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Leon Vynehall made his name crafting deep, elegant contemporary house, becoming one of dance music’s most talked-about names in the process. However, his latest full-length effort ‘Nothing is Still’ sees the British electronic producer move away from club-oriented music into broader, progressive conceptual territory; it is perhaps notable that despite the success of previous projects ‘Music for the Uninvited’ and ‘Rojus’, he describes this release as his first proper debut album. Following the narrative of his grandparents’ emigration from London to New York in the 1960s, Vynehall vividly scores their journey through rich, instrumental compositions, expertly harnessing his gift for percussion with a gorgeous musicality alongside soaring synths to create a fluid, cinematic piece that has as much in common with classical symphony and ambient electronica as it does with booming house or techno. One of the year’s most adventurous, forward-thinking albums, this is one to be savoured.
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Wanja Wohoro and Jinku’s DUST EP is a Nu-Nairobi gem. With melancholic yet inspirational songwriting, the soulful combination of Wohoro’s sultry vocals against the canvas of Jinku’s delicate production is shifting the perspective of contemporary Kenyan audiences. Where the acoustic and electronic scenes once remained intensely separated, such collaborations are a testament to the scope for these two styles to fuse seamlessly. Underground singer/songwriters and bedroom producers have been experimenting with genre-bending ideas for some time, and the results are beginning to pierce the veil of the mainstream. Following in the footsteps of pioneering Kenyan artists who have stepped out before into the global spotlight such as Karun Mungai and Blinky Bill, Wohoro is on a mission to overcome these barriers, taking the stage beside Jinku, who is perhaps best-known beyond the African continent for his collaborations with globetrotting artists like Jojo Abot.
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Born in Mussoorie India, with roots in New Zealand and South Africa, multi-cultural acoustic singer Jordan Johnson moved to New Delhi at the age of 8. He began experimenting with open chords, tunings and eventually started writing his own songs; fast forward to 2018, and the 23 year old has recently been voted one of the top five acoustic acts in the city. A year of self and musical exploration resulted in a 4 track EP titled ‘Afterglow’ which was released in March this year; single ‘Superman’ was written in the months before he got married, when he found himself at the crossroad of family and self expectations, with the soul-bearing sound of his haunting melodies creating a somber, melancholic vibe. The artist also performs live as the ‘Jordan Johnson Trio’ alongside Akshay Deokuliar (drums) and Harshit Misra (bass) who add different elements and explore more of what the music has to offer.
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With a sound that falls somewhere between contemporary hip-hop and French chanson, Strasbourg’s Arthur ELY enters the fray with a refreshing debut single. On ‘Le Dernier Homme’ the multi-instrumentalist introduces himself with a skillful performance, as his confident vocals ride silky electronic production. One to watch.
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The charismatic DPR LIVE is rapidly making a name for himself as one of Korea’s most exciting new creative talents. As a member of collective/label DPR (Dream Perfect Regime) he enjoyed a successful debut in 2017 with the album ‘Coming to You Live’, weaving together a unique style of intricate raps and soothing melodies. Based between Seoul and Guam, the rapper pursuing experimental sounds incorporating future bass, trap, and soul to craft his own dream-like sound.
With his futuristic aesthetic, DPR LIVE’s visuals have a distinctive modern, technicolour quality; his latest single ‘Playlist’ fuses an up-tempo tribal drum beat with a classic bossa nova sample for a departure from his usual vibe, yet still retaining his rhythm and romantic energy for an undeniable summer banger.
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Yxng Bane has been carving his own lane within the UK’s diverse music landscape. Incorporating elements of trap, RnB and dancehall to create a dynamic blend of styles, his latest visual sees the east Londoner allude to his previous hit ‘Vroom’ as he flexes in a gold motor, showcasing his dexterity as his woozy vocals switch flows either side of an infectious hook.
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Though perhaps better known in Brazil as a producer and composer for new MPB indie artists such as Céu and Lucas Santtana, Gui Amabis is no newcomer to the microphone himself. His latest album, ‘Miopia’, is the fourth in a series which began back in 2011 with ‘Memórias Luso-Africanas’, followed by 2012’s ‘Trabalhos Carnívoros’ and ‘Ruivo em Sangue’ in 2015. ‘Contravento’ is actually a song that was originally recorded by Céu on her album ‘Caravana Sereia Bloom’, but here Amabis crafts a new version that completely reworks the genre and mood of the song: where before there were notes of tropical cumbia, Amabis spins a smooth, melancholic take, adding a philosophical and reflective depth to the lyrics. Amabis handles vocal duties, enlisting instrumental assistance from a band of four; Dustan Gallas (electric guitar), Regis Damasceno (bass), Samuel Fraga (drums) and Richard Ribeiro (vibraphone).
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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.