Unapologetically Black, with energies that are free, bright and nonconformist: A new wave of entertainers is transforming the sonic landscape, with music that bucks the formulas of an industry that routinely churns out and champions more of the same. Having performed in front of large crowds on the festival circuit, namely last year’s Afropunk, these five talents are poised to take over the mainstream with their signature sounds.
Having established herself as an advocate of self-affirmation with her viral hit “I Am,” featuring Flo Milli, Atlanta’s Baby Tate has been bubbling to the surface for some time now as a new, exciting voice in female hip-hop.
The 25-year-old Decatur, Georgia, native who started out independently writing and producing pro-Black, pro-femme, sex- and body-positive messages with a cheeky twist, now collaborates with other artists to craft new content. Her unique slant on the genre has already attracted the attention of folks in Hollywood: She signed to Issa Rae’s Raedio record label in 2020 and was subsequently featured on the soundtrack of HBO’s -Insecure. She was also handpicked by Halle Berry and Cardi B for a slot on the album for Berry’s 2021 Netflix film Bruised.
With a style that’s playful and bright and a voice that’s youthful and sweet but with a cautionary bite, Baby Tate creates safe spaces for fans to embrace their fierceness without judgment.
With a soft, clear, soothing voice and a trance-like, meditative, soulful sound, serpentwithfeet provides the perfect auditory ambience for moments of zoning and Zenning out. The 33-year-old from Baltimore experiments with R&B, soul, world music, classical and gospel, spreading messages of love, desire, positivity and gratitude in his songs.
His Pentecostal church and Maryland State Boychoir–bred gospel influences are apparent throughout his 2021 album DEACON, featuring organs, rounds and exaltations reminiscent of Sunday morning, mixed with more secular lyrics about the excitement of spending one-on-one time with a lover.
Serpentwithfeet’s peaceful demeanor and dreamlike delivery of tales of adoration, praise, appreciation, stillness and divinity—paired with an encyclopedic vocabulary and boundless emotional honesty—makes his music perfect for smooth solo self-reflection or calm moments of genuine connection.
In a genre inundated with hard-core trap and heavy drill, Smino has created a lane all his own. His unique brand of soulful rap and futuristic funk is influenced by both the heavy hitters of post-millennium hip-hop and his childhood, church-rooted affinity for gospel music. Smino’s slick, smooth-talking sound passes the driving test, is a must-listen at any function and sets a calm, candles-and-wine vibe, all at once.
Hailing from St. Louis, the 30-year-old rap innovator incorporates melodic vocals into his raspy rhymes and sews them together seamlessly over heavy bass and laid-back beats. His versatility has caught the eye of major collaborators such as J. Cole, Doja Cat, SiR, Noname and Chance the Rapper. It stands to reason that he asked his fans, during his set at AFROPUNK in Atlanta, if they’d rather cry or turn up—as he can effortlessly provide the perfect soundtrack for either mood.
With one omnipresent “song of the summer” through a certified-platinum collaboration with Wizkid already under her belt, Tems is likely the most familiar name on this list. The 26-year-old Lagos native’s distinctive deep register has made her a standout on the Nigerian alté scene. She counts Rihanna and Adele as outspoken fans, has courted Drake for a collaboration on his Certified Lover Boy album, and even shined bright in the presence of the prince of mainstream pop himself, Justin Bieber, on the remix of the hit -single “Essence.”
Still, it’s in her solo projects that Tems truly thrives. Her second EP, If Orange Was a Place, finds her applying her hypnotic tone to upbeat tracks, belying the stress and vulnerability of her lyrics. Whether she’s expressing the feelings of an underappreciated lover or yearning to break away from toxicity, fans can find solace in her relatability.
Though her voice is already TikTok famous—due to -serving (unintentionally) as the soundtrack to viral dance clips on the social media platform during the early days of the pandemic—Fousheé is now gaining an audience of her own. The New Jersey native’s pre-recorded sample Splice pack was featured on Brooklyn rapper Sleepy Hallow’s earworm “Deep End Freestyle,” prompting her to reveal herself as the voice behind the viral track and to release her own acoustic version of the song, “Deep End.”
After performing in various bands and gigs in New York for a few years, the singer-songwriter-guitarist was able to flip her 15 seconds of swipeable fame into a record deal and a successful debut project Time Machine. Fousheé’s ethereal alt-R&B sound is both haunting and inviting, with her soft voice and gentle high pitches easily lulling you into stories of bossed-up bravado and tormented love affairs.