We’ve somehow found ourselves a little over halfway through 2017, and despite everything going on in the world, the soundtrack has been on point. We’ve already graciously provided you with our picks for Best Albums and Best Tracks of 2017 to date, but what about the artists that we think will blow up this year? Fear not, we’ve got you covered with 10 musicians we can’t stop listening to – from Drake-approved neosoul chanteuse Jorja Smith to the boisterious UK rap of J Hus, from the techno-tinged dream pop of Kelly Lee Owens to the otherworldly footwork of Jlin, and many, many more.
Behold our list of 2017’s emerging artists below.
Admittedly, we have been sleeping on these BROCKHAMPTON guys for far too long. The LA-based, self-proclaimed “All-American Boy Band” contains members of a melting pot of sexualities and ethnicities, and their soundscape is just as diverse. Whilst they’re still quite raw in their style, and definitely need some polishing, they’re a group with the sort of DIY talent and potential Odd Future had circa 2011. We all know how well that groups previous members have fared since then, and you can expect BROCKHAMPTON to ascend in stature into 2017.
Audacious, inspirational, unapologetic. Chicago rapper CupcaKKe started releasing music in 2012 when she was only 14, getting her start reciting poetry at her local church. She was encouraged by a fellow member of the church to turn her poetry into rap music, and the rest is history. Videos for her tracks “Deepthroat” and “Vagina” went viral back in 2015, and since then she’s been grinding steadily, releasing 2 mixtapes and 2 studio albums. Absolutely no topic is off-limits for CupcaKKe, she’ll speak her mind on anything from family drama to fellatio and refuses to feel ashamed for it. It’s no secret that we’re absolutely obsessed with her latest album Queen Elizabitch, naming it one of our favorite albums of 2017 so far.
J Hus levelled up when he dropped Common Sense earlier this year. After a string of barn-storming EP’s which shut down house parties across the UK, his debut studio album completely surpassed all expectations. Common Sense blends cheeky UK one-liners, a diverse soundscape and joyously infectious production from his right hand man, JAE5. He broke into the Top 10 in the UK charts with the full-lenght, and having just jumped on French Montana and Swae Lee’s summer anthem “Unforgettable,” it’s just a matter of time before Hus gets featured on charts across the pond.
Even if you don’t know much about the dance music genre of footwork, if you happen to be a savvy goth ninja, you may recall the insane soundtrack to Rick Owens’s FW 2014/15 womenswear presentation, featuring an extended version of Jlin’s “Erotic Heat.” Since then, she’s been lighting dancefloors on fire around the world with her unique take on the Chicago sound, with 2015’s Dark Energy making serious waves in the dance music community and beyond. 2017 has Jlin re-folding the footwork genre on her sophomore album Black Origami, which we named one of our favorites of this year so far, and as far as we can see, it’s only up for Jlin from here.
While a Drake cosign and collab doesn’t hurt, it’s clear that Jorja Smith would still easily make a claim for the spotlight. You may have heard her on “Get It Together” and her very own interlude on the 6 man’s More Life playlist, but her solo output to date proves she’s one to watch. An incredibly talented singer-songwriter in her own right, Smith has wisdom and finesse well beyond her 19 years. She first landed on our radar with “Beautiful Little Fools,” and has continued to stun us with tracks like “Teenage Fantasy.” Her neosoul prowess leaves us wanting more every time, so here’s hoping there’s a Jorja Smith album in the works this year!
K Á R Y Y N
K Á R Y Y N first popped up in our radar with a stamp of approval from none other than the reigning queen of experimental pop, Björk. Despite the easy comparisons, the Syrian-Armenian-American resides in a sonic universe all her own. Although she’s worked on other projects in the past, her music as K Á R Y Y N is being released into the world track by track, beginning with an arresting visual for “ALEPPO” earlier this year. We were fortunate enough to chat with the up-and-comer last month and premiered her track “YAJNA” which we described as beginning “ with a rumbling, as if a seismic shift is about to happen.” Check out more of K Á R Y Y N’s music and you’ll soon see that she’s casually shifting some tectonic plates with her powerful sounds.
Kelly Lee Owens
The worlds of dream-pop and techno don’t necessarily have that much in common, but on her self-titled debut released without fuss back in March, Kelly Lee Owens has fused the two genres into one piercingly powerful whole. Her breathy coo and evocative lyrics occupy a space that flits back and forth between textured and ambience and alarm-blaring, bass-pounding beats, combining the best of both genres in a way that feels both natural and uncompromisingly unique. Any artist should be so lucky to craft a first record so inventive.
Rex Orange County
Alex O’Connor has a certain knack for making music that is as charming as it is disarming. Despite only having a mini-album and an EP’s worth of tracks of his woozy, youthful croonings, Rex Orange County’s brutally honest songs have pricked up the ears of some high-profile artists – Tyler, the Creator and BADBADNOTGOOD are just a couple of his high profile fans. His recent debut album APRICOT PRINCESS is one of the most accomplished debuts we’ve heard from someone as young as he is this year. If he continues his form, he’ll be pulling on the heart-strings of plenty more people in years to come.
Atlanta is the biggest hot bed of hip-hop talent in the world at the minute, but there is arguably no-one more exciting coming out of the city than Sahbabii. His hit track “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” has been remixed by T-Pain, Fetty Wap, and Wiz Khalifa and received co-signs from Drake and Young Thug, which has in turn earned Sahbabii a major label deal. He’s definitely not a one hit wonder, though. He dropped S.A.N.D.A.S, one of our albums of the year so far last month, and it’s a slick debut project that blends animal-oriented and carnal lyrics with breezy melodic trap beats, and whilst many are calling him an understudy to Young Thug, there’s no one doing it quite like Sahbabii at the minute.
Along with J Hus, there’s no one out of the UK more equipped for state-side domination and international stardom than Stefflon Don. She fuses a similar blend of genres to Hus into her tracks, and with dancehall and afrobeat-inflected being a deadly elixir for chart success at present, Steff’s rise as a rapper hasn’t gone unnoticed. Her larger than life demeanour and vibrant ostentatiousness have seen her link up with the likes of Jeremih and Demi Lovato, as well as pricking the ears of some major US labels. After releasing her superb debut mixtape Real Ting last year, you’ll be seeing Steff’s name a lot, lot more this year.
- Cover Image: Ashley Verse for Complex UK
- Text: Jake Boyer, Jacob Davey, Bianca Giulione