25 Canadian Artists to Watch Out For in 2021
From DijahSB to Duvy to Curtis Waters, these are the homegrown artists bound to make major moves this year. The musicians we're paying the closest attention to.
Image via Complex Original
Drake just became the first artist in history to generate 50 billion total streams on Spotify; The Weeknd holds the record for most weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100.
Suffice it to say that for Canadian musical artists, the bar has been raised incredibly high.
And yet, we've got no shortage of rising homegrown talent shooting for the moon. Despite what you may have read about the pandemic affecting productivity, there's a surfeit of promising Canadian artists—from independent rappers to TikTok sensations, coast to coast—planning to make big moves in 2021. So many it was impossible to squeeze them all onto this list. Maybe the quarantine has given them more time to work in the studio, or maybe the competition in the Great White North is just too damn stiff for an artist to afford resting on their laurels. Either way, just as several acts on last year's roundup wound up making international noise and topping year-end lists (see: Jessie Reyez, TOBi), you can expect to hear a lot more from the following names in the months to come. Here's our list of 25 Canadian artists to watch out for in 2021.
Kid Cudi fucks with Dijah SB, and therefore so should you. Earlier this month, Mr. Solo Dolo himself retweeted a recent CBC performance by the Toronto MC, calling it "tasty." Dijah was already coming off a big year, their debut full-length 2020 the Album garnering much praise—and cracking the Top 10 in Complex Canada's list of The Best Canadian Albums of 2020—with its glitchy grooves and ultra-relatable bars about loneliness and financial stress. They followed that project up in November with an EP, Girls Me Anxiety, and are looking to keep the momentum going in 2021 with a new album, Head Above the Waters. "It has themes of just riding the waves while things are completely fucked right now," Dijah tells Complex. "Just keeping your head above waters. It’s scary right now. But I’m hoping this can bring some sort of light to anybody listening." —Alex Nino Gheciu
Last year, Naya Ali already conquered her home province in a way no Anglophone rapper has done previously, by becoming the first solo rapper to be nominated for Anglophone Album of the Year for Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude) at the ADISQ, Quebec’s equivalent of the Junos. Last November, the lyrical pugilist put her skills to work in the single and video “Air Ali.” Earlier this month, she became the only non-Ontario artist to win one of the five prizes at the inaugural Black Canadian Music Awards. She'll be dropping the second half of Godspeed this spring, but before then, watch out for a remix of "Air Ali" featuring Montreal's Connaisseur Ticaso in early February. —Erik Leijon
To many, Mustafa isn’t new. Toronto has watched the singer’s evolution from prepubescent poet to celebrated songwriter (he’s written for The Weeknd, The Jonas Brothers, and Camila Cabello) to burgeoning solo artist on the cusp of his debut release. He had a breakthrough last year with his practically perfect debut single "Stay Alive," its delicate arrangement and poignant anti-gun message capturing the world's attention. Mustafa’s upcoming project, When Smoke Rises, is among this year’s most anticipated thanks to his folksy, consistently impressive singles—including "Air Forces" and "Come Back" featuring James Blake—which paint his Regent Park neighbourhood and those like it in a new, nuanced hue. —Sumiko Wilson
Enoch Ncube and David May, high school friends and voices behind MONEYPHONE, ended 2020 with a mixtape under their belts. On Faith*, the duo offered a forward-thinking take on pop, with a sound that’s warmer and videos that are way more fun, but still polished and poised for what’s to come. The Toronto pair—who've generated buzz the last couple years by combining BROCKHAMPTON's experimental hip-hop with the slinky guitars and soul-baring honesty of '90s indie rock—are currently at work on what they're calling their "most focused project yet," their debut LP. They tell Complex it'll be "an album of stories we've inherited, and stories we've made along the way. We're slowly building the world around it, creating the visual and musical language so by the time people hear it, they'll know it's a MONEYPHONE record." —Sumiko Wilson
He's already got a fan in Drake; now Smiley's looking to win over the world. Drizzy's given the gritty rapper from Toronto's Pelham Park neighbourhood several nods over the years, listing him as an influence on 2018's Scorpion and shouting him out as one of his favourite artists from the city during his Rap Radar interview a couple years ago. (The two even appear on a track together, which leaked last year, and doesn't quite require a Boolean search to find.) His deceptively clever, lackadaisical-yet-menacing bars are one of a kind. This spring Smiley will release Buy. or. Bye 2, the sequel to his 2018 breakout project. Expect the first single "In My Zone" to arrive sometime in February. "I'm going to get more personal on the album about a lot of things," he tells Complex. "I've been working on it and thinking, 'Buy. or. Bye 2, is this album gonna change my life?' I just feel like this is the one. So I have to talk about stuff and just let it all out. I've got to level-up and get to the big leagues." —Alex Nino Gheciu
Calgary-bred Curtis Waters struck gold when his debut single “Stunnin’” (featuring Harm Franklin) exploded last May on TikTok. To date, it’s garnered over 650 million streams worldwide, and the Nepali-Canadian has been steadily proving it wasn’t a fluke. This past October saw the release of his debut album, Pity Party, an eclectic and eccentric collection of tunes that solidified Waters’ status as a full-fledged artist; and with new music on the way in 2021—including a self-produced pop tune called "Doodoodoo" dropping this week—it seems like he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. —JJ Bottineau
"This shit off the top, man—like every other track," Duvy likes to declare at the top of his songs. Even if that statement weren't true, we'd still be impressed. The 18-year-old from Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood has been on an absolute tear—since releasing his debut project Jane Babies in 2019, he's been serving up a steady drip of bangers, proving to be one of the city's most consistent young rappers. Taking more cues from the Atlanta's rap scene than Toronto's, he's got a Thugger-esque knack for bending his voice into a variety of different timbres and flows, all while spitting about the stark realities of street life over epic trap beats. Duvy started off 2021 hungry with an unfathomably hard track, "SouthWay," and he's just whetting his appetite: he promises to unleash some collabs with big producers and more singles in the lead-up to his highly anticipated album, slated for release this year. —Alex Nino Gheciu
Backxwash, the Montreal-Ottawa metal- and goth-loving rapper, blew up in 2020, culminating in a Polaris Music Prize win for the deeply personal God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It. Next step after all that demon slaying is to deliver a bigger, brasher, and bolder follow-up, one that she’s been teasing on social media. We already know that Ada Rook, one-half of Toronto noise-pop duo Black Dresses, sings the hook of the project's songs, calling it Backxwash's "hardest song everrr" on Twitter. "This album is gonna break ur minds," she continued. Expect another big, busy year for the rapper. —Erik Leijon
Vancouver’s DIY art-punk collective Crack Cloud consistently shows their worth with awe-inspiring releases that blend and blur genres together with ease. Last year’s Pain Olympics was an irresistible album that captivated with eclectically freewheeling sounds and enamoured through meticulously jolting visuals. There’s no telling what they’ll do next, and that’s the best bit about them. —JJ Bottineau
Clearly, Charmaine is really good at first impressions. The title of her major label debut—which came last fall—is also the most apt descriptor of the Zimbabwe-born, Toronto-bred rapper’s sound and look: BOLD. Canada has no shortage of women in rap but there is an imbalance of who gets the spotlight. While the industry at large sees a female rap renaissance, Charmaine is helping to get Canada caught up. Look for her next single to arrive towards the end of February. —Sumiko Wilson
On Emanuel’s offering of dreamy ballads, vulnerability is the common thread. His lyrics are honest and his voice is able to emote expertly, without losing its key or composure. Thanks to this, the London, Ont. native went into 2021 with an impressive Motown deal, a co-sign from Idris Elba, two buzzy EPs, and a debut full-length album, Alt Therapy, on the way. —Sumiko Wilson
Not too long ago, groups were all the rage in Quebec rap. In recent years they’ve mostly given way to solo acts, but 5Sang14 decided to do it backwards. They’re a supergroup made up of some of the province’s biggest names: Lost, White-B, MB, Random, and Gaza. And while they’ve all been active with their own careers, so far the 5Sang14 catalogue consists of an EP and a few hyped shows pre-pandemic. This spring, the group will finally release an album, on Loud’s imprint Joy Ride Records. —Erik Leijon
Hailing from the expansive Montreal suburb of Ville St-Laurent, fresh face Izuku made a big impression in a short time last year. The francophone rapper flashed his drill skills over beat switching “Banni” and dropped an unexpected hook on “Jamais Vu.” What’s next for the up-and-comer? His most recent single is “Dior 1” and he told Atelier New Regime his plan is to “keep dropping singles and establish myself in the Montreal rap game.” —Erik Leijon
On Dvsn's A Muse In Her Feelings, Shantel May’s power ballad duet with Daniel Daley was one of the album’s most one-the-nose odes to the '90s, the era that the album is in tribute to. In the same month that the OVO duo's album came out, May launched into a series of solo drops that put her impressive vocal range at center stage. Save one track featuring Westside Gunn ("Until I Say So"), she used 2020 to cement her sound as a soloist, and hopefully lay the foundation for a 2021 full-length. —Sumiko Wilson
Quality over quantity seems to be Prado’s preferred approach to releasing music. Capping off 2020 with her third release of the year, the boisterously fun “Men In Black” completes the Vancouver artist’s introduction, while marking the next stage of her career. And at the rate she’s going, this year could see Prado breakthrough to reach even greater heights. —JJ Bottineau
Since we first met Friyie (pronounced FREE-yay), he’s been on the precipice of a breakout. In 2016, the Toronto rapper caught the attention of Floyd Mayweather's Money Team thanks to his single of the same name, but his stunning 2019 album ANF: Ain't Nothing Free proved he had the mileage to live beyond the co-sign. Last year he built further on his gritty, melodic sound with a steady flow of quarantine singles and the release of his latest project Before The Flight. As for 2021, Friyie is set to drop ANF 2, the sequel to his most lauded album. We've also got word that he's been working in the world of pop and Afrobeats, planning to release a few collaborations within those realms towards the end of the year. —Sumiko Wilson
Nate Husser, the Montreal rapper who finds himself hopping between his hometown and Los Angeles, ultimately stuck to singles and streetwear last year, but when he fired, he didn’t miss. From “I Just Bought Another Neck” to the Kaytranada-produced “Gang Signs,” Husser took his commanding, too-cool-for-a-hook flow to new heights. The avowed oddball (check his IG handle) was supposed to drop the Adult Supervision EP last fall, but we’re still waiting on it. Look for it to officially drop March 26. Before then, however, he'll be releasing a single featuring Mick Jenkins. —Erik Leijon
Arguably one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, Teddi Jones is a singer, songwriter and producer from Vancouver whose accredited work extends to Summer Walker, Buddy & Kent Jamz, and $NOT. Last year, she further displayed her production skills on POCKETS—an 11-track sample pack co-created with Nami—to great effect. Her Soundcloud, however, is populated with a “series of honest pieces,” a haunting collection of originals that’ll leave you wanting for more. Whatever she makes next, you won’t want to miss it. —JJ Bottineau
Singer-songwriter Jean Clerel’s arresting vocals captivated Stephen Colbert's audiences last October before he quickly followed it up with two November singles: “My Anthem" and "Talking About Love.” There’s more to come from the Montreal artist, including a five-song EP in the works set for release on AWAL and more online performances. He’s well-suited to them: it’s not every act that can send emotion and intimacy through a screen, but so far, he’s excelling under current constraints. Check out Clerel at the Wavelength Winter Festival on Feb 13. —Erik Leijon
"Hope you niggas like this shit," Lil Berete says in the intro of his new banger "War Ready," before quickly doing an about-face: "Actually I don't give a fuck if you guys don't like it, 'cause I'm still the hottest in the Dot." It's a pretty bold claim, and one sure to rankle, but nevertheless a sign that the young Regent Park rapper is coming for 2021's throat. Since dropping his debut mixtape Icebreaker in 2018, Berete has been catching international attention—even signing with UK grime imprint New Gen—with his melody-heavy bars and unique style that melds the Toronto sound with African and Caribbean influences. Already starting the year strong with "War Ready" and "Black Heart," his underrated link-up with Tizzy Stackz, the rapper's looking to keep flooding the streets with new music. He's gearing up to drop his next project, Icebreaker 2, and has a collab with the late King Von in the vault. —Alex Nino Gheciu
Riding into 2021 off his single “Hoopty,” Edmonton’s Mouraine kept hard at work during the travesty of a year that was 2020. With a diverse flow, smooth cadence, and topical lyrical content, the Sudan-born rapper's most recent releases—“Open Letter to America,” “Lion Hearted,” and “Shutdown”—represent an artist dealing with contemporary issues of the day just like the rest of us. His debut EP Bigger Dreams is forthcoming, and it should be well worth the wait. —JJ Bottineau
More coastally-minded, timeless R&B is on the way from Montreal/Los Angeles artist Yoni Ayal, who made his grand entrance a year ago with Synthetic Soul. First up is a single with like-minded pals Emotional Oranges called “Bonafide,” followed up a debut LP, Hope For Sale, which will start to roll out in March. Chiiild did some recording a while back in the woods at Wild Studio in Saint-Zénon, Quebec. —Erik Leijon
IDMAN is a Somali-Canadian artist who recently graduated from Toronto’s famed Remix Project and is now living in L.A. Her debut single “Down For It” dropped last November, embodying sentiments of self-affirmation whilst demanding that her haters mind their own damn business. With an EP on the horizon, we suggest that you pay attention—we’ll be hearing much more from IDMAN in the near future. —JJ Bottineau
Quietly establishing himself as one of Alberta's deftest lyricists, K-Riz is poised to make a leap this year. The Edmonton-by-way-of-Toronto artist spits and sings straight from the heart over otherworldly beats fusing the best parts of '90s R&B with spacey, futuristic hip-hop sonics. Late last year, he dropped The Room, an EP he wrote while recovering from injuries he sustained in a car accident in June. This summer, he'll release his sophomore full-length album Peace & Love, which will include production from Grammy nominee LordQuest (Talib Kweli, Schoolboy Q), as well as appearances by Calgary rapper Lyrique and legendary bassist Bubby Lewis (Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Jhene Aiko). K-Riz says it's not so much a breakup album as it is "a breakthrough album"—and he's certainly due for one. —Alex Nino Gheciu
Expressively energetic, Terrell Morris’ recent album Lavender positioned the Toronto artist as one to watch out for in 2021. Over top of rhapsodic production, Morris’ melodically-charged lyrics bob and weave throughout a 29-minute runtime, encapsulating a piercingly sharp sound that suits him best. He and his cohorts have raised the bar within Toronto’s rap scene, and we can’t wait to hear more. —JJ Bottineau