Whether you live for indie music or favor the more mainstream, these four artists will surely demand your attention in the near future. From alternative rhythm and blues, to neo soul, to an odd but pleasing hybrid of electropop and hip-hop, creativity pours from these artists across genres. Each one, great and talented in his own right, has a unique quality that allows his specific brand of art to prosper. So, if you are looking for a musical reboot, here are the artists you should definitely listen to.
Formally known as Solana Rowe, this St. Louis beauty is known for her raspy yet airy vocals, often paired with distorted, experimental beats. SZA began her music career in 2011 when she was introduced to members of the independent label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). The year after she self-released her debut EP, See.SZA.Run in 2012, she signed with TDE and has remained with the label since.
Her distinct voice makes it hard to miss an SZA track. Though she released her first EP a few years ago, it wasn’t until the release of her second EP, S, that fans and critics began to take notice. With her soothing vocals and warped R&B inspired production, SZA takes listeners on a musical journey. Her music tends to focus on nostalgia, loneliness and sexuality.
It is easy to relate to SZA; she lays bare all of her feelings in her music. Her lyrics are both bold in nature and emotionally enticing. Maybe it’s the rawness with which she expresses her inner demons. Or maybe it’s the way her voice produces a calming effect, even though her lyrics are generally filled with angst. Whatever it is, it’s working. SZA has the growing fan base to prove it.
Not familiar with her?
The mastermind behind Rihanna’s “BBHMM,” producer and rapper Travi$ Scott is quickly rising to the top and taking over the charts. From Kanye West’s “New Slaves” to Jay-Z’s “Crown,” Scott’s production credentials speak for themselves. However, the producer is also an adept rapper, and he has proved that he is a serious artist in the hip-hop community. After the release of his debut mix-tape Owl Pharaoh in 2013, which featured the single, “Quintana,” featuring Wale, Scott proved that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Though he is more mainstream than other artists on this list, do not let Scott’s involvement with these musicians dissuade you from giving his music a listen. While Scott is a more popular artist, he is still a big name in the world of mix-tapes, allowing his fans to access a majority of his music for free. He draws inspiration from such artists as Kid Cudi and Outkast; it is not hard to hear their influence while listening to one of his tracks.
The influence Kanye West has on Scott is even more prevalent (think 808s & Heartbreak). With his uncensored rhyming on topics such as drugs, fame and troubled youth, Scott proves that he is not here for you to like him. He would rather you appreciate his music.
His sentiments often echo that of today’s generation. With his debut studio album, Rodeo, Scott has certainly solidified his spot among big names in the mainstream while remaining true to his own original style.
Maryland’s own Kelela is the epitome of creativity as she defies the rules of R&B with her experimental and eclectic sounds. A first-generation Ethiopian American born in Washington, D.C.and raised in Gaithersburg, Md., Kelela got her start in 2013 when she contributed vocals to the group Teengirl Fantasy’s 2013 Tracer album, on the song “EFX.” From there, she would go on to sign with independent labels Fade to Mind and Warp.
Shortly after, she released her first mix-tape, Cut 4 Me. The effort garnered critical praise, specifically for Kelela’s creative aesthetics when she chose to simply write lyrics over beats produced by DJ’s from Fade to Mind.
While the production behind Cut 4 Me may have been a mix-tape full of remixes, it is worth noting that the beats and sounds, in which she takes interest, are a reflection of her own artistry. Rather than focusing on an R&B sound that is more slowed down and psychedelic in nature, she chooses to utilize heavy synths and drums mixed with electro pop influences.
With a similar sound to FKA Twigs and M.I.A., Kelela breaks barriers with her evolving artistry, capturing fans and fellow singers alike. With tracks such as “Bank Head,” “Keep It Cool” and “Send Me Out,” she showcases her vocal ability, all while remaining in sync with the off-beat and cool production of the tracks she chooses to use.
First and foremost, the fact that the front-woman of this awesome trio is Zoë Kravitz should not dissuade you from giving this group a listen.
Though her father is Lenny Kravitz, she certainly does not share his lust for limelight. Neither do her fellow bandmates James Levy, a keyboardist, and Jimmy Giannopoulou, a drummer and producer. Instead, Lolawolf works outside of the mainstream, choosing to mix elements of R&B and electropop to form music that is as captivating as it is weird. The best part is that they don’t care if people don’t like their music. They just want to make music that they love.
Based out of Brooklyn, New York, where the trio met, Levy and Giannopoulou joined Kravitz in Los Angeles in 2013 where she was working on the film, The Road Within. It was during this time that they began to experiment with music, eventually releasing their debut EP Lolawolf later that year.
With Kravtiz’s soft, alluring vocals, it is easy to see why fans instantly took a liking to the group’s music. Anxiety and self-awareness are common themes in their songs. Lolawolf has managed to create a devout following. They even opted out of signing with a major label, choosing to stick to their independent roots, in an effort to retain creative control over their music.
The group proved once again just how diverse its sound is with their debut album Calm Down, which featured the popular single, “Bitch.” Lolawolf defies norms with its sound, marking the growing popularity of alternative R&B as a genre of its own. One thing is for sure, Lolawolf is on a steady path to greatness. Mainstreamers, beware.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo of Lolawolf performing courtesy of Flickr user DeShaun Craddock.
Octavia Hutson is a senior English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.