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: pan-continental folk-rock brothers KONGOS, the slamdance bass music of DJ Snake, YG's trunk music renaissance, and the ever-exploding post-Winehouse retro-pop treats of John Newman.
Sounds Like: A Balkan accordionist, a Burundi drummer, an American slide guitarist, and a British rock star walk into a bar. High-octane folk-pop ensues.
Why You Should Pay Attention: Following in the footsteps of their father, Seventies South Africa pop star John Kongos, these four hard-folking brothers brought their tri-continental sound back home to the states after setting Dad's homeland afire with radio hits from their 2012 debut, Lunatic. You might have heard their raucous "Come With Me Now," featuring Danny Kongos's slide guitar, on ESPN college football promos. But who would have guessed that drummer Jesse and accordion-keyboardist Johnny started out playing jazz-rock fusion as Law of Seven at Arizona State? Chops! The bros recently hit Shazam's new-release Top 10, wrapped a tour with the Airborne Toxic Event, and will appear at Delaware's Firefly Festival in June. by RICHARD GEHR
They Say: "'I'm Only Joking' originally had that Burundi tribal drum thing in only a short section of the song," says bassist Dylan. "When the demo was a little more fleshed out, our mom came down to the studio and said, 'No, you have to do that throughout the entire thing!' It's pretty cool that our mom could get behind it, given the vulgarity."
"Our dad was in the music business for a long time and he encouraged us to join a band," says Jesse. "He said, 'I had such a great time with my career. It would be fun for you guys.' But it was ultimately our decision to go forward with this as a career." Adds Dylan, "It doesn't take too much convincing once you get a little feedback. It feeds your ego when a girl comes up and talks to you. You don't need to be forced into that once you get a tiny taste of it."
Hear for Yourself: The drum-driven "I'm Only Joking":
Sounds Like: A moshpit in the trap
For Fans Of: TNGHT, Major Lazer, Baauer
Why You Should Pay Attention: His tweet-happy "Bird Machine" was possibly an explosive highlight of your favorite DJ's summer festival set, and his Lil Jon-assisted drink-spiller "Turn Down For What" continues to rocket up the Hot 100. While the Frenchman born William Grigahcine made his name as a Lady Gaga co-producer, he's been perfecting his own venomous, unforgiving, primordially grooving version of bass music you can headbang to. Beyond lung-collapsing amounts of low end, he also peppers his music with Middle Eastern scales: Grigahcine is half-Arabic on his mother's side, but also finds inspiration from Timbaland and Scott Storch's similar experiments in the late Nineties and early 2000s. "It’s been missing from the airwaves for a while," he says, "so I just decided to bring it back." by CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN
He Says: "It’s like a fucking rock concert at my shows now. People truly don’t give a flying fuck about their bodies when they hear a track they love. Absolute pandemonium! In terms of my stuff being aggressive: I’m a pretty peaceful guy in private, but I adopt a very aggressive approach when it comes to getting shit done and getting shit done right. It’s only natural that it comes out in my music. I’m a product of my environment, so I partially blame Metallica, Mobb Deep, Lil Jon, and Dolly Parton for my aggressive nature. Especially Dolly. She’s the most turnt up of them all."
Hear For Yourself: The instant party "Turn Down For What"
Sounds Like: G-funk for a new generation, YG is nothing less than the reanimation of West Coast gangsta rap, with the bluntness of an Aftermath Records foot soldier but the smooth, intoxicating swagger of Snoop Dogg.
For Fans Of: Dr. Dre, King Tee, Young Jeezy
Why You Should Pay Attention: His creeping, crawling anthem "My Nigga" (that's "My Hitta" in it's equally excellent clean version) has held steady in the top 20 of Billboard's Hot 100 for months, a feat that is rarer for a rap song than it should be nowadays. The success of that track has paved a smooth road to his Def Jam solo album My Krazy Life, which hits stores March 18. Helmed largely by DJ Mustard, YG's longtime partner and current Hottest Producer in the Game, the album aims to tell a story of one day in the crazy of life of a Compton gangbanger. The parallels to Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city are obvious, and though the structure might seem unnecessary for a guy who primarily makes party records, My Krazy Life succeeds as something like a John Singleton storyboard. Still, the album works perfectly as a curated playlist of tracks to rattle your ride, as made clear by "Who Do You Love," a jabbing banger with Drake that could be YG's biggest hit yet. by JORDAN SARGENT
He Says: "I want the people to respect my shit as a piece of art, as a complete album with a storyline and all that… My whole thing is like, I want motherfuckers to respect me on some artist shit. I write about the lifestyle, the culture, where I'm from. If you ain't too familiar you probably won't get half the shit I rap about. It just probably sound like some other shit, but I'm really talking about the culture the whole time. I just want people to respect that… I bring the lifestyle, the L.A. lifestyle. The Bompton, all that. All these other artists can't bring you that… This hip-hop shit is really based off the streets. That's where it came from, the streets. I'm giving you that. 400 percent. I'm giving you that."
Hear For Yourself: The smash single "My Nigga," which will make you wish your body could transform into a lowrider.
Sounds Like: Pete Seeger via Ani DiFranco with a hint of New Orleans rhythm and blues.
For Fans Of: New-school old-school troubadours like Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and Spirit Family Reunion.
Why You Should Pay Attention: Alynda Lee Segarra, 26, is a Bronx-bred Puerto Rican raised on the East Village punk scene, who bailed on school after 10th grade and drifted across the country to New Orleans, where she decided to make music — initially playing washboard – and a home. Her band's breakthrough after a string of self-released LPs, Small Town Heroes has roots-music geeks on red-alert (American Songwriter magazine put Segarra on a recent cover). Filled with fingerpicking, fiddling, blues harp, clogging and Segarra's potently understated vocals, it palpitates folk music's ancient heart but interrogates it, too: See "The Body Electric," an answer song to femicidal murder ballads from Johnny Cash's "Delia's Gone" to Eminem's "Kim." by WILL HERMES
They Say: "When I was younger, Ani DiFranco was a huge influence to me," says Segarra. "There are times in my life where I kind of wonder, 'Where did I get these feminist ideals? Where did I get this sense that I should be treated with a certain amount of respect?' That came from the woman who raised me, but also I feel like a lot of it came from Ani DiFranco's music. We opened up for her a couple years ago. She's been really supportive to us."
Hear For Yourself: Small Town Heroes' title track, a handsome, weary folk-blues with characters including a gal known as "the queen" who, naturally, "got all her drugs for free.":
Sounds Like: The best dude response to Amy Winehouse that the U.K. has come up with yet.
For Fans Of: James Blake, Sam Smith, Jake Bugg
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 23-year-old Newman blew up last year on the strength of his excellent single "Love Me Again," which topped the U.K. charts, and his equally impressive album Tribute, which folds decades of soul (from Otis Redding to diva house to Winehouse) into a unique sound. He's following that with quick success in the U.S., where "Love Me Again" hit No. 2 on the iTunes chart. Plus, Newman has the Brit-hype thing down: Not only is his music of-the-moment, but he loves firing off cocky quotes in the press and even started his own adorably genteel version of Blur vs. Oasis-style beef by challenging folk-rocker Jake Bugg to a game of ping-pong, claiming "I'll smash his arse!" by JON DOLAN
He Says: "Last year I had what I call 'a year of hype,' and I had a song that did really well worldwide, and my album did really well; but I still get concerned because the reason the album does well is because of the single. I want people to buy into me as an artist because they listen to all my music. I want to be a person that goes on chat shows because they have a personality and not because they've got a hit. It feels like I had a very hype-filled year last year. I kind of want to kill that and be an artist that people love worldwide."
Hear for Yourself: The powerhouse wronged-man prayer, "Love Me Again":
Sounds Like: An angst-filled afternoon spent lip-syncing into a hairbrush.
For Fans Of: Smart, savvy teen-pop imbued with the heightened emotions and killer hooks of over-the-top Scandinavian artists like Robyn.
Why You Should Pay Attention: This 17-year-old Angeleno's debut EP is filled with pop gems like the inspirational "Silver," which recalls Demi Lovato's most pumped-up tracks, and the brooding "Jukebox Love," which splits the difference between early Fiona Apple and "Teenage Dream"-era Katy Perry. "Love Burning Alive," Fayre's latest single, has been garnering buzz with good reason: It's a scorching slice of synthpop angst, with Fayre delivering a blazing vocals over a bombastic track recalling t.A.T.u.'s similarly wrenching "All The Things She Said." In a few weeks, Fayre will decamp to Virginia to write a "more gritty and atmospheric and experimental" follow-up, set for release this summer. by MAURA JOHNSTON
She Says: "I grew up listening to a lot of rock – Bowie, Elvis, The Cure, all the greats. The first song I remember being enamored with is 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' by The Darkness… My style and taste are constantly changing, but I always revert back to some version of deconstructed pop. My biggest influences right now are probably Grimes, St. Vincent, Junior Boys, and Future Islands. They exhibit that kind of multifaceted 'pop but not pop' vibe that really strikes me."
Hear for Yourself: Check out the video for "Love Burning Alive," which Fayre wrote as "an expression of messy, golden teenage angst and relationship drama":
Sounds Like: A Tennessee MC in a laptop-generated floating world, segueing between ruddily sung harmonies and honest raps.
For Fans Of: Kendrick Lamar, Drake, ATLiens-era OutKast
Why You Should Pay Attention: Hip-hop's gaze is currently trained upon Rashad, whose Cilvia Demo marks the first release from management powerhouse Top Dawg Entertainment since Kendrick Lamar's instant-classic good kid, m.A.A.d city. Only two years ago, Rashad was working odd jobs while uploading tracks to his SoundCloud account, hoping to get a response. Apparently the tactic worked: TDE relocated the 22-year-old from a public housing complex in Chattanooga to a house in Carson, California where he developed songs with in-house producers like the Antydote. Well-received leaks like "Shot You Down" and "Ronnie Drake" piqued interest for Cilvia Demo, which was inspired by his rundown-yet-beloved 1995 Honda Civic. "I called it a demo because it's the first collection of songs I ever put together," he says. By January the free mixtape was upgraded to a retail release that debuted in the top 40. by MOSI REEVES
He Says: Rashad once considered naming his project Pieces of a Kid in homage to proto-rap pioneer Gil Scott-Heron's 1972 classic Pieces of a Man. "I love Gil Scott-Heron. He has a song called 'Home is Where the Hatred Is, and the stuff he described in it I related to a lot, as far as being where I was from in Chattanooga, in the trap. He's one of the first guys to do what guys are doing now, which is a rap/singing kind of thing. He did spoken-word poetry, but he always put some melody in it. He's done more for me and for hip-hop than a lot of people know."
Hear for Yourself: "Ronnie Drake," where Rashad stick-shifts from a "coke flow" braggadocio to meditating on how "We came a long way from a boat and an auction / Now we got names and a vote and a coffin / Ain't shit changed but the coast we adopted."
Sounds Like: Old-stock alt-rock cut from the same guitar cord that connected My Bloody Valentine to A Place to Bury Strangers
For Fans Of: Smashing Pumpkins, Hum, MTV's 120 Minutes circa 1994
Why You Should Pay Attention: These Philly-based hardcore expats formed this noise-pop group in 2011, but the huffy vocals and alternately jangly and static-y guitar lines on their debut LP, Guilty of Everything, sound as though they were excavated from the geological ruins of the first Bush Administration. Frontman Dominic Palermo plays fuzzy, Buzz Bin-ready riffs and – like so many bands in the early Nineties – he can only muster enough "voice" to qualify as a really loud whisperer. The lyrics on Guilty of Everything are personal too: Palermo finally felt comfortable enough to write about an early 2000s two-year prison sentence for a stabbing. Not that they're exactly a serious bunch. "Our new bass player, Nick [Bassett], pranked me when we were touring with his other band, Whirr," says Palermo. "He and his bandmates put my phone number on a Craigslist ad for free Pepsi memorabilia when we toured the south. It said that when you called, you had to say, 'Gimme that free Pepsi,' so I kept getting calls from literally hundreds of hillbillies trying to score some free Pepsi." by KORY GROW
They Say: "I'd hate to be called anything besides a punk band; I don't really like the term 'shoegaze,'" says Palermo. "That word gets thrown around so much these days that I would hate to even be attached to it. Anybody who has a delay pedal and a reverb pedal, go grab a Jazzmaster and you're a shoegaze band now."
Hear for Yourself: The nightmarish, slow-mo noisescape that is "Dig":
Sounds Like: Rio Go Hard: The smartest, sassiest high-school girls in your favela rapping on would-be trunk-thumpers
For Fans Of: M.I.A., Oaktown's 357, DJ Chernobyl
Why You Should Pay Attention: Brazilian funk carioca has been morphing past the syncopated boom-kat that U.S. ambassador Diplo borrowed while producing M.I.A.'s Arular in 2005. It's absorbed everything from the crescendo-ing squall of contemporary Eurodance to the heavy thump of American trap. To the three teenagers in Pearls Negras – 17-year-old Alice Coelho, 16-year-old Mariana Alves and 16-year-old Jennifer Loiola – who grew up Rio de Janeiro's vibrant Vidigal favela and met at an after school theater program, a mish-mash of super-heavy club and trap rhythms simply makes sense. Even if you're not fluent in Portuguese, the guttural aspects of the language always sounds tough over beats, and in this case, the ladies' talent and intent shines through on skillful rapping fêting cuties or indicting the state of their 'hood. Upon releasing their Biggie Apple mixtape in December via British label Bolabo, they've garnered acclaim on globally minded blogs across the world. They'll embark on a European tour in May and will hit further stops around the world (Biggie Apple refers to their desire to visit New York), though they're balancing the dates with their day jobs: They're all working actresses and Coelho will star in the upcoming novela Meu Pedacinho de Chão on Brazilian TV. by JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
They Say: "Female rap in Rio de Janeiro is not recognized very much and we struggle to gain a space here," says Coelho, via translator. "Our songs talk about many different things such as love, fun, parties and about what is happening in society, about where we live and where we come from. But people like our music because Vidigal is a place of much talent, dance and music. We have actresses, singers, a bit of everything."
Hear for Yourself: "Pensando em Você" ("Thinking of You") flips bottom-heavy, twerky club synths into the sweetest sing-song ode to a boy with "an angelic face":
Sounds Like: A blissful, sun-soaked memory of days spent flirting poolside with no commitments or curfew.
For Fans Of: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Broken Social Scene, nostalgia
Why You Should Pay Attention: While British bands like Arctic Monkeys, Alt-J and Foals rely on chunky guitar riffs to get post-punkian points across, London two-piece Thumpers aim for pure pop euphoria, singing about carefree teenage days spent goofing off and trying to find yourself. The lush, heavily reverbed vocals on their just-released Sub Pop debut, Galore, sidle alongside subtle keyboards that sound like outtakes from Sonic the Hedgehog. The nostalgic quality makes sense: The duo's Marcus Pepperell and John Hamson Jr. are childhood friends. by MIKE AYERS
They Say: "We're not big checklist guys; we're kinda quiet," says Hamson. "With British bands, you're constantly thinking of the next thing and never really enjoying the amazing thing that happened to you today. People keep asking us, 'Oh what's on your bucket list for this year?' That's a bullshit question. That's not a really good way to live and I think that's reflective in our music."
Hear for Yourself: The cheery, tom-tom throb of "Unkinder" is like Animal Collective gone pop – or Imagine Dragons gone punk party.