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10 New Artists Defining the Sound of Now

Hear who’s next in punk, R&B and everything in between

2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Matthew James Wilson

With streaming and social media creating one of the biggest deluges of new artists in pop history, it's hard to stand out among the crowd. Still, budding musicians across genres are blurring lines, innovating sounds and reconfiguring what it means to break through in the industry. From feminist male punks like SWMRS to modernized retro-soul specialist Giovanni James and undefinable teenage-sister duo Chloe x Halle, here are 10 of the best emerging artists of the year.

The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Christaan Felber

Giovanni James

Futurist soul from a former magician and dancer

"I like casting spells," James says. "Nina Simone, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Prince – people who are really powerful, they cast spells." On his debut EP, Whutcha Want, the Harlem singer-songwriter lives up to that bravado with a futuristic blend of gutbucket soul and modern groove, recalling Elvis as much as Frank Ocean. James grew up in Albany, New York, the son of a prostitute. He learned to DJ by age 10, and by 17 he'd moved to New York City, where he started a performance group, the Harlem James Gang, that mixed singing, dancing and magic. The crew's gigs included private shows for Madonna. But James eventually turned his focus to recording. "I like to meld the past with the future," he says. "I'm trying to take moments that were classic and good for the human soul and let you know we're alive." Joe Levy

The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Bryce Duffy

Anderson Paak

An L.A. soul-rap visionary who wowed Dr. Dre

A little more than a decade ago, Anderson Paak was a high school kid in Ventura, California, playing drums in his Baptist church and setting chopped-up samples to homemade beats. A demo tape sparked deal meetings, and his dreams seemed to be taking solid form. "I thought I was going to be Kanye," he says. "The producer that can rap too."

But what came next was a nightmare. His mom – a South Korean-born woman who'd been in the produce business – and his stepdad were sent to prison for tax-related issues during his senior year. Paak stopped making music and started bagging groceries. "Just working and trying to get some stability," he says.

By the time he was 21, Paak was back in the studio with a new perspective. "I started making these weird little songs," he says. "I wanted it to be anything but hip-hop." He was listening to Radiohead and "finding all these different alternative types of music and punk-rock stuff. I didn't want to go back to making music like other people."

He didn't – but he took a while to find his voice. Paak played drums on the L.A. session scene, trimmed weed on a Santa Barbara pot farm, had a one-month marriage (annulled), a second marriage that has lasted (his baby boy is now five) and released two albums of atmospheric funk under the name Breezy Lovejoy. About four years ago, he decided it was time to focus and went into hibernation, studying the work of Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie and the Beatles. When he re-emerged in 2014, he'd crafted the first Anderson Paak album, the hedonistic Venice.

Paak caught the attention of Dr. Dre, who tapped him for six cuts on Compton – including "Animals," a confrontational track about police brutality and the most politically pointed song Dre has made since "Fuck tha Police." Paak's work on Compton helped him recruit top-shelf producers, who brought classic West Coast hip-hop sounds to the dreamy R&B he'd worked on for his breakthrough LP, Malibu. "The visionary in the vintage Chevy," he calls himself in "The Waters." "I bring you greetings from the first church of Boom Baptists."

Paak, now 30, signed to Dre's label Aftermath after Malibu's release. He's already planning his next move. "This will be the first project where I have a fucking budget," he says. "So this is going to be exciting times." J.L.

The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Eric Ryan Anderson

SWMRS

How a famous dad and Miley shaped a great punk band

SWMRS co-leader Cole Becker is hanging from the ceiling. The California punk rockers are charging through bracing, hook-y songs off their debut, Drive North, at a New York show. They even return to the stage after their allotted set time and keep rocking unplugged. Though just hitting their twenties, SWMRS have been playing clubs like this for years; they formed in elementary school and had assistance from their drummer Joey Armstrong's father – Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. "When we were 13 to 14, he was telling us to text every time we wrote a song," says singer-guitarist Max Becker.

Despite attaining early credibility, SWMRS (who released two albums in their teens as Emily's Army) found the scene too bro-ish ("Aggressive dudes crowd-surfing on 14-year-old girls," says Cole). One song on Drive North was inspired by millennial feminist icon Tavi Gevinson, while "Miley" unironically celebrates the pop star, who they admire for her work with homeless LGBTQ teens. "I think they have the potential to be ginormous," says Zac Carper, of fellow Cali punks FIDLAR, who produced Drive North. "They just do whatever the fuck they want, and I want to see more of that in bands." Brittany Spanos

The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Cybele

Flume

An EDM whiz finds the "human element"

Electronic music has been good to Harley Streten, a.k.a. Flume. His blend of stuttering beats, trance-y synth swoops and woozy ambient effects has scored him Top 20 hits in his native Australia and featured spots at Coachella and Lollapalooza. But as the 24-year-old approached his second album, Skin, he wanted more. "A lot of electronic music out there feels cold," he says. "I want to incorporate a human element."

Streten started making tracks at 13, using software that came on a disc in a cereal box. His first album, released in 2012, had offbeat rhythmic and melodic touches. For Skin, he wrote "actual songs," he says. "Really heavy festival moments, really beautiful songs with vocals and also some ambient stuff."

Tracks with Vince Staples and Raekwon "re-create the energy of EDM but with a hip-hop feel," and his collaborations with Tove Lo and Kai are stuffed with earworm hooks, the result of writing sessions that saw him boiling down multiple songs into one. "I like pop music," he says. "And I like really weird, strange stuff. It just didn't feel like there was anyone doing both." J.L.

The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Milan Zrnic

Wet

Synth-poppers turn quiet angst into an excellent album

Brooklyn has become a top exporter of great synth-pop bands in recent years. But Wet have set themselves apart with music that combines the elegant ache of Nineties R&B with the raw honesty of indie pop. "I feel like that's a very pure thing," singer Kelly Zutrau says. "When you can get as close as possible to a pure emotional intensity – that's when people hear something real in it." The songs on Wet's debut LP, Don't You, wring drama out of lyrics that often suggest snippets of actual relationship dialogue. Onstage, Zutrau delivers her confessional lyrics with an eyes-closed forcefulness that can be captivating and a little uncomfortable. The 28-year-old grew up a fan of Cat Power and TLC, dropping out of high school in Massachusetts to pursue art and music in New York, where she met multi-instrumentalists Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow. Wet released an EP in 2013 and pulled down opening gigs for Chvrches and Tobias Jesso Jr. For Don't You, the bandmates retreated to a house in western Massachusetts, where they wrote in a meditative isolation that comes through in their songs. Lately, Zutrau has been living in L.A. and writing with Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend."[Don't You] is about relationships," she says. "About managing ideas that are hard to deal with. It helped me process them." Hilary Hughes

Chloe x Halle; Flatbush Zombies; The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Max Papendieck

Chloe x Halle

Beyoncé's favorite YouTube stars break out on their own 

Sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey are only 17 and 16, respectively, but they have Michelle Obama as a fan, and they appeared on the video album for Beyoncé's Lemonade. "Magic was in the air in New Orleans," says Halle of their work in the clip for "Freedom." "We were saying, 'What a time to be alive.'" The sisters' music is just as impressive as their endorsers. Their EP Sugar Symphony – self-produced in their L.A. home – is an accomplished mix of R&B, jazz and alt-pop. "Our dad taught us to do everything on our own," Chloe says. "This industry is so dominated by men and older people," adds Halle. "You have to look into yourself and say, 'I can have wonderful ideas.'" B.S.

Flatbush Zombies; The Next Wave; Rolling Stone; 2016, 2016 trends, car seat headrest, swmrs, wet band, anderson paak, giovanni james, chloe halle, frankie cosmos, flatbush zombies

Courtesy of Flatbush Zombies

Flatbush Zombies

An acid-loving hip-hop crew takes on the dark side of reality

"Sometimes I like to take a trip real deep into my mind," says Meechy Darko of Brooklyn hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies. "I travel back into my consciousness and face my demons." So far, that's worked out well for Flatbush Zombies, probably the first hip-hoppers to sell blotter paper alongside T-shirts at their concerts.

This year, their darkly psychedelic debut, 3001: A Laced Odyssey, hit Number One on Billboard's Independent Albums chart. "I wanted people to be like, 'Damn, this is like a movie trailer,'" says producer Erick "Arc" Elliott. "I wanted [the album] to take a journey that transcends into the darkness and gets happy again." The Zombies have been buddies since grade school, and all live in the same apartment complex. Elliott took up production years ago so he could entertain his mother after she lost her vision, and part of what makes 3001 stand out is the realism woven into its trippiness ("Fly Away" addresses a friend's suicide). "There's no downfall [in most rap songs]," says Meechy. "No one's getting anyone pregnant. Nobody's going broke. No two sides." It doesn't seem they'll be running short on inspiration. Says Meechy, "They say, 'Don't look into a mirror when you trip on acid.' That's my favorite thing to do." Jason Newman

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