Indiana's FLACO is far from a new artist. The rapper has been steady grinding in the middle of the map for years, but nobody was watching.
"I was in the gym when nobody was watching," FLACO raps on his stellar track "New Things," and while watching the video, it's hard to explain how the rapper was overlooked. He has effortless charisma, melodic production, and FLACO doesn't waste a single line on the track. Each bar is packed with quotable lines. His flow and cadence are at levels achieved only after spending years in the gym, with nobody watching.
"I fell in love with the bass, I had to pick up the pace, feel like I'm finally great." We're starting to feel that way too.
We first heard Canadian five-piece Jaunt on The Inbox, and felt an instant connection to their whimsical, airy sound. It's not surprising, given that the group specializes in songs about communication. Their recent debut EP, Chat, follows the trials and tribulations of keeping in touch, from “Hello” to the album’s touchingly despondent conclusion, “Okay Then.”
Chat is the type of coherent, intricately crafted release that’s made for listening straight through—something hard to come across in an industry that sometimes focuses on singles. The dreamy alt-pop group's songs exude a gentle nostalgia, like rose-colored memories that make the past seem kinder than it actually was. With a brilliant debut already behind them, we’re looking forward to hear what Jaunt comes up with next.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana's Quadry populates his raps with the sort of detailed, world-weary observations of an old soul—a young man channeling forebears like the Goodie Mob and Witchdoctor whose music often felt like a quest for spiritual and emotional truths in a world designed to destroy them.
Though Quadry's music isn't overtly political, its autobiographic content takes on added weight against the backdrop of this month's killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. His debut album America, Me positions his narrative as a quintessential American story—one of poverty, of love and loss, of small daily triumphs, and greatest victory of all: survival. His self-awareness, able rapping, and ability to channel personal experience into relatable portions make for compelling listening, particularly when wedded with the production of primary collaborator Tev'n.
5. Tish Hyman
Tish Hyman has been plotting her debut as a solo artist for some time, and the rollout has gone beautifully thus far. Dedicated: To is a polished introduction, replete with hits like "Dreams" and "Subway Art." The Bronx-born, L.A.-based artist first made her mark as a songwriter for the likes of Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign ("Horses In The Stable"), and is currently touring North America opening for BJ the Chicago Kid.
Tish already sounds like a star—she approaches songwriting as a craft, treats music as a profession, and has incredible talent. That voice has earned her plenty of comparisons to Lauryn Hill, but that's only one side of her story—Tish can really, really rap, a truth as clear on Dedicated: To as it was when she murdered Sway's 5 Fingers of Death freestyle last year.
Ontario's TOBi is the smoothest thing to come out of Canada since the snowmobile. His FYi EP is a roaming blend of hip-hop, future bounce, and modern soul. This is a far cry from pop music, no matter how catchy songs like "iNDECiSiONS" and "Don't Wanna Think" are.
Kweku Collins provides the project's only feature on the latter, but TOBi proves himself more than capable of shouldering the rest of the release himself. He's writing from somewhere between disappointment and outrage, and it's working—TOBi calls himself a "skeptical slash cynical slash lyrical-ass rapper" on the last track, and he's not wrong.
Woodes is a singer-songwriter/producer from Melbourne, Australia, and we just got our introduction this week with "The Thaw." It's an amalgamation of great pop songwriting, sleek electronic production, and a whimsical, imaginative nature.
She's been working on an EP for a year now, and if "The Thaw" and "Daggers & Knives" are any indication, this one will be a must-listen debut.
Two songs in, refs have us hooked. There's something about their unique brand of electronic rock that hits to the core—a result of beautiful vocals, harmonies, and well-timed crescendos that recall Passion Pit and HONNE in equal measure.
"Turn Around" is an easy favorite, and "Pain Goes Away" is strong too—refs have a wide breadth of sound to share, and they're just getting started.
10. Jamila Woods
There’s a reason Jamila Woods’ name sounds familiar. The Chicago artist and social activist frequently collaborates with fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper, and has also lent her warm, soulful vocals to tracks like Macklemore’s “White Privilege II.”
But the singer made her solo debut this month with Heavn, and it’s safe to say she nailed it. It’s not just the album’s breezy, glowing sound or the star-studded tracklist that make it a standout listen. Woods’ poignant lyrics—which cover material from police brutality to cultural appropriation, black girlhood, and her Chicago pride—give her the dual title of singer and poet. But above all, Woods’ music is refreshingly hopeful.
It’s an understatement to say that her album came during a tough month for America, but Woods has just empowered listeners with songs that emanate resilience and unity in a time of loss.
11. Compton White
Variety is the spice of life, and British producer Compton White provides plenty of it on his self-titled debut EP. There are moments of dusty, Dilla-esque hip-hop alongside edgy, aggressive electronics à la Evian Christ or Arca, but the producer's expert touch ensures the EP never feels too scattershot.
Who knows where Compton White will go next? He could make heavyweight club music or end up producing for rappers, or both. Whatever happens, we know we'll be watching.
12. Tasha The Amazon
Toronto's Tasha the Amazon is bringing a new sound to her city. "Picasso Leaning" was Toronto's most uniquely popular rap song last month (according to Spotify), and she's getting big looks, like placement on Dr. Dre's Apple Music playlists.
And while that chosen single is great (she has been beset by M.I.A. comparisons), Tasha is proving that she has more in store. Check out this month's "Prayer" for proof.
14. SAINt JHN
It’s been years since we last heard from Carlos St. John. But the Brooklyn emcee hopped back on our radar this summer as SAINt JHN, and the two singles he’s released so far prove that he's spent the interim years wisely. The rapper hit us with the metallic “1999” in June, followed by the equally hypnotic “Roses” this month.
The new material is impressively complex: SAINt JHN’s hazy, heavy sound is both melodic and slightly devious, shifting between downtempo R&B vibes and futuristic metal clamor. It’s all shaping up to be a brilliant new venture for the artist, and one that was worth the long wait.
It’s hard to categorize Boston newcomer johan. We could start with his unusual voice: a raspy, quivering half-whisper that cracks just the right amount when he hits those higher notes. Or we could try and pin down his instrumental sound, which at times leans toward hand-clapping dance beats, but can just as easily swing towards singsong lullaby.
Really, the only way to understand johan is to listen—and you won’t be disappointed. The singer first caught our attention with his debut single “danger_us,” a hazy, minimalist piece of R&B that showcases his chilling vocals and clever songwriting. He followed it up with the glimmering “stard(us)t,” and recently released “high in the woods,” a sexy groove about a reckless Tuesday night. His particular brand of experimental R&B is mesmerizing, so don't be surprised when johan takes off.