it packs an immediate punch. Right off the bat, it's rattling percussion and the NYC rapper's assertive flow, as she brags about the bedroom activities between her and her partner. By the end of the track's tight run-time, as HAWA talks up her own merits, it's hard to disagree. The 19-year-old NYC rapper flaunts an impressive resume to back all of her big-talking up. By 15, she was composing music to be performed by orchestras around the world. Of course, she got bored of that. Now, she collaborates with buzzy brands like Telfar, closing out their last Pitti Uomo fashion show in January. And all of this was before she released her debut EP the ONE this past March. It begs the question: What else can HAWA do? —SW
Erika De Casier
Erika De Casier makes music that feels timeless. The Denmark-based song maker summons the best of the late-'90s and early-aughts pop R&B — those shuffling drum samples, the harpsichord melodies — and wraps them into a neat package of fresh nostalgia. It sounds like something you must've heard before, but in that ear-pricking way that makes you want to slam the replay button a hundred times.
De Casier's debut album, Essentials, is stacked high with these gems. Take "Puppy Love," which opens like the glittery intro to a fairytale song; indeed something about its smooth transition into a confessional about sweet-talking a crush — astrology sign ask included — does feel magical. And though the album title was her cheeky nod to the veterans of the music industry, she was also right: these songs are required listening. —SW
French musician and producer Oklou is one-fourth of the London club collective and label NUXXE, alongside Sega Bodega, SHYGIRL, and Cou Cou Chloe. Though she began her music career creating the entrancing sounds for other artists, she's branched out on her own in recent years with 2018's The Rite of May, and her forthcoming, currently untitled debut LP. In between, there's been a steady drip of singles, including February's "entertnmnt," her first collaboration with Guernsey-born producer Mura Masa, and a stunner of a song. An echoey, left-field pop number about the gift of receiving a partner's love and reassurance, "entertnmnt" is an unguarded, head-on statement of Oklou on her own. It's enough to make us want to hear more. —SW
Kllo is Melbourne-based cousins Chloe Kaul and Simon Lam. Together, they blend U.K. garage, house, and melodic R&B into their own intoxicating sound. Often, that is quick-paced, dance-worthy production with Kaul's soft vocals on top. In more indelicate hands the two elements could invariably clash, but Kllo find a compelling balance between the frenetic energy coursing through their songs and Kaul's cooling croons.
After a brief hiatus following their 2017 debut album Backwater, the duo are now prepping their imminent return — and they've only gotten better. Their latest release, the luminous earworm "Still Here," is only more proof to be paying close attention. —SW
Columbus, OH's Snarls makes bright and effusive indie rock. The quartet, which formed when the members were going to school at Columbus’s Arts & College Preparatory Academy, describe their sound as "glitter emo alt rock" on their Bandcamp page, and it's pretty spot on. With their sunny guitar and power pop-leaning melodies, even their sadder songs gleam with a topcoat of sparkle. On their debut album Burst, which they released in March 2020, it makes for catchy, summer-ready tracks like "What's It Take," a dreamy number that could perfectly soundtrack any errant seasonal crush — even if it was born over Zoom. — SW
Fusing country, hip-hop, and Internet virality became Lil Nas X’s recipe for success in 2019, and this year RMR is tweaking the formula on his own terms. Clad in a ski mask, a Saint Laurent bulletproof vest, and a few serious firearms, RMR jumped into the collective consciousness in early March 2020 with his song “Rascal.” It’s an impressive a capella number, weaving in Rascal Flatts’ “These Days,” an interpolation of “Bless The Broken Road,” and a pleading cry about how the women who wronged him became “hoes I scammed.” The rap-country crossover caught the attention of Warner Records, who immediately signed RMR (pronounced rumor).
For now, he’s enjoying his enigma status, only revealing choice pearls like the fact that his upbringing in the Buckhead district of Atlanta and LA's Inglewood fueled his love of country, and that he’s either 23 or 24 years old. His second single “Dealer” brought more country crooning and mystery, making his forthcoming EPDrug Dealing Is a Lost Art all the more exciting. —Layla Halabian
For fuzzy, earnest power pop, look no further than Blushh. The Los Angeles-based band, headed by Shab Ferdowsi, released its debut record R.I.P. Apathy on April 17 and it’s the perfect soundtrack for letting out your quarantine angst as you walk from the couch to the kitchen and back again. R.I.P. Apathy hits the growing pains of “figuring it out” for yourself; desiring closeness in the midst of conflict, resenting control, and wading through the general confusion life dishes out. The record was written when Ferdowsi had to move back in with her parents for a second time and found herself caught in a cloud of apathy.
"R.I.P. Apathy is about letting loose with intention. It's about getting out of my head and not taking myself too seriously, while grabbing hold of what's right in front of me and running with it," she explains. "It's about being kind to yourself, taking care of your friends and the planet we live on, and having a good laugh while we're at it. Like, did we really hide a laugh track in the middle of our debut album? Maybe!" — LH
In the first few seconds of Remi Wolf's disorienting music video for "Woo!," the young Californian artist has copy-pasted herself as background dancers (Oompa Loompa-style), and a clip-art version of her face has zipped across the screen. It's a lot to take in, but Wolf's colorful and chaotic world is also hard not to like. Strange and cryptic, it's also genuinely refreshing. Plus, did we mention? The music is good. It's pop born from the internet at it's most joyful extreme; bright bleep bloops and chatty ad libs color the tracks like the Instagram saturation bar slid all the way to 100 percent. Wolf calls it "ADHD explosion" — we say find out for yourself by hitting play on her EP, You're A Dog! —SW
Classically trained musicians Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye are here to get weird. As Jockstrap, Ellery and Skye make kaleidoscopic pop that meshes elements of classical music, jazz, electronic, and other bits and bobs from the kitchen sink — laser zaps, bouncy bloops, staticky dispatches from a planet far away. However disparate the ingredients, when combined artfully together their songs unfurl like operatic space odysseys. Their 2018 track "Hayley" shifts through several musical acts, starting off as frolicking country, before moving to sweeping melodrama and discordant bouncy pop. What stays constant is the duo's incisive melodies, which cut through any possibilities of a muddied end-product.
Jockstrap shares their second EP, Wicked City, this summer. Those looking for a fresh and unpredictable ride should tune in. —SW
19-year-old Swedish artist Johanna Kohlsson, who makes music under her middle name, Korantemaa, released her debut EP in March. The four-track project that she's calling a place of substance is a subtle body of songs that combines jazzy piano with more experimental flourishes, like bird field recordings, or chopped up vocals, so it sounds like she's singing through the whirring blades of a fan.
The intimate quality of the young artist's songs have summoned a sizable online audience, one that was originally drawn to the delicate song covers she'd post on YouTube. (Her most viewed is of The Neighbourhood's "Sweater Weather".) Her latest songs, however, prove that she sounds best crafting her own tunes, building soft worlds of glowing intrigue. —SW
Kelow LaTesha may be known by some as the DMV’s best kept secret, but the 26-year-old rapper is not new to this. Her braggadocious, quippy verses were most recently featured on her 9-track EPTSA, released in April 2019, which was supported by nearly as many videos showcasing LaTesha’s endless swagger and aesthetic creativity. Having been featured on GoldLink’s 2017 hit album At What Cost (including a foreboding incantation at the beginning of the “Crew” video), LaTesha’s steady buzz is poised to break through the noise. — Claire Valentine
At age 21, Lila Iké moved from Christiana, Manchester — the parish in Jamaica where she’d grown up with her mother and three sisters — to the capital city, Kingston to see if music could take her to even further places. The gamble worked: The singer known for deeply felt songs like “Where I’m Coming From,” recently signed with RCA Records and is on track to deliver her debut EP this year. A powerful new force in reggae, Lila’s distinctive voice and playful versatility reflect the future of the genre alongside peers like Koffee. —CV