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10 New Artists You Need to Know: April 2017

Tee Grizzley, Middle Kids, Aldous Harding, J.I.D., Hayley Kiyoko and more

Tee Grizzly, Middle Kids, Aldous Harding, Kelly Lee Owens, Zeshan B, Hayley Kiyoko, Ondatropica, Mary Bell, J.I.D., Kevin Ross

J.I.D. and Hayley Kiyoko are two new artists you need to know this month.

Michael "Waboosh" Kelly, Asher Moss

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: Tee Grizzley’s viral freedom raps, Elton John-cosigned rock band Middle Kids, Zeshan B’s continent-crossing soul music and more.

J.I.D.

Michael "Waboosh" Kelly

J.I.D.

Sounds Like: Boom-bap revival by way of Outkast’s “Elevators (Me & You)”

For Fans of: J. Cole, Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”

Why You Should Pay Attention: J.I.D. is signed to J. Cole’s Interscope imprint Dreamville. Like Gucci Mane, he claimed East Atlanta’s Bouldercrest Road, but raises and strains his voice in a way that recalls Californian Kendrick Lamar at his most stressed. J.I.D. scoffs at how trap rap shifted from being workingman’s blues to a experimental playspace where poseurs roam. “Then you say you trap, you be lying nigga/I don’t fuck with none of y’all happy trappers,” he raps in The Never Story, his Dreamville debut. This bleak, no-nonsense perspective first caught J. Cole’s attention in 2014. As part of the Atlanta-founded Spillage Village and the group Earthgang, J.I.D. met Dreamville producer Ced Brown while on tour. Nurturing that relationship led to J.I.D.’s biggest feature yet. Last year, he sang backing vocals for what became “Jermaine’s Interlude,” off DJ Khaled’s Grammy-nominated Major Key. Now, he and Levi Carter are opening for Jazz Cartier on an 18-date tour.

He Says: “I just got my wisdom tooth taken out. I started recording again last week after I healed up. This is the first time I’ve been able to do the shit and there’s no physical problems. I used to have straight migraines after shows or when I record, and I was spitting blood out because I bit my cheek with the fucking wisdom tooth, and it was just sucking for years. So they took my wisdom tooth out. But I take it with me just in case. I was talking to one of my engineers, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know, man. You might lose all your juice after they took your wisdom tooth out. It just may not be the same.’ He was making a joke, like a total asshole. So I definitely got that shit with me. On some weirdo shit.”

Hear for Yourself: “Never” has J.I.D. coming out swinging at those who glorify a harmful lifestyle. Christina Lee

Kevin Ross

Faith Smith

Kevin Ross

Sounds Like: Soft, sugary soul mixed with jolts of gospel

For Fans of: Tony Rich, Babyface, Joe

Why You Should Pay Attention: Earlier this month, Ross reached Number One on the Urban Adult Contemporary chart with “Long Song Away,” a remarkable outlier on the airwaves. Quiet and bare, with immaculate backing vocals, the single smolders but never erupts. It shows how much Ross absorbed during his time as a writer in Atlanta, where he penned tracks for R&B mainstays like Johnny Gill, Trey Songz and SWV. After years working behind the scenes, Ross joined the Motown roster as a solo act, and his new album, The Awakening, mingles the secular and the spiritual at a time when gospel is gushing into the mainstream on records from Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and others. In addition to the roughly 8.3 million listeners who encountered “Long Song Away” on the radio last week, Ross managed to impress the legendary R&B singer/songwriter Babyface, who contributed to The Awakening track “In the Name of Your Love.”

“God is definitely at the helm, the cornerstone of my life and my sanity within the music business,” Ross explains. “A lot of these opportunities that happened is because of him. I acknowledge the fact that this is a blessing. The only thing I can do is continue to give Him praise for all the things He’s done for me.”

He Says: “I am so young for [the Urban AC] format. When anybody sees me, they don’t expect me – it freaks them out. They’re like, ‘What do you know about this?’ I know what it feels like to be in love, to yearn for someone, to miss someone, to lose someone. That feeling shouldn’t die with the times. Most of the time people try to go with what the trend is, but the truth doesn’t change with the trends. I need music that is bigger than just what’s current right now. You have so many forces that are trying to tell you what you can’t do. It’s a long battle.”

Hear for Yourself: On “Long Song Away,” Ross strips R&B down to just a few essential elements: a guitar lick, a bassline, a handclap, a kick drum. “Close your eyes,” he instructs, “and dream that we’ll never grow old.” Elias Leight

Kelly Lee Owens

Kim Hiorthøy

Kelly Lee Owens

Sounds Like: A hushed exchange outside a pounding club

For Fans of: Early Grimes, Arthur Russell, Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”

Why You Should Pay Attention: Welsh-born Kelly Lee Owens began working in a cancer treatment hospital while still a teenager until patients and doctors urged her to chase her dream of music. Owens soon worked as an intern at XL Records, played bass in indie rock bands and took a job at a record shop, before she fell in love with the analog gear at co-worker Daniel Avery’s studio. She began focusing on her own music, offering up an emotional take on electronic music. Her track “Arthur” was most recently chosen to soundtrack an Alexander McQueen runway show.

She Says: “People at the end of their lives would tell me, ‘If this is what you dream of, don’t be like me regretting what you didn’t do, go do it,'” Owens says. “When I’m in the studio, writing and producing, it feels like absolutely what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel most at peace.” An indie rock fan, Owens at first assumed that dance music was easy to make and didn’t respect it. That perspective has changed, but she still she works with analog gear instead of plug-ins. “I felt that there was something a bit more emotive that could be coaxed out of electronic sounds. I wanted to bridge that world to where the human and meditative element comes through. Ultimately, it’s a human being that has to operate these machines, it’s not the machines themselves.”

Hear for Yourself: The ethereal “Throwing Lines” is percolation like Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser meets the Chicago house of Mr. Fingers. Andy Beta

Ondatropica

Courtesy of Soundway Records

Ondatrópica

Sounds Like: A festive, percussive blend of Colombian tropical pop and smooth Caribbean grooves – with an avant-garde tinge and jawbone percussion

For Fans of: Frente Cumbiero, DJ Quantic, Meridian Brothers

Why You Should Pay Attention: For their critically acclaimed 2012 debut, Ondatrópica musical directors Will “Quantic” Holland and Frente Cumbiero’s Mario Galeano spent three weeks in a vintage Medellin studio creating a sprawling, cumbia-centric map of Colombia with 40 of the country’s finest musicians. For Baile Bucanero, though, the duo temporarily relocated to Isla de Providencia, a tiny English-speaking island about 400 miles off Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Ensconsed in the Midnight Dream Theatre studio, Holland and Galeano (who begin a short DJ tour on April 18) drew local singers and MCs into their fold and brewed up a refreshing batch of breezy tropical concoctions between scooter runs for “bushy rum,” as the local hooch is known. Cumbia meets calypso and dancehall grinds with champeta in tracks that always maintain a soft focus on Afro-Colombia and Caribbean culture.

They Say: What is Baile Bucanero opener “Commotion” about? “I’ve traveled a lot in the Caribbean and on the Caribbean coast of Colombia,” Will Holland says, “and commotion is something I can relate to. There’s always something going on – somebody fighting over a chicken, or some woman in pajamas shouting at a guy from a doorway. So I wrote that song while thinking about Providencia. But halfway through the recording, the guy who sings it, Shala Boom, asked me, ‘Hey, Will, what does “commotion” mean?’ [Laughs.] And he explained to me, ‘We don’t say “commotion” here, we say jaggin’.’ We wanted to make sure we got that onto the track, so Shala sings, ‘Don’t go jaggin’ around!'”

Hear for Yourself: Afrobeat visits the Caribbean in “Hummingbird,” a soaring blend of horns, percussion and sweet female voices. Richard Gehr

Mary Bell

Emeric Guaquere

Mary Bell

Sounds Like: Les filles des riot; French feminist punks with switchblades

For Fans of: Early Hole; Early Babes in Toyland; nouveau riot grrrl that doesn’t Xerox Bikini Kill

Why You Should Pay Attention: This Parisian quartet named their band after a serially abused British girl who, at age 11, was convicted of strangling two young boys. That theme of acting out and seeking vengeance juts shardlike through Mary Bell’s gripping guitars, with vocalist Alice Carlier growling and screaming like she’s ready to pounce. “Gaïlla [Montanier, drummer] was always telling me to scream more because I was shy,” says Carlier. “I didn’t really know if they liked it, apparently they did!”

The band self-titled first album, edition of 500, dropped in January on French punk label Danger Records, and it’s full of rebuttals to masculinist status quo and straight-up declarations of rejection. “I really can’t imagine playing music without being political,” says guitarist Victoria Arfi, something that’s reflected in their nervousness about France’s upcoming presidential election. “A new scandal erupts every two days and this is so part of the political institution right now that the people are gonna vote knowingly for those corrupted bastards.” The band’s vivid songwriting, though, tends to focus on more specific vignettes, coming in short bursts. The album’s longest track, “Trash Tongue,” is two minutes and 35 seconds, a grimy little bop about embodying womanly multiplicities, being “anything I wanna be, I don’t care what you think about me.” 

They Say: “Most people who come to our gigs are very supportive, either women or men. But sexism is so deeply anchored in mentality, that even when people try to be nice, they say or write some very weird stuff,” says Arfi. “Sound engineers sometimes behave like assholes because we are women. Most of the time, they think that as I am a woman, my guitar sound should be clear, with a lot of treble. I remember playing at a venue in Northern Paris once, and the sound engineer telling me at the end of the show, ‘Seeing you with your cute little dress, I really had no idea you could sound like a stoner guitarist.'”

Hear for Yourself: The simmering road rage of “Fire Fire” calls to mind the Hendrix song with a similar name – if the woman he addressed in it responded with a middle finger and dumped her beer on him. It tells a full story in just one minute, punk at its most blissfully compact. Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

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