A few months into quarantine, we debated whether or not to even keep doing these Best New Artists round-ups every month. Without being able to spend time with music in the wild, experience it live, and listen with friends, it's difficult to find excitement in new discoveries. It was even more difficult to be a new artist in 2020.
Still, plenty of artists connected with their fans and made it work, and we didn't skip a month of Best New Artists. Despite it all, 2020 brought us a lot of good music and new acts that got us through days as they dragged on and started to blend together. If you're reading this: cheers to making it through an incredibly trying year. Normally we'd say happy new year, but this year maybe it's more fitting to just say fuck you to 2020, and we'll see you in 2021.
It’s challenging to strike a perfect balance between lyrical vulnerability and catchy songwriting, but this is exactly what Boston native Khamari accomplishes with every song. “I think the best type of music is music you put on and it takes you somewhere else, that's the shit I try to make,” says Khamari. His debut EP Eldorado does just this—it allows you to disengage from the world around you and pulls you into his own personal but relatable stories.
Khamari’s Eldorado EP is a blend of pop, alternative, and hip-hop all produced with frequent collaborator Trackside. The instrumentals are relatively stripped back, which gives Khamari's delivery room to shine. Standout tracks and lead singles “Jealous” and “The Heat” are perfect introductions to the new artist and their melodies are incredibly catchy. Both tracks also showcase Khamari’s vocal range as he pushes himself into higher registers on the second half of each song.
Eldorado is a peek into Khamari’s inner conflict, his relationship dynamics, and his overall vision for himself as an artist. One of the most impressive parts of the project is its consistency. The six song EP has no low points, with each track building upon the next to create a complete picture of Khamari’s ability.
With only four songs on streaming platforms—all released in 2020—Fayetteville, North Carolina rapper Morray has already proven he's a hitmaker. His debut single "Quicksand" is undeniable, anchored by the type of hook you get from a Roddy Ricch or Rod Wave song and infused with storytelling and charisma to paint a picture even if you're unfamiliar with the newcomer.
The song has been co-signed by other artists like Rick Ross and Tierra Whack, and it also caught the attention of fellow Fayetteville native J. Cole, who shared his thoughts in an Instagram comment: “This shit AMAZING.” While "Quicksand" continues to spread, Morray keeps things moving with a string of follow-up songs that prove his debut wasn't a fluke.
"When I released 'Quicksand,' I was shocked when it hit its first 100,000 views," says Morray. "That in itself was more than enough for me. It’s a crazy feeling to get the love and to feel the pressure at the same time. I feel like it makes me want to work that much harder."
In 2020, it was nearly impossible to predict a viral song when you heard one. Sure, there were cases like that of RMR, where attention-demanding visuals or perfectly executed social media stunts come into play, but TikTok gave so many other tracks a chance to find their own less obvious path to viral success. One of those songs was "Space Girl" by 21-year-old Massachusetts-based artist Frances Forever.
"Space Girl" is a charming, summery indie pop hit with a hint of Mac DeMarco or Talking Heads quirkiness plus sturdy songwriting in the vein of Clairo or Mitski. After TikTok got a hold of it, "Space Girl" went No. 1 on Spotify's viral chart, and since then it's been piling on tens of millions of streams and landing on rock and alternative charts.
Going viral isn't always a good thing—more often than not it ends with a let-down—but Frances Forever has already avoided the typical pitfalls associated with overnight success. The non-binary artist has been keeping new fans updated without coming across as too thirsty for attention, and Frances has given "Space Girl" plenty of time to breathe instead of rushing to capitalize off of newfound momentum with a forced album or a bunch of unnecessary remixes and collaborations. Earlier this month Frances announced that they've signed with indie label Mom + Pop, and we're excited to see what comes next.
Buffalo-born, Bushwick-based artist Quinton Brock’s debut single “To The Moon” is the kind of anthem that belongs on a movie soundtrack. With pounding drums, urgent delivery, and backing “ooh” vocals reminiscent of “Where Is My Mind,” it’s the sound of cathartic release. Brock delivers it with a music video that helps bring it to life, and he’s gearing up for his first album in 2021.
Brock's introduction as a solo artist is a powerful one, but he's been making music for years and used to play in a band called The Get Money Squad. His experience gives him the advantage of an artist who knows what he wants to say and how he wants to present it. “I think we all have moments in our lives that we look back on and wish we could change," says Brock. "For me, 'To The Moon' is my first glance of a long honest look in the mirror. I know how it feels to be caught up.”
Maryland trio Lo Village have been crafting their sound—a mix of hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul influences—for a few years now and they had a busy 2019. The It Takes a Village EP was followed by singles "Comfortable," "Terry Crews," and "Out The Window," which closed out the year with their best and most direct song yet.
"2020 changed so much about how we think and view the world," Lo Village tells us. "The pandemic has shed light on the inequalities that define America and forced us all to sit back and reflect while we’ve been in the house. 'Out the Window' is a vocal expression of how we’ve reflected this year. We started the track with a clip from a speech given by Kwame Ture to the Black Panther Party in 1968. We wanted to parallel the civil unrest of 2020 with 1968 and also pay homage to great black leaders. We also incorporated African drums throughout the track, which perfectly matched the energy we were trying to convey our message through."
With three different voices and perspectives, not to mention singing woven in with rapping, Lo Village's sound is hard to pin down—a definite positive in a time of homogenization and instant replication of popular sounds and styles. If they keep releasing music as impactful as "Out The Window," Lo Village will be one of 2021's essential rising artists. The trio's Lost in America EP is set for release on January 22, 2021.
Claire Chicha (better known by her band name, spill tab) has a sound that transcends worlds. Through the handful of singles she’s released, the French-Korean artist's music brings together dreamy synths, enveloping bass, and gentle live guitar as her vocals dance between English and French—drawing the listener in with rich intensity, no matter the language. “Using a different language to song write creates a whole new set of words you can use—it’s a whole new intonation and feels different. It’s just a fun tool that I get to use that helps me incorporate a huge part of my identity,” Chicha says.
The 23-year-old artist attributes her distinct sound to her diverse upbringing: Her Korean mother and French-Algerian father met in Thailand, where Chicha was born. From there, they moved to Los Angeles, Thailand, and Paris, all before Chicha even entered high school. After Chicha’s father passed away when she was in eighth grade, the family moved back to Los Angeles, where she stayed until she went to college. “I was in the high school choir for four years and writing music but didn’t really do anything about it," she tells us. "I knew I wanted to be in music, so I went to NYU for music business because I wanted some basics about how the industry works, at the very least.”
The decision turned out to be a transformative one, as one of Chicha's summer internships helped her reconnect with high school friend David Marinelli, spill tab’s producer and Chicha’s primary collaborator. The two found shared inspiration in artists like Bon Iver and Sylvan Esso and started making music together, culminating in the band’s first EP, Oatmilk, which came out earlier this month. Now, Chicha is looking to the new year as a chance to keep pushing herself. “I love who I am, but there’s always room to grow. I’m working on new music right now and trying to grow the skill sets I want to get better at. I have no idea what next year will look like, but it’s gonna be a shit ton of fun—I'm really excited," she laughs.
Nobody can whisper-rap quite like Goonew. He’s more or less created his own unique sound—a rushed murmur of descriptive confessions about drug-dealing—that’s been imitated ad nauseum since he first became a rapper of acclaim in late 2017.
He’s circled around the blogosphere in the time since, drifting into the orbits of Hoodrich Pablo Juan and Lil Yachty, and had cooling periods that have seen him retreat into the shadows. But with his new return single “Bricks,” Goonew reclaims his signature cadence that makes his music so haunting. His comeback arrives over the ghost of Gucci Mane’s classic instrumental of the same name. Taking the chance to prove himself over an iconic beat, he shows that there are shockingly few that can be Goonew better than, well Goonew.
“Me and Sparkheem, my producer, made ‘Bricks’ in 25 minutes," he explains. "It’s way easier when your producer knows you and the music that you like to sample. Gucci is one of my favorite rappers and I’ve always put together freestyles in my head to beats that he’s done, so making this was easy. It’s one of my favorite songs that I have put out.”
MuddyMya, a mysterious masked artist from the Stone Mountain area of Atlanta, Georgia, has been building up a tidal wave of momentum. Her debut track “Past Life” came out in June of 2019 and Mya wasted no time carving out a lane of her own by delivering punctuated bars and melodic flows over shimmering, futuristic production. The work rate didn't dip in 2020, with two projects showing MuddyMya's growth: March’s MUDBATH and October’s With Love, GG.
“When people hear my music I want them to feel like they can do whatever it is they want to do. I want them to feel like no one can stop them or hold them back. God willing I’m excited for live shows to return and my new music to help share that feeling," she tells us. As MuddyMya evolves and continues to experiment with her sound, the potential is clear, especially on tracks like “PINK” and “mindblown.” Whether she's lending her striking look as an extra in Rico Nasty music videos or releasing her own striking visual content, MuddyMya is one to keep a close watch on going into 2021.
We are seeing more and more of the songwriters and producers behind our favorite pop songs step forward as artists themselves, and ThatsHymn is the latest to catch our eye. We actually covered him in 2017 when he released "Nothing Like Me," but shortly afterwards he stepped back into the shadows as he plotted his reintroduction. Although he hasn't been releasing music as ThatsHymn, the mysterious artist has still been working as a songwriter with Rihanna, Diplo, Skrillex, Max Martin, and many other heavy hitters.
Now, ThatsHymn is back with new solo music and a full project Potara, released in December. With polished production and the kind of sticky hooks that you'd expect, he mixes modern rap and R&B with his own set of influences. ThatsHymn explains, "Being raised on Gospel and Reggae/Dancehall is what keeps me separate from most artists. When I connect to a specific sound, I immediately get overwhelmed with melodies. Us Jamaicans have a thing called 'medley' where we make several songs on one riddim and that’s basically what my brain does every time I’m in the lab. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for my roots."
"I want people to fall in love with the music. The story I’m narrating will impact lives and I prefer to bring fans through these chapters without distractions," ThatsHymn explains of his decision to remain mysterious. "Considering the current climate of music, where everything is about gimmicks or analytics, the humanity has been sucked out of the art and most don’t care to use their platforms in an innovative way. Which leads to majority of people forgetting that artists are humans too, we strive for time, love, and stability just like everybody else. Letting the music speak for itself it allows me to get my mind, body, and soul right. I can only hope for my fans to appreciate and respect my time in the limelight, once I’m ready for stardom."