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: country-rap hybrid Big Smo, the major label debut from folk-rockers Matrimony, the nice-guy R&B of Adrian Marcel, the influential Portuguese rhythms of DJ Marfox and more.
Sounds Like: If Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" stomped out of Queens and ended up in the rural south.
For Fans Of: Jason Aldean's "Dirt Road Anthem," Jay Z's "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," unexpected fusions thereof
Why You Should Pay Attention: A product of the New South heralded by Bubba Sparxxx's 2001 Dark Days, Bright Nights, Big Smo has spent the past decade and a half grinding through the sun belt, playing hypeman to Juggalo favorite Haystak and pushing a handful of independent LPs at gigs of his own. Now, with a more polished version of country-rap bubbling onto the radio, Smo's hoping that his self-titled new A&E reality series, a cross between Duck Dynasty and ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show, will provide a backdoor to mainstream success. Kuntry Livin', a new album featuring Nashville favorites Rhett Akins and Charlie Worsham, suggests he might not need it.
He Says: "My brother was a fan of the movie Breakin' and my father turned me on to outlaw country, so when I was a kid I'd listen to these tapes with Hank Williams Jr.'s 'Born to Boogie' on one side and Fat Boys' 'Wipeout' on the other. With the show, we want to provide the visual aspect that people need so that they're not scared off by the word 'rap' or completely turned away by the word 'country.' They'll see that I'm just a product my environment, the adult version of a 12-year-old kid from Tennessee who likes to listen to both genres."
Hear for Yourself: "Workin'," a hick-hop "Hustle Hard," uses a heavy riff and a thick bass line to make the most out of a life in where the narrator says he "spent more time on the clock than I do with my wife." By Nick Murray
For Fans Of: The Civil Wars, Lumineers, other pop acts who think like folkies (or vice-versa).
Why You Should Pay Attention: Irish émigré Jimmy Brown, his North Carolina wife Ashlee Hardee Brown, and her brothers Jordan and C.J. all gave up solo pursuits to join a harmonizing family band configured (and occasionally sounding) like Arcade Fire. Landing a deal with Columbia out of the gate, they cut their debut LP with Nashville country-rock alchemist Jay Joyce. The upshot is a record as suitable for a back porch as a basketball arena – see the soaring, mandolin-driven "Southern Skies," or the fat drums and wolf howls of "Lucky Man."
They Say: "The first time Ashlee and I ever met, we wrote a song together that we never released, called 'All I Want,'" recalls Jimmy Brown. "We had both seen the same movie about a man and woman falling in love – some English period piece, I can't remember what it was called ˆ so we decided to base a song on that. We laugh about it now, because that's exactly what happened to us."
Hear for Yourself: A semi-unplugged "Southern Skies," hollered from a boat on the Colorado River in Austin, Texas, during SXSW. By Will Hermes
Sounds Like: Scandinavian synth-pop taking the Top 40 on a weekend bender.
For Fans Of: Icona Pop, Sia
Why You Should Pay Attention: Stockholm-based Tove Lo (that's "Too-va Loo") was in "a dark, little hole trying to numb the pain" when "Habits (Stay High)" came pouring out of her. In its corresponding video, the 26-year-old born Tove Nilsson hit bar after bar and "was drunk and on stuff for like three days." A mysterious California production team called Hippie Sabotage liked what they heard in "Habits," and laced more bleary Twin Peaks-y moroseness into an unofficial remix that eventually got the Charlotte Gainsbourg fan's stamp of approval. Now, the remix closes out Lo's debut EP, Truth Serum. It charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (Number 66), Alternative Songs (Number 29), and Hot Rock Songs (Number 9), and the two versions have racked up 17 million YouTube views combined.She recently hit the studio with Adam Lambert, and she'll be opening for Katy Perry in Australia in November and December. If all goes according to plan, Tove Lo's full-length debut on Island Def Jam – featuring production by her Swedish pals the Struts – will be ready at the merch stands.
She Says: "My truth serum is any kind of alcohol. When I'm angry, like if someone gets me really upset, whatever comes into my head, I scream it. Either get me really angry, or get me really drunk."
Hear for Yourself: "Habits (Stay High)" (Hippie Sabotage Remix) is a sadness vs. inebriation tug-of-war. By Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Your man asking if he can spend the night at the end of a date.
For Fans Of: Miguel, Trey Songz, good guys that promise to love you in the morning
Why You Should Pay Attention: The music of Adrian Marcel offers a tonic to the unbridled machismo prevalent in this year's R&B crop. His songs, co-written with childhood friend Myariah "Jane Hancock" Summers, suggest emotional warmth instead of "these-hoes-ain't-loyal" toughness. Some may joke that singers like Marcel are too sweet and thirsty for love. But he draws strength from being "weak," as evinced by 7 Days of Weak, a well-received 2013 mixtape hosted by his mentor, neo-soul icon Raphael Saadiq. As a teen growing up in East Oakland, California, Marcel attended UC Berkeley's Young Musicians Program and performed at "the Juneteenth Festivals, the New Parish, anywhere that was open for me to perform." Now signed to Republic and relocated to Atlanta, the 23-year-old has toured with Kelly Rowland and The-Dream, and his buzzy "2AM" has logged nearly 1.5 million views. With lyrics like "I'm turned up in this bitch, drunk off that liquor, "2AM" proves he can get ratchet, too. But it's his honeyed, mid-range vocals that make the seduction a memorable one. A second mixtape, Weak After Next, is due sometime this year, but there are no plans for an album. "Why rush an album when you want to build with your fans and supporters to where no matter what you put out – you can put three songs on the album and they're gonna go [buy] it, because they know those three songs are going to be your all?" he explains.
He Says: "When I feel something, I feel it one hundred percent, and I give my all to that emotion. I feel like, right now, everybody's tough and hardcore. That's cool, there's nothing wrong with that at all. But for me…I'm very in tune with my emotions and who I am and what I feel. I'm not afraid to be vulnerable. I feel like that's the basis of R&B: rhythm & blues."
Hear For Yourself: "2AM," which begins with Marcel and Sage the Gemini turnt up in the club, and ends with Marcel making love to a lady in his whip. By Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: A nervous breakdown, usually with enough optimism to push through to another song.
For Fans Of: letlive., Every Time I Die, Glassjaw
Why You Should Pay Attention: The group's vocalist, Caleb Shomo, previously fronted Attack Attack! – the EDM-infused metalcore group who spawned the "crabcore" genre thanks to their creepy-crawly dance in their "Stick Stickly" video. But the smarter, leaner Beartooth have anted up the aggression with poppy hooks and slinky hardcore riffing. Their debut full-length, Disgusting, follows a 2013 EP, Sick, and tours with August Burns Red and the Word Alive, and captures Shomo's knack for incisive, depressive lyrics with matchstick-thin silver linings. Most notable is the battering-ram rhythms of "I Have a Problem," a song that comes off as a declaration of alcoholism ("My stomach is bleeding / But I'm still drinking") but Shomo says it's a metaphor for the depression and anxiety he felt following the dissolution of Attack Attack! "I was just doing whatever I could to stay out of my head and out of my thoughts," he says. "I would do whatever I could to keep my mind off things and, for me, drinking helped me get to sleep. I realized later after writing it that it was incredibly literal and I feel like people think I'm a raging drunk at 21. Like, no."
They Say: "Obviously, the 'crabcore' thing was just hilarious," Shomo says. "That was an odd time in my life. We were just being dumb and having fun. It's not like we cared or had an agenda. Basically what it comes down to is, if I'm doing it for myself then at the end of the day I don't care what everyone else thinks because I know that I made an honest piece of music that I'm happy with."
Hear for Yourself: Shomo nearly bursts a vein while screaming the verses to Beartooth's gut-wrenching "I Have a Problem." By Kory Grow
Sounds like: Sugary pop with a liberal helping of Miami bad-girl
For Fans Of: Iggy Azalea, Rihanna, "Leave (Get Out)"-era JoJo
Why You Should Pay Attention: The feisty Dahlia left her hometown of Miami after high school to search for a record deal in New York. Two shitty waitressing jobs and an even worse boyfriend helped her craft personal tracks with biting edges, but her songwriting still wasn't paying the bills. She was about to pack it all up when a chance encounter at a friend's studio changed everything. "I guess they were playing my music at the studio where I was chilling in a corner and I see this redheaded girl staring me down," says Dahlia. "I didn't know if she wanted to fight me or fuck me." Neither, as it turned out: The redhead was Amanda Berkowitz, head A&R rep for Vested in Culture Records, the label started by current Epic president Sylvia Rhone. The next day, the then-21 year-old Dahlia had a contract.
What She Says: The reason I make [music] is because it's my therapy. Like I literally will just get in the booth and then, you know, I'll feel better. Like "Gangsta," I got in a fight with my manager at the restaurant I was working at the day before, and I was so fed up with just like everything, everything, everything. I went to work the next day to do the morning shift and I sat at the bar and I wrote the record. And that's kind of how I want my music to be. I want it to be soulful, emotional, uh…eye-catching or ear-catching, I guess…Something that brings people together, united in a sense. 'Hey, you're not alone.'"
Hear For Yourself: Dahlia's debut, My Garden, is slated for a September release. In the meantime, hear the hip-hop-inflected first single, "Crazy." By Cady Drell
Sounds Like: Kim Deal's Tammy Ampersand era, Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme run through the VSCO app, the 5th-Annual McCarren Park Intramural Kickball Tournament.
For Fans Of: Best Coast, the Clean, the Shangri-Las.
Why You Should Pay Attention: First conceived as a side project between Drew Citron and Vivian Girl Frankie Rose, Beverly took on a life of its own thanks to well-received singles "Honey Do" and "You Can't Get It Right" and famous fans like Fred Armisen. Their debut album, Careers, mixes hazy, lazy dream pop with the fuzzy crunch (and poor posture) of Nineties four-track indie rock, and throws in the odd Clueless reference for good measure. These days, Citron carries the Beverly mantle by herself – Rose has returned to her solo career – but with her hand-picked band in tow, she's got very specific goals for what comes next: "We're going to be a very Amps-inspired, Nineties, loud, post-punk band."
They Say: "We developed the whole thing around this trashy character, a teenaged brat who hangs out in a 7-Eleven parking lot, smokes cigarettes, and doesn't get along with the other kids," Citron laughs. "For a while, we couldn't decide if she should be named Beverly or Angela. I was going to pretend to be her in interviews, but I'm a bad actress."
Hear for Yourself: "Honey Do" is a perfect intro to Beverly's brand of breezy, beach-y rock. Guitars fizz, bass purrs and Rose and Citron's vocal harmonies melt like a Mr. Softee in the sun. by James Montgomery
Sounds Like: Smoking spliffs in an all-girl gang at a sleepover; there is probably also wine
For Fans Of: Outkast, Janelle Monáe, Audra the Rapper
Why You Should Pay Attention: A classically trained flautist and back-up singer who once toured with Har Mar Superstar, Melissa Jefferson has rapped, sung and trilled her way through a cavalcade of projects in both Minneapolis and her hometown of Houston. But it was this very multiplicity from which her quirky Lizzo project was born: Exhausted from touring, she had a writer's block that wouldn't budge until she heard the album Lava Bangers, by Doomtree producer Lazerbeak. His creative juices got her own flowing, and before she knew it, they'd linked on Twitter and began collaborating on Lizzo Bangers, a collection of bubbly hip-hop tracks that went super viral after a placement on the HBO dramedy Girls, not to mention breakaway hit "Batches and Cookies," on which Lizzo raps, "Thrift store shopping like Anna Wintour You ain't gotta ask cause I been hurr." Lizzo Bangers is being re-released globally by Virgin/EMI.
She Says: "I feel like my persona, or who I am, is very much alive in my lyrics. Every song, every pop culture reference, every chorus you hear, are things that I've just said in conversation. On 'Paris,' I've never been to Paris. I was supposed to go to study flute there at Paris Conservatory but it never happened, so I started talking some crap and then I brought the chorus in, beasting on it." The chorus in question: "Have you ever been to Paris at night? Me, either."
Hear for Yourself: "Batches and Cookies" remains a perfect summer earworm, plus the confluence of pride flags, donuts, and motorcycles in the video is fun to (attempt) to parse. by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
Sounds Like: Friendly noise, spasmodic punk, sugary pop, and the occasional black metal blastbeat having a sweaty cagematch in an Austin garage
For Fans Of: Ponytail, Deerhoof, Melt-Banana
Why You Should Pay Attention: Future Death make real-deal noise-punk for anyone who misses the Aughties heyday of bands like Lightning Bolt and Hella. Their debut album, Special Victim, was recorded in four days and released on Bloodmoss, the indie responsible for buzzy garage-muckers Slavve. They've got all the gnarl and snarl you'd expect, but drummer Alton Jenkins ratchets up the intensity with progpunk bashing that evolved from teenage fandom of King Crimson and Mars Volta.
They Say: The song title "Post-Everything" pretty much says it all about an album that throws grindy splutter underneath pop songs and closes with a gorgeous, six-minute dronegaze piece. "We're just trying to incorporate all the things that we like," says Jenkins. "There's a mix of intention and just recklessness involved. When we write, me and Bill [Kenny, guitarist]…We just go in there and start making noise. We'll take the moments that sound good and try to work with that."
Hear for Yourself: Album opener "Riot Trains" is a giddy wrestling match between a bouncy hook and smoking-exhaust drumming. By Christopher R. Weingarten
Sounds Like: DJ Rashad's hyper cousin, delivering a whiplash update on kuduro, the Portuguese music form that draws on Caribbean soca and zouk. But Marfox also has traces of Angolan house, batida, kizomba, tarraxinha and funaná in his kinetic grooves
For Fans Of: DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, RP Boo
Why You Should Pay Attention: With Radiohead digging on DJ Marfox's Principe Discos label mate DJ Nigga Fox, the insular Lisbon scene is garnering attention worldwide – and its greatest ambassador is Marfox. Just 25, the man born Marlon Silva (to Portuguese immigrants from the island of São Tomé e Príncipe) embodies the ebullient sound of the Afro-Portuguese barrios. He began making music when he was 15 and soon his Fruity Loops-rendered tracks became the soundtracks to raucous parties for Angolan and Cape Verdean African immigrants on the outskirts of the capital city. Marfox's influence in that community is such that the next generation of producers all use "-fox" in their names to pay tribute. Last month, he played his first show in New York City, slotted next to New Jersey club and Chicago footwork DJs, and he regularly plays in Europe alongside the likes of RP Boo and Kode9. His recent Lucky Punch EP on Lit City Trax furthers his sound, hinting at acid house, footwork and new sounds taken in from around the world.
He Says: "Even with getting a lot of international press coverage and exposure, the summer musical festival events and Portuguese media still don't recognize us. I'm an immigrant inside my own country. I feel one day we will get there. I now get an international audience that proves that what me and the other guys are doing is going in the right direction."
Hear For Yourself: The skittering, tricky and giddy "Funk Em Kuduro." By Andy Beta