Once again, we talked to 10 of the hottest artists who are climbing the charts, breaking the Internet or just dominating our office stereos. This month: Janelle Monáe's Wondaland Records signee Jidenna, Nashville's buzzing grunge-poppers Bully, Sherlock composer Michael Price, Kendrick Lamar beatmaker Knxwledge and more.
Sounds Like: Grown-man anthems for an age where hip-hop is our pop
For Fans of: Stromae, Janelle Monáe, Outkast's Stankonia
Why You Should Pay Attention: Jidenna is the first signee that Janelle Monáe introduced from her revamped Epic Records imprint, Wondaland Records. He's the featured rapper swooning over a lady doing downward dog in her new song, "Yoga." Jidenna's debut single, "Classic Man" takes cues from his international travels: The lilting "oh me, oh my"'s reference the West African highlife music he grew up hearing in Nigeria, before he discovered Heavy D in the States; the sparse mix of chants and 808s were inspired by the near-decade that he spent in the Bay Area, before DJ Mustard emerged to further shape the region's hip-hop sound. Both "Yoga" and "Classic Man" appear on the compilation EP WondalandPresents: The Eephus, out June 23rd.
He Says: The Alan Ferguson-directed "Classic Man" video starts with Jidenna talking policemen out of arresting two young boys, before he joins Monáe at a speakeasy-inspired venue to jam. "I, myself, have been scrutinized by militarized police, but I know officers who actually handle themselves in a certain way that makes me feel safe," he says. "These are officers like the one in the video, who are willing to work with community members. I wanted to show a moment where an officer and a citizen can talk it out, and with some black and latino youth. It was a show of cooperation that didn't involve violence or snitching. I've seen that, and I've done that, and I wanted to show it."
Hear for Yourself: Though Jidenna wears a three-piece suit in the video, the party anthem "Classic Man" is far from stuffy. Christina Lee
Sounds Like: Trying to squeeze a drop of blood from a sugarcube
For Fans of: Pixies, Best Coast, Weezer's Pinkerton
Why You Should Pay Attention: During her internship at Electrical Audio studio, Bully lead singer Alicia Bognanno seriously impressed the oft-acerbic producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey). "She was a fucking joy," he told NME. Her analog recording homework paid off when it came to assembling the Nashville quartet's full-length StarTime/Columbia debut, Feels Like, a knuckle sandwich of pop-punk hooks and grunge heft. Through broken arms, poisonous memories and other lyrical baggage, Bognanno balances vocal clarity and a throat-ripping rasp. Equally potent is the tight, occasionally sludgy, frequently anthemic work of guitarist Clayton Parker and drummer Stewart Copeland — both vets of Saddle Creek garage rockers Pujol — alongside bassist Reece Lazarus. Currently on the road with fellow Music City heavies Jeff the Brotherhood, Bully shift to supporting Best Coast later this year.
They Say: "I think I did 'I Remember' in three takes," says Bognanno. "I just nailed it out. A lot of that stuff is just emotional, and it's not hard for me to replicate what I originally did live. It feels really good for me to scream about things like that. It's like a stress reliever. There's certain nights where I just really have an off day and we'll play a show. It happened the other night and it was like 'Oh my gosh, it's so good to get up here and scream it out.'"
"I would love to meet Paul Westerberg from the Replacements. I've Googled interviews with him, and I really like the way he writes his lyrics. Someone should make a book of them. Just the little things that he says. 'Skyway' or 'Achin' to Be,' they're so sweet. If I could write a word as good as he's written a whole song, I would be pleased. The music is awesome too, of course."
Hear for Yourself: Bully's new single "Trying" flips between honey-coated verses and an acid-streaked chorus. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Glam with the natural sparkle of West Coast sunshine
For Fans of: T. Rex, Grouplove, psych-folk era Bowie
Why You Should Pay Attention: "Electric Love" from glam-pop newcomer Garrett Borns garnered the attention of no less authority than Taylor Swift, who called the single an "instant classic." He seemingly came out of nowhere with last fall's catchy, delightful Candy EP, but Borns actually came from L.A. — where he lived in a treehouse. "I'm the kind of person who needs a change of scenery once my thoughts start repeating themselves," says the Michigan-born singer. Though he's since relocated to a more traditional abode that he calls Mewtopia (named for the random cats that come through the building's garden), the seclusion of his nature-surrounded California home helped influence his dreamy and sweet debut.
He Says: "Did you know that Børns means children? It means children in Danish. [My music] will bring out your inner child. It will rebirth you as your inner child and your primal lover."
Hear for Yourself: On "10,000 Emerald Pools," Børns sings a glimmering track atop a grungy beat. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: Laidback hip-hop soul, sans ego
For Fans of: Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, D'Angelo
Why You Should Pay Attention: New Jersey-born and Los Angeles-based beatmaker Knxwledge found the best possible breakthrough thanks to Kendrick Lamar, who stumbled upon the producer's Bandcamp. Knxwledge subsequently got a coveted credit on Lamar's recent release To Pimp a Butterfly, having created the dreamy, atmospheric beat for "Momma." Next up, he'll be releasing an album via Stones Throw in May titled Hud Dreems while prepping a collaborative record with Anderson Paak (their duo is called NxWorries). Plus, after spending some time with them in the studio, Knxwledge should be able to add credits for Action Bronson, Prodigy and Schoolboy Q to his list.
He Says: "Probably what sets my tunes apart is the feeling. Everything I touch is 800% melody driven, so whether it's some chops or chords, it's going to be church soul minus the hallelujahs."
Hear for Yourself: Knxwledge supplied the jazzy beat for "Killuminati" by Joey Bada$$. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: The golden age of dubplates, warmed up with IRL instruments and updated for the SoundCloud generation
For Fans of: SBTRKT, Flying Lotus, the old Digital Mystikz stable
Why You Should Pay Attention: This self-taught, London-based multi-instrumentalist born Rich Lonbay started off as a teen, going the usual guy-with-guitar route, playing covers of Bob Dylan and Rage Against the Machine. And then, in his first year at university, he discovered music software Reason. "This was a completely new way of seeing things and creating music," he says. "There was the ability to make anything into a sound, with sampling and resampling. I could record myself clapping or clicking and put those sounds into a soundscape." Melding live guitars, keyboards and vocals with bubbling bass, Daktyl quickly blew up on the SoundCloud remix "scene." That was enough to catch the eye of perrenial party label Mad Decent, who then commissioned him to remix tracks by Dawn Golden. When that set of reworks racked up over a million plays on SoundCloud, they signed Daktyl and are releasing his proper debut, Cyclical, on April 21st.
He Says: Daktyl's quick to name-check everyone from Caribou to J Dilla to Japanese hip-hop producer Nujabes as inspirations. But he's also proud to claim a place in a bass-music lineage that leads back to dubstep, before it became a dirty word. "I definitely got really into that whole scene, all the early kind of Digital Mystikz stuff, early Skream, early Benga, early Koki," he says. "Part of me wishes I could have been making music in that scene before it kind of died, because it would have been a really exciting time to be a musician."
Hear for Yourself: Cyclical's title track, featuring vocals by SPZRKT, mixes wistful, sadboy future-R&B with ecstatically crescendo-ing synths and stuttering snares. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: The Tallest Man on Earth enhanced by the liquid courage of a few tallboys downed during band practice
For Fans of: Ben Howard, David Gray, Mason Jennings
Why You Should Pay Attention: Stelling self-released two albums of his inquisitive, incisive folk and toured through America and Europe. But after cutting his third album, he realized he lacked the wherewithal to repeat the process of raising money by himself. He shipped the music to Anti-, home of singer-songwriters like Tom Waits and William Elliott Whitmore, and connected quickly. On June 16, they'll issue his Labor Against Waste. For these songs, Stelling stretched his approach to include elegiac strings and solemn harmonies on "Too Far North," clanging percussion and driving banjo on "Death of Influence" and a shuffling, simpatico band for "Revenge." The record delights at the threshold of polished folk-pop and rustic old folk; and he seems bound to make converts on both sides of that divide.
He Says: With such a restless traveler, inspiration can strike in unexpected places. "Sometimes I write at home. Sometimes I write on the road. Sometimes I don't write. Sometimes it all comes out at once, and sometimes it takes six months to write a song…. There was a period where I wrote five songs in a day, three of which ended up on Labor Against Waste. I remember writing in a hotel in Belgium and scribbling on a piece of paper on the dashboard of my car in Texas. I wouldn't write on the dashboard, because I'm not into that kind of commitment."
Hear for Yourself: Stelling's considerable acoustic chops are on display in the official performance clip of Labor Against Waste's opening track, "Warm Enemy." Grayson Haver Currin
Sounds Like: Adrenalized math rock sped up and given pop's candy coating
For Fans of: Shiina Ringo; Drive Like Jehu, Deerhoof
Why You Should Pay Attention: Guitarist/vocalist Ikkyu Nakajima, guitarist Motoko "Motifour" Kida and bassist Hiromi "Hirohiro" Sagane released A N D in March, and taut tracks like "E" and "Pieeen" have attracted the ears of both J-Pop fans and shredding aficionados alike. The trio, which formed in Kyoto, Japan, in 2010, claim influences ranging from Fall Out Boy to American Football to the Eagles — "I was influenced by them in terms of backing chorus work," says Motifour. But the nonstop time-signature shifts and torrid playing that animate their tricky pop is the work of a band in its own lane.
They Say: "We tend to be easily influenced from many things," the band writes in an email. "For our new album, we got together and recorded guitars, bass, drums and vocals on a PC with café latte and tea sweets. The triggers of our songs are from guitar phrases, which Motifour plays; then we make a cool track before Ikkyu puts vocals on it. We all like and are influenced by Red Hot Chili Peppers. We wanna play with them."
Hear for Yourself: "E," the first single off A N D, is a whirlwind tour through Tricot's hyperactive, virtuosic appeal. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: A self-assured voice at the intersection of classic pop and electronic chaos
For Fans of: James Blake, Scott Walker, Brian Eno
Why You Should Pay Attention: William Doyle, the one-man band performing as East India Youth, made the transition from guitar-group frontman (with Doyle and the Fourfathers) to synthpop soloist two years ago. Last year's Mercury Prize-nominated Total Strife Forever relied heavily on instrumentals. But his new Culture of Volume is a modern song cycle featuring the 24-year-old Londoner's voice in a variety of sometimes classically inspired electronic settings. These range from sweetly ambient to black-hole bleak, with beats aplenty along the way, and Doyle's increasingly confident voice cutting through with restless aplomb. Emotionally experimental, or maybe vice versa, Doyle's music displays a restless vibrancy that should serve him well.
He Says: "Onstage I play bass guitar, keyboard and a drum pad, and I have a controller for my laptop. Any number of things might possibly go wrong, but that happens less frequently than it did a couple of years ago. One weekend it happened quite a few times. I started thrashing my bass really hard, cut my fingers open and bled all over my keyboard. People got quite excited by this struggle of man vs. machine. I've worked out a few fail-safe options for when things do go down the pan, but I can't fake it too much. But anyway, playing electronic dance music would be boring if everything always worked."
Hear for Yourself: "Carousel" is a brooding lazy susan of a tune. Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: The swing of Brandy and What's the 411?-era Mary J. Blige mixed with the open-book honesty of the social media age
For Fans Of: Anyone who enjoys a splash of Yay Area grit and grind in their R&B
Why You Should Pay Attention: Oakland-to-Los Angeles singer Kehlani Parrish has soared since she broke from Poplyfe, the teen group that landed in fourth place on the 2011 season of America's Got Talent. She racked millions of SoundCloud plays for her Cloud 19 mixtape, while her sun-dappled video for "FWU" has over 700,000 YouTube views. As a member of East Bay Area rap squad HBK Gang, she lent vocals to Sage the Gemini's Remember Me and Iamsu!'s Sincerely Yours. And she's built a reputation as an unapologetically frank and thoughtful artist, from celebrating her bisexuality in "First Position," to engaging with Twitter critics. "It's a combination of how I look, how I talk, and some of the language in my music that people consider me a hip-hop artist. But I make pretty soft music," she says. Her next project, You Should Be Here, drops on April 28th.
She Says: "People always told me I wouldn't make it because what I look like. They said, 'Oh, you're way too tatted. You're not going to be an approachable R&B singer.' I had someone tell me on Twitter a week ago that I would never get a Top 40 record because of my face tattoo. I didn't know Top 40 records revolved around face tattoos, but thanks for the information, guy! I'm not being [outspoken] to be different. I'm doing it because I genuinely have a message that needs to be told. I have young girls that are just like me, that have been through the same things that I have, and who need a voice."
Hear For Yourself: In contrast to the primarily heteronormative love songs on the radio, the slow-winding "First Position" finds Kehlani claiming she's "not cookie-cutter, not picture perfect," to a female admirer. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Strings, drones and flickering piano creating clouds of nostalgia and melancholy
For Fans of: Ólafur Arnalds, Max Richter, Nils Frahm
Why You Should Pay Attention: Price is an Emmy-winning composer who co-penned the score to the smash British drama Sherlock. His gorgeous debut full-length, Entanglement, was released this week by Erased Tapes, the heart-string-tugging London label that floats gently between 20th Century composition and ambient music. Within the album's 39-minute drift, there's a slow "Tape Overture," plinky piano raindrops, field recordings and the voice of soprano Ashley Knight briefly calling through the fog. "When I'm making a record, the story is all my own, and I can make a structure that makes musical sense," says Price about recording for Erased Tapes as opposed to a TV show. "And there aren't as many car chases."
He Says: "I really got into recording the sounds of travel, as well as the places I went to," says Price, who uses mobile phone recordings on "Budapest," "so you can hear the crazy musical sound of the Budapest metro announcements and then an awesome street fiddle player at the end of the track. Nobody gets freaked out if you're just looking at your phone with headphones on, like they do if you shove a big microphone in their face."
Hear for Yourself: "The Attachment," off Entanglement, already has more than 35,000 SoundCloud plays — pretty phenomenal for a song made up of patient piano, circling strings and warm sounds from a 1940s magnetic tape reel. Christopher R. Weingarten