Pigeons & Planes' Best New Artists of 2018 (So Far)
These artists made some of the best, most progressive music we've heard in 2018.
Image via Jonathan F
In 2018, we decided to scrap most of our mid-year lists. There are enough of those already. You can follow the P&P Weekly playlist to keep up with our favorite songs of the year in real time and we update this list of essential new albums each month.
You may have guessed by now that this is the list we decided to keep. Music discovery is at the very core of the P&P mission and these artists made some of the best, most progressive music we've heard in 2018. Some of them are already stars, but most are just starting to show the world what they're capable of.
The diversity of sounds and styles on display is, as always, inspiring. Cuco's dream pop pairs nicely with Tierra Whack's madcap melodies—or you could wash down Rico Nasty's 180-proof punk trap with Grip's jagged poetry. There's really something for everybody on this list, and we still have six months of music to go. Here are the best new artists of 2018, so far.
19-year-old Chicago rapper/singer Juice WRLD has had a crazy year. In March he signed signed a joint venture deal with Interscope before he had any music out on Spotify or Apple Music. It was reportedly worth $3 million dollars. Now, his music is climbing the Billboard charts, with "Lucid Dreams" reaching No. 4 and “All Girls Are The Same” currently in the Top 50.
His debut project Goodbye & Good Riddance makes it clear that he has what it takes to become emo rap’s next big star, and with his blend of styles and melodic approach he’s only going to get bigger. "My end goal is to leave one of the biggest impacts on the world," he told us. "Music is the doorway and how I express myself, but overall I just want to make really, really big impact on the world. In a good way." So far, so good.—Joe Price
L.A.'s Cuco is the definition of a self-made pop star. His charming mix of deadpan humor and sincere empathy is connecting with young people and Cuco has built a highly dedicated fan base even before releasing his debut album. As a first generation Mexican-American, he’s hoping to provide better representation in the music industry and build a better life for his family. He's easy to root for and his music makes it even easier, sweet compositions that can be playful or personal, sung in Spanish and English without missing a beat. Bedroom pop certainly became a buzzword this year, but few new artists in any genre have as much potential as Cuco.—Joe Price
Read our feature on bedroom pop and the new wave of DIY artists here.
Lil Skies has it all. Like his peers who have exploded from the digital underground in recent years, Skies’ music is carried by a wild, rebellious spirit. What makes him unique is that he’s been able to harness that energy in a catchy, pop-friendly way unlike anyone else from his class.
Even when he’s rapping his hardest, Skies’ words weave together to form larger melodic arcs. It’s the kind of music that’s so sticky, you’ll catch yourself humming along before you actually know the words. There’s more going on here than just catchy melodies, though. Hinting at a larger mission that’s been attracting a loyal following, he told us, “I'm trying to be the motivator. I’m trying to inspire.” No wonder his name has been all over the Billboard charts since his debut album, Life of a Dark Rose, dropped in January.—Eric Skelton
22-year-old Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB has been grinding away for quite some time now, but he caught his big break when he went viral with the shoot dance. Ever since, it’s been a crazy ride for Blocboy: he's collaborated with Drake, Childish Gambino, A$AP Rocky, and 21 Savage among others. Plus, he managed to get his signature dance in the biggest video game in the world, Fortnite.
More importantly, his breakthrough release Simi proves he's more than a viral dance move—BlocBoy JB has the creativity and musical wherewithal to stick around. His energy is infectious, making Bloc a beacon of fun and excitement in an otherwise dark year.—Joe Price
In just 15 minutes, Tierra Whack managed to do what most artists can only dream of doing in an hour of music. Her visual project Whack World is one of the most left-field breakthroughs in quite some time, if only because it sees the Philadelphia rapper completely ditching any and all unnecessary elements in favor of a streamlined approach more in line with a punk album.
First emerging with rapid-fire radio freestyles in 2016, Tierra Whack is all about versatility on Whack World. "Sometimes I don’t feel like rapping. It’s too easy for me," she told us. "I actually started singing before I started rapping, most people don’t know that. I was in a church choir and went to an arts school as a vocal major." Mastering a whole array of different sounds and techniques and with an unforgettable live show too, Tierra Whack is one of 2018's most vital and vibrant new artists.—Joe Price
Before Lil Gnar was focusing on music, he was skating and making clothes. "Music's easier, I'm not going to lie," he told us. "I did Gnarcotic for three and a half years, stressing my brain out. I've been putting out music for six months, and shit's going how it's going... With music, people can connect with you more. If they hear your music and see you as a person, they connect instantly. Clothes are cool, but clothes don't move people. Music changes people's mood."
Gnar is a master of brand-building, and in less than a year, he's become one of the fastest rising new rappers, boasting collaborations with Lil Skies, Germ, MadeinTYO, Night Lovell, and Joji. He's got an engaged fan base, versatility fit for jumping from intense to laid back styles, and natural charisma that can't be faked.—Jacob Moore
Superorganism's lead singer Orono Noguchi discovered a band called The Eversons on YouTube. During a trip to Japan while she was still a high school student in Maine, Noguchi went to a show and became friends with the band. They kept in touch, shared memes online, and eventually Noguchi started contributing to a demo that The Eversons were working on. That's how Superorganism was formed, and they've since added members from New Zealand and Australia and relocated to London.
The band's origin story represents the power of connectivity, and their colorful, addictive pop sound proves that greatness follows when you make things with like-minded people. Superorganism is playfully whimsical and a little rough around the edges—think The Unicorns or Islands—and Noguchi's lead vocals are magnetic. Even during the biggest, catchiest, most delightful chorus, she sticks to a lackadaisical, mellow delivery that sets a unique tone. So far, Superorganism has been super consistent, and their 10-song, self-titled debut album is worth listening to from front to back.—Jacob Moore
Octavian is a special talent. "Party Here," released in September 2017, wasn't his first song but it's an immediate highlight, a rap track with a style that's hard to pin down. Octavian was born in France and grew up in London, but he sounds like the future, shifting between rapping and singing over production that ranges from dance party to traditional hip-hop across various releases.
"Party Here" has it all—sharp observational rapping, memorable melodic moments, and an incredible beat that oscillates between tension and release. Octavian made the "Party Here" video on a small budget with his friends, and the vivid colors and collective energy provide the perfect accompaniment to the song, too. Each subsequent release, including the hauntingly beautiful "Hands" and the success-toasting "Little," has come with an impressive video as Octavian and his crew build out the world around their music.
Online buzz and cosigns from the likes of Drake and Virgil Abloh have confirmed that the world is taking notice, and Octavian is in a perfect position to capitalize.—Alex Gardner
Kevin George had grand ambitions from the start. Inspired by artists like The Weeknd and Prince, he told us in January, "[I'm] a 20-year-old producer turned artist, who's out to become one of the world's biggest pop stars." It was a bold statement with which to launch one's first song, but the young artist has backed it up impressively so far. His debut EP Loveland is packed with moody R&B songs that have a pop polish and his subsequent singles are a reminder just how strong a songwriter Kevin George is. A recent collaboration with rising rap star Gunna showed the versatility and there's an album on the way in July, too. Kevin George doesn't stop working.—Alex Gardner
When MorMor burst onto the scene with "Heaven's Only Wishful," the song was so original it was hard to guess where he'd go next. We didn't have to wait long—the Toronto singer came back with the equally beautiful "Whatever Comes To Mind," and dropped a five-song EP shortly thereafter. Each song has the obvious mark of craftmanship, and MorMor has the kind of diverse tool belt that could lead to a very long and successful career. His voice can swing from a piercing falsetto to swooping tenor, and sounds equally comfortable over oceanic synths as it does over curt guitar.—Graham Corrigan
JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran is chaos. It doesn’t just sound like chaos, it embodies it. The 28-year-old rapper has been honing his brand of politically driven internet-born rap since he left the Air Force around 2015, adopting a style that’s somewhere between earnest and provocative. Veteran is the result of America in 2017 and 2018, a busted head on the sidewalk, a racist outburst from a politician. It’s complete madness, holding a mirror up to a country crumbling under its own turmoil. Veteran is an ugly, riveting, necessary album, and it’s also the most honest and original rap release we’ve heard this year.—Joe Price
Rico Nasty has been building for a couple of years, but it was June release Nasty that served as the artist's mainstream introduction. She's an absolute savage throughout the 14 tracks, but the D.C. area rapper isn't just a savage. A critique of her early work was that Rico could only go one speed, and while it's still her bread and butter—try "Countin Up" or "Rage" for a taste of how powerful she can be on the mic—she has expanded her palate in 2018. She's incorporating elements of metal and bittersweet lullabies on "In The Air" and "Lala," all without losing the playful edge that made early hits like "Hey Arnold" so addictive.—Graham Corrigan
Omar Apollo first captured our attention in August of last year with "Brakelights," which perfectly showcased the young artist's knack for songwriting and his impressive guitar work. (Legend has it that he learned to play through YouTube videos.) Since then, Omar has proven that his laid back, mellow sonic aesthetic makes for a memorable listen on his Stereo EP, released at the end of May.
"I don’t know if anybody would’ve heard my music if it wasn’t for the internet,” Omar Apollo told us in April, “I make it [music] in my room but that’s 'cause it's all I had.” From those humble beginnings has come the start of something special, as Omar's jazzy, funky, genre-hopping music is connecting with more and more listeners. The internet may be a big part of his story, but if you ever have the opportunity to catch Omar live, we highly recommend it.—Joyce Ng
New York up-and-comer Sheck Wes is signed to a joint deal with Kanye West [G.O.O.D Music] and Travis Scott [Catcus Jack Records]. That alone is enough to spark interest, but Sheck Wes' buzz doesn't rely on his connections or collabs—he's already released some of the most contagious ("Mo Bamba"), and rawest (Live SheckWes Die SheckWes") songs from any new artist in the past year.
Sheck's style is unpredictable and unorthodox, jolting from a simple melody to a battle cry of riotous proportions. Part of that comes from the way he works. "Everything you do gotta come from your heart," he told us. "I remember when I did 'Live SheckWes, Die SheckWes,' and when I did 'Mo Bamba,' I one-taked those because it came from my heart. I try to one-take all my songs now, even if I do my verse and I fuck up, I'm gonna do the whole verse over."
As of now, Sheck Wes only has four songs out on the major streaming platforms, but it's a safe bet that his breakthrough moment is on the horizon. And in true Sheck Wes fashion, we have no idea when it's going to happen.—Jacob Moore
Some of these best new artist blurbs are easier to write than others. The easy ones are the artists you've been watching closely and haven't yet written about. The most difficult are the ones you've been writing about for months. For me, GRIP is the hardest blurb from this list, because ever since I heard PORCH, I've been telling everyone who will listen that GRIP is a legend in the making.
But here we are, so here we go again. Atlanta rapper GRIP isn't your typical new rapper. He's studied the greats like Nas, Outkast, and Jay Z, and he aims to deliver substance with every song he shares. Unlike so many new artists who latch on to popular sounds of the moment and rely, GRIP is doing what comes naturally for him. "Right now, being yourself is taboo," he said earlier this year. "All of these trends—that’s not being yourself, that’s people copying something that they’re seeing is popular."
What comes naturally to GRIP is skillful storytelling, Southern lyricism at its finest, music with a message, and conviction that only comes when you really mean what you're saying. PORCH is an incredible start, but GRIP still has a lot more to say.—Jacob Moore
88rising have been gradually building one of the most exciting rosters out right now, but the best recent addition to the team has got to be AUGUST 08. His debut EP, Father, was written in only two days, but comes across as if it’s been brewing for a lifetime. August’s gorgeous voice, stunning melodies, and heart wrenching lyrics form a cohesive whole that sets him apart from the rest of the 88 team, but he's very much an equal in terms of raw talent. That he had the best verse of the group’s recent posse cut “Midsummer Madness” isn’t a coincidence.—Joe Price
Atlanta rapper Yung Bans has refused to let anything stop him from becoming the star he's capable of becoming. Following a house arrest, he's been sharing new music non-stop and gaining cosigns from heavy-hitters like Future, who featured him on a song in the new Superfly movie soundtrack. He also had one of his songs show up in the second season of Atlanta, and that's all before dropping an album.
Yung Bans has released album's worth of material this year, though, with his self-titled EP series providing some of the most addictive and inventive trap music released this year. Bans has a laid-back delivery and charismatic persona, and the way he's managed to improve with each subsequent volume proves just how ready he is to be Atlanta's next star.—Joe Price
Watch what happened when we took Yung Bans to a psychic here.
There’s a distinctive lingering sadness to Lindsey Jordan’s music as Snail Mail, painting a vivid picture of someone struggling with the overwhelming transition from child to adult. At only 19, Jordan delivered one of the year’s best albums with Lush. Lyrically speaking, Lush is a mature album focused on immaturity, vividly depicting complicated emotions that are remarkably easy to relate to. It’s gorgeous, heartbreaking, and an early look at a musician who’s already on her way to becoming one of America’s best songwriters.—Joe Price
ASAP Rocky’s protégé Smooky MarGielaa blends East Coast grit with a Swae Lee-ish ear for melody, and has proved himself capable of crafting street heaters on par with far more experienced artists. Thus far in 2018, the Bronx native has released a handful of hits like “Come Up,” “Too Blessed,” and “Too Much Money,” all of which clock in under two minutes but deliver earworm Auto-Tune hooks and the rapper’s infectious swagger. His 2017 #FreeMeek anthem “Not Right” was a pristine collaboration with Murda Beatz, and if the two keep linking it’s only a matter of time until they craft a crossover smash. The ASAP extended universe has already birthed legitimate stars in ASAP Ferg and Playboi Carti, and Smooky will likely be joining their ranks before long.—Grant Rindner
Patrick Paige II
The Internet’s bassist was the band’s last member to put out a solo project, but his debut Letters of Irrelevance was well worth the wait. The album didn’t skimp on killer low-end grooves, from the warm, nostalgic melody of “On My Mind,” to the arpeggiated chords on “Ode to Inebriation,” but it also showcased Patrick Paige II’s considerable talents as a vocalist and a songwriter.
“On My Mind” is a touching meditation on his sometimes turbulent relationship with his sister, while “The Best Policy” was a heady blast of contemplative hip-hop that looked at a wide swath of social issues while still being self-aware enough to acknowledge that Paige could also be part of the problem. Paige is an honest and unafraid musician, making him particularly vital in these difficult times, as he’s proven on older tracks like the searing bass-only eulogy “(Tears For) Souls I Never Knew” a scathing indictment of police brutality and systemic violence on which he never utters a word. And even with a stellar solo album under his belt he still knows how to succeed in the group context, as the bass line for The Internet’s single “Roll (Burbank Funk)” sprints up and down the fretboard and directly into your brain.—Grant Rindner
Thousands of rappers have spent the past few years experimenting with two-minute, adrenaline rush-style tracks, but Georgia's Bernard Jabs already seems to have perfected them. His cuts like "Super Saiyan," "Lethal," and "Wesson" have nary a wasted syllable, packing bravado, day-in-the-life observations and multiple infectious flows into bite-sized confections. Jabs cites Lil Wayne as his favorite rapper, and when the young MC is at his best there's a joyous electricity to his cascading bars that doesn't require too much squinting to see a resemblance to young Weezy. Here's hoping the followup to Jabs' Full Clip EP is on the horizon.—Grant Rindner
From the breezy self-determination ode “Cool” to the scene-of-the-crime heartbreak anthem “Crying on the Subway” to the unflinching “Queen of High School,” Hana Vu is a songwriter with a knack for capturing mood and setting in a way that truly puts you in her shoes. That she self-produces her work only makes it more inimitable, and the added sheen of California gloss guarantees repeat plays.
Vu has been a DIY fixture for years on Bandcamp, and as her chops have improved she’s honed her identity as a keen-eyed lyricist and a vocalist capable of bringing singer-songwriter vulnerability to bristling post-punk soundscapes. Vu’s new EP, How Many Times Have You Driven By, just came out, and she’s poised to be an essential voice in this new era of indie rock for years to come.—Grant Rindner
Chicago rapper Valee is G.O.O.D. Music’s latest renaissance man. While his real-world handiness has been well-documented (just google “Valee koi pond” if you need proof), his hushed, raspy delivery is impressively versatile in its own right, capable of cascading down the summer anthem “Womp Womp” or selling the minimalist menace of “Juice & Gin.” His GOOD Job, You Found Me EP from earlier this year was a jaw-dropping example of the power of restraint, and cemented him as one of 2018's breakout stars.
Valee was already building a sizable following in Chicago thanks to ace projects like his ChaseTheMoney collab VTM, but he’s got a shot at bona fide stardom with the big names in his corner, having already collaborated with Pusha T, Jeremih, and Chance the Rapper. Still, you get the sense it hardly matters to the MC, whose unflappable, DIY mentality means that no matter how bright the spotlight gets, he’ll stay true to his roots.—Grant Rindner
1010 Benja SL
We've been making a concerted effort not to get ahead of ourselves while compiling this lists of new artists. At the speed things move in 2018, we can witness what feels like an entire career in 12 months, so we decided the smart move was to wait until there is a full body of work or at least multiple releases to enjoy, rather than including anyone based on a couple of hot songs. But 1010 Benja SL isn't moving like other artists in 2018, and he doesn't sound like anyone else either.
A singer and producer with an unmistakable voice, Benja hit our radars with the one-of-a-kind "Boofiness" in 2017, subsequently signed to Young Turks (FKA twigs, Sampha, SBTRKT), and finally released follow up "Wind Up Space" in March. Very little is known about the man behind the music, but maybe it's better that way. Whatever happens next, 1010 Benja SL has our full attention.—Alex Gardner
070 Shake is clutch. Given the opportunity to sit in on recording sessions for G.O.O.D. Music’s run of seven-song albums, she took the moment and ran with it—exceeding everyone’s expectations. Leading up to June’s releases, we heard rumors of artists like Drake, Travis Scott, and The-Dream holing up with Kanye West in Wyoming, but it was Shake that emerged as the standout guest vocalist.
Her anthemic appearance at the end of “Ghost Town” might be the most triumphant moment in pop music so far this year, and her vocals on Pusha T and Nas’ projects displayed versatility. After dropping a strong EP in March, Glitter, Shake is focused on using this summer’s momentum to her advantage as she readies her debut album. In the days following the release of ’Ye,’ she told us, “The experience I had in Wyoming makes me want to make music on a different level.”—Eric Skelton
Bakar is representing for his Camden, London roots as he rides the wave of popular acclaim. As maybe the only artist with public co-signs from both Elton John and Skepta, his stardom seems inevitable, while his DIY energy and unique style has been drawing in plenty of new fans.
While the sound may hew more towards indie rock, Bakar is clear about his influences. "Madlib's probably the producer that's had the most effect on me musically other than Pharrell," he said. "Quasimoto was and still is huge to me and my friends. Shit, Madlib even taught me jazz and is actually one of the reasons my mixtape is called BADKID." Don't sleep on one of the freshest new artists out of London.—Mel Dorfman
There’s a distinctive lingering sadness to Lindsey Jordan’s music as Snail Mail, painting a vivid picture of someone struggling with the overwhelming transition from child to adult. At only 19, Jordan has delivered one of the year’s best albums with Lush. Lyrically speaking, Lush is a mature album focused on immaturity, vividly depicting complicated emotions that are remarkably easy to relate to. It’s gorgeous, heartbreaking, and an early look at a musician who’s already on her way to becoming one of rock's best songwriters.—Joe Price
Go to any club, party, or event and the soundtrack to your night will probably involve Gunna. Young Thug fans may have first heard the name on the Jeffery highlight "Floyd Mayweather," but 2018 has been Gunna's year, thanks in large part to his Drip Season 3 tape.
With hits like "Oh Okay" and "Almighty," and collabs with Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and Hoodrich Pablo Juan, the release is strong from top to bottom. What Thug saw in his fellow Atlanta rapper is a seamless flow, a sharp ear for melodies, and a tireless work ethic. Although Gunna's music doesn't have the unhinged creativity or off-the-wall moments that Thug's does, it is remarkably consistent, and that approach is paying off in 2018.—Mel Dorfman
Cautious Clay has caught fire since the release of "Cold War" last September. He followed it up with June's stellar RESONANCE EP, and seems poised to become one of music's next great crooners. The New York-based artist is proficient on flute and saxophone, but it wasn't until he started singing on his own productions that Clay started turning heads.
The video for "Cold War" proves Clay is more than a good voice, too—he's an artist with a vision, and he's taking notes from the world around him."I am really inspired to see so many artists putting new and different subject matters out there giving people something to actually relate to other than just a 'vibe,'" he told us last year. "I just think you need both elements to really be killing it for me."—Graham Corrigan