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: "Caroline" hitmaker Aminé, Chance-affiliated Chicago rapper Saba; Morricone-fueled cineastes Tredici Bacci, jam-band scientist Holly Bowling and more.
Sounds Like: Swag surfin' with a rap prodigy from the 'burbs
For Fans of: Chance the Rapper circa Acid Rap, GoldLink, André 3000
Why You Should Pay Attention: Adam Aminé Daniel has scored an unlikely hit with the wavy love rap "Caroline" – currently at 34 million YouTube views and counting. The Portland rapper is inspired by Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak and Outkast's The Love Below, and taught himself to make beats with YouTube tutorials. He also studied business, advertising and marketing at Portland State University (he recently dropped out with 15 credits left towards his degree), and creates his own cover artwork.
Last year, he piqued interest among some influential blogs and websites with his 2015 mixtape Calling Brio, a diverse blend of house, bass drops, African pop and smooth-but-steady flows. When he posted "Caroline" to SoundCloud in June, he generated a fierce bidding war that resulted a deal with Republic Records. By September, Republic pushed the track onto streaming services, and it has soared into the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. He's recorded over 60 songs for his next project, but he's unsure if that will be an album or a mixtape. However, he knows that he wants to continue to make feel-good music that's colorful and bright.
He Says: Aminé has no shortage of opinions on the anti-immigration policy that president-elect Donald Trump used in his recent campaign. "My parents are immigrants to this country," says the Ethiopian-American artist. "They came to this country for a better opportunity just like everyone else. So if anyone else, whether they're running for president or whatever they're trying to do, if they're bashing the people who are just working hard and just trying to make a better life for themselves by coming to America, I believe that's completely wrong. To see someone like that do something like that and become president is just a testimony to where we are at culturally in America right now."
Hear for Yourself: On "Caroline," Aminé spits game to a "mighty fine" girl with the same name as Outkast's "Roses" nemesis. "Let's get gory like a Tarantino movie," he sings. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: Lenny Kravitz was backed by a killer jazz crew
For Fans of: Prince's Chaos & Disorder funk-rock phase, James Blood Ulmer, Robert Randolph
Why You Should Pay Attention: Bassist, vocalist and composer Miles Mosley is part of the West Coast Get Down, the Los Angeles jazz collective who released Kamasi Washington's spiritual jazz masterpiece The Epic after a whirlwind month of studio work that yielded over 170 songs. Set for January 27th on respected indie label Alpha Pup, Mosley's Uprising will be the second release from those famed sessions. However, it's a very different sounding work from Washington's opus: Here, Mosley leads the troupe on a funk, rock and jazz excursion marked by his honest and emotive vocals and deeply metaphorical lyrics. Mosley has earned credits on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and Chris Cornell's Carry On; played in Jonathan Davis of Korn's band the Simply Fucking Amazings; and has produced a lengthy list of film scores and trailer music, including The Dark Knight Rises, The Muppets and Arrival. He has also released two albums that he typifies as "local" projects, but nothing with the potential reach of Uprising. "I was always distracted by being someone else's sideman, which is the way everybody felt in the West Coast Get Down," he explains. "That's why the sessions were so special, because we all decided to really invest in ourselves for once and not be distracted by the other facets of our careers. … We figured, now is the time to really take this body of music that we had worked up, and execute it correctly."
He Says: During the Epic tour, the West Coast Get Down became the rare jazz ensemble to play at massive pop festivals like Coachella and Outside Lands. "As a group, we've never performed in typical [jazz] venues," says Mosley. "I've always championed the fact that we not play your standard sit-down jazz clubs. Instead, in Los Angeles we play bars, or the Viper Room, or the Roxy. We play more rock venues because we hit hard. We're not playing delicate music that needs to be in a quiet environment."
Hear for Yourself: On "Abraham," Mosley explores a crackling, gospel-tinged blues. "Dig it man! Kaboom!" he sings. Mosi Reeves
Sounds Like: A bookish kid watching the sun set on the West Side of Chicago.
For Fans of: Chance the Rapper, Lupe Fiasco, A Tribe Called Quest
Why You Should Pay Attention: Twenty-two-year-old Saba just might be Chicago rap's best kept secret. While most people will recognize him as the dread-headed rapper dancing with Chance in the "Angels" video, those familiar with Chicago's diverse rap scene will know the producer and MC as one of the architects of its emerging neo-soul-inflected sound. His beats are melodic and jazzy; his specialty is lush instrumentation atop contemporary percussion (he gets it from his papa, a neo-soul artist named Chandlar). Saba's lyrics are honest and emotive, and plays with cadence as only a kid who grew up on Twista, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and piano lessons could. Though his first big look was on Chance's "Everybody's Something" from 2013's Acid Rap, Saba's also lent his talents to artists like Mick Jenkins and Noname. This fall he dropped The Bucket List Project which documents his highs and lows in the two years since his 2014 debut, Comfort Zone.
He Says: His 2014 album dropped after a string of shows and a festival gig, but Saba was soon sidelined after the death of his uncle. Problems compounded when the album, which he expected to be his breakout project, only lead to local not national recognition. "That was the real, like 'Damn Comfort Zone didn't do shit. Damn, I'm not on shit. These shows don't matter, they not paying shit,'" he remembers. "All that positive shit? [That] was out the window." The Bucket List Project's first song "In Loving Memory," is part tribute to his uncle and part rallying crying for those who are trying to climb up out of the depths of depression. "The journey is what makes you appreciate and love that shit," he says. "So it's like the journey, I went the fuck through that shit and I wouldn't trade any second of it."
Hear for Yourself: Bucket List's centerpiece is the energetic "Westside Bound 3," a song about his seldom spoken of part of the city. After talking to a group of smart and curious West Side teens at the Young Chicago Authors program, he was inspired to take a crack at a third part to a series. "Before Twista or Lupe or any of them ever reached out to me I felt the kids are really who passed me that torch and really wanted me to speak up for them," he says. "There was a point where I felt that being from the west side and even reppin' the west side as hard as I do, [That] the west side didn't fuck with it. It's like it didn't care – but this was like damn, they do give a fuck. They care! And that's really where the song came from." Timmhotep Aku
Sounds Like: Heady, layered improv-rock excursions distilled into crystalline solo piano pieces
For Fans of: The Grateful Dead, Phish, Keith Jarrett
Why You Should Pay Attention: Solo pianist Holly Bowling transcribed and performed all 37 gloriously improvised minutes of "Tweezer" that Phish played in Lake Tahoe, California in 2013. The popularity of her YouTube performance of the piece led to Distillation of a Dream, an album's worth of Phish interpretations. Its new double-disc sequel, Better Left Unsung, focuses on music by the Grateful Dead (including a ravishing 27-minute "Dark Star"); and Bowling has embarked on a surprising new career as a touring concert pianist who specializes in the jam-band repertoire. Bowling's classical skills give her ability to perform this music with loving accuracy. And her equally passionate fandom has led to the realization that respecting the spirit of the music lies less in bagging and tagging it with accuracy than with "pushing it somewhere new."
She Says: "I had the opportunity to play with [Grateful Dead bassist] Phil Lesh recently at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California and I was a little nervous. My playing style is very melodic in my left hand from having played solo for so long, and I kind of want to sit on it to make sure I'm not stepping on the bass player's toes in a group setting. But Phil's style is very melodic, too, of course – so what if we had competing melodies? I'm really going to have to back off! And then I realized, no, that's not it at all. The Dead have always been about several melodies going at once, with different streams weaving in and out of each other like unplanned counterpoint. And playing with Phil really brought that home for me."
Hear for Yourself: Bowling's beautiful hybrid version of the Dead's memorable June 18th, 1974 "Eyes of the World" begins with her own metrically fluid arrangement and ends with her transcribed version of the band's jam. Richard Gehr
Sounds Like: "Paper Planes" soaring over "Whole Lotta Love"; R&B and hip-hop hooks with a rock knockout punch.
For Fans of: Janelle Monáe, Miguel, the Internet
Why You Should Pay Attention: Though all only aged 17 to 24, this Brooklyn crew of New York School of Rock classmates are already signed to Republic and have a popping collabo with D.R.A.M. "We're at SXSW in 2013, we're playing a little show," remembers vocalist Bay Li. "About a week later, we got an email with some plane tickets to go to Malibu to hang out with Rick [Rubin]. We performed for him and he signed us."
Since then, the Skins have evolved more than most bands do in a career. Writing (and mostly discarding) 150 songs in that time, the band tore away from a vintage rock and blues foundation, and fell in with an ultramodern hip-hop aesthetic. The fire of their live act, which earned them a slot touring with Jake Bugg, only intensified. Bay Li, siblings Kaya Nico (bass) and Reef Cole (drums), and guitarists Daisy Spencer and Russell Chell are still flexing within the five songs on their Still Sleep EP. Funk, soul and Neptunes-style trunk thumping all fit here. They hooked up with another genre orphan in D.R.A.M. for the lead single, the Daytrip-produced "Bury Me." "He fit our vibe so well," Bay Li says. "As a band we pride ourselves on being meticulous and being really nerdy about making music. Paying attention to every single detail, in our visuals, in our branding, in our videos, in everything."
They Say: "The [School of Rock] does a David Bowie show," Spencer says. "You are not only covering the song, you have to get in dress-up mode and play the part too. It is studying, like method acting almost. You're watching live videos and learning how to cover all these different standards. Everything is studying. We took it upon ourselves to study intensely what we were learning. If we were playing Prince, we were learning everything about him. If it was Michael Jackson, we were learning every little thing about him."
Hear for Yourself: "Bury Me" showcases Bay Li's swagger on the mic and the band's live effervescence. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Peeling off the last sunburn of summer until your skin is raw: psychedelic-punk for the eternally bummed
For Fans of: Warpaint, Blonde Redhead, Speedy Ortiz
Why You Should Pay Attention: After bursting into the Burger Records garage-rock scene in 2014, Cherry Glazerr have been pushing their way to the front of bigger crowds. Led by singer-guitarist Clementine Creevy, the group recently toured with Best Coast and Wavves. Creevy also cannonballed into Death Grips' Bottomless Pit earlier this year with the unhinged hook for "Giving Bad People Good Ideas." Now, filled out by drummer Tabor Allen and multi-instrumentalist Sasami Ashworth, Cherry Glazerr – a moniker riffing on the name of a KCRW radio host – arrive with their sophomore collection Apocalipstick. It retains the standoffishness of their beginnings, be it a propulsive love/hate relationship with anti-9-to-5-ers called "Trash People" or the tender death ballad "Nuclear Bomb."Sessions at Hollywood's Sunset Sound with Joe Chicarrelli (the Strokes) and Carlos De La Garza (Bleached) cut deeper sonically and emotionally.
They Say: "I was doing a guitar solo yesterday," Creevy says. "Instead of playing all the notes in the scale, I started to get super out with it – faster and faster and faster. I started to get wet and excited. I was like, "Holy shit." I was losing myself. My whole body started shaking and I could feel it in my toes. I live for that feeling. Ever since I started singing and writing songs. It comes from a basic place of necessity. Eating, fucking, playing guitar."
"I love [Death Grips] and their music, and their whole aura. I love how indifferent they are about formula and bullshit rules in the music industry. I find that admirable. I was so excited [to collaborate with them]. … I got into their studio and riffed on the mic a little bit. They're so weird and dark and sexy. It was kind of erotic because I kind of have a crush on all of them. All the lights were turned off in the recording booth. It was super fun."
Hear for Yourself: "Nurse Ratched" is a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-inspired cyanide pill of creepy punk with a dream-pop glucose coating. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Warbled and wispy love-bound rumination
For Fans of: Bryson Tiller, Partynextdoor, vintage the Weeknd.
Why You Should Pay Attention: Having earned millions of plays on Apple Music – in large part due to playlists and exposure on the Snapchats of Diddy and Kylie Jenner – Atlanta's 6lack (pronounced "Black") will release his debut album Free 6lack on Interscope as a joint venture with Lvrn. Previously signed to Flo-Rida's IMG, his new-found liberation has allowed him to make the music he wants to make from the heart, and tell his story of the past five years. Not bad for a former computer science major.
He Says: The striking cover image for Free 6lack came from a photo shoot with a live bear. "I would kind of look at the bear… he would kind of shy away and walk away," says 6lack. "Am I the bear… or are you the bear? Which one is the bear?"
6lack spent years trying to make his name, and he recently posted some video footage of his old hustle – which involved battle rapping a young Young Thug. "It was at the video shoot for Rich Kidz' 'Wassup,'" he remembers. "Around that time I would just pull up with my people. It would be about 20 of us and I would be ready to rap at all times. This was at a time when Rich Kidz was more popular than Young Thug. But, back then, he still had the aura of somebody who's about to be a star. It wasn't even really a back and forth type of thing. He just kind of nodded and shook his head and he approved. He said I was dope. I always kept that 32 bars tucked away."
Hear for Yourself: His hit single "Prblms" is a down and dirty ode to balancing faith and ambition in a relationship. Mustafa Abubaker
Sounds Like: The buzz you get after a fire cup of coffee
For Fans of: Bomba Estéreo, Julieta Venegas, Francisca Valenzuela
Why You Should Pay Attention: Tijuana-born, L.A.-based singer-songwriter Ceci Bastida fashions bubbly electro-pop for the globally minded listener. She got her chops playing keys in the wildly popular Mexican ska band Tijuana No!, then later sang backup for her former bandmate, Grammy-winning vocalist Julieta Venegas. In 2010, Bastida made an impressive showing with her solo debut, Veo La Marea, which would be nominated for a Latin Grammy. (You can also enjoy her vocal talents in the Smiths-loving supergroup, Mexrissey.)
Featuring Aloe Blacc, Spoek Mathambo and the Mexican Institute of Sound, Bastida's vibrant new Sueño EP was inspired by her frustration with chronic disappearances of Mexican citizens – the latest being the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College. "It's an ongoing problem in Mexico, "she says. "Thousands of people have gone missing – and all their families searching for answers right now." Yet Bastida assures that her overall message is to be hopeful. "There's so much beauty in this world," says Bastida. "There are beautiful people everywhere who are trying to make this world better."
She Says: "In Tijuana No! I learned about things like migrants' rights, poverty and Mexican politics, all while playing those shows. I blame them for that – these causes are a big part of my songwriting. I invited Aloe Blacc to join me on Sueño, because even though he had a Number One hit with Avicii, I still see him around L.A., performing at these community events. … Supporting all kinds of causes, like immigrant rights. We both just finished our #SchoolsNotPrisons tour; we'd get together with community organizers and do workshops throughout the weekends. My last show was at a women's prison in Corona. That was my first time inside a prison! You meet people whose whole families are in prison. There needs to be more money directed towards education than prisons.
On Election Day I woke up really sad, then incredibly angry. My daughter, who's almost five, asked: 'Why did Trump win?' I had to explain to her in very simple terms, that Trump doesn't like people who don't look like him, and many people feel that way. It's OK to be sad, it's OK to be angry, but you have to make sure not to give into total chaos. It may get very, very dark, but I'm hopeful that people are gonna get together and wake up."
Hear for Yourself: For a song called "Un Sueño" – the Spanish word for "dream" – this bubbly dance track with Aloe Blacc inspires anything but slumber. "Solo tengo sueño," she chants, "yo no tengo miedo." Suzy Exposito
Sounds Like: A fresh take on Italian film music's quirky, kitschy golden age
For Fans of: Ennio Morricone, Mr. Bungle, John Zorn
Why You Should Pay Attention: As a music student at the New England Conservatory, Simon Hanes found himself wrestling unhappily with the post-World War II avant-garde. But the notes began flowing like wine once he started writing music in the tradition of Ennio Morricone and other Italian composers of Spaghetti Westerns, comedy-romances and giallo scaries of the Sixties and Seventies. Throwing bossa nova, rock, funk, jazz and pop into a studio blender, these composers' anything-goes approach inspired former Guerilla Toss bassist Hanes to form Tredici Bacci ("13 kisses"), a 14-piece horns-and-strings vehicle for sexy, mysterious, mod-à-go-go romps through pop's eccentric European past. Tredici's debut album, Amore per Tutti, finds guest vocalists navigating Hanes's marvelously arranged kitsch-pop fantasias. In person, Tredici's academically trained pool brings the screen to the stage.
They Say: "My worst enemy is an audience that's never seen The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Hanes says. "But we were playing a Sofar Sounds house show, and I had to figure out how to perform this music for an audience that had no idea what the hell we were referencing. So we played a slow and really moody cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" – and it actually did the trick!"
Hear for Yourself: Post-punk experimentalist J.G. Thirlwell adds sleaze-rock vocals to the action-packed anxiety of Tredici's "Give Him the Gun."
Sounds Like: Indie-rock spring fever.
For Fans of: Angel Olsen, Florence Welch, St. Vincent
Why You Should Pay Attention: Los Angeles-based wunderkind Miya Folick recently opened for noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells on a slew of sold-out dates. She started out studying acting at NYU and at the immersive musical theater education CAP21 program before pursuing music: The intensive education inevitably influenced her unorthodox performance style, as did playing the taiko drums in her Buddhist church group growing up.
"I had left NYU, was taking a semester off and really did not have much to do," she says. "And I was going through a really hard time, and so was this friend of mine from high school. He started teaching me guitar, and mostly I liked to make up my own songs. I just liked to explore different shapes I could make with my hands to make different sounds. I didn't even learn chords."
She Says: "I put up a profile on Tinder that said 'looking for a band,' and then I put my Instagram handle and figured people could find me. I think I did swipe for a little while but eventually gave up because I wasn't really finding anybody. And my bass player, Bryant [Fox], saw my profile. We didn't get matched because I guess I didn't swipe right. He saw my Instagram, messaged me and came to a show I was playing solo. So, I met my bass player through Tinder, and then he basically put the rest of my band together."
Hear for Yourself: "Pet Body" is a barreling ode that tackles the idea of feelings being disassociated from brain and body. Paula Mejia