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: “Everyday We Lit” hitmaker YFN Lucci, Chicago producer Knox Fortune, genre-blurring Argentinean trio Fémina and more.
Sounds Like: The next sing-song Atlanta rapper to take over the radio
For Fans of: Future, Fetty Wap, Rich Homie Quan
Why You Should Pay Attention: YFN Lucci was a success story this summer, earning a radio hit with “Everyday We Lit” featuring PnB Rock, working in the tradition of melodic Atlanta MCs like collaborator and former labelmate Rich Homie Quan. Though the single peaked at Number 33, it spent weeks in the Top 40, accumulating 45 million Spotify streams and earning a remix featuring Wiz Khalifa and Lil Yachty. Last year he teamed with Migos and Trouble for “Key to the Streets,” another warm weather radio staple.
He Says: “I have my own style,” he says. “A bunch of people from Atlanta don’t really rap about what I rap about: I rap about things that happened. I’m talking about what I been through. I ain’t just talkin’ ’bout the money I have. I talk about how I grew up. I grew up in the struggle. A lot of people can relate to the struggle.”
“Everybody tryin’ to make the same-sounding beats, same type of shit – Metro Boomin and shit,” Lucci adds. “June [James, producer of many of Lucci’s recent songs] give me another sound.”
Hear for Yourself: In “Everyday We Lit,” the piano stays serene while the drums communicate exuberance. “I got the hottest 16, one of the best you’ve ever seen,” Lucci boasts. “But she like it when I sing on it.” Elias Leight
Sounds Like: Glitter-covered rock trimmed with modular synths, vintage guitar pedals and shoot-to-kill populist lyrics aimed at Brexit-era fascists
For Fans of: Conor Oberst, Vampire Weekend, Tame Impala
Why You Should Pay Attention: Nearly three years ago, Declan McKenna’s missive decrying the World Cup leadership’s hypocrisy and greed emerged on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. A few months later, the U.K.-based McKenna won the Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition, and the song began an eventual climb to Number One on Sirius XM Radio’s Alt Nation. Penned when he was just 15, “Brazil” not only proved his poise as a musician, but his potent lyrical point of view.
Now 18, McKenna has built an activist-centric body of work exploring religion, gender identity and other thorny political topics. “Music is a great platform for protest,” he says. “Whether that’s through lyrics, whether that’s through sound, whether that’s through a movement as a whole. Art alone can really change things.” While he highlights the disconnects between his teenage peers and the ruling class, his brash, experimental pop shows a bridge between the Bowie and Lorde generations.
Following a label scuffle for his affections, he signed to Columbia Records and released his debut, What Do You Think About the Car? in July. With assistance from producer James Ford (Florence + the Machine, Arctic Monkeys), the album stitches together personal reflection and global concerns. It’s smart, moving and occasionally really funny. Case in point, the Blur-y “The Kids Don’t Want to Come Home” devolves from its dead-serious social critique to a cheeky argument with one of the kids who joins him for the boisterous chorus. He shows a different side of his sonic appetite on album closer “Listen to Your Friends,” a collaboration with Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend) featuring harpsichord and cello.
He Says: “The album was created over a long period of time. From ‘Brazil’ and ‘Bethlehem,’ which I wrote when I was 15 right up to ‘Humungous,’ which I wrote at the back end of last year. Over that time, there was a lot of change in my life that I found hard to deal with or I didn’t really acknowledge. The album shows a certain level of confusion in being very busy and starting a career rather than being in school. I can’t help but hear that sort of thing. It was an album I made very much growing up at a quicker rate than I’ve ever had to in my entire life.”
Hear for Yourself: “Isombard” is McKenna’s urgent, catchy outcry against the xenophobia of TV punditry. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Heart-on-sleeve ballads meets hip-hop and R&B-influenced Tarantinian pop
For Fans of: Kehlani, Amy Winehouse, Shutter Island
Why You Should Pay Attention: After working with the likes of Chance the Rapper and King Louie, the 27-year-old Toronto singer-songwriter released her debut EP, Kiddo, a collection of seven emotionally raw tracks. Armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and her throaty voice, she’s performed heartbreak anthem “Figures” on The Tonight Show and at the 2017 BET Awards. Other artists have taken notice of her talents too: The singer guests on chart-topping producer’s Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1 (“Hard to Love”) and bachata king Romeo Santos’ Golden (“Un Vuelo a La”).
She Says: “We have a crazy hip-hop history that a lot of people don’t know about,” Reyez says of Toronto, “we have people in our city that were very influential. We’ve got fucking K-Os, we’ve got Kardi [Kardinal Offishall], we have some songs that are Toronto anthems. I remember being in the States a few years ago, and when I said I was from Toronto, it doesn’t really make a difference. Now you say you’re from Toronto and people want to talk to you a little longer. Drake’s putting on and bringing a lot of eyes to the city, but I feel like the seed and the flowers have always been here.”
Hear for Yourself: “Gatekeeper,” and its powerful accompanying short film, confronts sexism and misogyny in the music industry and was based on her past experiences with an abuser. Max Mertens
Sounds Like: Disarmingly honest Rap ‘n’ B that mines all over music’s spectrum for inspiration
For Fans of: Miguel, Anti-era Rihanna, Dawn Richard, Drake’s more introspective moments
Why You Should Pay Attention: In July, this 24-year-old multi-hyphenate (he raps, sings, writes and produces) released his debut, Tmrwfrvr, a wide-ranging, at times nervy collection that balances R&B experimentation with hip-hop rigor. After releasing a series of mixtapes and EPs over the course of the early ’10s, Christopher made waves in 2015 with “Lot to Learn,” a singsong confession of not having all the answers; its similarities to labelmate Miguel’s “Sure Thing” and its brain-melding hook helped it make waves on SoundCloud. Tmrwfrvr builds on the promise of “Learn”; its real-talk lyrics are made even more acute by Christopher’s laconic flow and just-being-honest singing.
He Says: “Honestly, I only started singing because I wanted dope hooks. … I did not plan to sing at first – I only wanted to rap. I started singing because I wanted to make full songs, with verses and hooks and bridges and change-ups. I like to use [my rapping and singing styles] as two different personalities; it’s almost as if I can be one way when I sing, and another when I rap. There is a voice for whatever I’m feeling. It’s pretty damn freeing. Music is more of a release for me than anything. I feel like I can say anything in a song – things I’m way too scared to say in person.”
Hear for Yourself: “Waterfalls” shows how Christopher’s croon can easily nestle into gently burbling electro-pop. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: Slinky, hip-hop-indebted soul with a crate-digging indie musician’s eye towards sonic playfulness and experimentation
For Fans of: Early Beck, MGMT, Chance the Rapper
Why You Should Pay Attention: Knox Fortune has largely floated under the radar, but the 24-year-old Chicago native has been a key sonic architect of the contemporary Chicago hip-hop scene. He’s produced some of longtime friend Vic Mensa’s most notable material, won a Grammy for his work on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and executive-produced Joey Purp’s breakout 2016 mixtape iiiDrops. And while his name first came to prominence after contributing guest vocals to Coloring Book‘s house banger “All Night,” the long-haired studio rat and indie-rock obsessive officially struck out on his own earlier this year with the funky “Help Myself” and the woozy Joey Purp co-write “Lil Thing.” Together the two singles, which appear on Fortune’s forthcoming debut album, out in September, have over 750,000 combined streams on Spotify.
Fortune (born Kevin Rhomberg) says he could have continued focusing on producing for hip-hop artists, but the high-pitched singer, who calls his music a mix of “the Beastie Boys and the Beach Boys” and recorded some of his album at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studio, says the moment is right to chart his own course. “I was trying to step away from producing and from being that dude who is locked in the studio producing all day,” he says. “There’s no better opportunity. If I weren’t to take full advantage of this time I’d be tweaking on myself.”
He Says: “I really enjoyed working with all my friends but the more I would go out to L.A. and work with other rappers I realized the producer wasn’t getting a lot of the love. The stuff I was proudest about was what I was working on for myself. I’d show Joey everything I was making and he’d be like, ‘Dude, this is super good! When are we going to start focusing on you?!‘”
Hear for Yourself: “Sometimes it feels I’m getting away from myself/It’s the little things that make me weep,” Knox sings on “Lil Thing,” a fitting moment of vulnerability for an artist who says he’s eager to pull back the curtain. “What do I really want to tell people about me?” Fortune says he often wonders. “I think about this stuff a crazy amount. But it doesn’t hold me back.” Dan Hyman
Sounds Like: A vibrant fandango in rural Latin America, doused with hip-hop swagger
For Fans of: Ana Tijoux, Ibeyi, nature and globetrotting
Why You Should Pay Attention: Fémina – whose plush poetic rhymes and ravishing harmonies glide over funk, boleros and chacarera rhythms ripe with rustic flair – grabbed Iggy Pop by the musical jugular, landing them on his radio show 6 Music twice this year. Sisters Sofia and Clara Trucco, along with childhood bestie Clara Miglioli, moved to Buenos Aires from the bucolic Andes of Patagonia. They unleashed their rap-folk enigma, which quickly became a name amongst the city’s colorful hip-hop milieu. The Argentine trio are currently working on their third album, due out later this year, which is being engineered by cumbia accordionist/producer Will Holland (Quantic, Ondatrópica) and will feature guest spots by Iggy Pop himself.
They Say: “Our home is magical,” says Clara Trucco. “There’s a lot of power in the environment, the landscape, the mountains, lakes, rivers, the animals. Being from [San Martín de los Andes] takes us to our center. It grounds us.” “We also feel inspired by the places we go to and the people we meet, the things that are going on in our country and in the world; in being human and how we exist; in dancing, movements and bodies,” says Sofia Trucco. “We don’t only think in terms of music, but we’re open to all these elements that feed our lyrics and melodies. That’s what’s rich about Fémina.”
Hear for Yourself: On the breezy, rootsy “Buen Viaje,” twinkling guitar arpeggios glimmer as the trio’s silken pipes shine against Afro-Latin percussion. Isabela Raygoza
Sounds Like: Warbled riffs about gaining clout and losing touch
For Fans of: The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane
Why You Should Pay Attention: Signed to the Weeknd’s XO imprint, the Toronto rapper’s music video for the Weeknd-featuring “Some Way” currently has more than 25 million views. Last month he released Perfect Timing, a project entirely produced by Metro Boomin, and two of its songs are currently in the SoundCloud Top 50. He’s headed out on tour this fall with the Weeknd and Gucci Mane.
He Says: “The first time I ever stepped on stage was the O2 Arena in London [on the Weeknd’s tour]. There were 20,000 people. Right when I got on stage, the first person I looked at in the crowd said to another person, ‘Who is that?’ I made eye contact with them. I got so nervous. I started looking at the sky.”
Hear for Yourself: In “Call Me” Nav battles his demons on record. Mustafa Abubaker
Sounds Like: Riding with your friend through the streets of Harlem and listening to him spit truth
For Fans of: Nas, Jadakiss, Joe Budden’s Mood Muzik series
Why You Should Pay Attention: Rap fans are long familiar with this Harlem MC, thanks to his association with Nas – who signed Dave East to Mass Appeal Records in 2014 – and mixtapes such as 2016’s Kairi Chanel, which features cameos from 2 Chainz, Beanie Sigel and Cam’ron. The lyrical-minded street rapper has since signed to Def Jam and is releasing his first official EP, Paranoia. “It’s about a lot of different feelings as far as who I can trust, and what’s best for me, and my surroundings,” he says. It’s the culmination of a slow yet steady rise that began in 2010 when Dave Brewster shifted to music after a youth spent playing AAU and college ball with future NBA stars like Kevin Durant – and a six-month prison sentence for selling drugs after he dropped out of Towson University. His unusual life story and its mix of raw talent, star-crossed moments, street hustle and social consciousness animate his music.
He Says: With Dave East, Young M.A, French Montana, Cardi B, Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Mob making noise, it seems like New York’s vibrant rap scene is back in the conversation. “The scene has changed a little bit, but it’s still New York. I don’t think there’s a particular type of New York artist. You all bring what you bring to the table with whatever you grew up with,” says East. He doesn’t think the city needs a unifying sound like it had in the Nineties and early Aughts. “I think it’s healthy. I just think it’s bringing energy back to New York regardless of what it is. … Now, with these new artists with these big records, I feel like it’s bringing more attention. It’s shining more light back to New York City.”
Hear for Yourself: On “Slow Down” with Jazzy Amira, Dave East gives advice to young’uns on the block on how make a way out of the projects: “If that trap slow, get a job/Buy some nice shoes and hit them parties downtown where them wild niggas cannot get inside.” Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: The arty younger brother of Rustie and Hudson Mohawke
For Fans of: Aphex Twin, Autechre, Pan Records
Why You Should Pay Attention: While 23-year-old Glaswegian Calum MacRae only has two 12-inches and an EP to his name, his tracks have gotten prominent placement in DJ sets from the likes of Björk and Aphex Twin. Not bad for a bedroom producer who turned down the chance to study composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and instead studied literature and made tracks on his own. His most recent single on the hotly tipped UK label Whities straddles the line between clanging beats and glitchy ambience. MacRae finds himself in demand of late: He’s working with London visual artist Dominic Hawgood on a new installation and this fall Lanark Artefax will debut his live set at the experimental Unsound Festival in Poland.
He Says: “I had my heart set on going to the Conservatoire since I was 14 as my music hadn’t progressed the way I had hoped. But I spoke to a family friend who said they’ll shoehorn you into a small box and train you to be less creative. I knew the A-side [“Touch Absence”] would be a big club tune and lots of different people from across the spectrum have played it. But the best feedback I’ve had is that it makes people get teary-eyed, which is what I was going for. I definitely come from the perspective of dealing with the more emotional aspects of it, the more expressive side of things. I’m not massively into clubbing and I don’t DJ or make club music. But I don’t see them as distinct.”
Hear for Yourself: “Touch
Absence” has a gnashing metallic yet melancholic melody. Andy Beta
Sounds Like: Tangerine Dreaming about the Black Lodge
For Fans of: David Lynch, Lustmord, SunnO))), Tim Hecker
Why You Should Pay Attention: Hurley is responsible for much of the dark ambient drones, rumbles, noise and audio fogs that are currently soundtracking parts of David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks. The 18-track Anthology Resource Vol. 1: △△ collects some shadowy music that assisted with the show’s Lynchian ambience (Hurley also worked on 2006’s Inland Empire). “I think the classical archetype of composing for film where someone sees a rough cut and then they dictate or delineate how the sonic elements or the music of that scene should go … like, that’s definitely not how things happen up here,” says Hurley. “This album of stuff, those would be things that [Lynch] would refer to as ‘firewood.’ He was like, ‘We need some good firewood for this type of thing.’ So it’s oftentimes generating a bunch of stuff, but letting him find places for it.”
He Says: “It was clear that, OK, we’re gonna need some very characteristic electricity elements,” says Hurley about the high-voltage noise blasts on the album titled “Electricity I” and “Electricity II. “When you go and you look through a sound effects library and you listen to things, ostensibly you’ll recognize a lot of stuff. There’s like a shitload of Jacob’s ladder/Dr. Frankenstein-type electricity and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a little too on the nose.’ You might hear other things that just sound lackluster. Or this stuff just doesn’t have the power that I feel like the script is necessitating.
“If I totally broke it down for you and told you how it was done – and I will say it was done in a purely analog way – knowing what it is would be a little bit like seeing [a magic trick explained]. I will say part of the technique in working on a lot of this material – and David has taught me this, totally … I personally need to forget how a lot of this stuff was made. Because once I forget what I’m listening to, then I can appreciate it as purely sound.
Hear for Yourself: “Eastern European Symphonic Mood No. 1” is like a György Ligeti piece smeared into ambient tar. Christopher R. Weingarten