Six artists you may have already heard of who will be gracing the Grammys red carpet for the first time.
Chance The Rapper
With Coloring Book, 23-year-old Chance the Rapper produced the most faith-filled hip-hop album ever outside the official genre of Christian rap. Building from a superstar turn on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, the Chicago-born rapper merged positivist verses (“Blessings,” “Angels”) with gospel choir backdrops on his celebrated so-called “mixtape.” For a project called Coloring Book, Chance appropriately painted vibrant pictures of his hardscrabble Chi-Town background using dense wordplay worthy of guest stars like Jay Electronica (“How Great”), while his spiritual rhyme schemes lived up to appearances by Kirk Franklin and the Chicago Children’s Choir. Catching the spirit never sounded so trill.
Photo by Scott Dudelson
Millennial bedroom music dominates PartyNextDoor 3, the third sensual studio album of 23-year-old Canadian alternative-R&B artist Jahron Brathwaite, a.k.a. PartyNextDoor. Signed to Drake’s OVO Sound label in 2013, the singer-rapper-producer scored his highest-profile songwriting touchdown last year with Rihanna’s patois-infused summertime smash, “Work.” (Brathwaite’s roots: Jamaican and Trinidadian.) But ambient, blues-flavored tracks work seductive magic on PartyNextDoor 3—transforming his behind-the-scenes influence on seminal Drake records into frontman swagger. PartyNextDoor packs his personal brand of atmospheric melancholy into mood music meant for sexy time. It’s an addictive cocktail that reveals his party next door as less “shake your body down to the ground” and more downright erotic.
Jay Z’s Roc Nation inked a management and publishing deal with Nigerian singer-songwriter-actress Tiwa Savage last year, bringing the Lagos-born, London-bred superstar a warranted worldwide spotlight. Singing both in English (“Love Me (3x)”) and her native Yoruba (“Ife Wa Gbona”), Savage spun seven singles from her 2013 debut, Once Upon a Time. Percussive R&B, reggae and Afropop styles all intertwined on her 2015 follow-up, R.E.D., bubbling underneath lyrics dedicated to love and uplift. American audiences soaked up the crossover Nigerian soul of Sade and Seal decades ago; newer voices (Ayo, Nneka, Asa) made their mark in the 2000s with millennials. Now Tiwa Savage officially joins the highlife party.
Photo by Prince Williams
Mystery comes at a premium in this oversharing age, and teenage R&B vocalist H.E.R. (a sly acronym for “having everything revealed”) commands her secrets well. H.E.R. Vol. 1 comes full of ambient atmosphere and ethereal vocals referencing the likes of Aaliyah (“Losing”) and Floetry (“Wait for It”). Brainchild of Gabi Wilson—a 19-year-old multi-instrumentalist raised in Vallejo, California—the seven-song EP rebranded the former child star by cloaking her in secrecy. Stripping down to simply the music worked highly in H.E.R.’s favor. Dreamy aural arrangements and sharp lyrics pervade most of Vol. 1; the pop potential of a future Vol. 2 guarantees Wilson won’t need her anonymous gambit much longer.
Photo by Instagram/H.E.R.
The dominant sounds of 2000s R&B have been EDM, ambient and trap music, so the million-selling success of 24-year-old singer-songwriter-rapper Bryson Tiller’s 2015 breakthrough Trapsoul should come as no surprise. As a teenager, the Louisville, Kentucky native released his debut mixtape Killer Instinct Vol. 1, later piquing Drake and Timbaland’s interest after posting “Don’t” on SoundCloud. Over 35 million streams later, Tiller stands with the likes of Anderson .Paak and The Weeknd as a prospective heir to R&B’s throne. A cocky Casanova with an emo twist, the Bryson Tiller of Trapsoul sounds romantic, confident, virile and a tad narcissistic—the perfect mixture for R&B’s next crown prince.
Photo by Scott Dudelson
Hip-hop’s legendary DJ Premier won’t work with just anyone, so his production on last year’s “Places to Go” says something significant. That stellar single from Malaysian-born, L.A.-based singer-songwriter Yuna (née Yunalis Mat Zara’ai) introduced Chapters, an album featuring even more assists from Usher (“Crush”) and Jhené Aiko (“Used to Love You”). With acoustic soundscapes, an international worldview and an image friendly to Muslim culture (see 14NOV, her line of signature head scarves), Yuna garnered attention from Pharrell—producer of “Live Your Life”—and Being Mary Jane, which featured “Lullabies” on an episode. Representing from Kuala Lumpur to California, alt-R&B has its new global ambassador.