If there’s one thing that gets most of us through the day, it’s music. Whether we’re scrolling through Soundcloud looking for mood tunes to get us through a case of the Mondays or listening to a mixtape someone has sent our way, not a day goes by without some kind of music playing in our office.
Since our inboxes tend to get inundated with lots of projects from artists interested in coverage, we decided to spotlight some of the names we’ve been hearing about every month.
Although NoLay may not be a familiar name to some Stateside hip-hop fans, she isn’t what you’d call a newcomer to the game. The South London grime emcee first came to major attention nearly a decade ago as part of the collective Unorthodox before going on to release her first solo single “Unorthodox Daughter”. Although she’s received interest from major labels, NoLay has remained an independent artist, releasing several mixtapes and three EPs as such. She’s also toured with Mobb Deep, been featured alongside grime OG, Dizzee Rascal, and collaborated with artists like MC Ghetts and Devlin.
In 2013 NoLay also dabbled in acting after landing the role of Mandy in the gritty televised drama Top Boy. In the past her raw delivery and penchant for rapid-fire wordplay have drawn comparisons to prominent male grime artists, but the personal aspect of her narrative reveals a complex experience and uniquely female identity that stands apart from her counterparts. On April 24, NoLay was involved in a serious car accident and is reportedly hospitalized in critical condition. The Highsnobiety team sends our thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery her way.
A lover of anime and lifelong globetrotter, Azizi Gibson was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and then relocated to Bangkok, Thailand, before landing back stateside in Maryland where he lived for 10 years before moving to Los Angeles. Gibson often favors unorthodox beats and describes his distinctive flow as “preHISTORIC”, a name he also applies to his crew. Last month, after a brief hiatus, Gibson dropped his latest album, A New Life. The project is a follow up to strong past efforts like The Last EP and his 2013 mixtape Ghost in Shell, both of which feature production by frequent collaborators Millz Douglas and Kamandi. Gibson’s energetic single “DJ Khaled” also enjoyed great viral success — we’ve been known to play it in the office when we’re working our way toward a major key moment.
North Carolina has given us 9th Wonder, Phonte, Jermaine Dupri, Petey Pablo and J. Cole, to name a few. And now there’s 26-year-old Charlotte native Deniro Farrar whose rage-filled yet oddly syrupy flow is characterized by a raspy, booming baritone underpinned with a distantly Southern twang. In 2010, Farrar released his first mixtape, Feel This, via Black Flag Records.
The staggering 31-track project helped jumpstart underground interest in the emcee who followed up the release with his Destiny Altered album in 2012. Last year, Farrar released Cliff of Death II in collaboration with producer Young God. Many have commented on the painful honesty of Farrar’s lyrics, which touch on everything from the destruction of communities to poverty, personal losses and violence.
Hailing from the DMV — Prince George’s County Maryland to be exact — cult rapper Kelow puts out music that gives stereotypes and pre-existing hip-hop standards the double middle finger. The idea of a sexualized female emcee whose skill is in danger of going unacknowledged in favor of being objectified simply doesn’t apply to her. She sports freeform dreadlocks, more tattoos than countable, and a self-advocating attitude that sees her head-banging through sets while smoking joints and turning up harder than Travis Scott on stage.
Her latest release, Amethyst Stoner, is an energetic project that takes its name from her birthstone and unfettered love of marijuana. Though the album is a freethinking exploration of personal truth and spirituality, it still manages to maintain a delightful sense of fun. Songs like “Pain Stains // Highlights” turn an indirect lens on the black experience while pondering the road to self-healing and community activism. Meanwhile, songs like “BADDABING” feature trappy beats alongside dancehall samples, and Kelow making the thinly-veiled insinuation that she will steal your girl.
Multidisciplinary artist and creative Tygapaw might not be a new face to party-loving New Yorkers. She is the founder of the weekly party Fake Accent, which she started a little over two years ago as a space for queer women of color to interact without judgement. Born Dion Mac in Mandeville, Jamaica, Tygapaw fuses her Caribbean background with a love of moody, nostalgic tunes and experimental, future-facing sounds.
The end result is an incredibly multi-layered product that runs the gamut between dreamy and temporal to painfully raw. Songs like “How Did I Get Here” sample Deborah Cox’s R&B classic “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” while infusing a Baltimore clubesque backbeat, and Tyga’s own rumination on the aftereffects of dissolving platonic and romantic relationships.
We caught Tunji Ige opening for Little Simz last year in Brooklyn, and his energy was nothing short of memorable. Swaggering across the small stage, he head-nodded, chest-thumped and rap-crooned his way into the audience’s good graces. Currently, the Philly-born college student pulls double shifts, keeping up with his studies by day and making music in his free time. The appearance of autotune on more than a few of his songs speaks nothing of his ability, it seems more an addition of generational preferences than anything else.
Production wise, one gets the feeling that he grew up as part of the school of T-Pain and Kanye West. It shows in his willingness to experiment with standard rap tropes while inserting his own distinctive lilt. For instance, his single “On My Grind” serves as half trap anthem, half love song to a supportive significant other — it’s a mashup that works.
The success of Future, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane and a slew of other Atlanta rappers whose codeine-fueled, regional slang-laced lyrics have ushered in a new era of sound doesn’t quite apply to fellow ATLien Nebu Kiniza. Originally a Queens, New York native, Nebu relocated to Conyers, Georgia at the age of ten. While many of his songs embrace an intrinsically Southern sound, a full listen to his discography reveals a willingness to explore just about anything.
His first single, “IDGAF”, released in 2011 and garnered viral attention in little over a week. He followed up the effort with a song and music video for “STEEZ”, which he shot in Atlanta’s colorful Little Five Points neighborhood. Yet for every rabidly ATL track, there are offerings like the self-produced single “All Good” which veers a bit towards R&B, proving he possesses a skillful agility that’s well worth keeping an eye on.
Russ is another Atlanta eclectic whose background includes stints in New York, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio. Currently, his self-started record label Diemon, is based out of Atlanta. Following in the footsteps of hip-hop’s most recognized college dropout, Kanye West, Russ left Kennesaw State University his freshman year and began churning out his own music, videos and merchandise with the help of his Diemon crew.
An experimental musician at heart, Russ’s sound is at odds with the Internet-age beats and buzzy, sing-song style hooks that have increasingly gained traction. Instead, he bolsters his fairly straightforward lyrics with intuitive production that lends itself to the storytelling angle so many of his songs rely on.
While her name may be new to some, OG New Yorker Liana Banks has been flexing her music chops in the industry for a minute now. A skilled songwriter with the voice to boot, Banks has lent her writing for the likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, and also worked as a back-up dancer for Chris Brown on MTV. The slime green-haired beauty just recently released her first ever single, “LVLUP,” and is gearing up to drop a debut mixtape, ‘Insubordinate,’ in the next coming weeks.
Aside from having one of the best Instagram handles ever – “Darkwave Duchess” – Atlanta-bred artist ABRA has us completely spellbound thanks to her infectiously DIY aesthetic that blends seamlessly with the zeitgeist of contemporary Internet culture. A signee to genre-bending label Awful Records, ABRA’s silky smooth vocals are warmly blanketed by the soaring, lo-fi bedroom production of her songs, oftentimes exploring the darkest corners of R&B, pop and hip-hop. With two LPs already under her belt, ABRA’s notoriety has been rapidly seeping outside of the underground – whether she likes it, or not. Listen to her latest album, 2015’s ‘Rose,’ to hear what we’re talking about.