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: Playboi Carti’s Billboard-crashing rap, Jlin’s mutant techno, jazz sensation Jaimie Branch and more.
Sounds Like: The soundtrack to a rowdy car ride to a random house party
For Fans of: Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Young Thug
Why You Should Pay Attention: Since releasing his breakout hit “Broke Boi” on SoundCloud in 2015, the now-20-year-old has been one of the Internet’s most buzzed-about new hip-hop artists. This dreadlocked, self-described “motivational” South Atlanta-raised rapper, dropped out of high school, moved to the Bronx and quickly fell in with the A$AP Mob. This May, after several delays, notable features (“Telephone Calls,” off A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes Vol. 1) and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Frank Ocean and Skepta, Carti, now signed to A$AP’s AWGE imprint, released his self-titled debut mixtape. (It landed at Number 12 on the Billboard 200). Turn-up party anthems “Magnolia and the Lil Uzi Vert-featuring “Wokeuplikethis*” have notched a combined 32.7 million and 44.8 million plays on Spotify and SoundCloud respectively.
Like his onetime idol and now-mentor A$AP Rocky, Carti sees rapping as a vehicle for cross-cultural infiltration. “It’s more than just the music,” says Carti, who starred as the lead model of OVO’s 2016 summer lookbook and performed at Yeezy Season 5, of his creative motivation. “I want to have my foot in every lane. I practice doing other shit like modeling and other things besides music just so I can be active.”
He Says: “I make music to make people happy. It’s just fun. All this shit is just fun. When I go in the studio everything I’m saying is a reflection me. I’m one of the most relatable artists out here. I’m a tall black skinny nigga from Atlanta. I’m just showing the way. And that’s why niggas love me. I just gotta stay true. We just on our rock star shit. Everybody gets inspired by everybody.”
Hear for Yourself: “Woke up to niggas talking like me,” Carti ruminates on “Wokeuplikethis*,” a rejoinder on artists biting his style and being called “mumble rap.” “I feel like I really be saying shit, so for somebody to come at me like ‘Oh he’s mumbling’ or whatnot,” Carti says, “it’s like, ‘Well, bro, this is the same mumble that everybody wanna sound like!'” Dan Hyman
Sounds Like: Uplifting vocal-dance anthems for getting loose with friends and forgetting the one who didn’t text you back
For Fans of: Matoma, Martin Garrix, the Chainsmokers
Why You Should Pay Attention: Their breakout 2016 single “Sex” hit worldwide charts and they’ve probably struck gold again thanks to a new offering, “No Promises,” featuring Demi Lovato. It’s already hit the top slot on Billboard‘s Emerging Artists chart and it’s been spun over 5.9 million times and counting on YouTube.
The trio behind Cheat Codes – Trevor Dahl, Kevin Ford and Matthew Russell – first came together through a series of semi-unfortunate events: Ford and Russell met and bonded over being ripped off by the same producer, while Dahl struggling to make it in L.A., wound up renting out Russell’s spare laundry room. It all worked out for the best, though, as the producers, songwriters and singers decided to put aside their old genres (acoustic singer-songwriter fare, hip-hop), to take their talents to the dance world. How that’s manifested, then, is a heavy dose of a live-band feel for the mega-festival crowd. Dahl often provides the kind of lovelorn, wistful vocals that hurt so good as the sun goes down on the main stage, while the whole trio often mans electronics and equipment to keep things thumping with the energy of a live band.
They Say: “We had a show with Demi a few months ago in Brazil and afterwards all their fans and our fans were tweeting at us like, ‘Aw, you’ve got to do a song together,'” Ford says. “We had this song, called ‘No Promises,’ and we thought she would be perfect and her voice would really capture the concept and all the emotions. … People are so focused on the title of the relationship, they’re not really enjoying it, they’re not in the moment and enjoying themselves to see if they like being around the other person.”
Hear for Yourself: On “No Promises,” Dahl and Lovato wistfully stay committed to be non-committal over sunshine-ready swaths of tropical house. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: The title of her second album – Black Origami – is a fine description: dark snares and pointy textures folding in on themselves
For Fans of: Aphex Twin, DJ Rashad, Autechre
Why You Should Pay Attention: Though no stranger to buzz – her first album was Rolling Stone‘s Number Two electronic album of 2015 – Jlin’s second album has seen a torrent of love from tastemakers, including features in Spin and Pitchfork, performances at Red Bull Music Academy and regular collaborations with designer Rick Owens. Luckily, the latest album by the artist born Jerilyn Patto lives up to the hype, so unique in it’s sound as though it emerged from a vacuum. Though earlier material drew from Chicago footwork – Patton hails from nearby Gary, Indiana – most of that genre’s rhythmic hallmarks have receded into the ether. In their place? Unpredictable, hyper-speed, minimalist clatterings of drums, warped vocal snippets, and the occasional wail, all laced with enough flanging and echoes to approach the sublime. Black Origami‘s cast of guest collaborators, too, reflects this kind of heady stuff, with names like sound artist/composer Holly Herndon and minimalist legend William Basinski coming to play.
She Says: “Origami is the art of taking paper and folding it, bending it and making it into this complex thing, right? But it starts off as a blank sheet of paper. Instead of using the paper, I replace it with sound,” she says. “The way that I approach music is that I don’t. It’s like chemistry for me; it’s experimental. I never go in with a concept. That’s why I say it’s as much a surprise for me as it is to you.”
Hear for Yourself: “Holy Child,” a collab with William Basinksi, rattles and hums as if from another dimension. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: Countrified St. Louis soul refracted through the prism of futuristic Chicago hip-hop
For Fans of: Andre 3000, Mick Jenkins, Chance the Rapper
Why You Should Pay Attention: After leaving his native St. Louis for Chicago, he made name for himself in that city’s vibrant hip-hop scene – his love song “Anita” has a million plays across YouTube and SoundCloud. On the heels of collaborations with Chi-Town locals like like Noname, Saba, Jean Deaux and Mick Jenkins, Smino dropped his debut album, Blkswn, in March and set out of his first headlining national tour to support it. He’s played to sold-out crowds everywhere from New York to “the Lou,” but concert-goers at the Atlanta leg of the Swanita tour got a special treat when T-Pain, one of Smino’s idols, joined him on stage to perform Pain’s hit “Chopped and Skrewed.”
He Says: “I feel like it’s a magnetic force right now in Chicago, and it’s been being instilled in the Midwest. I’m from the Lou – I love my city – but … in the Midwest, Chicago is the mecca right now to music. And it’s a reason for that, there’s so many creatives comin’ from all over the world to be in Chicago. It’s so much energy in Chicago. … So that’s what I’m tryin’ to start helping my city [St. Louis] see in itself. We can get back to that type of shit, all we have to do – in real life – is find each other.
Hear for Yourself: Smino, the blkswn, celebrates black love in “Anita.” Timmhotep Aku
Sounds Like: Art Ensemble of Chicago jamming at an art-punk loft
Why You Should Pay Attention: Chicago-reared, NYC-based trumpeter Jaimie Branch has played with the likes of Spoon, TV on the Radio and Belle Orchestre. After 10 years of being down to jam with jazz, post-rock and doom metal groups, Branch steps out with her assured debut album, Fly or Die, fronting a band featuring noted Chicago percussionist Chad Taylor and cellist-composer Tomeka Reid. The album expertly veers from sweet hooks, spacy interludes and free-jazz exploration, Branch’s trumpet sparring with Reid’s sawed cello, Taylor’s crackling rhythms and even bits of acoustic guitar. Her horn veers everywhere from Cootie Williams-style growls to space-echo ambience.
She Says: “Both my brothers and my dad was a trumpet player, but I didn’t really know that when I picked it up,” Branch said of carrying on in the family tradition. Growing up in Chicago, she cut her teeth as part of what she deemed “a 10-piece traditional suburban punk ska band” as a teenager and later on became entranced by Chicago’s legendary, still-vital jazz scene. “Chicago jazz has a homegrown attitude about it that’s really DIY. They put on high-level concerts but at its roots, it’s almost a punk aesthetic. The musicians put on the shows for other musicians. That’s why it keeps perpetuating. It’s at such a high level of energy.” But for her album, she took inspiration not from classic jazz, but from an unlikely pop source: “I wanted it to be the length of Weezer’s Pinkerton,” she says, “where you can easily listen to it again and again.”
Hear for Yourself: “Theme 0001” has a peppy and bright bounce. Andy Beta
Sounds Like: A boot-stomping, banjo-toting collective delivering boho-chic pop hooks somewhere between the Avett Brothers and the Chemical Brothers.
For Fans of: Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Imagine Dragons
Why You Should Pay Attention: The Los Angeles trio recently performed single “Set on Fire” live on the Today show, and the song has spent multiple weeks in the Top 40 of the Billboard Alternative Songs charts. Prior to founding Magic Giant, frontman Austin Bisnow notched credits writing for David Guetta, Steve Aoki and Nickelodeon boy band Big Time Rush. His ear for creating upbeat infectiousness and four-on-the-floor rhythms is still present, but now a wealth of folk instrumentation sets the tone.
Bisnow, banjo player Zambricki Li, and guitarist/cellist Brian “Zang” Zaghi’s mirthful debut full-length In the Wind features field recordings captured by their solar-powered mobile recording studio. Co-produced with Ben Allen (Walk the Moon, Animal Collective), the album binds together the three collaborators’ disparate tastes and emotions. So far, Magic Giant’s touring has teamed them with the Revivalists, Mike Posner and Eric Hutchinson, and festival appearances include Electric Forest and Wanderlust. “We have all these different backgrounds and we butt heads at every moment of diversion,” says Zaghi. “There’s three of us, so there’s never a tie.”
They Say: “The most common thing we do is play in front of a ton of people, but [performing on Today] was in front of no people – except Hoda, Kathie Lee, Elvis Duran and a crew of people behind cameras,” Zaghi says. “With no people to bounce energy off of, we found it within each other. They’re either really good at faking how much they loved us, or they really loved the performance. It all went over so smoothly. We were like, ‘Wow, this is what paradise feels like.'”
Hear for Yourself: The propulsive, folk-flavored “Set on Fire” is perfect music festival fare. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: A singer/songwriter armored to compete in a world dominated by trap and EDM
For Fans of: N.E.R.D. ballads, Gallant, Troye Sivan
Why You Should Pay Attention: When R.Lum.R (pronounced “Ar-Lamar”) released “Frustrated” in 2016, Spotify threw its weight behind the power ballad, putting it on playlists like Are & Be, which boasts 3.3 million followers, and using his photograph as the face of the “Alternative R&B” playlist for months. “Frustrated” has now accumulated more than 15 million streams on the service, and it recently started getting played on Urban AC radio stations. On August 11th, R.Lum.R will build on this with the Afterimage EP.
He Says: Reggie Williams Jr. spent years training as a classical guitarist before hitting the Orlando bar circuit as an acoustic troubadour. “I was doing my best John Mayer impersonation, essentially,” he says. The dense electronic production he records as R.Lum.R was discovered accidentally during an experiment writing songs to potentially pitch to artists like Jason DeRulo and Chris Brown.
“The last year of college was one of the hardest years of my life because of all the trepidation: I had built up my whole life to be this classical guy, and people understood me to be this thing,” he says. “You’re essentially just doing a completely different thing, and you don’t know if people are going to go with you on that. I figured, why keep studying commercial music, why not go do it? The same thing happened when I switched over from Reggie Williams music to R.Lum.R. I started doing this as a side project, and I didn’t know people were going to react so strongly. But I really like lots of types of music. Why not explore them?”
Hear for Yourself: On “Frustrated,” R.Lum.R is suspended in a state of torturous indecision. “I’m screaming underwater every time I say goodbye,” he sings, creeping through the verses and crashing through the hooks. Elias Leight
Sounds Like: A British émigré full of self-confidence and an affinity for classic Nineties R&B
For Fans of: Kehlani, Tinashe, Mila J
Why You Should Pay Attention: This spring, the 22-year-old performed as an opener on the international tour of fellow rising R&B star Kehlani. In 2015, Ella Mai began posting short, seconds-long videos of herself singing popular hooks like 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up” and Chris Brown’s “Ayo.” She became known as “the girl who sung on Instagram,” amassing more than 300k followers and drawing the attention of DJ Mustard, the L.A. producer responsible for hits like Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” and Rihanna’s “Needed Me.” Mustard, who she now calls a mentor and a friend, signed the London-born singer to his 10 Summers label. Now based in L.A., Mai has since released three evocative EPs – 2016’s Time and Change, and this year’s Ready – that showcase her starkly emotional yet expressive voice, and a unique knack for spoken-word interludes. YouTube clips of her best tracks, like the atmospheric ballad “10,000 Hours,” and a duet with Mustard affiliate Ty Dolla $ign on “She Don’t,” have resulted in millions of views.
She Says: At the age of 12, Ella Mai’s mother got a teaching job in Queens, New York. She spent her high school years there before moving back to London. “When I went into high school, I don’t know why – because I’ve been performing since I was little – but I think it was just the pressure of being somewhere so different, and I already stood out because I had an accent, and everyone always wanted you to talk, that I kind of shied away from singing a bit,” she remembers. “I played soccer for nine years, so I took that route instead of singing. I played on the outside team as well as in school, so I was always playing soccer. It wasn’t until I moved back to London that I really, like, started investing in music again and realized, OK, yeah, this is definitely what I want to do.”
Hear for Yourself: On “Lay Up,” Ella Mai promises a trip to the islands, a private flight for the night, “just the two of us, no one else invited. Baby, jump right in.” Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: An African folk-art master weaving thumb piano loops over minimalist techno pulses
For Fans of: Lee Perry, Francis Bebey, Mbongwana Star
Why You Should Pay Attention: Kondi Band’s debut is deeply hypnotic electro-acoustic trance music, warped by echo and multi-tracked vocals, spiked with live brass touches that conjure vintage dub reggae. Sierra Leonean-American DJ/producer Chief Boima discovered the music of Sorie Kondi, a thumb piano virtuoso and singer who made his name as a street musician, via YouTube. Boima’s unofficial remix of “Without Money, No Family” came to the attention of Kondi, who managed to book some U.S. dates; the two met and recorded tracks for a debut LP in Boima’s Bed-Stuy apartment. With help from English musician/producer Will Horrocks (of the diaspora-minded international electronic project LV), the men have a full slate of dates booked in Eastern and Western Europe this summer.
They Say: “It’s always been difficult for Sierra Leoneans to get a visa!” laughs Boima about prospects for U.S. dates in the new era of immigrant paranoia. “We’re hoping to get some assistance, since it won’t be a simple process – especially for someone like Kondi, who doesn’t have a formal education and lives in a low-income situation. But we’re hoping it will happen!”
Hear for Yourself: “Belle Wahalla” recalls the hunger meditation of Bob Marley’s “Them Belly Full,”
with swaggering horns and snaking electro-bass. Will Hermes
Sounds Like: Fuzzed-out, forthright rock where bracingly frank lyrics cut the sugar-spun hooks’ sweetness
For Fans of: Tacocat, Waxahatchee, Tiger Trap
Why You Should Pay Attention: In May they released second LP New Kind of Normal, the inaugural release on the agitated pop-punk band’s Plum Records, putting the band’s road-honed musicianship on full display. Allegra Anka’s smoothly melodic basslines and Kelly Olsen’s steady drumming provide a fulcrum for the lyrics of guitarist Augusta Koch, which combine radical honesty about managing the anxieties of daily living with dreamy poetry. “Sometimes it’s hard to say/When you’re just having a rough day/And everything seems so romantic/When there’s time and space away,” she sings on the album opener “Am I Dead Yet?,” which envelops its jitters in clouds of reverb. In early July, the trio will tour with Camp Cope and Worriers; later that month they’ll hit the road with fellow Philadelphians Waxahatchee.
They Say: “Putting out our own record was not anything I ever thought we would do – especially not on our second record… We’ve learned to trust ourselves and each other,” says Anka. “When we started the band, everything was on this huge learning curve. There were a lot of firsts involved. Everything that we were doing we were doing for the first time. That was really, really fun, but then as things started to kind of pick up and get more serious, it started to get stressful, and we started getting overwhelmed with some of that stuff. Letting it go was a really good turning point for our band; without doing that, it wouldn’t be a sustainable thing. We wanted to make room for the important things, which are our friendships and the music that we make together.”
Hear for Yourself: On “Bus Ticket,” Koch draws boundaries with a friend (and pays tribute to Nineties emo heroes Braid) over grinding guitars. Maura Johnston