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: Rising rapper YBN Nahmir, eight-member pop collective Superorganism, nostalgic house producer DJ Seinfeld and more.
YBN Nahmir’s “Rubbin Off the Paint” – terse, disdainful and hook-less – has amassed 43 million views on YouTube and an additional 27 million streams on SoundCloud in just two months. As a result, the 17-year-old rapper from Birmingham, Alabama has been promoted to some of Spotify’s coveted rap playlists, including Most Necessary and Rap Caviar, though he has only four songs (less than 10 minutes of music total) available on the platform. Nahmir lives in Alabama, but he’s uninterested in the local lineage of southern hip-hop. “People still sound like Lil Boosie and Webbie – I fuck with Boosie, but the new niggas that try to sound just like him and Gucci Mane, that’s played out,” he says. “Make your own shit.” Friends who moved from Oakland and Vallejo to Alabama introduced Nahmir to E-40 and Snoop Dogg. “The Bay, they got their own sound, they don’t try to be like nobody,” he says approvingly. “They smooth out there.”
He began recording his own raps as a teenager and gauging the response on YouTube, Facebook and eventually SoundCloud. When he saw the excitement around “Rubbin Off the Paint” he decided to shoot his first music video for $150. Chris Brown soon complemented the track on Instagram and Vince Staples paid tribute by releasing his own remix. “I sound like a little nigga, but older niggas can relate to my shit,” Nahmir says.
He Says: Nahmir was frustrated the day he recorded “Rubbin’ Off the Paint”; the track gave him a chance to sound off. “I was speaking on how I was feeling that day: My brother had just got locked up again for a pistol, I was in a beef with some nigga right around the corner from my house,” he explains. “It was a bunch of shit going on. I just put it into a song. … I got 4,000, 5,000 views in like a night. I usually get that in a week and a half. I was like, bruh, we need to record a video for this. Everyone was messaging me like, ‘Yo, “Rubbin Off the Paint” goes hard.’ Everybody in school knew it. The teachers know my song.”
Hear for Yourself: On “Rubbin Off the Paint,” Nahmir fires off a series of gruff, threatening couplets over a battering loop Elias Leight
Sounds Like: A dream-like collage of internet memes and self-awareness set to pixelated synthesizer pop
For Fans of: Gorillaz, Avalanches, the Go! Team
Why You Should Pay Attention: The eight-person collective based in London has received plaudits from Frank Ocean, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and others curious about the retro-futuristic aesthetic of “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” Their lead vocalist, Orono, is a 17-year-old from Japan who used to write Katy Perry fan fiction and learned to play guitar watching Koenig’s “A-Punk” instructional video on YouTube. Lyrically, she fills Superorganism’s forthcoming debut – arriving via Domino in early 2018 – with a running commentary rivaling Courtney Barnett’s clever observations on the everyday. “I’m out of touch and I don’t know what’s going on, except my little circle of internet friends,” she says in a Skype interview. “I don’t really overthink it when I’m doing creative stuff. I do what I feel like doing. Try and make something ‘good.’ Not really considering how other people perceive it because that messes up the final product.”
Backing her in stunning Technicolor fashion are Harry, Tucan and Emily, who handle the bulk of writing and production, visual producer Robert, and vocalists Ruby, B and Seoul. Together, they have created a genre-spanning Spotify playlist called “Sweet Stuff” that has snowballed to over 300 songs to get everyone on the same page artistically. “We listen to it together quite a lot,” says Harry. “You end up with Lil Yachty next to a Slint song or whatever. We all like well-crafted pop songs, regardless of the genre. It’s a really great way to pool our ideas and our tastes.”
They Say: “For us, pop music is a thing unto itself,” Harry says. “It’s something that makes genre irrelevant. Something concise, to the point, it’s catchy, it’s in your head and it’s creatively arranged and produced. That’s ultimately what our goal is with this. We’re not thinking we have to produce in this specific genre. We could take it in any direction we wanted to.”
“My dad considered himself a punk in the Seventies, so he listened to punk music and he wasn’t into disco. You could only listen to what you’d buy and what was on the radio. I don’t have to make the decision either way because it’s all available to me instantly. That’s got plusses and minuses. The plus is that you can draw influence from anything. But then at the same time it means that generations don’t have these fully unifying things anymore, like the dominance of Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain. For our generation, it’s making sense of this information overload rather than any particular message or movement.”
Hear for Yourself: “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” is a stream-of-consciousness, deadpan update on Nineties-era slacker cool. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: An introverted Seventies-era singer-songwriter’s mellow musings brought into the present day with squelchy electro-synths.
For Fans of: Death Cab For Cutie, Passenger, Vance Joy
Why You Should Pay Attention: He released two of his biggest songs to date back in 2015 — the spare and apologetic breakup single “I’ll Be Good” and his duet with Phoebe Ryan “We Won’t” – to a combined streaming total of more than 80 million. This year’s debut LP, Feel Something, shows him to have serious musical range. The Seattle-bred 27-year-old musician deftly maneuvers between slick electro-pop (“Sugar Burn”), dance floor drops (“Naked”) and hip-hop beats (“Two People”). Raised on angst-ridden singer-songwriters like Elliot Smith, Ben Gibbard and Eddie Vedder, Young was a “depressed loner” before picking up a guitar at age 13. “When I found music it was like, This solves all my problems,” he says.
He Says: “If you want to be a great songwriter you need to be able to communicate an emotional message to as many people as possible and reach them and move them. You could write something so avant-garde and it would go completely over people’s heads. And you’ll think you’re a genius but who the hell is gonna know what you’re talking about?”
Hear for Yourself: On the title track from his debut album, Young’s volatile emotions seesaw with the song’s rollercoaster sonic shifts. “I’m too young to feel so numb,” he sings, his voice quivering. Dan Hyman
Sounds Like: Trying to dance through the feelings at 4 a.m.
For Fans of: Classic house and techno, the sound of a slightly worn cassette in your headphones
Why You Should Pay Attention: DJ Seinfeld – really Malmö, Sweden native Armand Jakobsson – blew up via YouTube, but not on his own channel. Instead, his saudade-drenched stunner “U” wound up reposted on an underground-house-centric channel called Slav. There, its burbling, contemporary basslines, married with proper, classic house rhythms, crunchy compressions and wee-hours comedown chords, racked up some 600,000-plus views to date.
It also got him loosely grouped with a small crop of other artists, mostly working online, mining similar rough-edged, nostalgic tunes under sardonic names. Termed “lo-fi house,” it includes acts Ross From Friends, Mall Grab and DJ Boring – and stirred up a helping of social-media drama along the way. Seinfeld’s new full-length, Time Spent Away From U, makes for one of the best proper dance-music albums of the year, full of wistful R&B ballad samples, borderline-Balearic melodies, and lo-fi crackle and fizz.
He Says: Seinfeld wrote both “U” and the album’s title track in the same span a year ago, right in the middle of an alcohol-dampened, post-breakup funk, one which spurred him to leave aside a master’s in economics and move to Barcelona. When SoundCloud suggested a label of “euphoric house,” he selected it a little ironically.
“That song, and ‘U’ were made on the same day, if not one day apart. It was just about real emotional turmoil at that point,” he recalls. “I was probably sitting on my balcony in Barcelona and drinking wine and working on those songs. So those are the two most ’emotional’ songs – definitely not ‘euphoric,’ but in some kind of weird vapor state.”
Hear for Yourself: An anthem for romantic FOMO, “Time Spent Away From U” has fuzzy swatches of lovelorn female vocals, bummer synths and driving four-to-the-floor beats. Arielle Castillo
Sounds Like: A cinematic melange of Eighties New Wave, quiet storm and goth-pop.
For Fans of: The XX, Broken Bells, Beach House
Why You Should Pay Attention: A little over a year ago, Los Angeles trio Lo Moon posted a seven-minute slice of dream pop, “Loveless,” to the internet. It found the ears of Pharrell Williams and ex-Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, and the song is closing in on a million YouTube streams. Frontman Matt Lowell, a Berklee grad, wrote the falsetto-filled number about five years ago while trying out different genres in New York as a singer-songwriter. “It’s the first song I felt really excited about,” he says. Lo Moon have since released two more tracks, “Thorns” and “This Is It,” the latter is a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Triple A chart. For their forthcoming debut, Lowell, bassist/keyboardist Crisanta Baker and guitarist Sam Stewart split time recording in L.A. and Seattle, working closely with Walla and Francois Tetaz (Gotye). “This album is so much about the arc of relationships and the different phases,” Lowell says of the undeniably moody results. “We all got through it together.”
They Say: “There’s a huge difference between being in school working on music and being in a band touring,” says Lowell, who will be opening dates on Phoenix’s North American tour with Lo Moon. “You can’t really learn that. You have to make the mistakes, write a bunch of terrible songs, and just go out and play them – which is what I did right after I left Berklee. At school, it was great being around musicians all the time. Great, and the worst thing ever. You’re constantly comparing yourself. Berklee’s filled with incredible musicians. I found a little crew there that had what I thought was really good music taste and opened my ears to a lot of stuff. It’s different at a music school because people are searching all the time.”
Hear for Yourself: The emotional synth-rock of “This Is It” delivers drama like peak Peter Gabriel. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Country’s Imagine Dragons, full of arena-ready pop hooks and chant-along choruses
For Fans of: Kenny Chesney’s coming-of-age anthems, the Killers’ spit and polish, floor toms
Why You Should Pay Attention: Their single, “Greatest Love Story,” is a streaming giant and and country Number One that’s currently charting on Billboard‘s pop Hot 100.The five guys who make up Lanco — singer-lyricist Brandon Lancaster, bassist Chandler Baldwin, multi-instrumentalist Jared Hampton, drummer Tripp Howell and guitarist Eric Steedly — all bring their own unique influences to the table, resulting in a rich mash-up of contemporary country and gleaming pop. No less than Jay Joyce (Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood) jumped at the chance to produce them, putting the focus on anthems, the band’s specialty. This is shout-till-you’re-hoarse music, brought to life by a group with a performing style as unconventional for country music as their name (Lanco is short for Lancaster & Company). “When we’re in front of a crowd, we’re aware that everyone has the whole world in their pocket, on their cell phone. You’re competing against a cat video when you’re up there onstage playing music,” says Lancaster. “So I want to jump in the crowd and be up close and personal with people.” The band’s debut LP is expected in January 2018.
They Say: “A lot of different genres are fantasy-oriented … ‘in the club popping bottles’ or whatever. But country music is about finding people where they’re at right now: working a 9-to-5, going through hard times, questioning life,” Lancaster says. “Yes, our music is huge, and our show is energetic and we’re all over the place, but there is a message that people understand. … We’re all experiencing this night together.”
Hear for Yourself: “Greatest Love Story” is a triumphant tale of small-town love and the circuitous path by which two people find it. Joseph Hudak
Sounds Like: Off-kilter, high-intensity pop from a 21st-century microstar
For Fans of: Robyn, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, ASMR videos
Why You Should Pay Attention: The highly stylized, slightly creepy videos of That Poppy began appearing on YouTube in 2014, awash in millennial pink and featuring the super-kawaii personality engaging in compulsive, odd behaviors like eating cotton candy and uttering “I’m Poppy” repeatedly. In 2015, she released the breezy “Lowlife,” and followed it up with the intricately wrought Bubblebath EP and the intentionally soporific 3:36 (Music to Sleep To). Poppy.computer, her URL-advertising debut, came out in October; on it, the now-mononymic Poppy’s light-as-a-MacBook-Air voice darts through motorik rhythms and 8-bit bursts while trilling simple mantras about fame and the curiosities that come along with online life and hypertargeted fame. It’s one of the most surprising pop albums of the year, pushing against the written-by-committee blandness of Top-40’s offerings with effervescent hooks and deliberate weirdness – as evidenced by the billboard of her wide-eyed visage gracing Times Square, which garnered props from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
She Says: “I’ve always played music my entire life, so it’s just a part of me. … I like Michael Jackson a lot, and Elvis, and Madonna. I’m filling a void – probably the pop star void, because Lady Gaga isn’t doing it anymore. Pop music on the radio is boring, so I don’t want to be boring. It’s really slow, and everyone always whispers a lot instead of using their voice to sing. … I just want to make pop music great again.”
Hear for Yourself: “I’m Poppy,” the lead track from Poppy.computer, transforms Poppy’s most notorious YouTube clip into an electropop manifesto. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: An Eighties goth with an R&B falsetto atop broken electronics
For Fans of: Miguel, Rhye, Tri Angle Records
Why You Should Pay Attention: The 28-year-old native Angeleno recently opened for Miguel, got a co-sign from Perez Hilton and is playing at Houston’s Day for Night Festival next month. Though he remains secretive about his background, he lays bear his darkest, most lurid thoughts in his lyrics. “I am an empty slate … do not resuscitate/ ‘Cause I could use the sleep,” goes one line from his 2016 EP In Loving Memory. A self-admitted Smiths fan, Saro’s handle comes from the chorus of “Pretty Girls Make Graves” about “sorrow’s native son/He will not smile for anyone.” His newest EP Boy Afraid (out in December) finds the self-admitted recluse creeping a bit further out of his shell.
He Says: “Morrissey didn’t make me want to be a singer per se, but I identify with his lyrical style, how he’s so direct but then hides these things in his language that can be so dark and hopeless,” Saro said of how he grew from just singing in the shower to recording his own music. There’s a bit of dark humor behind such hopelessness though. In shooting a video to accompany his forthcoming single “Sky Doesn’t Blue,” Saro wound up being buried alive. Twice. “The first time we did it in Topanga State Park without permits, guerilla shooting and using a drone to shoot the whole project. Right as I’m getting buried alive, up to my face in dirt, the ranger comes and freaks out on us for digging on state property. We wound up on my friends property and did it again. There’s dirt in every crevice of me and I don’t think I’m going to get it out.”
Sounds Like: Soulful R&B duets over soothing electronic soundscapes
For Fans of: Phantogram, Crystal Castles, Chvrches
Why You Should Pay Attention: This Canadian duo’s career was given an extra push when they were discovered through Toronto non-profit the Remix Project. Jayli and Hayden Wolf grew up on opposite sides of British Columbia, but their lives were similar. Both were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses and didn’t cross paths until they were leaving the religion, meeting through mutual friends and later connecting while trying to launch their individual music careers. “Our whole childhood past was so similar that we bonded instantly,” Hayden recalls of their immediate connection. As they began collaborating, they realized that their romantic and musical spark was undeniable and decided to take their relationship and joint career seriously.
They Say: “We didn’t know we were going to die,” Jayli says of the research path that led to the name Once a Tree. Given the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Wolfs had to unlearn and re-learn different aspects of the way they saw life, energy and spirituality. “It was a really big shocker for us when we left the religion. We were looking into different avenues of religion, and [the phrase] Once a Tree came to represent freedom to us. It means the circle of life and how energy doesn’t die but instead transforms.”
Hear for Yourself: Summer single “Breakdown” captures the smooth, emotional electronica of the duo’s debut album, Phoenix. Brittany Spanos
Sounds Like: The sweet spot of a Sixties-tinged summer hit
For Fans of: The Beach Boys, Rooney, Weezer
Why You Should Pay Attention: Long Island-based musician Ryan Camenzuli writes infectious, abrasive yet melodic indie-pop with a framework that is constructed with precise multi-part harmonies and surf rock guitars. His debut album On Human Freakout Mountain conveys the earnestness of someone going through and trying to document the coming-of-age experience.
He Says: “I felt like I was always very reserved in being open about things and being myself in a lot of ways. I think once I broke that barrier, it started getting so much easier for me to open up and be truthful,” says Camenzuli. “Once that started happening, and I started writing more honestly, I let me be me. That’s when people started responding to the music I was working on.”
Hear For Yourself: Inspired by the relationship between his friend and their childhood dog, “Blaze” reflects on the build up of anxiety and heartbreak in a toxic relationship. Sarah Midkiff