Best New Artists

Five essential new and rising artists set to make a big impact this spring and beyond, featuring Samara Cyn, 9lives, Seago, mynameisntjmack, and Chanel Beads.

We've been publishing some form of Best New Artists feature on Pigeons & Planes since 2013, highlighting the rising artists who we're most excited about at that moment in time. That used to take the form of a monthly list with 10-15 names and couple of lines of text, but times have changed.

These days, you're served infinitely updated playlists of new songs by DSP algorithms or scroll your social media platform of choice for a sensory overload of 15-second snippets and echo-chamber reccomendations from labels' latest paid influencer campaign.

So instead of throwing more and more in your face, we want to slow down, provide context, and dig deeper on a tightly focused group of artists. These might not be the latest viral stars but they're all artists we believe are doing something fresh and have a story that's worth sharing—whether they're just getting started or have been grinding for a while and are now hitting a new peak.

Look back at all of our Best New Artists features here and keep up with them all on the Best New Artists playlist.

Samara Cyn

Samara Cyn is airborne. She’s about to board a jet, too. When her voice beams through the phone for our second interview in two months, the military baby turned rap&b hybridizer grins in transit. TSA and Delta attendants freckle the background. 

After a New York performance, it’s Berlin’s turn to absorb the oil-slick, infectious, punch-lined lowrider “music 4 ya aunty” that Samara’s made her bread and butter. More life for a pseudo-free city. “Wake Up,” a backpacker-pleaser released last year, wraps criticisms of microplastics in charming Southern crunch. Its self-directed video manages to pull off both an amusing comedy sketch starring a stray cigarette, and vibrant staged shots. T’s crossed, i’s dotted.

“Subconsciously, being exposed to so many different cultures shaped me,” Samara tells us. “We lived in Augusta, Georgia, where I got my phone number. That was a couple of years. Also El Paso, Texas, by the border. Hawaii. Colorado. Listening to old school hip-hop with my dad, then country and rock with my mom. Both of them are from Tennessee, where my sister and I were born. Mom showed me alternative, which led to a deep obsession with Florence & The Machine. That taught me about melody stacks. I want to experiment at the forefront, not just be niche.”

They say it never happens overnight, and they’re right. It took about 56 for Samara to flip a batch of greensoaked, one-minute remixes into a 2024 rookie of the year campaign endorsed by Erykah Badu. Another 365 between those clips and the homemade freestyle she recorded on a DoorDash delivery break in LA. Her Arizona college days, spent flexing vocal chops at local radio stations and cooking from a distance with North Carolina producer Michael Knight, account for some 1200 more earthturns. 

All this preceded by a lifetime of absorbed reference points: her first concert (Ed Sheeran), her personal bibles (Rihanna’s Anti; Tyler, the Creator’s everything).  If you let the commenters tell it, she’s an immaculate rap Frankenstein (compliment) designed in a lab last week (derogatory). Samara’s unbothered.

“I’m in this transition, going from feeling like a fan to feeling like I can hold my own,” she says. “I’m making heavier business decisions for myself, frequenting places with people I look up to all of a sudden, and I’ve had to shift my mindset from being little bro to being a student, but having confidence in myself too. Six months ago I was at Isaiah Rashad’s show in the audience and now I’m performing with him. I earned it. I’ll see some people commenting, like, ‘I’m glad she’s rapping with her clothes on,’ and I’m like, ‘Don’t get too used to it.’ [Laughs] We can wear whatever we want.”

Growing up on base, Samara chose the cul-de-sac over cartoons, inventing games outside with other childhood schemers. That proclivity for wonderment and a little mischief fuels her upcoming album, The Drive Home, along with her familial crew’s quality control: sync’d calendars, weekly debriefs, rewrites under magnolia rain lighting, and extra attention paid to sequencing. Every facet, from the recorded stories to Cyn’s hoopty keychain to her airbrushed emerald nail art (shoutout Brittany Nini), connect another dot emanating from her imagination. She knows what she wants. It's representative of the systems we endure that the same platform that catalyzes a deserving talent in Samara also stifles pro-Palestine voices all at once. This is 2024.

“Somebody’s got it when you get that feeling just by mentioning their name,” she says with a laugh, in reference to Dijon. “People making music without bounds. There’s no rules when they sit down to create; no limitations in the room. When I think of Rihanna, I think, Rihanna. Not what genre. ‘Pon De Replay,’ ‘Run This Town,’ ‘Love on the Brain.’ If you go to a concert and the flow of show is all over the place, you feel that. Versatile and cohesive. That’s my goal, along with capturing life’s ebbs and flows of feeling confident, then questioning it all. [Laughs] We’ll see what happens with this first project.” 

"Somebody’s got it when you get that feeling just by mentioning their name."

It's a running joke among ailing vocalists that the microphone magic of a scratchy throat is worth the danger to their larynx. Samara’s natural tones carry some of that swaggering scratch, like a singsong Chladni plate, on “Pride’s Interlude.” Her latest single, “Moving Day,” pairs slingshot raps with quicksilver harmonies that blitz your ears then vanish. It’s easy to understand why Bootleg Kev made Samara a key to his studio soon after she moved to California. As she fends off demo-itis and industry sirens behind the scenes (“If I meet someone and their energy doesn’t match the contract, it’s a dealbreaker”), all signs point to a long future of Samara featuring Samara.

“Magnolia Rain” drops June 12. The Drive Home album is expected this autumn.—Alex Siber

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From his early days crafting demos in the backseat of his Toyota 4Runner to his current success, mynameisntjmack emerges as more than just a lyricist—he's a storyteller, intricately weaving the fabric of his life and community into every verse. His brand new album, mynameisnt, marks a significant milestone in his creative development, showcasing his commitment to vulnerability, growth, and community engagement.

Currently based in Los Angeles, jmack draws from his Virginia roots, bringing a wealth of experience and perspective to his craft, especially on this new album. His collaborators also play a role in offering listeners a glimpse into the highs and lows of his personal and artistic evolution. “In my mind this is like the anti self-titled because I feel like I've been trying to grow through discomfort and I've been shaped by the people and the experiences that I've been through. So the voices you hear on the project are really voices that have either narrated an experience for me, inspired something in me, or pushed me to be greater. It all means more than I can describe.”

Central to jmack’s ethos is the notion of solidarity and uplifting where he comes from. This is reflected in his collaborative ventures alongside close friend and fellow Virginia native Tommy Richman (one of our Best New Artists in 2022), who's featured on the track “as long as” with Wakai. “Tommy is like my real-life brother in music, and he makes me want to be better every day just with his work ethic,” jmack explains.

In addition to his ongoing partnership with Richman, jmack has formed an array of connections on this project, both emerging and established. Some include up-and-coming talents like femdot. and Sol Chyld, alongside Mick Jenkins and Johan Lenox, who have been long-standing inspirations to jmack. “Johan Lenox has become a friend of mine, but there was a point where he was somebody that I looked up to because of his work on various albums with compositions of strings and vocals,” he says. “I was submitting music to his Discord two and a half years ago. He heard the music and was just like, yeah, you should move out to L.A. and just come do the thing. Mick and Johan really have inspired me over the past seven, eight years prior to me working with them.”

Jmack consistently shows deep appreciation for his peers and acknowledges the vital role his supporters play in his journey, contributing to his growth. “I try to thank as many people as I can throughout the years with the names and emails that I’ve collected. Before the last EP Bookmark, we sent out a handwritten letter and a flash drive with the documentary that had some of the EP on it. For this project we have some of the fans who had us in their most listened to artists thanked by name on the vinyl insert. So there are names of people that will forever be etched in my head as those who supported and helped me.”

Jmack’s dedication to his supporters underscores the genuine connection he maintains with his audience, making his journey as much about them as it is about his music.—Marissa Duldulao

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Because the internet, yet again. At just 19 years old, 9lives has emerged as a leader of a new wave of producers rising up from niche underground subcultures and finding a wider level of success without watering their sound or approach down.  

While growing up in the rural town of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (Google it, and you’ll see somewhere they probably filmed scenes from Lord of the Rings), being flown out to Miami for sessions with Trippie Redd wasn’t at the forefront of 9lives’ mind, but a love of music and sense of curiosity certainly was. Diving into music from the fan perspective in the era of Playboi Carti leaks and SoundCloud rap stars, 9lives fell down the rabbit hole and discovered a world of like-minded music obsessives living online.   

“If it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't be where I am today,” 9lives says. “I think it's changed so much of music culture in general. The communities like Discord help a lot because they allow you to connect with people that you wouldn't otherwise be able to connect with. You're exposed to a lot more different cultures and personalities online than if you were just stuck at home or in the country you're in. There's so much diverse culture and music around the world. You can't always access it [where you are], but obviously through the internet you can.”

“If it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't be where I am today."

As a high schooler, 9lives created with the tools at hand—namely an iPad with GarageBand—and eventually moved on to FL Studio as his skills developed. He also moved to the larger city of Auckland to study, but it was online that he found community, connection, and the inspiration to find and hone his own sound. It’s still a work in progress (he’s still a teenager, remember) but the 9lives sound combines elements of trap, cloud rap, hyperpop, and experimental electronic music in a surprising fusion of high definition melodies and lo-fi mixes with blown out bass.

“Where I originally come from is the YouTube ‘type beat’ world where everyone's pushing to do the same thing. It's more like a competition of whose beat is going to reach the artist first, and there's a million people fighting over it,” 9lives says. “But I stuck to a specific niche that was kind of bubbling up at the time, but still underground, called sigilkore. Just sticking with that and not being one of those producers that's putting out five different genres of beats every day on a YouTube page helped me the most, I think.”

Speaking to me from his bedroom back home in new Zealand, 9lives humbly credits his luck at being associated with the sigilkore sound when it took off online in 2021, as well as the TikTok edits scene and anime culture for helping kickstart his career. However, his wide-ranging palette of inspirations and references—9lives namechecks Michael Jackson, Sade, SpaceGhostPurrp, Faye Webster, throwback Japanese jazz, Charli XCX, Whitney Houston, and Pi'erre Bourne during our conversation—and clear-headed reaction to his current success proves he’s built for much more than a popular SoundCloud page.

These days, 9lives flies out to America for sessions with the likes of Zaytoven and BNYX, while the number speak for themselves—he’s racked up over 600 million streams on solo instrumentals and collaborations with artists like Trippie Redd, Odetari, JELEEL!, and Rico Nasty. One of his highlights this year is the addictive “light!” featuring skaiwater and Lil Nas X’s first-ever feature verse. Next up is three months worth of sessions in the US, lots of new music, and piecing together an album as an executive producer in the Metro Boomin mold.

Whether you’re a sigilkore aficionado or not, 9lives’ journey so far can serve as an inspiration for creatives everywhere. He never let living in New Zealand become a hindrance to his goals, instead pushing forward with a DIY attitude, and prioritizing community and collaboration over competition.

“It literally doesn't really matter where you're from, as long as you have the music and the consistency to push it,” 9lives concludes. Standing out, rather than blending in with current trends or hot sounds, is central to his ethos, and this mindset sets him on track to keep impacting music, whether it’s from the shadows or in the limelight, as the years go by.—Alex Gardner

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It’s not often that you hear soft rock or yacht rock mentioned by young artists today, but those are the first influences named by Toronto artist Seago when he talks about the making of his new project Silver. It’s the kind of music Seago would hear as a kid riding in the back of his friends’ parents’ car, but never really dove into until later on.

“Those experiences opened my ears to rock music,” he says, “and then I started getting into Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, the Doobie Brothers, Little River Band who I’m obsessed with right now. I found that it was so nice and a bit poppy—not too harsh of rock and not too far away from other familiar genres, but it’s just kind of slept on.”

When you listen to a song like Seago’s buoyant standout “Cheap Shot,” the contrast to most modern music is striking, but it wasn’t a product of Seago trying to stand out. “I definitely wasn’t seeking something different,” he says. “I was looking for what speaks to me, and putting a contemporary spin on it. Like ‘Cheap Shot’ is influenced by yacht rock specifically, but I’m using my vocabulary that I would use every day, that you wouldn’t hear in a song from the 70s.”

Outside of his retro interests, Seago grew up on Drake (“I admired his pop sensibility”), 808s & Heartbreak (the album that made him want to make music), and PARTYNEXTDOOR (the artist who got him interested in songwriting). After gaining some local traction through SoundCloud and small shows in Toronto, he had some early opportunities as a songwriter for other artists. That behind-the-scenes experience made him appreciate the craft of songwriting even more, and gave him the confidence to go all-in on his own career as an artist.

For now, Seago is independent and still sending cold emails and uploading songs himself through Distrokid, but things are going up. “Cheapshot” has 1.5 million plays on Spotify alone, but it’s not a one-off hit—other tracks like “Oddly Enough” and “Ticket Holder” are garnering hundreds of thousands of plays too. The concoction of styles puts Seago in a unique position—it’s indie, it’s pop, it’s alternative. Whatever you want to call it, it’s working.—Jacob Moore

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Chanel Beads

Discovering Chanel Beads feels like finding music in a past era. It’s not that the music itself sounds old, just that Chanel Beads doesn’t move like most modern acts. 

They’re one of the most buzzy acts in certain crowds—music industry insiders, niche social circles of Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, indie enthusiasts who reject TikTok bait—but it’s hard to tell if Chanel Beads even wants the attention. “I thought about no press, but then I did some press and I was like, ‘Well this is done if I’m doing a little bit.’ So I did more. I hope I’m not blowing it. We’ll see. I try not to hate on people who find joy in making TikToks and promoting a ton, but I realize they’re just a different generation than me.”

Like most people, when I listened to Chanel Beads for the first time, I didn’t know if it was a band, a duo, or a person—that was unclear until much later. My introduction came in the form of a charming, strangely addictive song called “Ef,” which I heard on a playlist made by another artist (thank you Hamond). 

I kept that song in rotation for months, and during those months Chanel Beads came up at least a dozen times. They played small, crowded shows with other below-the-surface acts, were often recommended by artists, producers, and writers, and became a local favorite in NYC. 

With Chanel Beads’ debut album Your Day Will Come out now, some of the mystery has been replaced with information—Chanel Beads is a project fronted by 29-year-old, Brooklyn-based Shane Lavers, but close collaborator Maya McGrory steps in on vocals occasionally. The album clocks in at under 30 minutes, and it lives up to the early buzz generated by cultish hit “Ef.” There are hit-worthy melodies sprinkled throughout the project (“Police Scanner,” “Unifying Thought,” “Embarrassed Dog”), but also unsettling dissonance, surreal undertones, and headnod-inducing beats. It’s a hodgepodge of familiar pop sensibility and experimental outbursts, and that combination makes it one of the most rewarding listens of the year.

"Sometimes I get so worked up about music and I can feel like such a hater that it's like I have to completely circle back to the opposite approach.”

In today’s post-poptimism landscape, music criticism is falling out of favor, everyone has an opinion and a platform, and making music that’s celebrated by music snobs and industry insiders doesn’t always pay off. It’s easy to dismiss some of that as pretentious, but Chanel Beads doesn’t overthink it. “I feel like I'm always at war with taking it so seriously and then not seriously at all,” Lavers says. “And it's almost because sometimes I get so worked up about music and I can feel like such a hater that it's like I have to completely circle back to the opposite approach.”

With Chanel Beads in particular, the music is good enough that the come-up story barely matters. There’s some lore to dig into if you want to, but if you missed the sweaty NYC show alongside Bar Italia and hear “Police Scanner” in passing on a playlist, that’s cool too. 

Chanel Beads is signed to Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Angel Olsen), and currently making the rounds performing with acts like Mount Kimbie and ML Buch before hitting Paris and London later this year.—Jacob Moore

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