20 Artists to Watch Out for in 2016

Put these hopefuls on your radar this year.

Happy new year! We're now back at the top of things. 2015 yielded a glut of exciting new music from young and unfamiliar voices. With any luck, 2016 will prove to be a make-or-break year for many of these artists, as they hustle beyond the cusp of greatness and into popular acclaim. From street rap to indie Zen, we're presenting a few of the best, most promising upstart artists that we hope will have a major breakthrough in 2016. You'll be hearing more from them all soon enough.


mozzy

Image via Mozzy

Mozzy released four strong projects in 2015. It's unfair, in a sense, for us to expect that he'll exceed himself in the new year. Still, since it's clear that Mozzy is one of the most prolific rappers of his class, and the best in his city, with impeccable quality control and a bigger following than you realize. Following his 2015 spree—Bladadah being the essential standout project of the four—momentum favors Mozzy, and we're certain that he'll hit a bigger, undeniable stride in the new year. While you're waiting for his next move, read our introduction to Mozzy, published just last month. —Justin Charity


Nef the Pharaoh

Image via B Giggz

E-40 is the patron saint of Magazine Street, and Nef the Pharaoh is the latest Millennial apostle to hail from Vallejo, Calif. Nef, 21, doesn't have a huge body of work under his belt, but in 2015 he scored two regional hits: "Big Tymin'," a tribute to the Cash Money Records of the nine-nine and the two-thousand, followed by "Bitch I'm From Vallejo," a much darker song with a more conventionally hyphy affect. Much as drill artists in Chicago import and interpolate Atlanta trap influences, Nef blends local Bay flavor with hints of Louisiana rap, past and present. Still, Nef is honing a voice and sound of his own, bolstered by a distinguished POV: "I'm really a dope boy; you just listen to Berner." —Justin Charity


Ta'East

Image via Ta'East

The rap world hasn’t cared about San Diego since Jayo Felony was still poppin’. That all may change if Ta'East continues on the path he’s been on. The rapper who now resides in L.A. has been grinding for a minute, but last year his efforts kicked up a notch when he dropped the criminally slept on “72-10,” a forceful barrage of raps backed up by a gothic death march of a beat. He’s an able rapper who, and here’s the important part, seems to have arrived at an aesthetic that works for him. His 2015 standout track, “WithTheShit,” proves as much, as it features raps that waver from boastful to remorseful with a deliberately dark and foreboding beat crafted by Cairo Mayeson using samples from Under the Skin. He’s already got a co-sign from Virgil Abloh, and he’s prepping his appropriately titled upcoming EP, Okay, I’m Ready. The rap world (and San Diego) is ready, too. Damien Scott


allan kingdom

Image via Allan Kingdom

Allan Kingdom has been kicking around in the hip-hop underground for a while now (largely due to his promising 2014 EP, Future Memoirs), but he suddenly popped up on everyone’s radar last year when Kanye West decided to feature him on the Swish single “All Day.” The Minnesota rapper only contributed four lines, but they became the beating heart of the song, catapulting him to a new level of visibility beyond his core fan base. The Kanye co-sign netted him two Grammy nominations, but its real gift was setting Kingdom up perfectly for his next move. With worldwide exposure from a hit song (and without the pressure to recreate the sound that would come from a solo hit), he has a great opportunity to capitalize on the notoriety with his new album, Northern Lights. Whether or not his off-kilter rap style translates to the masses remains to be seen, but he certainly has lots of ears ready to listen. —Chris Mench


vic spencer

Image via J. Johari Palacio

Vic Spencer is unbridled, Vic Spencer is fun. A capable lyricist with an odd, overheated, destabilizing flow, which he typically pours over melted soul beats. He barks like a backpacker and walks like a troll, having sparred with his younger hometown rival Mick Jenkins several months ago, to thrilling effect. After releasing his latest album, The Cost of Victory, at the top of last year, Spencer has been running around with fellow Chicago misfit Chris Crack; the two rappers have a collaborative mixtape due to hit the streets any minute now. With that, Vic Spencer will kick start the next phase of his come-up. —Justin Charity


abra

Image via Abra

Abra’s feature on last year’s KeithCharles SPACEBAR cut “All My Luv” changed my life and made me a believer in all things good. I would literally have that song on repeat for like 20 minutes. Her ROSE tape is more of the same vibes as is BLQ VELVET. She sings her heart out over bass-heavy, lo-fi sounds throughout both of those records. Her beat selection is unique, retro, and something the game needs. There's a certain bounce to her songs that’ll help her stand out from the rest of the pack. With hazy, rap-singy R&B sounds winning at the moment, Abra leans more toward traditional soul. Her sound reminds me of Diana Ross’ 80s hit “Telephone," which is best way I can describe what she’s been doing these last two years. She’s going to melt your heart in 2016. —Angel Diaz


dvsn

Image via dvsn

At this point, being from Toronto is basically the safest of bets that an artist is one to watch. The city/the 6ix/whatever is just a hotbed of talent right now, and its sound is resonating and connecting on unprecedented levels. Thankfully, dvsn demands your attention off of more than just a base level. Who are they, exactly? No one really knows for sure—apparently creating intrigue around the persona is as common in Toronto as the cold. But when Drake producer/collaborator Nineteen85 premiered their music during his set on OVO Sound Radio a few months ago, it had everyone dying to solve the mystery. "The Line" in particular is a 7-minute tour de force, a soulful meditation on going all the way in a relationship that levels up into a straight up gospel in the chorus then collapses into a cinematic denouement that rides out for one whole minute. It's evocative of De Niro and Pacino in the fields in the ending of Heat—serene yet powerful. I don't care if dvsn never show their faces, as long as 2016 brings a full project. —Frazier Tharpe


lil uzi vert

Image via Spike Jordan

If you want an idea of what young creativity in hip-hop looks like in 2015 look no further than Lil Uzi Vert. The Philly rapper very much defines the druggier, weirder branch of hip-hop’s new aesthetic and is a clear sonic and sartorial inheritor of what artists like Travi$ Scott and Young Thug have built. Vert is energy incarnate, and on the excellent LuvIsRage he shows off his skills over beats that alternate between menacing and melodic. His run-on cadence on tracks like “Super Saiyan Trunks” might rub some people the wrong way, but he makes it enticing, dominating the beat rather than the other way around. In his brief come up he’s managed to keep his collaborations topnotch, working with artists like Wiz, Rome Fortune, and the aforementioned Young Thug and producers like Sonny Digital, TM 808, and FKi. Between the talent he's shown and supporters of that caliber in his corner, Vert is set up well for the year ahead. —Max Goldberg


daniel caesar

Image via Daniel Caesar

It's no secret that Toronto has a distinct sound—a sound that can be linked to the Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and a number of other successful R&B artists from the 416. Then you have Daniel Caesar, a talented singer/songwriter who is pressing forward in his own lane and sound. From the soothing vocals to the emotional lyrics, Caesar has all the tools to break through onto the mainstream. His Pilgrim's Paradise album was a standout of 2015, and his rendition of Kanye West's "Streetlights" might bring a tear to your eye. Though still a new artist, his catalogue is already impressive, but all eyes will be on his next project in 2016. The sky is the limit for Daniel Caesar, and he's ready to take advantage of the opportunity. —Zach Frydenlund


tory lanez

Image via B+

Toronto is in a good space with the attention shifting from Drake and OVO to unfamiliar faces in the rap scene. DJ Drama has coined the term New Toronto, categorizing the next wave of T-Dot artists, and Tory Lanez is one of them. The young veteran is on the verge of mainstream recognition, ready to reap the rewards after years of putting in work. The 23-year-old singer/rapper has been actively putting out music since 2009, catching a handful of hits like “In For It,” “Dímelo,” “B.L.O.W.,” and “Say It” that all represent “swavey,” his word for a genre of music that isn’t one-dimensional. With so many mixtapes available from his catalogue (Chixtape III and The New Toronto are his latest), it's surprising that he hasn’t dropped a proper debut yet. His records about love, finer things, partying, and the like make his music relatable to today’s younger listeners. Look out for Lanez to really take it to the next level this year. —Eric Diep


Stizz

Image via Cousin Stizz

Cousin Stizz’s Suffolk County is easily one of the best hip-hop projects of 2015. Bursting out of Boston’s increasingly fertile hip-hop womb, Stizz’s first full-length project is as impressive an introduction as anyone had this year. The 13-track album is enjoyable front to back, with each verse better than the last and each hook stronger and catchier than the one that came before it. The entire project sounds effortless. Stizz’s consistency is impressive, and his vocal deadpan is dominating and hypnotizing at the same time. Although there are certainly standout tracks the album works better when taken as an entire project. Its cohesion is one of its strongest attributes and is a major feat for such a young artist. Tracks like “No Explanation” and “Dum Dope” are breezy and sing-songy while “No Bells” or “Ain’t Really Much” feature dark, menacing tough talk at its finest. The few loosies Stizz dropped at the end of 2015 should be more than enough to convince you he is ready to build on Suffolk County’s buzz. —Max Goldberg


kevin abstract

Image via Kevin Abstract

We're in an era of younger artists, who were essentially born and raised on the Internet, rising on social media. That's become a more powerful tool than signing a label deal before developing an essential sound and cult-like fan base. The kids from Texas-based crew Brockhampton are much more than a group of friends who make good music and know how to use the Internet in a way to promote that. They're a creative force, and at the helm is Kevin Abstract. The artist gained a following off of his 2014 release, MTV1987, a project entirely produced by Romil who crafted some perfect sounds for Abstract to rhyme on about his insecurities, his influences, and his fears. MTV1987 finally hit iTunes just last month, and now Abstract's prepping for the release of They Shoot Horses​ later this year, which will be another step toward the top for the 19-year-old artist. —Lauren Nostro


Madeintyo

Image via Madeintyo

Young ATLien Madeintyo, and his signature “skr skr,” burst on the scene this summer with “Uber Everywhere,” a perfectly lighthearted summer banger. The track is bouncy and energetic, and lines like, “I wanna get the Rari, but I know it takes some time” make him effortlessly endearing. Beyond the music, Madeintyo has laced fans with a string of high-quality visuals that give his tracks a second life. Whether he’s staggering through the country club or dabbing his way around abandoned public transit, the videos leave as strong an impression as the songs. Coming off a recent NYC show with the Know Wave gang and having just flexed his relationship with Rocky on Instagram, it’s clear Madeintyo has situated himself nicely for a successful 2016. —Chris Mench


webster x

Image via Kenny Hoopla

There's a lot of new kids coming out of the Midwest who have cultivated their very own fan base without the immediate help of blogs, labels, and publicists. Milwaukee's Webster X has, over the last year, released a handful of stunning visuals paired with melodic, introspective raps that are as relatable to a kid growing up in the middle of Manhattan as they are to one from the Midwest. His rise hasn't been overly quick—most of his songs are racking up tens of thousands streams on SoundCloud—but perhaps most importantly, his buzz is entirely organic. He's paving his own lane and sound, pulling from influences like Kid Cudi, A Tribe Called Quest, and more psychedelic rock while collaborating with more well known up-and-comers like Allan Kingdom and opening for stars like Lupe Fiasco, too. With a little more precision, and a hit under his belt, Webster's success is almost imminent. —Lauren Nostro


the japanese house

Image via The Japanese House

Amber Bain, better known as the Japanese House, first arrived on the scene shrouded in an ambient cloud of downbeat mystery with her brand of hypnotizing melancholia. Her first big break came when Zane Lowe premiered her debut single, “Still,” as his last Hottest Record ever. She has since released two EPs, Pools to Bathe In and Clean, that have been devoured by everyone from Annie Mac to Huw Stephens. Co-produced by the 1975’s own Matt Healy and George Daniel, the Japanese House blankets bittersweet beats with layers of frostbitten electronics into a brooding affair. In 2016, the Japanese House is set to take her show international with labelmates the 1975 across the U.S., Europe, and Australia. With that 1975 co-sign, it’s only a matter of time before her live show and forthcoming debut album lock up a frenzy of new support. —Jessie Morris


wet

Image via Milan Zrnic

Wet’s poignant pop has hypnotized audiences since the release of their self-titled debut EP in late 2013. Their sparse vocals and minimalist approach achieved maximum results that left listeners melting right into their earnest sound. A surge of Internet interest made the three-piece the band to see, and a label bidding war followed before the band signed with Columbia. The New York-based trio then escaped the city to Western Massachusetts to hone their sound and record their debut full-length. “It might just be a coincidence, but I do think the album feels a little more organic,” Wet told us back in October. “There’s more live instruments, it’s a little less electronic.” After a year of sparse releases, Wet is finally ready to share their finished product at the end of this month. With their album Don’t You dropping Jan. 29 and a headlining tour to follow, Wet is fated to, what else, flood the scene. —Jessie Morris


post malone

Image via Post Malone

“White Iverson” was inescapable in 2015, blowing up via SoundCloud and YouTube before taking on hip-hop radio and soundtracking smoke sessions across the country. Suddenly, completely out of the blue, Post Malone was an unexpected force in hip-hop. And although his n-word controversy threatened to derail the upward trajectory of his career, he managed to come back with a decent apology and keep the focus on his music, earning more buzz with subsequent songs like “Too Young” and “Tear$.” The question of 2016 is if he can keep it all going. He thankfully sidestepped some severe eye rolls when he revealed he was just joking about naming his debut Album of the Year, but as of now it’s not clear exactly what form the album is going to take. But with collaborations in the books with the likes of Kanye West, Fetty Wap, and 50 Cent (and with his still-untitled debut set to drop in March), what is clear is that the cornrowed, grilled-out white boy from Dallas has the chance to make a major impact on music this year. Let’s hope he keeps saucin’ on us. —Chris Mench


cozz

Image via Ryan Doubiago

If you're looking to have a great year, starting off on the right foot is crucial. Dreamville's Cozz has wasted no time, having just released Nothin Personal, the 13-track follow up to his 2014 debut album, Cozz & Effect. This year, we see Cody Macc trade in the remnants of wide-eyed amazement at his swift entry into the rap game for a heightened sense of confidence to match his impressive lyricism and wizened perspective. He successfully illustrates his aspirations and recounts stories from his life in a more classic style of rap, one that still feels fresh and avoids sounding like a cover of the late 1990s. Before rapping a single word on the new mixtape, the West Coast MC gives his brief state of the union, declaring, "I'm tired of motherfuckers sleeping on a nigga and shit. Yo I'm bout to make my motherfuckin' stamp." With what he has packaged into his latest offering, combined with the buzz and excitement he and his Dreamville counterparts have generated, Cozz is in a prime position to leave his imprint. —Brandon "Jinx" Jenkins


d.r.a.m.

Image via D.R.A.M.

D.R.A.M.’s biggest headlines of 2015 might have centered around the uncanny similarity between “Cha Cha” and Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” but the Virginia native is more than his biggest hit. He spent much of the year on the road, opening for Chance the Rapper’s Social Experiment Tour. He also capped things off with the release of his Gahdamn! EP, which featured the excellent SZA collaboration “Caretaker” (a shorter version of which also appeared on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s critically acclaimed Surf). He's built a loyal following attracted to his unique blend of hip-hop, R&B, samba, reggae, and more, and it feels like 2016 is the year he's finally ready to bring his signature style to the masses. With his mixtape #1EpicSequel on the horizon, it's only a matter of time before D.R.A.M. is doing real ass music all over the country. —Chris Mench


kodak black

Image via Kodak Black

Free Kodak! That's what I scream whenever I hit play on "Pelican" from his sophomore tape, Heart of the Projects. The teenage trap star was recently taken into custody for a laundry list of charges then posted his $26,000 bail, making him one of the few spitters who live what they rap. Lil Kodak reps Florida, but most of his best songs give off that late-'90s Cash Money vibe, and just like the New Orleans imprint, he has the propensity to construct hits. One song in particular rose from the underground thanks to alleged wave rider Drake. Once the Toronto rapper posted a clip of himself dancing to “SKRT,” everyone rushed to see what the big fuss was about. That video has nearly 3 million views on YouTube. “No Flockin’” was the first of his songs to pop in the streets, though, and as of right now, it has a little over 5 million views. He’s on his way if he manages to stay out of trouble. Free Kodak. —Angel Diaz