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LA record label Top Dawg Entertainment has produced some of contemporary US hip-hop’s biggest new stars in the last few years, developing the likes of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Isaiah Rashad and SiR. Amongst such a wealth of fresh talent, west-coast rap veteran Jay Rock has at times perhaps been overlooked; despite being one of the label’s earliest signees way back in 2005, he has thus far struggled to emulate the same level of international commercial success as his label-mates. However this is due to change with the release of his third album ‘Redemption’, a powerful, direct record that expertly fuses Rock’s roots in classic hip-hop sensibilities with the trappier contemporary sounds of the modern-day scene. In the midst of a host of stellar guest appearances from hip-hop royalty like Lamar, J. Cole, Future and Jeremih, the 33-year old Rock more than holds his own, showcasing his arsenal of slick flows and imposing delivery over a diverse range of styles, tied together by a consistent dark energy. Touching on a range of themes including religion, race and gang life in Los Angeles, ‘Redemption’ is a truly enjoyable rap album that is due to elevate Jay Rock to the status that he has perhaps long deserved.
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Mvroe and Joseph Kiwango are two artists whose continual musical collaborations have bred a unique fusion of trap and R&B within Nairobi’s diverse sonic culture. On ‘Love’, Kenyan Mvroe and Tanzania-born Kiwango offer a bitter-sweet blend of lyrics that combine sensual imagery with poetic romanticism over a brooding, ethereal instrumental landscape, featuring arrangements of both auto-tuned and raw vocals. The single is lifted from their forthcoming collaboration album “Let Her Come Over”, a project which is the product of a broad range of influences, reaching across English and Swahili, live and electronic instruments, African rhythms and psychedelic textures. Produced by elite Kenyan producer collective EA Wave, the track has become a late night anthem in the underground Nairobi club scene.
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Fricky is the sparkling new voice from Sweden’s “dirty north”. One of the most exciting new artists to emerge on the country’s music scene, he has long been an acclaimed rapper but recently transitioned into RnB territory, unleashing a velvet smooth singing voice. His debut EP ‘Aqua Aura’ is the result of his reflections on life, and kicks off with the titular opening track, a slick, melodic trap affair.
Di-meh is standing up for Geneva. As much at ease on a skateboard as he is on the mic, the young artist has been seen sharing the stage with Slimka and Makala as one of SuperWakClique’s Xtrm Boyz over the past few years, providing high-octane, powerful trap music. On ‘J’Aime Trop Ça’ he brings his usual brand of pure, fierce energy, accompanied by raw visuals of him and his affiliates running wild in their hometown.
Without rain, there can be no flowers. Since 2015’s ‘Negus’, Brussels’ Moka Boka has often returned to the motto that that every cloud has a silver lining and the need for pain to find happiness. Never one to be afraid to speak his truth, on his latest full-length project the rapper shares an honest message of hope, showcasing his surgical flows and melancholic lyricism as he nonchalantly drops spirited bars over soulful productions.
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Jorja Smith’s rise over the last couple of years has been meteoric. From the success of breakout hit Blue Lights, the Walsall-born singer-songwriter’s emergence as one of music’s most exciting new talents has transferred into real star power as she’s scored global successes with singles ‘Teenage Fantasy’ and ‘On Your Mind’, working with US rap royalty and receiving critical acclaim along the way. She’s consolidated this ascendance in her debut album ‘Lost & Found’, capturing the moment perfectly as her silky smooth vocals glide over warm soulful production from the likes of Charlie Perry, Cadenza, Tom Misch and Felix, showcasing her songwriting ability with a grace and maturity that belies her youthful 21 years.
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RMBO began his career as founding member and drummer of the critically acclaimed South African rock band BLK JKS. Born Tshepang Ramoba, his second EP ‘Zone 3’ is a six-track electronic afro-house journey with catchy kwaito choruses and an exquisite selection of vocalists from the southern African region, including musicians from Malawi and Lesotho as well as his native South Africa. Opening track Bona Bona features Radio 123’s Scarface Manolo and Lesotho’s shepherd musician, Morena Leraba, who also features on ‘Mzabalazo’, a kwaito-driven track with skittering drums and buzzing synths. RMBO explains that “‘Mzabalazo’ (or ‘mosabalaso’ in a Sesotho tone) is a borrowed word from the South African liberation struggle and it’s synonymous with rebellion/revolt or rather, a word coined originally in South Africa, toyi-toyi.”
As his name suggests, Jamaica’s Alexx A–Game never comes with anything less than 100%. His own smooth brand of dancehall is infused with influences of classic RnB and hip-hop, creating a slick, soulful sound that allows him to showcase the strength of his sweet vocals and motivational lyricism. After three successful releases on UK-based label Swing Ting including last year’s standout Braver, he returns with his first release of the year ‘Go Harda’, a steady groove with an uplifting message.
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Over the last few years Parisian artist Myth Syzer has built a reputation as one of France’s finest hip-hop producers . On his debut album ‘Bisous’ he rises to the challenge of using his own voice on his beats for the first time, creating a melancholic yet sensual style inspired by 90s French pop and using the music as a therapeutic means to move on from a painful break-up. On Full Metal, the beatmaker links up with Aja of rock band La Femme to deliver a smooth, passionate lullaby, imploring a lover not to leave.
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Ethiopian-American artist Kelela’s first entrance came in 2013 with her mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’; since then, hundreds of thousands of listeners have gravitated towards her masterful ability to fuse pop and RnB with elements of modern cinematic sounds and neo-soul. Take Me Apart, her 2017 debut studio album, received critical acclaim for its original sound and refreshing energy; standout track ‘Frontline’ demonstrates the breadth of Kelela’s range, with choppy raps acting as a powerful contrast amongst airy, effortless vocals. Since her youth, Kelela’s Ethiopian roots and perspective on music and freedom of movement has influenced her nomadic style and unique approach.
South London artist Gregor the Blue has honed his unique sound over the last few years; a classically trained violinist as a child, he taught himself to play guitar and keys, and soon his bedroom productions started to accumulate a substantial online following. Gregor’s new EP builds on the themes of his 2016 debut album ‘Estate’, taking up where the last project left off in conjuring the same distinctive moody, swirling world but adding a sharper, electronic edge, as the 24-year-old’s sound has matured; tackling themes of longing and insecurity as well as his struggles with darker emotions, the tape is tied together with his trademark woozy, after-hours atmosphere. Enlisting guest vocals from rappers Ant Lavelle and Carl Blarx as well as a feature from long-time collaborator Thieta on lead single Faults, he incorporates elements of alternative blues, ska, RnB and contemporary hip-hop together to create a nuanced, unique sound with genuine depth and texture.
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Born and raised in Nairobi, RU.BY has been singing professionally since 2016. Few young artists in the city are able to say that their first release was the result of a collaboration with one of Kenya’s most well known artists and a highly respected pioneer of East Africa’s alternative/indie music scene, but the co-sign of Blinky Bill comes as little surprise given her confident delivery and natural knack for melody and playful rhythms. She cites the overwhelmingly positive reception of that debut song as the reason she was encouraged to keep creating, inspired by the “amazing journey of self discovery and mind blowing interactions with people” provided by her new path in the music industry.
With ‘Rival’, Sudanese artist Hiba Elgizouli has proven herself to be one of 2018’s most exciting talents to watch. The track seamlessly transfuses the classic neo-soul sound with distinctly Sudanese intonations and patterns, as Hiba’s ethereal incantations coming from all directions illustrating an internal conflict and conversation. This style is hugely reminiscent of classic Sudanese music, which makes heavy use of responses from a choir to the lead singer. The track’s stunning accompanying visuals boast the art direction and cinematic directing talents of Hiba’s sisters, May and Sally Elgizouli, adding an entirely new dimension to the song and revealing the beauty of Sudanese culture and tradition.
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After the success of his 2017 debut album ‘blkswn’, St. Louis rapper Smino returns with his first single of 2018. The track sees him delivering his distinctive melodic falsetto vocals and trading slick verses with Chicago’s Mick Jenkins over a slow, bumping groove produced in collaboration with with THEMpeople. The contrast between the two lyricists style is a lethal combination, Jenkins’ smooth, laidback flow serving as the perfect complement to Smino’s unorthodox, staccato energy, skipping across pockets in the distorted beat as the infectious bassline keep the listener’s head knocking.
Karun is a musical chameleon within contemporary African culture, bridging the alternative Kenyan scene with an approachability appreciated by her increasingly global audience. First finding fame in her teenage years, as a member of Nairobi hip-hop group Camp Mulla, after the group parted ways in 2013 she embraced her capability to write songs, play instruments and produce, and enrolled in Berklee College of Music in the US as an electronic music major. She collaborated with Kenyan producer collective EA Wave on the ‘Indigo’ EP in 2016, and on returning home she co-founded the collective Cosmic Homies, becoming a key player in the burgeoning ‘Nu-Nairobi’ scene. Occasionally using the alternative moniker ‘Runka’ (created by scrambling the letters of her birth name), she self-produces a large part of her own work but often collaborates with other innovative artists, as heard here in this track ‘Under’ with Mr.Lu.
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Paris neo-pop group Isaac Delusion pay tribute to French rock legend Eddy Mitchell with a stirring version of 80s classic ‘Couleur Menthe À L’Eau’. The mysterious quintet inject a new elegant electronic ambience to the original track, which tells the tale of a shy man intimidated by the charms of a mint-eyed woman being carried away by the Hollywood dream.
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West London hip-hop artist Lava La Rue returns with another smooth banger. Blessing a timeless old-school groove with her own refreshingly distinctive style, the NiNE8 founder showcases her skill and versatility on the track, equally comfortable dishing out bars on the verse as she is handling soulful melodies on the hook. Taken from her forthcoming EP ‘LETRA’, this is one to simply lean back and enjoy.
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Combining a unique mixture of rumba, funk and hip-hop, veteran Belgian rapper Baloji’s new album ‘137 Avenue Kaniama’ infuses its irresistible groove with an introspective, soulful core. Drawing inspiration from his unique journey, juggling between Brussels and Kinshasa, between French and Lingala, between loving and leaving, he cultivates his original sound through drawing contrasts and parallels between his experiences, bringing us into his complex world of conflicting feelings.
Mx Blouse doesn’t hold back on their latest release. Embodied in the title, the Zulu word for ‘idiot’, Blouse laments people whose idiotic behaviour serves to hinder the freedom of those who are trying to live their lives and have a good time. As always, the Johannesburg artist endeavours to keep their content socially critical and relevant, while ensuring that the music is a party starter too.
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Reservoir’s Theodor Black returns with his sophomore EP. The south-east London rapper approaches themes of race, romance and the transition of growing into adulthood, weaving his trademark rich lyricism over staccato, jazz-infused production. Setting the tone from the titular opening track, the project’s distinctive hazy, dream-like atmosphere is the perfect sound for his vivid introspective bars, painting a picture of the world through his lens.