It's been a while since we've done one of these things, so please ignore that some of these artists aren't brand new. We missed highlighting our current favorites in one fell swoop, so despite our decision to move away from regular list-making, Best New Artists of the Month is back (for now). Since this is our first installment of the year, we're showing love to some acts who have been in steady rotation over the last few months, and this might be one of our most genre-agnostic lists ever—an indication of how music is moving in 2019. We hope you find something new that you like.
Aaron May, a rapper from a suburb of Houston called Alief, releaed a song called "Ride" near the beginning of 2018. It slowly began to pick up momentum and reach fans beyond his hometown, and now the teenager has a full body of work—titled Chase—to showcase hist talents as an MC and artist. As well as razor-sharp rapping, Aaron May has a maturity and level-headedness that will serve him well as his popularity inevitably rises.
"We all grow up taking some inspiration from somebody, or influence from somebody," he explained in response to a question about people comparing him to J. Cole. "My biggest influences were Nas and J. Cole but by the time I’m 20? I’ll have my own sound figured out. People will get to see me develop from 16, 17 to 20, 21, 25. At the end of the day, I gotta remind myself, I’m 17 and I’m still growing. Down the road when it’s all said and done? J. Cole wouldn’t have been able to do that 'cause that’s me. That’s Aaron May, and I want people to stay for the ride and see that."
Listen to the entire Chase project and read our interview with Aaron May here.
Koffee is still a teenager with braces on her teeth, but dont let her diminutive stature and youth distract you from the fact that she's making some of the most exciting music out right now. While her sound is rooted in reggae the Jamaican artist shows versatility on the Rapture EP, from the more traditional sound of "Throne" to the modern electronic production of "Toast" and "Rapture."
What stands out most, though, is Koffee's talent for instantly catchy melodies—each of the five songs on her latest EP has a hook that you might well be humming after just one listen. Her influences reach beyond Jamaica to the US (St. Louis rapper Smino) and the UK (road rap hero Giggs), and moments like her Colors performance of "Rapture" will help introduce the young artist to new audiences. With millions of plays, big name cosigns, and media acclaim, 2019 is already Koffee's year, but it still feels as if she's just getting started.
Keeping up with music in 2019 is exhausting. The fastest way to blow up is to go viral or sound like someone else, and that's led to a lot of young artists to value social media attention and trend-chasing over the music itself. Boston duo Brevin Kim—comprised of brothers Cal and Bren—aren't trying to fit in. "We’ve always had a weird side to us and we’ve always wanted to be different," Bren told us. "We wanted to do something that nobody has ever done, whether it was in the beat, the melody, or using words that nobody has used."
The brothers have a small but dedicated following, and they've been toying with new sounds that blend influences they grew up with (Billy Joel, Styx, Chicago) with some of the artists they fell in love with as they got older (Kid Cudi, Clams Casino, MIA). The most compelling thing about Brevin Kim, though, is the sharp turns they take along the way. Every song is rooted in a catchy melody or a great hook, but they're not afraid to experiment and take risks, even when that means taking a perfectly beautiful melody and lighting it on fire.
Lil Nas X
Has there ever been a breakout as frenzied as that of Lil Nas X? This shit could only happen in 2019. "Old Town Road" sparked controversy when it got removed from the country charts, and the Atlanta artist went and got Billy Ray Cyrus on the remix immediately after, catapulting to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts. He broke Drake's 1-week streaming record, applied his internet savvy to non-stop promotion, and he's not planning on keeping the same formula. "People come in because they like 'Old Town Road,'" he told Complex. "They’ll find out that I’m just not going to stick to that."
In the world of short-lived memes and even shorter audience attention spans, it's not hard to imagine Lil Nas X fading into oblivion with the Rebecca Blacks and Damn Daniels of the world, but the snippets he's been teasing sound strong, and we're genuinely rooting for this guy. How could you not?
The first song that teenage London artist Beabadoobee ever wrote on guitar now has over five million plays on Spotify alone. "Coffee" is a warm, charming acoustic track that thrives on simplicity, but her most recent EP Patched Up is a more developed product. Even with more complex arrangements, Bea maintains a visceral, raw sound that balances the sweeping melancholy of '90s rock with the trademark intimacy of the current DIY style that is often the starting point for today's young musicians. Bea finishes school in May, and following a sold out debut show in London she plans to play a string of UK festivals and hit stages in the US for the first time. New music is also coming very soon.
“This EP Loveworm was inspired by all the music I listened to during a hard time in my life," Bea says of her upcoming project. "It helped me forget about everything. From The Moldy Peaches to Pavement to Daniel Johnston, music was always a means of escapism for me. I wanted to make songs that could belong to one of my playlists. Something people can dance and cry to.
"The songs on Loveworm pretty much sum up what I was feeling at the time... love is hard, complicated and I’m pretty fragile. Sometimes it’s hard to balance that with school and music but I guess writing the songs for the EP helped me a whole lot. And I hope it helps some people out too.”
We've been highlighting the gritty storytelling and raw energy of Slowthai since the beginning of 2018, but with his debut album out May 17 and a whole new audience starting to catch on, it feels like a good time to turn the spotlight back onto the rapper. Slowthai is from Northampton in the British Midlands and his music is honest and authentic, never sugar-coating his own struggles or those of an incresing fractured nation, as aptly summarized by the title of his upcoming album Nothing Great About Britain.
"It's basically my experience of growing up [in the UK]; of having a family that were immigrants originally, of the stories they've told me, of my childhood and how I've lived my life," he says. "Through it, I've gone on a journey of explaining how everything I was chasing to make me feel good only clouded my judgement. And it took me going through a ton of shit to realise that none of these things—no money, no drugs, no fake relationships—is gonna make me happy, or make me a good person."
Slowthai's new album is out May 17.
At the end of 2018, Dominic Fike became one of the most buzzed about newcomers in music. The young Florida artist released a project of six songs that he called Don't Forget About Me, Demos shortly after signing with Columbia Records, and everything was in place for Dom to become one of the biggest new artists in the country. Instead of jumping on the fast track and chasing overnight stardom, Dom has taken a more steady path.
Rather than releasing more music right away, he's been performing modest concerts around the country, including one No Ceilings show in Brooklyn. He's put out two videos for his biggest song "3 Nights"—one official music video, and the one-take, Kevin Abstract-directed set of visuals below that lives on the Brockhampton YouTube page. It looks like he might also appear on Abstract's upcoming album.
Dominic Fike has made a strong first impression, and he's laying the foundation for longevity. His career so far is exemplary of building momentum the right way, earning fans one at a time and avoiding the kind of overexposure that often leads to a fast comedown. It's been over six months since Dom released his EP of demos, but that initial excitement for a new artist with major potential is still very much in tact.
The first time we saw North Carolina rapper DaBaby, he was wearing a diaper. It was SXSW 2017, and to be honest, we didn't even listen to the music. It seemed like the kind of stunt from another thirsty artist looking for a quick social media come-up. A couple of years and a few mixtapes later, DaBaby's name kept popping up and it started to become more about the music. His most recent mixtape, 2019's Baby On Baby, finally cemented his spot as one of the year's most exciting newcomers. The 27-year-old has a slick way with words, a commanding presence, and a larger-than-life personality that keeps every song entertaining. With tracks like "Suge," "Goin Baby," and "Baby Sitter" still growing, he's showing major hit-making potential, and hopefully he realizes that the music is strong enough to stand on its own, no diapers necessary.
Teaming up with D33J and Shlohmo, Deb Never introduced herself to the world at large with a pair of compelling features on D33J's Infinity 33 mixtape. Early in 2019, she officially joined the WEDIDIT family, and her grunge-influenced sound found its sweet spot. The Los Angeles via Pacific Northwest musician had been sharing promising lo-fi demos on her SoundCloud for years, but on her debut WEDIDIT single "In the Night," she bolsters her grunge-y aesthetic with more polished production.
"I’ll be releasing my debut EP on WEDIDIT sometime this year, ideally this summer," she told us earlier this year. "Every new song I make seems to be better than the last, so I’m just trying to keep it going right now. Living in LA I’ve been super fucking lucky being able to work with such amazing artists. It’s all coming together better than I could have imagined. I’m psyched."
"You can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing, trends, all that noise," Toronto artist Joël explained earlier this year. "I wanna be the best me, and find the people that mess with that. Fuck what everyone else has going on." So far, so good. With his first two songs, Joël has already established himself as one of our favorite newcomers, blending a modern R&B approach with his roots in gospel and love for grunge. He's been in the studio every day and planning to put out more music and do more shows in 2019, so stay tuned. "It’s dope that people are messing with the first two songs but I gotta keep bringing it," he says. "I have so much more to create it’s crazy."
Lolo Zouaï (pronounced zoo-eye) has been building independently for years with close collaborator and producer Stelios, but she partnered with RCA Records to release her debut album High Highs to Low Lows, out now. Born in Paris and growing up in the Bay Area before more recently moving to Brooklyn, Zouaï is a bilingual singer of French-Algerian descent, and her modern pop and R&B brings in elements from around the world. Empowering, vulnerable, honest and ranging from slow and seductive to bright and danceable, her debut album is an impressive introduction.
“I kept getting all these signs that I was destined for something bigger, so I realized I'm just going to trust and bet on myself and one day people will hear it,” Lolo told us in 2018, explaining her self-belief in the face of the ups and downs that have come with trying to make it as a musician. It's paid dividends, and Lolo Zouaï is set to be one of 2019's true breakout stars.
With a self-titled debut album due in June, the Black Pumas are in the early stages, but they've got plenty of experience under their belts. Frontman Eric Burton has been busking for years, and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada is a Grammy-winning artist from the band Grupo Fantasma. As the Black Pumas, they've already established hometown hero status thanks to their electric live shows in Austin, Texas. "The transition into being a professional musician has been inspiring," says Burton. "I spend a lot more time honing in on maintaining a more structured format for songs I used to play on the Santa Monica Pier."
The band is making soul music, but draw fresh inspiration from folk, hip-hop, and psychedelic music. Their latest single "Colors" sounds like their best work yet, and they'll be taking their live show to cities across the country starting in May.