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: Chicago hip-hop sensation Dreezy, tape artist Ian William Craig, Israeli folktronic sisters A-Wa, emerging tropical house producer Matoma and more.
Sounds Like: A junkyard of busted tape machines crooning a melancholic lullaby
For Fans of: William Basinski, Grouper, Anohni
Why You Should Pay Attention: Vancouver's Ian William Craig is a classically trained vocalist with a cloudless, crystal-clear voice — but he manipulates it with broken reel-to-reels, decaying tape and shoegaze-ready feedback loops. His gorgeous, melancholy and nostalgic Centres will be the first release on FatCat's relaunched 130701 imprint, the highly influential post-classical label that helped launch the careers of Max Richter and Hauschka among others.
He Says: "With [William Basinski's 2002 tape suite] The Disintegration Loops, it was like, 'Oh man you can actually feel… the thing of the music… the actual surface of it.' It was so powerful. I hadn't considered that sound could have a physical surface to it. That was really profound. [Tape is] just such a generous, tactile experience. In the digital realm when you peak something, that's just it. The computer doesn't actually understand anything past that because it doesn't have any imagination and that's as far as programming extends, so when you peak it or give it to much signal it goes, 'Yeah, I'm out.' You get these really gross miscalculations, but not in a pleasant way. With tape it's like pouring too much liquid into a glass. The glass doesn't actually really care that you poured too much liquid into it … and it kind of cascades out the sides and does all of these really interesting things past the boundaries of how it was designed to act."
Hear for Yourself: "A Single Hope" is a tender torch song fading into the distance of cloudy dreams, half-forgotten memories, dreampop textures and, yes, tape. Christopher R. Weingarten
Sounds Like: "Real Love" for the Trapsoul generation
For Fans of: Nicki Minaj, Dej Loaf, Bryson Tiller's "Don't"
Why You Should Pay Attention: "I'm about to catch a body in here, baby," Dreezy sings in "Body," produced by BloodPop of Justin Bieber's "Sorry." Typically in hip-hop, this line would mean that she will soon commit murder, but she and R&B heartthrob Jeremih rewrite the streetwise trope for the sake of romance. People are warming up to it, too: This spring, "Body" became her first Hot 100 hit, with nearly 6 million YouTube views. Two years ago, Dreezy was collaborating with members of her hometown Chicago's drill scene: King Louie, Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard. She reclaimed her city by remixing Nicki Minaj's sinister battle rap "Chi-Raq," which fellow native Common used to blast at parties. Her modus operandi in the booth was, "I got to be coming in like Wayne or harder." But now, after having worked with Common and Atlanta producers Metro Boomin and Southside, this Interscope signee is changing her approach for a more sensual sound.
She Says: While "Body" is easygoing, Dreezy's debut in full will also dish some tough love, to pick up from where she left off in her 2014 mixtape Schizo. "When you're growing up and in relationships, love is blind like Eve said," Dreezy says. "When you get older and see things for what it is, I'd rather be patient. I feel like everybody's finessing each other right now. It ain't no real love out there. Everybody got their guards up. All the guys feel like the females want their money or they want clout, or they're trying to use them for whatever. All the females feel like they're being lied to and this, that, and the third. It's no trust, it ain't no loyalty. I'm going to say that in my music too. I got some music that I just talk about real stuff. That's the stuff I like to talk about."
Hear for Yourself: While "Body" debuted back in January, its sing-song flirtations and weightlessness make it a strong contender for song of the summer. Christina Lee
Sounds Like: A missing link between multiple Nineties moments. The band's debut, Masterpiece, is a decades-overdue convergence of tender alt-country, pugnacious indie rock and vulnerable emo, led by a voice that switches between solace and a scream
For Fans of: Sharon Van Etten's emotional honesty, P.J. Harvey's unflagging cool
Why You Should Pay Attention: Masterpiece recently arrived via Saddle Creek, packing all those raw feelings and nerves you would expect from one of the label's all-stars, as well as the generous mix of roots and rock that helped make Conor Oberst a star. NPR has called Masterpiece a breakthrough, the band "bound by great songs." This year, with an aggressive tour schedule that includes headlining club dates and several impressive festival spots, they're probably coming to a town near you.
They Say: Adrianne Lenker met Buck Meek four years ago, on the very same day she moved to New York from Boston. There, she'd been a folk singer, so the two fell into a softly playing, hard-touring duo. After a few years, though, Lenker bought a custom-made electric guitar, crafted by a division leader and friend at Collings Guitars. As soon as it arrived, she wrote "Paul" and "Vegas," two centerpieces of Masterpiece.
"I was a little daunted. I'd played one acoustic my whole life, and there are so many elements to an electric. So many things go into making a tone," she says. "But he had this beautiful piece of wood that had been sitting in the shop for a couple of years that he had been saving for a special purpose, and a lot of care went into the guitar. He shipped it to New York around Christmas two years ago, and I started writing these songs right then.
Hear for Yourself: On "Real Love," the essential anthem from Masterpiece, you get all sides of Lenker and the band in a four-minute package — the soft folk start, the arching rock chorus and a guitar solo that feels like an invitation to fisticuffs. Grayson Haver Currin
Sounds Like: A tropical-house-inflected, dancehall-and-R&B-laced happy pill just in time for summer fun
For Fans of: Kygo, Thomas Jack, any of the many artists who appear on Matoma tracks — from Popcaan to Jennifer Lopez
Why You Should Pay Attention: From some of the frostiest climes in the world — small-town Norway — this 24-year-old producer born Tom Lagergren has perfected a relentlessly uplifting cross-genre sound with a chilled house backbone. With each track projecting enough warmth to melt the iciest cynics' hearts, he's excelled in blending dancehall and house in a pop-friendly package. Recent guests on his best tracks have included Popcaan and even Sean Paul, who's getting a new blast of cred thanks to his Matoma collab "Paradise." This is all paying off in serious numbers: Matoma's ranked 89th in overall global artists on Spotify, with some 6.5 million listeners a month, particularly on Hakuna Matoma, a Kanye West-esque, always-expanding streaming album project. He made his Coachella debut this past April.
He Says: "I hear from people who are like, 'Today I lost my job,' or, 'My girlfriend broke up with me, but I went to my Cadillac, smoked a blunt and listened to Matoma, and life is good.' That made me think, Wow, can my music really make a difference in people's lives and everyday struggles? That really inspires me."
Hear for Yourself: If you're an enthusiast of group fitness or just well-curated, feel-good playlists, you may have already heard his latest hit, "Running Out," featuring Norwegian singer Astrid S. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: Yemenite folk music and Arab ululations burnished with electronic beats and girl-group harmonies.
For Fans of: Haim, Ofra Haza, Balkan Beat Box
Why You Should Pay Attention: Since its 2015 release, sisters Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim's "Habib Galbi" ("Love of My Heart") video has attracted 3.5 million views. The grandchildren of Yemenite Jews who immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s as part of Operation Magic Carpet, the siblings (ages 27 to 33) grew up in Shaharut (pop. 120), a desert-bound farming community in southern Israel surrounded by kibbutzim. Determined to take their youthful passion for Yemenite folk music forward, with the visual assist of a keenly colorful fashion sense, the Haims approached Balkan Beat Box singer (and fellow Yemenite-Israeli) Tomer Yosef. Developing their unique blend of folk singing and street sounds, he helped them break into the Tel Aviv music scene and produced A-Wa's debut album, Habib Galbi, which arrives this month.
They Say: Who's the old man with the whip in the "Habib Galbi" clip? "That's Tomer Yosef's father," laughs elder sister Tair Haim. "He looks cruel in the video but he's very nice in real life. We put a lot of symbols into the video. He represents the older generation, who could be very tough against women. We're running away from him, so it's a call for people to liberate themselves. Our hijabs are pink, the color of universal love. We're saying you can shine even in the desert. When we dance with the boys, we're saying women and men are equal. There are many thoughts behind it, but it's also just a nice video people can have fun watching and listening to."
Hear for Yourself: In "Habib Galbi," the Haims praise their beloveds with jubilant voices over a sort of Middle Eastern reggae beat. And dig that dubstep break! Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: Lusty soul drenched in high-voltage guitars; this singer croons about fancy cars and femme fatales as if they are going out of style
For Fans of: Miguel, Jazmine Sullivan, Lenny Kravitz
Why You Should Pay Attention: James perked ears in 2013 when he released a free EP, Coke, Jack & Cadillacs, in three installments: A song like "Remind Me Of Me" suggested William DeVaughn's smooth funk classic "Be Thankful For What You Got" refracted through a nasty noir prism. James' debut album, Eldorado, was just released, and the singer assembled it with help from an all-star team: production from Da Internz (Nicki Minaj, Big Sean) and Happy Perez (Miguel, Ludacris); and writing from Stacey Barthe (Katy Perry, T.I.). The single "Permission" has already found a home on the airwaves, climbing to Number Seven on Billboard's Adult R&B Songs chart, and the old guard has embraced his work: Snoop Dogg was an early collaborator, and James will serve as an opener for both Erykah Badu and Maxwell this summer.
He Says: "When I was young, I used to collect these books. My dad and mom used to always say, write your vision down. Write the things that you want to happen. I would write: I want to make soul cool. I didn't understand the corniness of saying 'cool,' but I knew what I meant. There are so many forms of soul: David Bowie was soulful as hell; Johnny Cash was soulful as hell; you also have a Prince, a Stevie Wonder. I want to bring my perception of that, and not live inside the box of, 'This is the type of tracks you get,' 'This is the type of drums you get.' I was raised on so many different genres of music, there's no way you can box me."
Hear for Yourself: "New Religion" is a concentrated dose of James' favorite themes. The sacred and the carnal thrive side by side, the production is atmospheric, the guitars pulse towards the horizon and swagger abounds: "She says I'm kind of conceited/You can bet that I heard that before." Elias Leight
Sounds Like: In her own words, "Shellac meets Andre 3000"
For Fans of: Janelle Monaé, Esperanza Spalding, the Internet, Ibeyi
Why You Should Pay Attention: A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Rubinos' infusion of R&B, punk, electronic and jazz is pure New York — that is, the side of New York that Girls won't show you. Her sophomore album, Black Terry Cat, is Rubinos' kaleidoscopic showcase of fizzy electronic and funky analog textures. Her complex arrangements bolster some hefty analyses of everything from romance ("Lonely Lover") to racial politics ("I Won't Say"). Spoken, sung and spit as percussively as a poet, her verses waver between English and Spanish — but she's not keen on her music being pigeonholed as "Latin." "I'm proud of where I'm from," says Rubinos, who's of Cuban-Puerto Rican descent. "But it's inaccurate to call my music Latin because I am. [Latin] means a lot of things, but it doesn't describe the actual sound of my music." She was recently featured in an all-star Prince tribute video, "Pop Life," maneuvering the keyboard alongside fellow pop eccentrics Alan Palomo of Neon Indian and Kristin Kontrol.
She Says: "Most songs on Black Terry Cat started with basslines I improvised. I was also more intentional with my words and what I wanted to say. I was really inspired by Kendrick Lamar's [To Pimp a Butterfly] — his voice is so fluid, he sounds like many different Kendricks. I do like that street poetry sound. My go-to right now is Busta Rhymes' "Still Shining". He does that "rah-rah-reow" dragon thing. It reminded me to take my time and experiment more with my own voice…. Put my own stank on it.
"My song, 'Mexican Chef' … came about after I ran some errands in Brooklyn and saw kitchens setting up for the night. In the front of every restaurant you got white, hipster waiters playing Phantogram, then in the back you got brown kitchen staff blasting ranchera, bachata music.… My mom's a registered nurse, she used to work at a nursing home. She once told me, 'Brown women are often there to welcome you into the world.… And they're the same ones who will send you off.' That image just stuck with me."
Hear for Yourself: The jazzy "Mexican Chef" holds no punches. Suzy Exposito
Sounds Like: Classicist Southern hip-hop with a subtly lyrical bent and a bit of a cool-kid edge
For Fans of: Goodie Mob, Curren$y, Madeintyo
Why You Should Pay Attention: In an era dominated by melody and a scant few narrative styles, Richmond, Virginia's $ilkmoney and his crew Divine Council are exploring new avenues of capital-L lyricism. The rapper — who counts Curren$y as his biggest influence — makes rap stylization seem full of surprise and possibility. With Chicago producer Icytwat and his rhyming compatriots Lord Linco and and Cyrax!, $ilk and his crew have created a new and refreshing lane — one which also caught the attention of Andre 3000 and Erykah Badu, both of whom heard of the rappers from their son Seven. $ilkmoney himself has a baritone delivery with the heft of Fat Trel and brings elaborate rhyme schemes to chiming, atmospheric production.
He Says: For $ilkmoney, who spoke from his grandmother's home in Virginia, the most stunning part of the group's rise has been the respect afforded by some of hip-hop and R&B's most respected stars. "I remember when we first met Andre," he says of the legendary Outkast frontman. "That shit blew the fuck out my mind. I didn't know who the fuck this nigga was. I was like, 'This nigga look just like Andre 3000.' And it deadass was Andre 3000. He was like, 'What's up, I'm big fans of y'all.' I was like, 'We big fans of you!' He sat next to us eating tomato soup and shit. That nigga flew from Texas to New York just to see us perform. He was saying how we remind him of Outkast because he ain't never heard anything like us. And I was blown away. I just got on a plane for the first time in my life ever to come to New York. And I'm having the time of my life and this shit is happening."
Hear for Yourself: "Dick in Da Dope" counters its silly title with $ilk's highly technical delivery. David Drake
Sounds Like: Auto-Tuned Kanye hanging off French house's Eiffel tower
For Fans of: Cashmere Cat, Chance the Rapper, Halsey
Why You Should Pay Attention: Still in his early twenties, Norwegian producer Lido has already sold out shows in the U.S. and done production work for the likes of Ariana Grande, Halsey and Banks. When his gospel-inflected tracks for Chicago's Towkio caught the ear of Chance the Rapper, Lido soon found himself contributing to this year's most acclaimed rap album, Coloring Book. Born Peder Losnegård, he grew up in a gospel music household (his father conducted a nondenominational church choir) and gravitated to the likes of Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, but he soon pivoted to hip-hop. By the time of his 2014 debut EP, he had moved into a space where EDM, bass and gospel intersect.
He Says: "I flew out to Chicago and did work on Chance's live show, co-musical directing it with the band," Lido said. "We wrote a ton of music, some of it came out on Coloring Book, but some of it is still on secret hard drives around the country."
While Lido has focused on collaborations of late, when he played at Coachella this past spring, he premiered his debut album, set for release later this fall, before an unsuspecting crowd. "I decided to play the whole thing and use Coachella as the pre-listening party and see how people react to the new music," he said. "People at festivals want to hear songs they've already heard. My goal was to stand out in the crowd and surprise people and trigger an emotional reaction. I was really, really scared to be quite frank."
Hear for Yourself: "Crazy" is Blackstreet-flipping manicness. Andy Beta
Sounds Like: A peek behind the doors of Twin Peaks brothel One Eyed Jack's
For Fans of: Nite Jewel, Mazzy Star, Cold Cave
Why You Should Pay Attention: Austin creepgaze trio Troller push the darkwave lexicon into doom metal, noise and ultra-romantic Lana Del Rage. Their second album, Graphic, was released on vinyl and cassette on the local Holodeck imprint and recently caught a CD reissue courtesy of metal stalwarts Crucial Blast. A moody — and pop-leaning! — counterpart to the local community of Austin synth enthusiasts (Survive, Flatliner, Ssleeperhold), Troller is both ugly and beautiful, full of swooning melodies that blow lushly through dank electronic dungeons.
They Say: "We're always trying to find a balance between hard and soft in our sound, and when we found these source images for the record, we just sort of fell in love," says Amber Goers about the arresting bondage images of the Graphic artwork. "These photos seemed to perfectly represent that balance, pleasure versus pain."
"In general, we think that most people who are drawn to our album art will enjoy our music," says Adam Jones. "No blowback, no regrets."
The band's video for "Not Here" goes one step farther, exploring a BDSM underworld with a local drag queen, some dominitrixes and their naughty props — including some leather masks for the band's wardrobe. "I'm not gonna lie, I felt completely at home in my latex gimp mask," says Goers. "Comfort is a relative term, right?"
Hear for Yourself: Album highlight "Storm Maker" is a slow-pulsing grind that's part Julee Cruise croon and part darkwave howl. Christopher R. Weingarten