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10 New Artists You Need to Know: June 2017

Playboi Carti, Cheat Codes, Jlin, Jaimie Branch, Smino and more

Artists You Need to Know: June 2017

Playboi Carti and Cayetana are two new artists to know.

Gunner Stahl, Jess Flynn

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.

Ella Mai

Courtesy of Orienteer

Ella Mai

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

Kondi Band

Alexis Maryon

Kondi Band

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 

Cayetana

Jess Flynn

Cayetana

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  

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