Okay, so, the start of the decade was rough. BUT musically we’ve been blessed with many musical moments. From Beyonce’s iconic Black is King (2020) visual, to creative music award performances performed and directed on their own tennis court (shoutout Chloe x Halle) to new releases from the likes of Mick Jenkins, Cleo Sol, Brent Faiyaz; the list goes on! 2020 has forced the music industry to discover new boundaries, giving it an overdue facelift. We predict that these explorations will continue to expand in the New Year as we’re gifted with new music to vibe to and help make up our future 2021 soundtrack.
But before that arrives and to round up 2020, we’ve put together a list of 30 artists we believe you should have on your radar. There’s no particular order, but it’s vital to update your playlist(s) and get to know the rising talent that we think will be dominating 2021.
So sit back and vibe. We’ve already done the hard work for you!
Anointed with a voice rich as honey and a pen everyone needs to pay attention to; Shae Universe is a mandatory mention when discussing the UK’s R&B scene. After blessing us last year with You Lose, graceful visuals to No Stallin’, followed by Levels, we can only predict that 2021 will guarantee more success to come her way.
2. KWAKU ASANTE
Next up, the man with the husky tones, Kwaku Asante. After the release of honeycomb (2019), Kwaku successfully sold out his first London show, at the Jazz Cafe early last year. Inspired by the gospel sound and jazz, the London born singer-songwriter is an essential addition to your Lazy Sunday playlist.
3. EGO ELLA MAY
Step into silk galore as we introduce your ears to Ego Ella May. Repping south London, this enchanting singer-songwriter has mastered the balance of neo-soul and contemporary jazz. She came to understand her style “by being a listener”, orchestrating soothing melodies like no other. Last year, she picked up the MOBO award for the Best Jazz Act for her album Honey and Wounds.
Meet Odeal, gifted with the skill and ability to dabble between multiple genres such as Afroswing, alternative Rap and R&B. With his intimate and down to earth lyricism, we expect exciting things to surface within his career this coming year.
5. TIANA MAJOR9
Mark our words. Tiana Major9 is about to take over. The soulful songstress has consistently kept her name on our lips. Her 2020 consisted of:
The GRAMMY-nominated hit, Collide (featuring EARTHGANG).
A heartfelt performance at the Soul Train Awards
Signed to MOTOWN records.
The release of her EP, Back At Sixes and Sevens, a soundtrack dedicated to love and all its complications.
We can only predict greater things to come along Tiana Major9’s way, in the coming year.
This year, Jords has exposed the world the importance of self-knowing, what it takes to wear love on your sleeve at its full capacity and Black Manhood. The Croydon-born rapper and singer-songwriter grabbed our attention with his Almost An Adult (2020) project, giving us enough reason to look forward to his next move.
7. SCRIBZ RILEY
The talented producer holds accolades that should always be bragged about. Scribz Riley’s pen alone has granted him access to work with H.E.R, JHus and Cardi B. The East London native has gone further to lengthen his legendary discography with his own album, Wish Me Luck (2020)and we expect it to only grow within this new year.
Waving the flag for South Kilborn is the Wordplay Prince, Knucks. Known for his distinguished sounds, and story-telling lyricism to match guarantees his musical journey an expansion like no other. The success of his projects NRG 105 (2019) and London Class (2020) are audio verifications as of why he is here to stay.
Kaleem Taylor is a hearty R&B vocalist with a voice that pulls on all the heartstrings. The release of his 7-track EP, She Knows (2020) showcases his soulful melodies fused with today’s alternative sound of R&B and trap instrumentals. His vocals have found him sharing the stage with Miguel, Boyz II Men and Ryan Leslie.
10. SAM WILLS
Sam Wills, a man of many talents. Given the ability to hold the title of a multi-instrumentalist, the sensual, jazzy, singer-songwriter from the seaside of Hastings is sure to bring some sunshine to your catalogue.
Gaidaa is a Sudanese Dutch songstress we HAD to mention in our list. Her release of Overture (2020) captures a sweet, refreshing sound, Gaidaa captures the ears of those who enjoy starting their day with a smile.
Tems, a Nigerian Native who has been included in the conversation, of the alternative R&B scene in Nigeria. With her blissful addition to the latest WizKid album and the release of her For Broken Ears (2020) EP, Tems showcases rich, distinguished tones we know will elevate to further heights this year.
Another worthy mention and influential contributor to the African music scene of today is Amaarae. With her unique style, sultry lyrics and a euphonious voice, Amaarae have taken the world by storm. She has worked with likes of, Kojey Radical, Lady Donli, Cruel Santino and Odunsi (The Engine). Her latest release The Angel You Don’t Know (2020) is an extension of what’s to come and a reason why we need to keep an eye out for her.
14. LEX AMOR
London born but roots planted firmly in Nigeria’s soil is Lex Amor. The British rapper’s debut album, Government Tropicana (2020) is a poetic recall of the artist’s life journey so far: the perfect foundation and insight as of why we should all watch out for her.
15. ARLO PARKS
Arlo Parks is 2021’s next rising star. The poet and singer-songwriter is yet to release a full body of work, but is “the voice of generation Z”. Inspired by the work of Portishead and Earl Sweatshirt Arlo’s melodious songs of one-sided crushes, youthful highs and lows and heartbreak; painting a thorough insight to the coming-of-age experience.
With a colourful musical background, BenjiFlow obtains a range which reaches extraordinary heights. The multifaceted, North London sensation started his musical journey in grime and hip hop but soon transitioned his sound to genres such as R&B, Afrobeats and Afro-Latino rhythms.
17. OLIVIA DEAN
The Soul-Pop songstress is finally living out her childhood dream. Being a BRITS school alumni, it's understandable why her pen is so striking. Much of her artistry lies in her recent EP, What Am I Gonna Do On Sundays? (2020); delving deep into the world of heartbreak and self-reflection. Olivia has already sold out two headline shows, at the Jazz Cafe later this year.
Enny aka Enny Integrity’s love letter to Black women, of different shades and shapes, gave many of us a list of affirmations we all needed. Peng Black Girls' (2020) quickly got traction after the video of beautiful black women simply existing, hit the net last November on Colors Studios. Enny's comforting lyrics created a safe space for familiarity while self-love is ripe. We look forward to seeing what else she has in store for us.
19. RASHARN POWELL
Up next: Rasharn Powell, the London born vocalist who is creating a memorable, alternative style, associated with his sound. With Joyride (2020), Smithreens (2020) and Twelvemonth (2020), Rasarn creates a soundscape for listeners eager to discover more. Appreciate slick, laidback soulful tones accompanied by the simplicity of well-packed instruments on production.
20. ETTA BOND
Etta Bond continues to remain on our radar. Notoriously known for her self-affirming love notes aligned with luscious melodies, she has continuously given us a reason why she’s THAT girl. The release of her 2 Meters Apart (2020) EP, gave fans access to unlock another level of Etta’s creativity with her witty lyrics and intimate visuals we all know and love.
21. KARL BENJAMIN
Karl Benjamin is the new cool kid on the scene. With influences from the ones that came before him (Frank Ocean, Smino and A$AP Rocky) his talents don't end there. He's gone further to model for Vivian Westwood, Nicholas Daley and Converse. Karl’s saintly vocals are both alluring and a fresh take to the alternative R&B genre.
If milk and honey could hold harmony, Demae’s sound would surface. A triple threat of heavenly vocals, producer mastermind responsible for bouncy soulful rhythms and talented songwriter. This Hawk House alumnus is now exploring her solo adventures with grace. You can catch Demae live at the We Out Here Festival this August.
23. YOUNG BULL
Young Bull is a soul hip hop collective based in North-Carolina. The three-man band boldly marry rap with some jazzy tones, igniting a new love to the modern listener who values live music. We’ve been vibing with them all year, listen to one of their tracks and we’re pretty sure you will too!
24. COLD CALLERS
Cold Callers is a duo embracing classic, smooth blue rhythms aligned with hip-hop soul. Infused with intoxicating recognisable lyrics for the modern millennial, Cold Callers puts the talent if Hertfordshire on the map. We look forward to seeing where their art takes them this year.
If we’re being honest, we’ve been vibing with A2 for years now and he’s never disappointed! The South London singer-songwriter keeps us on edge as we look forward to his next move. His humble beginnings started with grime, but A2 quickly segwayed himself into a lane only crafted for himself. His vulnerable lyrical style and nostalgic trap beats is a sound that will continue to flourish within the UK's alternative rap scene.
The French-Senegalese songstress first made her emergence with her freeing anthem Nina back in 2018. The now London-based soul vocalist continues to strengthen her mark within the industry, with her delicate, enchanting voice and beckoning instrumentals.
Piercing honey-laced vocals and electric strings are just enough to grasp your attention when it comes to Q. This contemporary soul newcomer will be a complementary addition to your long-drive playlist.
28. LOYLE CARNER
This south-London MC continues to generate waves within the alternative hip hop sphere. His devoted, honest lyricism and clear cut delivery have given Loyle an eminent style many more will recognise.
29. ELAH HALE
Rising alternative R&B sensation, Elah Hale, self wisdom shines through with lustrous tones within the first listen. She first came onto the scene, back in 2015, when the Tumblr-age was plump and went viral with her song Porsche, Hat Cloud. The New Yorker’s sophisticated and easy melodies are bound to be included in the soundtrack of this new age.
30. RAE KHALIL
This rising R&B and hip hop natural creative, possess a flare the comes to her with great ease. After being a worthy contender on Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, the rapper’s invited an active audience ready to hear more. Receiving co-signs from Queen Latifah, Anderson Paak, Snoop Dog and the Free Nationals it’s clear that this is a talent that needs to be paid attention to.
Between you and us, this list doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to talented new musicians in the Neo-Soul/Soul/Lo-Fi/RnB/Chill Rap scene. A few honourable mentions we’re excited to see more of this year: Omar Apollo, Collard, Cleo Sol, Mick Jenkins and more! We expect all of these wavy musicians to leave a global print within the industry and we can’t wait to watch it unfold.
There’s more, we’ve curated a playlist, or rather, a Hit List made up of our favourite songs by our Top 30 for you to go into the New Year with the right vibes. The playlist drops on New Year’s Day!
Think there’s someone we’ve missed out on our list? Connect with us on Instagram and let us know!