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 York rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, classic rock revivalists Greta Van Fleet, self-described “social music activist” Keyon Harrold and more.
Sounds Like: A Bronx-born rapper overflowing with sing-song melodies
For Fans of: Travis Scott, Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti
Why You Should Pay Attention: A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie recently scored his first Top 40 hit with “Drowning” – his second platinum-certified single in less than a year – and debuted at Number Four on the Billboard Albums chart with the LP The Bigger Artist. That’s even more impressive considering that the rapper’s debut mixtape came out just 18 months ago. But commercial success comes as no surprise to him. “When they did the Auto-Tune on my voice [the first time] I fell in love with that shit,” he says. “I knew it was art from the beginning.”
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s hits tend to be his more exuberant cuts like the cheerful “My Shit,” which became a hit last year. But stick around for the bleak, mournful ballads like “Jungle.”
He Says: “When I first went in the booth, I didn’t know nothing about my voice. That’s when I first started the melody. You could make a sound that you would think is embarrassing, but when you go in the booth, make that sound with a certain effect, you make a hit record out of that shit. I knew I couldn’t sing. I just always tried to work with the beat and the voice so they could sound nice together. After a while it came to me – it wasn’t a singing voice, but it sounds so good I can call it a singing voice.”
Hear for Yourself: “Drowning” is both melancholy and triumphant, a downcast-sounding record about a life lived in the jet-set class. “Chain so heavy I feel like I’m holdin’ up a mountain,” he sings. Elias Leight
Sounds Like: Three brothers and a best friend determined to make rock and blues relevant again
For Fans of: Led Zeppelin II, sibling bands like the Kinks, Viking rock
Why You Should Pay Attention: Their debut single “Highway Tune,” a ferocious bit of slashing rock driven by singer Josh Kiszka’s Robert Plant wail, is Number One on Mainstream Rock radio. Raised by their father on blues greats like Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, the brothers Kiszka – Josh, Jake (guitar) and Sam (bass/keys) – recruited drummer Danny Wagner to form Greta Van Fleet, named after a local octogenarian musician in their hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan. The group’s debut EP Black Smoke Rising has made fans of everyone from fellow Michigander Bob Seger and Howard Stern to Alice Cooper and, supposedly, Plant himself. “Someone showed him our stuff and he said, ‘That’s fuckin badass,'” says Josh. The group is currently on a sold-out U.S. tour.
They Say: “Rock & roll isn’t really going on right now and it’s something the people need,” says Josh, before explaining the group’s unique moniker. “We came across ‘Gretna Van Fleet’ and thought it’d be a cool band name. It sounds Nordic and ambiguous. We changed it to Greta and put it on the marquee of a show we were playing downtown and she and her husband came and sat through the whole set. They’re in their early 80s. She used to play the dulcimer.”
Hear for Yourself: With a chugging riff, bombastic drums and Josh’s rapidfire lyrical delivery, “Highway Tune” is robust proof that classic rock lives. Joseph Hudak
Sounds Like: Heady dreams about lonesome landscapes, narrated with precise urgency
For Fans Of: Solange, King, Vulnicura-era Björk
Why You Should Pay Attention: This Los Angeleno’s debut album Aromanticism is one of the most startling debuts of the year, a treatise on the notion of living without love that uses wide-ranging musical tastes and a gorgeously elastic voice to deliver thoughts on existence. Sumney’s vocals appear on Solange’s steely-eyed 2016 triumph A Seat at the Table, and his swirling take on Beck’s composition “Title of This Song” opens the recorded version of the pop guru’s 2013 sheet music compendium Song Reader; but Aromanticism is a showcase for Sumney’s compositional talent, love of sound and ability to craft simple yet searing lyrical statements. Sumney is currently finishing his first headlining tour before he heads out to Europe for a series of festival dates and headlining stints.
He Says: “[‘Quarrel’] started with me and the producer Cam O’bi talking about making something that was a fucked-up Stereolab song, but a soulful one. We made this beat and came up with some chords, and I took it home. Over the course of the next year, messed with it, because I didn’t want it to sound like it could be just one genre. I was listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane at the time, and to Joanna Newsom’s first album, and I was falling in love with the harp. We found this harpist named Brandee Younger, who lives in Harlem, and we flew out to Harlem to record her, and then I wanted the song to transition from being beat-oriented to feeling live-band-oriented. So I assembled a cast of characters in L.A. to add on to the outro – a drummer, a bassist and a keyboardist/synth extraordinaire. The song was a lot of pieces – ‘OK, we’re going to put the harp player here, and the live band here and we have a guitar player in L.A. that can do this.’ A lot of the record was made that way.”
Hear for Yourself: Aromanticism, accompanied by visuals that Sumney conceptualized with his collaborators Allie Avital and Sam Cannon, is streaming in full on YouTube. Maura Johnston
Sounds Like: Catchy jazz fusion for the Trump era
For Fans of: Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Why You Should Pay Attention: After a decade or so as the session and touring go-to for some of the jazz and pop world’s biggest names (Beyoncé, Gregory Porter, Common), trumpet player Keyon Harrold, 36, finally earned a quasi-star turn as the voice of Miles Davis in last year’s Don Cheadle-helmed biopic Miles Ahead. It was Cheadle who inspired the name of Harrold’s long-awaited sophomore album The Mugician (out now on Sony Legacy), a collection of thoughtful and wide-ranging compositions featuring artists from Georgia Anne Muldrow to Gary Clark, Jr. to Robert Glasper, who got Harrold his first touring gig backing Common. Harrold’s pop sensibilities and activist leanings shine through on the album, which is tied together by its catchy melodies – a rarity in critically acclaimed circles of modern jazz.
He Says: “I want anything I do to be singable – I don’t like to purposefully go over somebody’s head,” Harrold says of his approach to songwriting, which he’d prefer to call anything but jazz. “Obviously we need marketing terms to help package things, but the idea of what the music is can’t be reduced to a four letter word. A better term for myself would be ‘social music activist.'”
The Mugician‘s political themes are evident on “MB Lament,” a tribute to Michael Brown that Harrold, a Ferguson, Missouri native, wrote not long after Brown was shot in 2014. “It’s sad that it’s still current,” he says. “I have a platform to say something to people who may think they’re on the right path – who may not realize that racism is still a problem, injustice is still a problem.”
Hear for Yourself: The haunting “Stay This Way” takes the now-ubiquitous marriage of hip-hop and jazz to richly textured new heights, as Bilal and Big K.R.I.T. join Harrold over a beautiful refrain. Natalie Weiner
Sounds Like: The next Baton Rouge rap hero
For Fans of: Boosie Badazz, 21 Savage, YFN Lucci
Why You Should Pay Attention: YoungBoy Never Broke Again has found organic success for the way he marries Nineties-era tough talk with the melodic sensibilities of today’s Atlanta hip-hop. The 17-year-old depicts himself in songs and videos, averaging 13 million views each, as a Billy the Kid in his native Baton Rouge. More seasoned artists who still bear rap realism as a badge of honor, like hometown heroes Boosie Badazz and Kevin Gates, took notice, and Atlantic Records signed him. After teaming up for “Murder” off the Fate of the Furious soundtrack, 21 Savage will have YoungBoy open for him on his 22-date Numb the Pain tour this fall.
He Says: YoungBoy and his teenaged co-stars wielded guns so casually in his older videos, that it was startling. “New YoungBoy don’t show guns,” he says. “I love the old videos. But it’s child shit. I’ve been there, done that. I ain’t got nothing to prove to nobody. You should know that anything can happen. … I ain’t gotta show it.”
Hear for Yourself: “Untouchable” may sound peaceful at first, but YoungBoy’s lyrics reveal how he still has a by-any-means-necessary attitude, despite Meek Mill checking in on his safety via FaceTime. Christina Lee
Sounds Like: A stomping, swaggering rock & roll balancing act teetering between blinding light and total darkness
For Fans of: Cage the Elephant, Kings of Leon, Rag’n’Bone Man
Why You Should Pay Attention: Even if the name Barns Courtney doesn’t spark recognition, his 2015 song “Fire” might. A blues-leaning rock song that evoked both Ennio Morricone and Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” it was a crossover radio hit and was licensed for Volkswagen, Bose and the Bradley Cooper film Burnt. At the center is Courtney’s world-weary voice, a chameleonic instrument showcasing range (and a few bars) on this year’s full-length debut, The Attractions of Youth.
Youth combines “Fire” and other early singles with a slate of newer genre-splitters like the psychedelic “Golden Dandelions,” and an overt hip-hop turn on “Hobo Rocket.” Here and there, an occasional vocal flourish hearkens back to his more-polished, pop-punk past. “[The album is] about the naive, seemingly indomitable passion for music that burned in my gut since I can remember,” he says.
Just a few years back, a previous record deal fizzled out, and he was left wondering if a career in music would still be possible. As his luck changed, Courtney landed slots opening for the Who, Blur, Ed Sheeran and more. While he’s enjoying his success, he admits, “I find it harder to write songs when I feel happy and everything’s all right than when everything’s up against the wall.”
He Says: “In my very first bands, essentially what we wanted to be was Metallica or Led Zeppelin. The bands we listened to – like Zeppelin or Iron Maiden – they had these huge, high-range vocals. As I got older, I started listening to the pop-punk bands like Panic! at the Disco or Fall Out Boy. It was driving that same message home: The best singers can sing the highest. That’s what I aspired to do. I completely ignored my natural range, which is lower. I thought it was good for nothing but cheesy Frank Sinatra covers. It wasn’t until I got a lot older and I did a cover of a Lana Del Rey song with my last band, Dive Bella Dive. We got the key wrong and I ended up singing it really low on the verses. And I was like, “Actually this is a natural home for my singing voice.'”
Hear for Yourself: Inspired by medieval poet John Donne’s “Death, Be Not Proud,” the haunting “Golden Dandelions” finds Courtney envisioning his own death as a pleasurable experience. Reed Fischer
Sounds Like: Crushing modern house melodic enough to keep you on the dance floor until last call
For Fans of: Basement Jaxx, Disclosure, Kaytranada
Why You Should Pay Attention: Camelphat have dominated the dance space this year – earning three Number Ones on the charts run by Beatport, the biggest site for dance music sales. They even achieved the rare pop crossover club hit: “Cola,” which features vocals from Elderbrook, recently cracked the Top 40 in the U.K., as well as climbing into the Top Five on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart.
Camelphat is the long-running duo of Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala, who met while indulging their shared youthful obsession with vinyl at Liverpool’s 3B Records. After years of DJing and production, their edit of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” spread through the clubs, showing they could make records that enticed DJs. Camelphat are equally comfortable with eminently hummable vocal house (try 2015’s “Siren Song”) as skeletal, unrelentingly kinetic weapons for after-hours parties (like their latest Beatport Number One, “Drop It.”)
They Say: “‘Cola’ was meant to be a dark indie record,” says Whelan. “We made it in London in February when it was freezing cold and wet and raining and grey, and it became a summer anthem. It won’t go away: We’ll wake up every day and on social media someone somewhere across the world will be videoing themselves playing, driving, making love or arguing and ‘Cola’ will be in the background. We’re trying to re-trace our steps – what did we do different with this record that we haven’t done previously?
People are on us already to make the next ‘Cola;’ that’s not what we want to do. We’re club kids – we’ve lived in nightclubs all our lives. That’s all we know. We’ll go to the studio and aim to make another underground indie record. If that crosses over, so be it.”
Hear for Yourself: “Cola” is one of this year’s stealthiest and most vital dance records. It unfolds slowly, with conversational, hard-to-decipher lyrics, but once an “ooh-ooh” melodic motif drifts in from above it sticks like pop. Elias Leight
Sounds Like: What would happen if Recess‘ Ashley Spinelli moved to the Lower East Side and started rapping
For Fans of: Junglepussy, Tyler, the Creator, Zebra Katz
Why You Should Pay Attention: Destiny Frasqueri, the 25-year-old rapper known as Princess Nokia, racked up over 4 million views for her song “Tomboy.” Aesthetically she tips her hat to old school rap, but her signature cyber-grit gives her records an edge that makes the rough and tough New Yorker a clear product of the internet age. Most recently, she made headlines for throwing soup at a racist passenger on the subway. Not a surprising turn of events for the unapologetic MC who practices what she preaches: “Ain’t no rap talk/This my real life.”Life imitated art, since she has song lyrics like, “Livin’ in the city you can’t be a xenophobe/This the melting pot/And the soup is never cold.”
She Says: Identity has a lot do with Nokia’s music, especially on her latest album, 1992 Deluxe, where she uses her oppressors as a punching bag, taking hits at everything from your man to the foster care system. “I don’t care that people get inspired necessarily by the music itself, but just the statement that a young 20-something year old girl talks about these things, or has these experiences, or is so fucking ballsy, or has so much moxie,” she says. “I just want people to be like, ‘Yo that shit is dope, like who cares, like who gives a fuck?'”
Hear for Yourself: “G.O.A.T” is Princess Nokia’s rebel anthem, where she has the confidence of the prom queen and the mouth of a delinquent. Daniela Tijerina
Sounds Like: The slurry emo tunes of a teenager raised on a steady diet of hip-hop and hardcore
For Fans of: Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, 6lack
Why You Should Pay Attention: Since releasing his breakout A Love Letter to You mixtape this May, Trippie Redd has gone from a virtual unknown rapper – grinding out a following on SoundCloud while networking within the Atlanta hip-hop elite – to a rising star with major-label distribution and a Top 40 single (“Fuck Love” by controversial rapper XXXTentacion). Signed to the label owned by UMG chairman Lucian Grainge’s son Elliot, the 18-year-old born Michael White IV has seen his biggest song, “Love Scars,” streamed more than 17 million times on Spotify and more than 12 million times on YouTube. Redd, who recently released A Love Letter To You 2, has been championed by the likes of Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert and Chris Brown; has collaborated with D.R.A.M.; and says he’s been talking with Kanye West, Drake and 21 Savage.
Born to a single-mother and an incarcerated father, Trippie’s older brother, who performed as Dirty Redd, turned him onto hip-hop before tragically dying in a car accident in 2014. He first recorded alternative rock music before turning his attention to hip-hop, but no matter the genre Redd says music was always his coping mechanism “I was depressed. I didn’t have nobody,” he says of the years following his brother’s death. “I was on my own type shit. Music took me from a real dark place to a real bright one.”
He Says: “I knew this was going to happen. I just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon. I didn’t want to get no regular job. I worked at Little Caesar’s for about two days, bro. I was out. That’s the only job I’ve ever had. And I just turned 18 so this is my only real job. This is what I do. Making big money. Never doubt yourself.”
Hear For Yourself: On Love Letter To You‘s “Romeo & Juliet” Trippie showcases his signature elastic vocals as he toasts to love’s sweet sting over sexy, New Wave synths. “Baby your love is my medicine/When I’m up bring me down.” Dan Hyman
Sounds Like: Part Runaways and part Carly Rae, this is whimsical, frown-proof rock that cuts off slices of life with a razor-sharp blade.
For Fans of: Best Coast, Tegan and Sara, Lucy Dacus
Why You Should Pay Attention: Australian indie rocker Alex Lahey’s punchy early single “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me” was all over radio in her home country, and streaming services soon followed. On 2016’s debut EP, B-Grade University, her hook-filled songs (and inventive videos) about liking Wes Anderson movies and college life feel direct and personal, yet still unpredictable. “I’m not going out of my way to relate to anyone,” Lahey contends. “I’m just talking about my life.”
Earlier this year, she finished her first full-length, I Love You Like a Brother, and spent a month visiting her brother, Will, in New York City. Though he knew the record’s name toasts their siblingship, she was nervous to play it for him – especially the ebullient, surf-rock title track. On it, she sings, “People say we look the same but I don’t think we do/Maybe it’s a consequence of sharing the same womb.” “It was a full-circle moment for me to talk to him about that stuff,” she says.
Brother tackles heavy stuff like self care, relationship dysfunction and the paralysis of being broke. Levity arrives via self-deprecating humor, shout-along choruses and an impressive sonic range that toys with a different mixture of pop and punk on nearly every song. After opening for Catfish & the Bottlemen, Blondie and Tegan and Sara, Lahey starts a U.S. tour in support of the record in November.
She Says: “I grew up listening to [Tegan and Sara] and learned how to play guitar playing their stuff. Obviously looking up to them as songwriters is one thing, but to travel with them and watch how they operate on the road was another. The way they perform, the way they engage with their fans, the type of gear they use, and the way they shape their band. How conscious they are that their band, their crew and their business at large is a reflection of themselves. There are a lot of people flying the flag of social consciousness, but there are very, very, very, very few people who truly practice what they preach. They’re leaving a legacy, and if I’m a part of that I’m stoked.
“There’s a phrase: Sometimes it’s good to say no. In the context of music videos and photo shoots and presenting myself aesthetically, that’s the one time I’m totally down with saying no. People are like, ‘We want to do this Vanity Fair-style ball gown shoot,’ and I’m going to be like, ‘No, fuck off.’ Have you seen me? Do you know what I’m about? It’s obvious I’m not that kind of person. I’d rather spend my time writing good songs than fucking look better than the next person.”
Hear for Yourself: “Every Day’s the Weekend” is rollicking, unpolished garage rock. Reed Fischer