Best New Artists of 2016
Nao, the edgy East Londoner, first made a name for herself in the rhythm and blues scene in 2014, when she released her first extended play “So Good.” Since then, she has gone from strength to strength, playing at U.K. festival Glastonbury, being lauded by Pitchfork Media and New Musical Express and featuring on Disclosure’s album “Caracal.” Nao combines R&B synth beats and electronica with high-pitched, soulful vocals. Through revealing an element of the ’90s American R&B sound that FKA twigs has mastered, as well as the poppy-electronic fusion of Disclosure, Nao’s sound is unique. She is not afraid to let the beat and the baseline take forefront, leaving her saccharine vocals to fade into the background. This process results in hazy and psychedelic yet passionate tracks that may not be catchy but are pioneering a music genre that Nao herself coins as “wonky-funk.” The UK’s BBC Radio 1 already proclaimed her first album, “For All We Know,” the “Hottest Record in the World.”
Abra produces a hybrid sound known for mixing rhythm and blues and electronica with a touch of soul. Her vocals sound oddly despondent yet melodic and emotional, giving her music a quiet intensity. Her songs themselves are dreamy and hallucinogenic but also raw. Born in New York to strictly religious parents who only permitted her to listen to folk and Christian music, the R&B singer used music as a means of escape and eventually began uploading covers of Radiohead and Waka Flocka to YouTube. After purportedly coming up with her sound when she triple-dosed on acid, she has gotten into trouble with her record label, Awful Records, for recklessly using drugs.
At only 19 years old, Londoner Jorja Smith has made an early splash in the music scene. She sprung to fame in March of this year with her powerful single “Blue Lights.” The track centered on a young boy running from the police -— the “blue lights” — knowing he would be inevitably charged with the crime, thus feeling trapped. Contrasting with its tumultuous political message, the song is smooth and understated, and Smith sings her striking lyrics like a simple lullaby. For the moment, most of her success has come in the U.K. but she looks poised for international success after 2016.
The party anthem “Golden Boy” went viral at the beginning of 2016, marking the beginning of Elf Kid’s rap and hip-hop career. Commercial and critical success is a true rarity so early on in a rapper’s career, separating Elf Kid from the crowd. Part of what is best described as London garage-meshed-with-house music scene, he is a member of the U.K.’s “Grime” generation. A frenetic sound combined with arrogant lyrics helped launch his name into public consciousness, and, although new to the game, he is an exciting urban artist who is sure to make his mark on the rap market.
Dua Lipa is so fresh she has yet to release a debut album but is touring this year with the teen fangirl darling Troye Sivan. Lipa is more than your typical Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. Her vocals are much more impressive as her deep voice has a raw and powerful edge to it, reminding the listener more of Nelly Furtado or Amy Winehouse. Additionally, singles like “Be The One” incorporate synth sounds and a certain ’80s slickness, which is reflected in her edgy, bohemian style and in the recurring neon theme of her music videos. Lipa has a definite star quality with an eclectic sound that is inherently captivating and exciting to watch.
From the same realm of fusion of rhythm and blues and hip-hop as Fetty Wap and Ty Dollar Sign comes PnB Rock. Although he comes from the same generation of rappers as Drake, PnB’s backstory and talent distinguish him. The power of music intrigued him while he was in prison and saw fellow inmates singing and lamenting their lives. Through moments like this, he began to develop his voice and talent for creating melodies. Encouragement to release more music came in the form of fan letters received whilst in jail. His mix tape series, “RNB3: Rockadelphia,” is but a tribute to such a difficult upbringing in his home city of Philadelphia.
Amidst a list of new artists that is dominated by rhythm and blues and electronica, Ella Vos offers a completely alternative genre and sound. Fans of Imogen Heap and Birdy should listen up as her music comes from a similar domain: emotional and vulnerable pop clothed in mellow and smooth sounds, sung with the soaring silky vocals that were popularized by singers like Gabrielle Aplin. Her track “White Noise” is based on the depression and confusion that Vos felt after becoming a mother. Broaching a subject that is often passed up in the music industry so early on in her career represents a bold move, which differentiates Vos as an artist from her contemporaries.
Isaac Gracie may look like the fourth brother from Hanson, but he sounds a lot more like Jeff Buckley. Ed Sheeran and Jake Bugg, in recent years, have proved that one can make it to the pop chart with just an acoustic guitar and clever songwriting and have thus paved the way for artists like Isaac Gracie to do the same. So far, Gracie seems to have followed Sheeran’s suit. His first singles, “All In My Mind” and “Terrified,” simply feature his raw vocals and an acoustic or electric guitar. His talent in songwriting succeeds in bringing his listeners to tears with his turn of phrase. This year, Gracie released “Last Words,” a poignant and stirring bluesy track about lost love. Gracie’s early success is testament to his online presence: Despite little help from labels, the singer has nonetheless been able to rack up around 60,000 plays on SoundCloud.
The Big Moon
The Big Moon is a girl band with a twist. The quartet of Londoners abandon the traditional girl band’s pop association altogether. Instead, The Big Moon goes down the indie-rock route. Instead of being polished and manicured, the quartet appear grungy onstage. Despite having known each other for only a year, the band members come equipped with a tangible energy and chemistry amongst them, along with a raucous, anarchic feel in their sound and onstage persona. The latter characteristics make them reminiscent of The Runaways. The Big Moon consciously rejects the Spice Girls model in favor of The Strokes, Palma Violets and The Vaccines. Their first studio album “Love in the 4th Dimension” will be released next year, which will hopefully be a breakout album for the band.
At 18 years old, Lil Yachty is incredibly young to have made such an impact on the hip-hop scene. The teen caught public attention when he was chosen for Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden in February. With bright red dreadlocks and a tendency to dress only in red, he has a distinct and eccentric style. His melodic and unconventional style of rap attracted the likes of Chance The Rapper, D.R.A.M, Lil B and Soulja Boy, who have collaborated with him on various mix tapes. He released a music video for his biggest commercial success to date, “1 Night,” which featured memes, cartoons, kittens, a sing-along chorus, and — fittingly — a yacht.