Every month, we highlight some of our favorite rising artists in the Best New Artists feature, but we know that not everyone is interested in discovering a dozen new artists every month. For those who are: we appreciate you. For everyone else,
kick rocks we tried to take a step back at the beginning of 2020 and round up some acts that we're especially excited to watch this year.
These artists are all in different places in their career—some are still gearing up for a debut album, some are reaching a tipping point and on their way to mainstream success, and a handful are just a few singles in. The common thread is that all of these artists are looking like they're about to level up in 2020. That could mean commercial domination, or it could mean realizing the full potential of their creative vision. Success means different things for different artists, and our goal is never to simply predict "the next big thing."
If we made this list a couple months earlier or a couple months into the future, it would probably look very different. The music world moves fast today, and that coveted quiet before the storm doesn't usually last long. We also want to make it clear that this feature is by no means an exhaustive list, just a reflection of some artists we think deserve your attention as we kick off the new decade. Hope you find something you like, and as always, feel free to let us know who else you're excited to hear from in 2020.
Atlanta’s Kenny Mason earned best kept secret status on the rap internet in 2019 for buzzy tracks like “Hit” and “Nike II,” which show his gift for candid lyrics and chameleonic flows. One minute, he’s warbling his way through a song’s bridge before hitting the boosters and unleashing a downhill sprint of a verse, making each song feel like a varied and dynamic world unto itself.
Mason seems like the next in the lineage of rappers like Isaiah Rashad, Big K.R.I.T. or J.I.D: distinctly southern, with poise and insight beyond their years and a lack of hubris. Mason’s tales of hustling and growing up without are animated by his journalistic eye for detail, macabre humor, and well-honed sense of self. It’s unclear just what the 25-year-old artist has in store for 2020 but it seems likely this will be the last year he can be called a best kept secret.
A grunge-indebted singer-songwriter with the charm and bearing of a modern pop star, Deb Never’s House on Wheels EP was a strong debut filled with earworm hooks and memorable, confessional lyrics. She captured Gen Z ennui on the eerily beautiful “Same” and portrayed a calamitous codependent relationship with rich detail on “Ugly.”
Never also earned her place among some of the brightest ascending stars in music, touring with Dominic Fike and appearing on BROCKHAMPTON’s “NO HALO.” As part of the WeDidIt Collective, she also worked with left-field electronic stalwarts like D33J and Shlohmo on the bleary-eyed, emo-tinged “Nothing Left.”
She told us that she’s always known the music she wants to make, but has finally got the means “to create what I fully envision.” Deb Never felt like one of 2019’s more defined, self-possessed new acts, so the prospect of her moving further in the direction she’s long intended, in 2020 and beyond, is thrilling.
20-year-old Charlotte native MAVI is a student at Howard University, majoring in biology, minoring in psychology, and with plans to be a neuroscientist. He's also one of the most exciting new rappers out right now, offering a jarring alternative to the escapism so prevalent in popular music today. His 2019 13-song project Let The Sun Talk is stacked with deep thoughts and dense raps, and his music isn't made for avoiding reality.
MAVI's project is a standout from 2019, but his own mission extends far beyond music. When we asked him in December what healthy success means to him he said, "It looks like establishing legal support, food supply and subsidized transport directly to the black community. It means the funneling of weapons in and out of the black community with better education around gun control, and education and black history in general, outside of the context of a national education system. It looks like a network of community centers for arts and sciences for black kids to be able to travel from city to city and learn from each other. This mission is a big big big thing."
MAVI and a community of similarly minded artists like MIKE, Medhane, Earl Sweathsirt, and Maxo are striving to provoke thought and act with purpose—it's an important reminder of the impact music can have and a crucial reality check.
Jelani Aryeh has been impressing us since he started releasing music in 2017 while still as high school. Songs like "Lavender Love" were warm, open, and hard to define—existing between genres, both lyrically and melodically. In 2019, Aryeh released his newest EP, Helvetica. For the San Diego native, this follow-up to his attention-grabbing debut Suburban Destinesia showcased a more mature, refined side to his genre-fluid style, digging into topics like his Filipino/African-American identity, dealing with parental expectations, and following his dreams.
In the last few years, more and more artists have been creating music that lives between any pre-defined genre lines. Those artists are making some of the most vibrant and exciting art around, and with his unique, relatable sound, this 19-year-old is definitely going to be one to watch in 2020.
Coming off of 2018’s Hearts and Darts EP, as well as his subsequent full-length project, The Sound of Bad Habit, Baby Keem’s thoughtful rise made 2019 his breakout moment. In the year’s opening months, the Las Vegas-raised talent released three singles, and concluded these brash introductory points with the critically-acclaimed, anthem-ridden Die For My Bitch. Momentum on his side, Keem’s supreme conviction and quotable style soon took hold, and before you knew it, he was off to the races. By the end of the year, the gleefully-ignorant “Orange Soda” had run away as a hit record, and Keem had embarked on his first headlining-tour: six shows in six cities with attendees including A$AP Rocky and Drake, eager to watch the new kid on the block command a crowd.
Thanks to the consistency of Die For My Bitch, Keem’s 2019 takeover didn’t see one specific “breaking point”; rather, the buzz sustained, and grew throughout the entire year. At just 19 years old, Baby Keem is one of rap’s most distinctive up-and-comers, and the stage is set for a momentous 2020.
A good sign that we love a new artist is that when it comes time to write about them again, we start repeating ourselves. Such is the case with Jean Dawson. We first included Dawson in Best New Artists of August of 2019, and earlier this month we wrote about his project Bad Sports for an album-focused feature called The Rotation.
In the first write-up, we covered the basics: "Jean Dawson is 23 years old, half Mexican and half black, and grew up in Tijuana. He used to travel hours every day across the border to attend school in San Diego, using music as a way to pass time during the long commute. After his father left he started diving deeper into art as way to challenge hyper-masculinity he'd seen around him."
In the second post, we got more into the music: "On Bad Sports, Jean Dawson places gentle, melancholy melodies next to threatening surges of energy and weaves it all together with post-punk, new wave textures. He's a skillful songwriter, but he doesn't stick to the script."
Jean Dawson's latest single "Ooga Booga" is one of his most awesomely erratic and abrasive yet, and he recently took a meeting with the mythical Rick Rubin. Dawson is already establishing himself as an imposing new figure in music, clearly open to taking risks and committing to them 100%. Those risks are already paying off.
After the initial success of his debut song “Waves//” in 2017, KennyHoopla has had to fight just to continue making music. For the longest time, he had no money to record his ideas and limited opportunities in music as a native of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Consequently, the pressure was on each time he was able to record and the bar was set high for each release. “That was always the thing in every song I’ve made—for people to see potential… That way, people would fuck with me, even if it takes a year to get something else out,” he told us. To date, Hoopla’s streaming catalog holds just four songs.
Nowadays, KennyHoopla is doing a bit better. People are interested, and it’s getting easier to record new ideas. Releasing two singles in 2019—“Lost Cause//” and “Sore Loser//”—Hoopla’s releases might be few and far between, but they're built to last.
An effervescent charm oozes from BENEE’s every track, whether she’s tearing herself to shreds on “Supalonely” or telling off a friend on “Find an Island.” The New Zealand-born singer-songwriter, who got her start posting covers in 2017, has quickly emerged as a pop act with a distinct and delightful sound. Throughout her first official releases she's already showcasing major mainstream potential while avoiding anything basic or manufactured.
Working heavily with LEISURE’s Josh Fountain, she’s released two EPs, FIRE ON MARZZ and STELLA & STEVE, the latter of which is an impressive, fully-realized body of work filled with breezy, hook-heavy tales of love and adolescence. BENEE recently told P&P she’s been switching her recording style to be more freestyle-based, a technique that will bring her natural charisma even more to the fore.
As a listener, there’s never been so much music to sift through. New releases are growing in frequency and trends come and go with remarkable turnover rates. However, amidst all of the noise, those who last are those who welcome change. Brevin Kim is working toward just this.
Comprised of blood brothers, Cal and Bren, there’s no such thing as a standard Brevin Kim song. The group’s style can turn on a dime, and has become characterized by its genre-agnostic nature, from the hyper-real excitement of Dylan Brady-produced “the wedding!” to the heart-led “Real Friend Best Friend.” Built on this malleability, Brevin Kim’s 2019 EP cliff tagged the group’s cutting-edge ear for sonics in just four songs and became their most popular project to date. The duo have promised new music in 2020, and they've also got more songs with Lil West on the way. With the sound of popular music shifting, Brevin Kim is arriving just ahead of the curve.
These days, it's not surprising when an artist jumps from one sound to another. Most young artists grew up listening to all kinds of music, and their own songs reflect that. But BEAM took things to another level on his 2019 breakout project 95. "This whole project gives a taste of everything I do," BEAM told us. "I thought: What would Cypress Hill be in 2019? What would Sean Paul do today? I wanted to take those influences and put it in the beats, the writing, and the sound of my voice. There are sounds for every type of listener, and we designed this project to be heard front-to-back."
Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Miami, BEAM was comfortable in studios from a young age. His father is the influential reggae and dancehall singer Papa San, and BEAM started making music himself when he was 10 years old. Eventually he was producing for artists like 2 Chainz, Yo Gotti and Lecrae and, evidently, the experience paid off. On 95, BEAM jumps from genre to genre so much that a first-time listener would never be able to guess it's the same artist on each song. Title track "95" could be mistaken for unreleased Cypress Hill from the '90s, "Mad Gaal" sounds like a crossover dancehall hit in the making, and "Unda Armor" is a booming, slightly off-kilter rap track.
On paper, 95 might look like the work of a overly ambitious artist dipping toes into different sounds while they find their own lane. That is not the case. BEAM is confident and proficient in everything he's making, and backed by his own top tier production, he doesn't miss. Expect that to continue in 2020.
Aspiring R&B singers strive to make music as effortless, enveloping, and welcoming as 20-year-old phenom UMI. Songs like “Love Affair” and “Down to Earth” are composed of all organic elements, with the singer’s warm voice carrying like a breeze over instrumentals animated by thick bass, dreamy, languid chords, and delicate percussion.
What further sets UMI apart in a crowded field is commitment to giving her tracks a real thematic weight. Often using naturalistic imagery, UMI addresses the ripples of relationship fallout on “River” and discusses the twin pressures that come from trying to find your purpose while living up to others’ expectations.
Largely eschewing features in favor of building her own vibrant world, the next step for UMI should be a full-length album that proves her charm only strengthens with an extended run time.
When listening to Baby Sosa’s music, it becomes clear that the Virginia-raised artist doesn’t think like everybody else. In sound and in style, she operates on her own terms, and as a result, has found a sound that can’t be ignored. Because whether you like it or hate it, she’s different, and different gets remembered.
The main catalyst of Baby Sosa’s rise thus far has been February 2019’s “EVERYWHEREIGO”—an endlessly catchy and equally eccentric song, perfect as the introductory point to Sosa’s wonderful, weird world. In the months following, the Virginia talent continued on her streak with several new singles, growing in momentum as she soared from off-kilter flows on “Stuntin” to the hypnotic melodies of “Emergency.”
Baby Sosa is paving her own lane separate from the rest. Being unique is no challenge for VA’s own, and she surely won’t change anytime soon.
Mk.gee burst onto the scene with “You,” the kind of easy, infectious song that feels like you’ve been living with it for a decade after hearing it a single time. Since then, the singer-instrumentalist-producer polymath has expanded his sound, showing a fluency for lush synth pop (“Untitled”), guitar-centric indie (“Roll with the Punches”), and kaleidoscopic psychedelia (“Come On (You Know That I’m a Fool)”). Though he didn’t release a project last year, he toured relentlessly with artists like Omar Apollo and Wallows, building his name and honing a dynamic live show.
In 2018, Mk.gee told us about his creative process and the importance of not putting pressure on yourself to always come up with something commodifiable. “I’m kind of just in the playpen, and if an idea happens it happens,” he said. Thus far, Mk.gee’s playpen has been one of the most joyful places in indie music.
ICECOLDBISHOP’S “IRATE (Freestyle)” is a clown car of a song, packing a dizzying array of vocal deliveries, rhyme patterns, and quotable bars into a two-minute package. That track helped introduce us to this rising Los Angeles talent, and since then he’s played things close to the chest, releasing just a small handful of songs and verses and keeping the mystery intact.
"The whole point of my current journey was to cover an extensive amount of ground without showing all of the cards in my hand," he told P&P in July. Now that that mission has been resoundingly accomplished, 2020 seems sure to be the year BISHOP goes from fascinating hypothetical to actualized star-in-the-making. His pitch black sense of humor and grim street stories recall early Vince Staples, while his vast range of flows and sounds are reminiscent of a certain California Pulitzer Prize winner.
BISHOP’s skill and charisma were on full display at the end of 2019 when he held his own on tracks alongside established MCs like Slowthai, Rico Nasty, and Mick Jenkins. Expect him to up his output of scorched-earth guest verses, and hopefully give us a full project to savor if we’re lucky in 2020.
The subheading of Pigeons and Planes’ recent interview with Junior Varsity reads: “LA-based duo Junior Varsity is already catching major label attention and planning shows in Japan—and they haven’t even released a song.”
It’s true. And while the one-two punch of members Zach and Greg hint at the release of new music in “early 2020,” Junior Varsity has become a word-of-mouth sensation, led largely by their three-night approach: if the experience is memorable enough, you can throw a show in the same city three nights in a row without any music out—by the third night, the place will be packed. It worked in New York, and again in Los Angeles. So why not Japan?
Junior Varsity aims to “build a world” around their music, and they’re doing so in every move they make, starting with a carefully curated social media presence. “People just want to feel something,and you’ll feel a lot more when you enter a world,” they explain. With music coming soon and momentum building, Junior Varsity are one of 2020's most intriguing acts.
And if you're wondering how we're co-signing an artist with no songs out: we've heard some of the songs. They are good.
In an age of oversaturation where artists face constant pressure from labels, managers, and fans to deliver consistent content, $NOT is defying expectations by taking his time. It shows in the music—each track is capable of standing on its own, and it almost makes you forget that he hasn’t put an album out.
He’s been quietly uploading his signature moody, lo-fi ruminations on heartbreak, drug use, depression (and everything in between) to SoundCloud since 2017, following a similar trajectory that other product-of-the-Internet artists such as Yung Lean and Denzel Curry have trailblazed. Since his runaway hit “Gosha” introduced $NOT to a wider audience, the momentum has grown, with a little help from co-signs like Billie Eilish bumping his music in an Instagram Live and a placement on HBO’s Euphoria.
The millions of streams and cult-like fanbase he’s amassed didn’t materialize out of thin air—$NOT’s a genuine artist, and he’s been putting in work. The vast majority of his songs fall under the 2:30 mark, and by the time the track is over, his hypnotic delivery and ASMR-like beat selection will have you ready to queue it again before it’s even finished. 2020 is $NOT’s year to shine, but until he’s ready to share his new music with the world, he'll be shitposting on his Instagram.
binki—like so many young artists today—is all over the place. In a good way. But while most acts are jumping from genre to genre across a variety of songs, binki is jam-packing his range of taste into each one. Yet somehow, there's a distinct, consistent style taking shape across the four songs he's released so far.
The North Carolina-raised, Brooklyn-based artist told us his idols include Childish Gambino, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, and Tyler, The Creator. As his interest in music grew, he started spending more time listening to acts like King Krule, Steve Lacy, and Kevin Abstract. When he was 18, he was planning on a career in acting and hadn't taken music seriously until the summer of 2018. Since then he's been on a roll. The music is a loosely tied together combination of pop, funk, and rap that could be heard as free-spirited or messy, depending on your take. Either way, it's extremely fun and there's nothing else like it. We're excited to watch binki's vision crystallize in the coming months and years.
Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Fayetteville, NC, Baby Rose has one of those voices that you can instantly pick out from a million others. It's overwhelmingly rich, deep, and full of the soulful rasp that evokes the memory of legends like Amy Winehouse or Nina Simone—artists Rose cites as influences for her own work. That vocal prowess, alongside her emotional, vividly evocative lyricism, has earned her co-signs from artists like SZA, Kehlani, and J. Cole, as well as features on Matt Martian's The Last Party, Big K.R.I.T.'s K.R.I.T. IZ HERE, and Dreamville's Revenge of the Dreamers.
This year, the R&B artist released her stunning debut album, To Myself, to widespread critical acclaim. Centered on a recent breakup with a longtime partner, the record coalesces the frustration of loss with the indulgence of nostalgia—the kind of soul that leaves you full and still yearning, all at the same time. The album is an intensely beautiful work of art, but for the 25-year-old, it's just the beginning.
A singer-songwriter with a delicate sensibility and keen eye for the details that make heartbreak really sting—a biting, muttered comment here, a walk on a rainy beach there—Gracie Abrams has established herself as a clear talent to watch. Despite a small catalogue that still mostly lives on SoundCloud, Abrams is clearly a gifted lyricist and songwriter whose sound has gradually been expanding to fit her ambition.
Recent tracks like “Stay” and “Mean It” are heart-rending ballads with electronic elements around the edges, giving them structure and flourish. In that way, Abrams’ current output recalls the early work of artists like Billie Eilish and Maggie Rogers. Abrams can use her voice to emote like a veteran, effortlessly slipping into a crushing falsetto on “Mean It” and showing the wear of a dysfunctional relationship in her voice on “i kinda miss you.”
There has never been a bigger appetite for stripped-down, sincere pop music, and Gracie Abrams is as well-equipped as anyone to satisfy it.
With cosigns in 2019 ranging from Barack Obama (who included Rema's song on his annual playlist) to Future (who brought him out at a show), Nigerian artist Rema set the stage for a global takeover in 2020. Three short projects launched him to stardom at home (he topped Nigerian Apple Music charts with "Dumebi" from his self-titled EP in March) and marked him out as an artist with massive crossover potential.
"I am inspired by the goal to create a universal language with my sound," Rema told us. "I tend to influence my sound with different cultures to appeal to different audiences beyond Africa." October's Bad Commando EP fulfils this goal, with afrobeats songs living alongside the outer space trap of "Spaceship Jocelyn" and the danceable "Rewind," produced by Drake's manager Oliver El Khatib and 1Mind (who producd French Montana and Swae Lee's hit "Unforgettable").
In Rema's genre-mashing world, it all makes sense, and he represents the sound of popular music evolving, of young artists being inspired by global sounds and making songs that are fresh, new, and totally authentic.
When we first talked to Remi Wolf for Best New Artists, she compared making music to taking a shit: "I just made it and it was done." That kind of playful quirkiness comes across in Wolf's music (and in her Spotify bio), but it's still hard not to take her seriously.
With only a handful of songs out, the Los Angeles-based up-and-comer is proving to be an undeniable songwriter and vocalist. She's making youthful, modern pop mixed with a more timelss and mature musicality, and her idiosyncrasies only help to set her apart. In this age of flooded timelines and a state of complete saturation in the music world, being different is a requirement and it seems to come naturally to Wolf.
So far, Remi Wolf only has one EP out (listen to You're A Dog! here), but she's working on new music right now, and she'll be going into it with great momentum. Stay tuned.