Year after year, we change the format of the end-of-year OTU round-up (routine is boring), and this year I’ve opted for a forward-looking feature rather than reflecting on what was a rather disappointing year in the music world. Many are desperate to have their tastes for 2013 dictated to them by either the BBC Sound of 2013 or MTV’s Brand New for 2013, but the interesting thing is we’ve been championing some of the acts they’ve thrust upon you this past week for quite some time. The rest of them we probably don’t care about.
So, here’s a chance to get clued up with some genuine upcoming talents that I expect to release more fantastic material this year and break through that next barrier of success, whether it’s into mainstream consciousness or slightly wider underground appreciation. Note that I didn’t say commercial success. Whilst some will certainly find that and it is a facet of their potential growth this year, it’s far from essential, and each selection here deserves to be so on quality and potential more than anything. Regular reader or not, you’ll have heard of several of these selections before and be assured those acts are here on merit, not because a label asked us to do so; something the aforementioned 2013 ‘predictions’ from the mainstream outlets can’t honestly claim. Let’s go.
First off, there are several acts I wanted to include, but didn’t quite make the final cut. So, honourable mentions go to:
-Audio Push (part of Hit-Boy’s HS87 crew, their Inland Empire mixtape had some great tracks)
-Jay Rock (he’s no newcomer, but that verse on Money Trees suggested he’s ready for a more solidified spot)
-Sebastian Mikael (talented upcoming vocalist whose diversity will satisfy both critics and mainstream heads)
-Mikill Pane (one of our favourite rappers, and due to drop his debut album this year to a rapidly-growing fanbase)
-Arima Ederra (wonderfully soulful voice with a great range, and a good ear for the right productions)
-The Internet (a duo whose chillout music impresses all who hear it. Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martians individually too.)
Music: I Love Lamp
Reason: The Five One were easily one of our writers’ and readers’ favourite bands for our first couple of years as OTU. They broke up just over a year ago in what was quite the shock, and three-quarters of that band formed RDGLDGRN. To date, we only have one single, but they’re going from strength to strength and gaining a real following on the back of it: having worked with Dave Grohl and many others, they’re set to join the Vans Warped Tour this summer in their biggest set of shows to date. They’ll be surrounded by some of the biggest names in alternative culture, and playing to an entirely new fanbase; as a group of guys who have an unerring dedication to what they do, I’ve no doubt that they’ll win those audiences over and hopefully that’ll see them come through with plenty more material this year.
Artist: Jhene Aiko
Music: Several tracks, features and a mixtape
Reason: She’s got everything to become a huge star in mainstream circles, and it seems that she’s got a ton of momentum behind her going into this year. The features are more high-profile, the co-signs are more frequent and the plaudits more universal: Jhene is on the cusp of something special, and it’s beautifully timed given her Def Jam debut album is due this year. It’s easy to see she’s already got a strong grasp on what her music should sound like, with dark, atmospheric productions married to her wonderfully delicate vocals, whilst her songwriting shows no fear of opening her personal life or feelings up to the listening public. The latter gives her music a rawness that offers the same sort of connection many feel with Frank Ocean’s material on first hearing it, and relatability is only ever going to breed success. A star in the making.
Music: Joy & Pain EP, When We Were Kings mixtape, features and other loose tracks
Reason: The Joy & Pain EP was easily one of my favourite projects to land last year, with an amazing variety of styles packed into a 7-track EP, whilst a bit of backwards hunting on my part found his WWWK mixtape to be a project grounded in an old-school hip-hop sensibility. He’s a rapper with a fantastic range of flows and a level of versatility that most MCs can only dream of: storytelling, upbeat poppy tracks, darker work, and much more in between, ANTHM’s got a range of talents that will surely command wider attention this year. Credit to his beat selections too, with samples on the EP including tracks from Gold Panda, Bag Raiders, Fenech-Soler and more, suggesting that he’s got a diverse appreciation of music and I thoroughly hope that extends into the projects he has lined up this year.
Artist: Ryan McDermott
Reason: G.O.O.D. Music’s newest signee, but it’s gone somewhat under the radar. He’s a soulful voice but not quite in the John Legend mould, rather going with a more modern, Miguel-esque approach that makes his music lie somewhere in that ever-appealing ground between pop, R&B and soul. Whilst the above single isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea (truthfully, I didn’t find it worth more than a couple of plays), he’s unquestionably a gifted vocalist and has a very polished sound for someone putting out their first single. With the backing of the G.O.O.D. crew and of course, the features and production credits that he’ll get as a result, there’s huge growth potential here and let’s see if there’s better material to follow.
Artist: Catching Flies
Music: The Stars EP and remix of Jill Scott’s Golden.
Reason: One of the most talented British producers I’ve heard in recent times. There’s been a shift in universal music tastes over the last few years towards being more accepting to laidback, chillout sounds and given there are few who command that style as well as this young upstart, he’s primed for a lot of success as a beatmaker. His choice of samples on the EP were exemplary, adding a touch of familiarity to a name completely new to us all, and it seems his reputation grows day-by-day on the back of his work, a trend I thoroughly hope continues into this year. It’s rare to find such a refined sound at this early juncture of someone’s career, but he’s got it nailed down and should he continue to develop, there’s unlimited scope for success.
Music: Forever EP, several tracks and videos.
Reason: I had these guys lined up for this from the off (as my previous posts would suggest, I’m a big fan), but given that they’ve topped both BBC and MTV’s list it now feels quite cliched. Nonetheless, they’re deserving and despite rumours that they probably topped those lists due to label payoffs, I’d rather that wasn’t true as they’re able to top any list of this type on merit alone. They’re a delightful listen and whilst too poppy for some, their infusion of several styles of music makes that pop element much more endearing, wrapping it in what is often a bittersweet package that tempers its bubbliness. They’ve got an on-screen presence that defies their status as relative newcomers, and there’s no doubt they’ll be one of the mainstream’s absolute favourite bands by the end of the year. Just as we predicted.
Artist: Kilo Kish
Music: Homeschool EP.
Reason: She’s been a real favourite with the hipsters (the proper ones, not those desperate to be one) for a while, and her EP certainly showed she’s got something very unique about her. Whether it’ll translate into a mainstream environment is unlikely, but I can see her material gaining a lot of favour with those in that ‘in-between’ space, courtesy of her penchant for spaced-out, atmospheric productions and direct, spoken-word delivery. Her occasional forays into more traditional vocals have shown a little promise, and having read recently that she’s been working on that side of her abilities, there’s every reason to believe her return to music this year could bring with it even more diversity to add to her already-unique offering.
Artist: Allen Stone
Music: Figure It Out
Reason: Assuming you’ve clicked the above, this guy’s credentials need no introduction. A fresh talent with a depth of unanimous praise that most established artists can only hope for, Allen’s got the world waiting for him to take it by storm. His vocals are inexplicably superb, to the extent that his chosen genre or musical backdrop almost doesn’t matter-he’ll adjust and deliver a great performance regardless, and it’s genuinely an extremely rare example of a vocalist not needing to be carried by his production team, and rather it being the other way around.
Artist: Joey Bada$$
Music: 1999 mixtape, Rejex, Pro Era mixtape and features.
Reason: This should surprise absolutely nobody. Hip-hop’s breakout star in 2012, Joey enamoured himself to every hip-hop head by infusing the scene with his 90s-style productions, raw, memorable lyricism and arsenal of flows. The three combine for music that’s as skilled and mature as anyone that’s ever broken out at his age, and the comparisons with the street raps of a young Nas have been opposed by very, very few, whilst the respect and co-signs from his peers seem to be piling up by the minute. There are very few flaws in this upcomer’s game, and it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that he’ll really establish himself as one of the better acts in hip-hop this year. A talent that has the entire rap world excited.
Artist: Steven A. Clark
Music: Fornication Under Consent of the King album.
Reason: Few talents in the established R&B scene are worth the time these days, let alone the upcoming batch, but Steven is one that stands out from the latter as a huge talent, and arguably one delivering better material than those in the former. The above free album was packed with aura-filled jams with injections of soul, alternative and more, all wrapped within an R&B sensibility courtesy of his versatile vocal performances and song structures. He seems to fuse the best bits of Maxwell and Miguel together in his vocal style, and even being mentioned in the same breath as the former is a huge compliment: should he build on his good (albeit vastly overlooked by the music community) work in 2012, he’ll roll into 2014 on the cusp of being a major player in the R&B game.
Artist: Toro Y Moi
Music: Two recent videos, several albums, EPs, remixes and loose releases.
Reason: Already an established act in the electronic and alternative scene, so this isn’t much of a tip, but rather a notice that he’s on the cusp of mainstream acceptance. He’s a name that most music fans know, even if they don’t know where from, it’s a name you’ll meet with some sense of knowing he’s not exactly a newbie, and yet his ‘chillwave’ releases still remain somewhat niche. With his more recent releases however, he’s injecting a more upbeat pop sensibility that under the right promotional strategy could land him some massive recognition with the chart fans, who now have something tangible and adjusted to them that they can associate his name with. Say That is a prime example of what he’s capable of, combining laidback verses with a hook that possesses enough funk to melt your nipples. Positioned correctly, Toro could break through that final glass ceiling with his 22nd January album.
Music: Countless production credits, several mixtapes, collaboration albums and remixes.
Reason: I’ve only really scratched the surface of his depth of work here on OTU, but there are few in the business as multi-talented as MeLo. Producing for others, dropping instrumental albums, rapping on his own tracks, delivering guest verses, releasing collaborative albums and more-there’s little he hasn’t tried and done successfully, and whilst 2013 might not see any sustained commercial success, instead I hope it finds that he gets more recognition within the hip-hop community for his extensive and consistent works. Over the year, he seems to have positioned himself alongside several gifted upcoming acts, and here’s to hoping that continues this year alongside some long overdue work with couple of established acts.
Music: Occasional free releases, videos and features.
Reason: For a few years she’s threatened a sustained ‘comeback’ without ever fully committing to it. Over the course of that time, she’s slowly refined her sound into a mesmerising blend of dark electronic tracks and mellow R&B music, all whilst improving her much-criticised vocals and developing a whispery, gentle style that’s addictively unique. I’d be a fool to suggest she’ll definitely put out a full project this year, but if her features on Colin Munroe’s last mixtape are anything to go by, she’s more equipped to do so than she’s ever been, and with the recent release of the Cassie collection by some dedicated fans, there’s only so long her older material is going to last.