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: New Orleans rapper Young Greatness, Scandinavian EDM star Zara Larsson, Brooklyn alterna-punks Big Ups, Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin, Justin Bieber tour opener Moxie Raia and more.
Sounds Like: No Limit aggression and Cash Money melody reborn in the age of Atlanta
For Fans of: Fetty Wap, Future, Migos
Why You Should Pay Attention: Young Greatness' ecstatic escape-from-the-streets anthem "Moolah" is a turning into smash — it currently has more than 3 million YouTube streams and 2 million SoundCloud plays. Hurricane Katrina displaced him from his New Orleans home, pushing the MC to Houston and some of his family to Atlanta. His breakthrough mixtape, last year's I Tried to Tell 'Em, triangulates the regions: knotty sing-song NOLA melodies ("Ain't no Osh Kosh B'gosh, my Reebox box was full with knots"), rattling ATL trap beats and a work ethic he attributes to witnessing Houston rappers. "There was a studio called 7303, that's where I first met Bun B, Beyoncé, Bryan-Michael Cox," says Greatness. "When I seen the other artists working every single day, I kind of adapted to my surroundings. It was like calisthenics to me."
When he quit life in streets to pursue a career in music, the studio became his second home. "I wanted to make it so bad I was willing to accept the change and have faith in God, you heard me? During that period, I just stayed in the studio," he says. "That was easing my pain. I never left. But now I'm glad I made that choice. Look at me, man! I'm here!"
He Says: "From the start of my career, I always was melodic because that's how I came up — second line music, we sing. That was already instilled into me. … We used to go so much to where I was the child in my household that started rebelling on going to the second line. Every Sunday, I gotta get a hair cut, get new clothes. You're walking for like 15 miles through the whole New Orleans. So if it's cold, you're gonna freeze. If it's hot you're gonna sweat. It's just a party on feet. The Saints win the Super Bowl, they're gonna have a second line. The Pelicans win a game, they're gonna have a second line. "Moolah" go platinum, they damn sure gonna have a second line!"
Hear for Yourself: Over a sweeping Jazzy Pha arrangement, "Moolah" paints all the joy and pain of the hustle from someone who escaped it. Christopher R. Weingarten
Sounds Like: A summer kickback
For Fans of: Tori Kelly, Alessia Cara, Bieber's ballads
Why You Should Pay Attention: Moxie Raia got a major cosign when Justin Bieber announced her as one of the opening acts on his massive Purpose world tour. Though a new name, the singer's journey to playing stadiums with one of the world's biggest pop stars began years ago. She was a competitive dancer by the age of six, was writing her own songs by 10, and applied to a performing arts school in NYC without her parents' knowledge at age 13. Her career got a false start in 2013 when, after getting signed to Capitol, she debuted the breezy single "Buffalo Bill." She has since terminated her relationship with the label — and says she has signed with a new one. Until her official debut, she'll release her 931 mixtape on March 23rd featuring guest spots from Post Malone, Wyclef and Pusha T. "This mixtape is me saying 'Here's what comes out of me naturally,'" she says. "'Here's the stuff I've always written, and haven't been able to release.'"
She Says: Raia's new gig has truly been a whirlwind: Her addition to the Purpose line-up was a last-minute one. "Literally I found out a week before it was planned to start. His manager reached out to me and asked me to do the first three dates, and then an hour later was like 'Do you want to do the whole tour?' I met [Justin] for the first time at the first show."
Hear for Yourself: Soulful pop tune "On My Mind" featuring Pusha T is a heartfelt introduction to Moxie Raia's post-label woes reinvention. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: A precocious vocal talent raised on diva vocals, but making electronic music through a darker Snapchat filter
For Fans of: The effervescent melodies and shadowy streak that runs through the best Scandinavian pop
Why You Should Pay Attention: "Never Forget You," featuring MNEK, boasts more than 160 million Spotify streams and more than 78 million YouTube plays to date. Larsson first emerged in her native Sweden as the breakout, 10-year-old star of Sweden's Got Talent in 2008. But after winning that show, she purposefully receded from the public eye, took five years to grow up a little and returned as an independent artist. Nursed on powerhouse vocal stylists like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin, Larsson — who writes her own material — brought serious singing skill to unapologetic pop. As she's matured, her new material's taken on a moodier and more personal bent. Signed to a co-deal with Epic and Ten, she released her U.S. debut, the Uncover EP, last January.
She Says: "['Never Forget You'] is really obviously about love, and about a guy I was with for a very long time. I just feel like it's very beautiful because it's very true to me and how I think. Because even though we're not together any more, I will always have that love for him, and that is very much who I am."
Hear for Yourself: On the mega-smash "Never Forget You," Larsson's hefty, alto trills build dramatically over spare piano before the whole thing releases cathartically into bassy trap-house. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: A sunny afternoon barbecue in Leimart Park, with the boombox switching between jazz for the parents and hip-hop for the kids
For Fans of: Robert Glasper, Anthony Hamilton, Kendrick Lamar at his free-jazziest
Why You Should Pay Attention: Thanks to the enormous success of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, one of its chief architects, Terrace Martin, is drawing long overdue attention. Since the early 2000s, the saxophonist, producer and sometime-rapper has brought his warm and earthy blend of jazz and hip-hop to tracks for Big K.R.I.T., Talib Kweli, Y.G., Travis Scott and many others. Velvet Portraits, his first album for Ropeadope (co-released with his Sounds of Crenshaw imprint), is his most ambitious solo outing to date, a thematic tapestry of jazz and soul that serves as a valentine to South L.A. Conceived and recorded during the past two years, it's the culmination of decades of work that threads from his teenage participation in the legendary Multi-School Jazz Band (along with saxophonist Kamasi Washington and bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner) to his breakthrough as a producer with Snoop Dogg and a brief, unsuccessful deal with Warner Bros. in 2007. "It feels amazing when I see young kids play instruments, or when I see people soothe their problems to the music that I helped create," says Martin, who collaborates with Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, and others on Velvet Portraits. "I'm inspiring kids; I'm touching people. That's my only goal."
He Says: When asked why he doesn't rap on Velvet Portraits, Martin says, "I'm a product of rap. It's just fun. We used to rap around the house — my mom rapped, my dad rapped, everybody just rapped. But me as a rap artist on the mainstream of things, it gets a little tricky because you have cats like Kendrick, Drake, J. Cole, you have these monsters that do that on a front scale level. You have to respect that they're some bad muthafuckas. If you ain't up to that, you should just rap at home like I do! These cats are making it hard."
Hear for Yourself: On "Patiently Waiting," Martin arranges a gritty soul-blues as Uncle Chucc and the Emotions sing about love and reconciliation. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Sticking it to the man with style.
For Fans of: Slint, Fugazi, grotesque facial expressions
Why You Should Pay Attention: The four-piece post-punk outfit Big Ups have been entrenched in Brooklyn's DIY scene for several years, playing marathon shows and creating an unlikely anthem from the chorus of their song "Justice": "Everybody says it's getting better all the time but it's bad/Still bad!" They're poised to hit bigger stages from here on out: They just opened for Metz and released a sensational sophomore record, Before a Million Universes. On the new album, they've refined the blistering post-punk anthems that turned heads on their debut with sharper hooks and more evocative lyrics about isolation and self-discovery. "People say 'don't read the comments,' but there's something about wanting to be a better writer," says frontman Joe Galarraga. "We tried to make this record a little less explicit, in your face. More well-crafted and less didactic."
They Say: "All of our songs' demo names are really bad," Galarraga says. "'Knight' was called 'Carlos and Joe are Doing the Thing, and Now We're Not' for a really long time. 'Justice' was originally called 'Funkbutt,' because it has that bass line. 'National Parks' was called 'New Fugazi.' There was one called 'New Jazz' and another called 'New New Jazz.'" Adds drummer Brendan Finn: "We were more familiar with 'Funkbutt' at shows, we'd call it that sometimes onstage. We use those names pretty much until we write the new record."
Hear for Yourself: In the mighty "National Parks," Galarraga addresses the sacrifices his single mother made for him and his sister through throttles and well-placed screams. Paula Mejia
Sounds Like: A groove-oriented jam band that prizes tunes over solos.
For Fans of: My Morning Jacket, Galactic, Alabama Shakes
Why You Should Pay Attention: The New Orleans-based septet's third full length Men Amongst Mountains bowed at Number Two on the Billboard Alternative Albums Chart last year and found traction on Spotify, where they have amassed over 2 million streams. They've also become a popular fixture of the summer festival circuit, thanks to a dynamic live show and singer David Shaw's soulful howl.
They Say: "We were always careful about playing too many shows in New Orleans," says singer Shaw. "Even from the get-go, we never really wanted to be one of those bands that played that weekly gig — it just didn't seem like who we were. It was definitely a great place to incubate us and kept us out of the spotlight long enough for us to develop in the ways we needed to develop. And then once we were ready for that, it was the right time. You know how they say, when you really want something the universe conspires to help you make that a reality? I feel that was really happening."
Hear for Yourself: The sweet, wistful "Wish I Knew You" encapsulates the band's varied strengths with brittle stabs of funk guitar, dub-influenced keys and colorful splashes of brass. Jon Freeman
Sounds Like: A swamp bar jukebox loaded with British glitter and Seventies Southern rock; a crawfish boil aboard ELO's spacecraft
For Fans of: Dr. Dog, Ryan Adams, The Last Waltz
Why You Should Pay Attention: After falling hard for Bob Dylan and David Bowie as a child in Louisiana, Kyle Craft channeled his heroes on his Sub Pop debut, Dolls of Highland. A couple years ago, he holed up in a friend's Shreveport, Louisiana laundry room and turned true-to-life tales of a "Gloom Girl," the "Lady of the Ark" and "Black Mary" into a poetic gumbo of Southern roots, electric folk and preening glam rock. "That's one of the more beautiful things about songs is that they're more like pictures," he says. "[Dylan's] 'Visions of Johanna' is a picture. It's not some sort of thing that's telling you to feel a certain way, it's just there." Dolls' echoing honky tonk saloon piano, harmonica, vintage organ and his unrestrained howl — like Carly Simon chasing Freddie Mercury-level vocal runs — provide an immediacy that he'll showcase in May while touring with the Fruit Bats. Mixed by Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel of the Helio Sequence, this album stokes the warmth, looseness and unpredictability of a live show just inches from coming unhinged.
He Says: "I couldn't sleep [the night after I found out Bowie died]. Every time I'd go to sleep I'd have these nightmares. It was rough. Bowie was the first album I ever had. He's always been a giant influence on me. At the same time, he went out perfectly. His passing was graceful. It was classy, beautiful, and he made it feel like it was right. It felt like he was like, 'All right, see you guys later.'"
"[Summers and Weikel] are geniuses when it comes to mixing. When you hear this album now, it has this polish to it. Not overproduced, or extremely polished, but it does sound galaxies different from where it started. When it started, it certainly sounded like it was recorded in a laundry room. They get down to what grade of cable it is. I've never been like that before. I'm like, 'Lemme throw this shitty mic into this shitty pre-amp and through this shitty cable.' Phil Spector once said: 'Mic anywhere in a room with a good performance and it's gonna turn out good.'"
Hear for Yourself: Just enough of Ziggy's stardust gives "Pentecost" its musical sheen, but it's Craft's vocal intensity that outlasts all else. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: A shroom-fueled trip through Avatar's bioluminescent rainforest
For Fans of: Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, the Knife
Why You Should Pay Attention: Aurelia Smith makes electronic music utilizing the rare, modular Buchla Music Easel synthesizer, expertly wedding its blipping arpeggios to her processed voice. A former acoustic guitarist from the isolated Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest, Smith made "cinematic folk" with touches of Segovia, Ravel and Debussy before going electronic. Smith's classical acumen remains intact on Ears, a wholly immersive, mesmeric listen. She's made fans ranging from comedian Reggie Watts to Buchla pioneer Suzanne Ciani and is on tour with Battles and Animal Collective this spring.
She Says: "I was helping my neighbor on the Orcas Islands set up his home studio and he asked me about my influences. When I mentioned Terry Riley, he got excited and showed me some old Buchla synthesizers that he had. He leant me one for a year and I started exploring it and incorporating it into my music. Slowly, every piece started to lose the guitar and got more electronic. There's a really beautiful fine line between controlling it and letting it be out of control. That's stimulating for my mind. It puts me in a very present mindset and flow state. I'm just trying to keep it on the edge between chaos and order. Ears was conceived as a journey for the listener through a futuristic jungle."
Hear for Yourself: "Arthropoda" has the beauty of a children's choir in an alien bog. Andy Beta
Sounds Like: Punchy love songs for rebellious former choir girls
For Fans of: Paramore, Rainer Maria, Pity Sex
Why You Should Pay Attention: Bound together by pop-punk — and by marriage — Bethlehem, Pennsylvania pianist Carly Comando and drummer Tom Patterson comprise one of the most unique rock bands in the United States. After the departure of their former bandmates, members of Long Island heroes Latterman, the band powered through as a two-piece, and eventually as a couple. They made a banner showing at this year's SXSW, where they plugged their fourth full-length album, Break, released this month on emerging indie/emo label Topshelf Records. Still, this wouldn't be the band's first date with success; Comando penned an original piano score entitled "Everyday," which accompanied the 2006 viral video, "Noah Takes a Photo of Himself Every Day For 6 Years." The song would later earn her an Emmy Award after being featured in a 2007 episode of The Simpsons.
They Say: "At this point we're feeling a lot of frustration with getting older and growing up," says Comando, 30. "People around us are dying, or they're stuck in shitty relationships. When me and Tom got married, we moved into a place that got infested with bed bugs — I wrote about it in "Lewlyweds." It was a psychologically disturbing experience! Still, we've been doing this thing for 10 years and we're only getting stronger. We're still here, we're still punk, or whatever we are.
"With Break we wanted to focus on breaks and breakthroughs, keeping it positive and trying new sounds. Tom is an incredible drummer, when he plays live he's an absolute monster. But in this record I told him, "Listen, you're so good but I almost want you to calm down a bit." I wanted to be more present this time around in my vocal melodies and lyrics. I've also been experimenting with more pedals to make a beefier sound; but because they're all made for guitars, it's a gamble. It's hard to figure out which pedals work with a keyboard. … Sometimes I try a new pedal and it makes this scary piercing sound, and I smell my amp burning and then I'm like, "Nuh-uh, nope."
Hear For Yourself: On latest single, "You," Comando nimbly bounds across the keys while maintaining a sturdy foundation of chunky bass and distortion; Patterson buoys the fuzz with brisk rhythms. Suzy Exposito
Sounds Like: The world's ugliest math problem
For Fans of: Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, the Austerity Program
Why You Should Pay Attention: "It's the aim and desire to just write stupidly heavy music," says Frontierer noisician Pedram Valiani about his band's next level tech-metal. The band achieves their unique brand of heavy by mixing abacus-melting time signatures, shards of rattling jungle techno and heaving slabs of blackened distorto-scuzz. The extreme nature helped make their debut LP, Orange Mathematics, a hit on Bandcamp. These four social media buddies — two in Scotland, one in Portugal and vocalist Chad Kapper screaming from Missouri — are planning on meeting in the same room for the first time, to rehearse for their first ever live show at U.K.'s Tech-Fest in July. "We only spoke over Skype for the first time in eight years a couple of weeks ago," says Valiani. "Baby steps."
They Say: "I want to make albums that I will listen to as a fan as well as the creator…. Being able to get a kick out of my own songs was the main driving factor," says Valiani. "I like the concept of 'random' and i'm trying to incorporate it a lot more across my music. There are whole Frontierer songs I wrote without looking at what I had previously. I would just write each part over the timescale and add to it so by the time I got to the end I had no idea what I started with.
Hear for Yourself: Orange Mathematics bonus track "Lightshow Paralysis" is a grab-bag of terror: brittle breakbreaks, whining and wirring noise, throat-shredding screams and an ever-shifting riff-bludgeon. Christopher R. Weingarten