Riding off the erratic highs and lows of an eventful year for music, here are the ten artists most primed for breakout success in 2021.
23-year-old Sage Elsesser is a professional skateboarder, Supreme model, and graphic designer, but as Navy Blue, he’s an essential figure in hip-hop’s experimental sub-genre. By releasing a string of invigorating EPs and working alongside introspective rappers including MIKE, Mach-Hommy, and Earl Sweatshirt, he’s become arguably the most talented presence in rap’s expansive underground. Released at the tail end of 2020, his second album “Song of Sage: Post Panic!” and much like the rest of his music, is built on a foundation of lo-fi samples and brief interludes that mix both his most comforting and unpleasant insights. His abstract lyricism always has an internal focus and his words often cascade through the back of your mind, allowing listeners to reflect on themselves in a serene and reflective environment.
Essential Tracks: “Breathe” feat. Yasiin Bey, “Love is…,” “Simultaneously Bleeding,” “1491”
Out of all the names on this list, Parks’ music contains the most artistic vigor by far. Park’s debut album “Collapsed in Sunbeams” released on January 29th, portrays her view on love directly from the annals of her adolescent experience, but with the fortitude of her more mature self. Her musical statements transition from acoustic alt-rock to jazz-imbued neo-soul and gentle bedroom pop, but Parks maintains the same level of intimacy even when the audience expands further than her bedroom walls. She contains a poetic intensity and gripping honesty. especially when recalling her hardships as a queer Black outsider growing up in London. At only 20 years old, Parks is already a reassuring presence with a beautiful voice and a strong emotional tinge.
Essential Tracks: “For Violet,” “Paperbacks,” “Black Dog,” “Angel’s Song”
Josiah Wise’s slick, alias Serpentwithfeet certainly knows how to make a powerful hymn. On most songs his unique voice echoes and hums along with the beat, but that doesn’t mean it has no reach. When hearing his symphonic falsetto, it becomes easy to comprehend his background as a choirboy. Along with his complex and dramatic insights on love, gospel and spirituality brim from his songs, creating an atmosphere of transcendent contemporary r&b. His second studio album “Deacon” is set to release on March 26 and will likely try to replicate the substance and curiosity of his exciting debut “Soil.”
Essential Tracks: “A Comma,” “Fellowship,” “Receipts” feat. Ty Dolla Sign, “bless ur heart”
Lava La Rue
Drawn from the name and experiences of Ava Laurel, Lava La Rue is a charismatic force to be reckoned with. Her music encompasses a slick DIY style with a focus on nurturing and family. As an integral part of the London-based NiNE8 underground collective full of other aspiring British creatives in music, fashion and photography, La Rue is forging her own path by creating soft and pleasant tunes with savory boom bap production. Her forthcoming EP “BUTTER-FLY,” coming out Feb. 19, is supported by “Angel'' a fruitful collaboration with grunge singer Deb Never and “G.O.Y.D.” a tranquil groove which stands for “girl of your dreams.”
Essential Tracks: “Widdit,” “G.O.Y.D.” “Twenny Four,” “Letra”
The first things which stand out about Memphis rapper Pooh Shiesty are his adaptive flow and clever rhymes. As part of Gucci Mane’s The New 1017 collective, he is the strongest artist on Gucci’s newest venture and the standout of the group’s subsequent tape “Gucci Mane Presents: So Icy Summer.” Following the success of “Icy Summer”, Shiesty’s next big release was “Back in Blood,” a breakthrough mainstream hit and an excellent partnership with Lil Durk that leaves you wanting a full-length project from the two. He’s destined to become a household name with the Feb. 5 release of his debut mixtape “Shiesty Season” and hopefully it has more songs that force you to make a stink face when you hear the rap.
Essential Tracks: “Back in Blood” feat. Lil Durk, “Day One,” “Main Slime,” “7.62 God”
During the second half of 2020, Blxst began his daring ascension to the crest of hip-hop’s elite. His sleeper-hit EP “No Love Lost,” and its subsequent deluxe album treatment, portrayed a man at an emotional and philosophical crossroads. Deciding whether or not to pursue his musical dreams and give up relationships with those closest to him seeped its way into Blxst’s notepad and into his raps. Considering this project’s very existence, it’s implied Blxst chose to pursue music. Packed with somber stories about needing to leave his most cherished companions behind to devote his full attention to music, Blxst’s storytelling skill is epitomized on “Overrated.” On this track, Blxst perfected his sing-rap style, and by producing this mesmerizing beat, proved his limitless potential as a rapper-producer.
Essential Tracks: “Overrated,” “Gang Slide,” “My Emotions,” “Chosen” feat. Tyga & Ty Dolla Sign
The pandemic has given many eager musicians the time and tools to accrue an active fanbase straight from home. Though she already had significant upward momentum before 2020, nobody built their audience better than 17-year-old Canadian singer Tate McRae. Beginning as a professional dancer, McRae placed 3rd at the age of 13 on So You Think You Can Dance. Since then, McRae has gained a considerable base for both her singing and dancing on TikTok and has accumulated over 2 million followers. Her biggest hit so far “You Broke Me First,” is an idealistic example of moody and harmonic bedroom pop, and McRae’s youthful view on heartbreak makes her a truly engaging artist. McRae has an upcoming second EP coming sometime in 2021 which will guarantee her spot as pop’s next superstar with unlimited charm.
Essential Tracks: “you broke me first,” “rubberband,” “Teenage Mind,” “don’t be sad”
I could write an entire dissertation on why Michigan is rap’s most exciting region, but it’s easier to just point to one of its most enticing prospects, YN Jay. The always hilarious rapper from Flint struck gold when he released “Coochie Land,” which can only be described as a captivating album full of horny carnival music. His newest project “Ninja Warrior” maintains the same comedic bravado he established on “Coochie Land,” and with even more outlandish adventures. Jay’s most unique aspect is his eccentric crooning intro performed at the beginning of many songs, which sounds like a demonic variation of Kid Cudi’s humming. Hearing him enter a song is as good of a guarantee it’ll be nothing short of incredible.
Essential Tracks: “Triple S” feat. Louie Ray, “Coochie Land,” “AHHHHH Pt. 2” feat. Sada Baby, “Thank Me Later” feat. Rio Da Yung OG
Indie folk singer Helen Ballentine has an eye-catching stage name that seems more suited to something like a death metal band or an off-brand comic supervillain. But unlike those two, Skullcrusher specializes in quaint guitar tunes. With only seven songs to her name, her brief discography is minimal and soothing with an escapist wilderness aesthetic that uses natural beauty to guide her gloomy lyrics. Her songs are very analytical and curious as she often asks questions into the void, pretending to not already know the answers. Being a musician with an effortlessly kind and savory voice, I’m hoping she has much more vibrant music ready to come out of the vault soon.
Essential Tracks: “Places/Plans,” “Lift,” “Song for Nick Drake,” “Day of Show”
박혜진 Park Hye Jin
South Korean DJ Park Hye Jin makes house music that’s anything but simplistic. Her hazy otherworldly beats often take on a life of their own and never adhere to a single genre. She’s released a variety of dance tracks that exude elements of disco, trip-hop and techno that’ll put you in a trance and make the shyest dancers bust a move. Park’s wide scope of creativity, most notably on her second EP “How Can I” showcases the overwhelming range of feelings she experienced while touring the world. Her smooth vignettes and noticeable dexterity easily make Park one of the most accessible artists in the EDM scene.
Essential Tracks: “Like this, “IF U WANT IT,” “Can you,” “CALL ME”
Additional Artists Destined for a Breakout 2020:
DISCLAIMER: This article was written at the beginning of the month, before the release of projects by Lava La Rue and Pooh Shiesty.