20 Musicians You Need to Know in 2016

By
Cam, Anderson .Paak and CL (from left) Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Getty Images and CL/youtube

Below, three members of Vulture's music team share the new acts they think (and genuinely hope) you'll be hearing more about this year. Some names may seem familiar, as they've more or less "broken" among niche listenerships already. Others are likely new to you. What they all have in common is that they're working outside of traditional genre lines, as many of the most exciting artists right now are, and they're poised to have a big 2016. Now get listening — your next on-repeat album is hiding in here somewhere,

Anderson .Paak

Listen If You Like: Knxwledge, Bilal, Flying Lotus
Album: Malibu, out now

Anderson .Paak always had dreams of being a session musician — never the star. That all changed when the 29-year-old Oxnard, California, native dropped "Suede" with Knxwledge under the moniker NxWorries, unknowingly attracting the ears of Dr. Dre. If there’s one constant on Dre’s long-overdue third album, Compton, aside from the hometown setting, it’s .Paak. He has credits on six of the album’s 16 songs, lending his old-soul voice to the Freddie Gray–inspired "Animals." He's kicked off 2016 with a very early contender for year-end lists with a collection of retro-future tracks alongside hip-hop greats like Talib Kweli and Game, as well as beat aficionados Madlib, Hi-Tek, and 9th Wonder. He has the respect of legends and the love of critics; success seems inevitable now. —Dee Lockett (@Dee_Lockett)

BJ the Chicago Kid

Listen If You Like: D'Angelo, Boyz II Men, R. Kelly
Album: TBA

If it seems like BJ the Chicago Kid should've already blown up ages ago, it's because the industry has given him several chances. He's collaborated with Kanye West for the Mission: Impossible III soundtrack, and later won acclaim from R&B queens like Jill Scott off his independently released 2012 debut Pineapple Now-Laters. Since then, the wait for his major-label debut has been slow; he's instead worked closely with TDE (Schoolboy Q's "Studio" got him a Grammy nom) and pushed out a trio of white-hot one-offs with Big K.R.I.T., Chance the Rapper, and OG Maco that blur the lines between rap and R&B. When he's done laying his caramel vocals over every '90s-R&B classic, he could be the one to finally bring the genre back to basics. —DL

CL

Listen If You Like: Elliphant, Big Bang
Album: TBA

Depending on where in the world you're from, the name CL either means nothing or everything. In South Korea, where her K-pop group 2NE1 thrives, CL is a 24-year-old pop icon who can both outsing and outrap most of her peers. Here, she joins a long line of artists looking to match their international success in the States. It's a good thing, then, she's being co-manged by Bieber Svengali Scooter Braun and has been writing her first English-language album for nearly a year with Diplo, will.i.am, and Skrillex. She put out the semi-dud "Doctor Pepper" with Diplo last summer, mostly for hype. But, she bounced back with "Hello Bitches" in November, flanked by Parris Goebel's ReQuest crew (you know, from Bieber's "Sorry" video), who almost can't keep up with all of CL's effortless swag. America, watch out. —DL

Cam

Listen If You Like: Carrie Underwood, Heart, Eric Church
AlbumUntamed, out now

December's a risky time to put out an album. You could either catch the ears of the unsuspecting, or fall by the wayside with all the other filler. Cam, fearless future of country music that she is, had to wait to bless the world with her sophomore album at the eleventh hour. There's no sense in playing by country's rules when they're this broken, and that is what makes Cam so refreshing. You get the feeling we haven't heard the full range of Cam's vocals yet, but her songwriting is as sharp as Ashley Monroe's blade. It's introspective, as is the Nashville way, but her life story reads like mine, like yours, like every woman who's ever had to raise a village. If 2016 lets Cam fall through the cracks one more time, we'll have failed her. —DL

Gallant

Listen If You Like: How to Dress Well, Miguel, Disclosure
Album: TBA

In 2014, this L.A. singer-songwriter showcased the raw emotional power of his lyrics on his self-released debut EP Zebra, but it was the 23-year-old's glass-shattering falsetto that got everybody's attention. Gallant has a voice that could bring anyone — from Sam Smith to Maxwell — to their knees. Credits since the EP include an exceptionally vulnerable take on the Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly”; “In the Room,” his tear-inducing collab with Sufjan Stevens (with whom he’s been touring); a bass-heavy assist for labelmate Zhu on “Testarossa Music”; and the breakout single “Weight in Gold,” which has spawned several notable remixes. Known fans run the gamut from Elton John to Skrillex, and his influences — including Toni Braxton and Incubus — are equally disparate. A full-length is set for 2016, and something tells us it’s going to set off a chain reaction that leads to a very long (and interesting) career. —Lauretta Charlton (@laurettaland)

Hinds

Listen If You Like: Haim, Best Coast, Slutever
Album: Leave Me Alone, out now

This wisecracking foursome from Madrid looks like they could be a new generation of Spice Girls, but instead of putting their spin on “Wannabe,” they went for a playful, malt-liquor version of OG British garage-rockers Thee Headcoatees. Their debut album released earlier this month, Leave Me Alone, is full of DIY garage-punk high jinks and has been accurately described as “a 12-song saunter of drunk texts.” Right now they look like they’re going to take the crown as 2016’s biggest party animals. —LC

Ibeyi

Listen If You Like: Zero 7, Björk, Feist
Album: Ibeyi, out now

From the Beach Boys to the Isley Brothers, a number of bands have proven that there's a certain magic when people who share DNA also share vocal harmonies. The twins of Ibeyi, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, keep the tradition strong with their Afro-pop R&B, which at its finest features their voices, a beat, and little else. They often sing in the Nigerian language Yoruba, the emotion of their voices carrying more weight than specific turns of phrase. Beyond the harmonies, however, the Parisian-born sisters feel particularly of-the-moment, pulling in elements of jazz, down-tempo electronic and hip-hop as a backdrop for ruminations on loss and rebirth. This sense of rhythm, it seems, runs in the family: Their father was Grammy-winning Cuban percussionist Anga Díaz, of Buena Vista Social Club (among others). Ibeyi's self-titled debut was released by indie kingpin XL last winter, but 2016 sees the twins capitalizing on early buzz with sets at a number of major festivals, including Bonnaroo and Coachella. —Jillian Mapes (@jumonsmapes)

KING

Listen If You Like: Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Sade
AlbumWe Are KING, out February 5

L.A.-based, Berklee-educated nu-soul trio KING have been a favorite since 2011, when songs from their debut EP, The Story, caught the ears of Questlove, Erykah Badu, and Prince. They could have followed that up in short order by dropping a full-length, but instead twins Paris and Amber Strother, plus bandmate Anita Bias, made a graceful retreat from the spotlight to refine their sound. The result is next month's We Are KING, a triumphant return for one of the most promising soul groups we’ve heard from in a minute. KING’s music is indebted to Norman Whitfield, the “psychedelic shaman” of Motown credited for infusing R&B with futuristic, supernatural sounds in the early 1970s. You can hear those dreamy influences distinctly on the extended version of "Hey," as well as songs like “The Greatest,” which recalls Sade, '80s-era Chaka Kahn, Rose Royce, Jill Scott and Ms. Badu’s New Amerykah Part Two. —LC

Låpsley

Listen If You Like: James Blake, Little Dragon, Laura Marling
Album: Long Way Home, out March 4

Låpsley has said that James Blake would be one of her dream collaborators, but after she makes her debut in March, our bet is that Blake would be lucky to team up with her in the studio. This 19-year-old cut her teeth playing piano, oboe, and guitar in her native Liverpool, but turned her back on classical to make minimalist electronic music on her laptop. By the end of 2013, the pensive and understated “Station” quietly made its way online, and Låpsley, who has a voice like a glass of red wine on a cold night, racked up over a million listeners on SoundCloud. Buzz continued around her two EPs, but her forthcoming debut, Long Way Home, feels like the moment when her hard work is really going to start paying off. On songs like "Love Is Blind" and "Hurt Me" she turns on a dime from pillow talk reminiscent of Blake’s hazy post-dubstep, to glossy pop ready for Top 40. Be prepared to blare songs like “Operator” out your car window all summer long. —LC

LÉON

Listen If You Like: Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX, Tove Lo
Album: TBA

LÉON kind of came out of nowhere, but she’s already ready to dominate your speakers in 2016 with her catchy electronic dance-pop. In October, the 21-year-old Swedish talent dropped her independent EP Treasure, earning a nod from Katy Perry on Twitter for the song “Tired of Talking,” and a record deal from Columbia. Now she’s being talked about in the same breath as fellow Swedes Lykke Li and Tove Lo, is touring this winter, and is working on a debut album tentatively set for mid-summer. —LC

Little Simz

Listen If You Like: Pusha T, Stormzy, Lady Leshurr
Album: A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, out now

Not all rap from across the pond is grime — just ask Little Simz. Some rap, in fact, can't be defined by region or influence. And for this 21-year-old who once told The Guardian, "I'm not a UK female MC, I'm an artist," half the appeal to her work is its refusal to fit into any mold. The other half is Simz's beyond-her-years wordplay, evocative of Pusha T in its skill and Kendrick Lamar in its delivery. Her lyrics are personal, political, and always powerful. Sadly, the doors open maybe once a decade for women in rap. We have a feeling Little Simz already has one foot in. —DL

Mabel

Listen If You Like: NAO, Kwabs, Katy B
Album: TBA

British singer Mabel won the genetic lottery — her parents are Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack producer Cameron McVey — and, at 19, she's already inherited a knack for making striking, R&B-tilted pop songs. She turned heads on music blogs last year with her debut single, the emotionally unguarded, Mos Def–sampling "Know Me Better." But her latest single, "My Boy My Town," could propel her to something greater. She released the black-and-white clip for the song, which details the tug of war that is romance, back in November; that same month, she made the long list for the BBC's Sound of 2016 award. It's all been leading up to her biggest co-sign yet: a tweet from Queen Adele herself, which big-upped Mabel's "My Boy My Town" earlier this month. The last time Adele gushed about another artist's song (Tobias Jesso Jr.), he ended up on her album. Mabel, you might just be next. —DL

Majid Jordan

Listen If You Like: Drake and the whole of OVO, Kehlani
Album: Majid Jordan, out February 5

When Drake introduced OVO Sound Radio on Beats 1, we knew he was going to use it as a platform to promote artists on his label. Leading the pack are Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, the Toronto duo behind Majid Jordan, who first collaborated with Drake on 2013’s Nothing Was the Same standout “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” After dropping several new tracks on Beats 1 last year — including their biggest hit to date, “My Love,” another Drake collab, which debuted on Zane Lowe’s show — the two producers are releasing their self-titled debut next month. Majid Jordan hangs its hat on the druggy, down-tempo, house-infused R&B that helped make the Weeknd one of last year’s biggest acts, and while Al Maskati and Ullman aren’t likely to reach that level of superstardom, I expect these OVO Sound favorites to get a lot of play in the coming months — and not just via Beats 1. —LC

Mass Gothic

Listen If You Like: It’s all over the place, so everything from Pinkteron-era Weezer to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Duran Duran to Berlin-era Bowie.
Album: Mass Gothic, out February 5

Noel Heroux started off working alone on a four-track, and after nine years and mild success with his old band, dance-rockers Hooray for Earth, he’s gone back to the way he used to do things. This became a necessity, really — a way of dealing with his depression — but the results capture something quintessential about the emotional experience at hand: There are definite highs, and there are definite lows on his self-titled debut as Mass Gothic for Sub Pop. Sometimes Heroux, who’s accompanied at turns by his wife Jessica Zambri, sounds like he’s trying to kick down the doors of his own brain with the sheer force of distorted riffs and heavy echoes and sharp turns. Other times, he’s just trying to shake off the bad stuff with a dance party where the playlist’s almost exclusively synth-pop. Expect both on his upcoming tour. —JM

Mick Jenkins

Listen If You Like: Lupe Fiasco, Pell, Chance the Rapper
Album: Wave[s], out now

Chicago has long been where it's at, and right now the hip-hop scene is flourishing every which way. Mick Jenkins represents a vital sound from America's most dangerous streets — one that, like Chance the Rapper's, is deeply affected by all the violence but never weighed down by it. His poetic lyrics might move you to tears, but the hope that cuts through them will make it feel okay to smile when you're done. His music feeds off the influence of his Alabama beginnings and Chicago upbringing, making his music sound the least Chicagoan, so to speak, of maybe all his contemporaries. But it's that difference that might just put him ahead. —DL

Moses Sumney

Listen If You Like: Frank Ocean, Raphael Saadiq, Bill Callahan
Album: TBA

Two years ago, a video of Moses Sumney, the son of a Ghanaian preacher raised in sunny southern California, performing the song “Replaceable” hit the internet and pretty much blew away everything we thought we knew about vocals looped through pedals. His smooth falsetto dipped and turned like a high diver. Fast forward to 2015, and this same mystery man has been sharing stages with Solange Knowles and Dev Hynes, touring with Sufjan Stevens, and collaborating with Karen O, who recruited him as a bandmate for her solo project. Despite this noteworthy list of fans and collaborators, though, Sumney has kept a pretty low profile and has yet to release a debut, but the seductive acoustic guitar tracks “Seeds” and its B-side "Pleas," as well as his work with Tessa Thompson on the Creed soundtrack, tells us that one is coming — and that Sumney is finally ready to embrace the solo spotlight he deserves. —LC

Mothers

Listen If You Like: Angel Olsen, Grizzly Bear, Sharon Van Etten
Album: When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, out February 26

From R.E.M. to Drive-by Truckers to Of Montreal, Athens, Georgia, has birthed a few crucial bands in its day; if Mothers’ forthcoming debut is any indication, they could stand to become the latest. What started several years ago as a solo project for then–art student Kristine Leschper, a vulnerable singer-songwriter in the style of Angel Olsen and her ilk, has grown into a full band with a lot of potential to take their sound in a few different directions. Leschper’s voice is entrancing enough to carry Mothers’ tense, drawn-out indie-rock ruminations, which often skew folk and are underscored by yearning orchestral instrumentation. But she really soars when the band gives her delicate pipes something grittier, or at least more structured, to play off of. There’s a vaguely post-rock feeling to some of their songs, while others evoke '60s pop or early Television, but through them all, Leschper beautifully details what it’s like to be at war with oneself in a way that the young and anxious understand particularly well. —JM

Porches

Listen If You Like: Frankie Cosmos, Neon Indian, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Sylvan Esso
Album:
Pool, out February 6

Like his former bandmate, current girlfriend, and frequent collaborator Greta Kline (a.k.a. Frankie Cosmos), Porches' Aaron Maine has proven pretty prolific in a short amount of time. The approach has clearly worked, resulting in early critical love and a signing to Domino, which will release the forthcoming Pool. But as time's gone on and Maine's gigged frequently around his adopted home of New York, his work has moved away from a lo-fi indie-pop aesthetic, toward more polished New Wave and house-influenced electro-pop, the sorts of tunes where a lithe riff finds its perfect match in a borderline-novelty '80s synth line. There's a lot of this kind of thing swirling around indie labels at the moment, to be sure, but Maine's take feels exceptionally personal in light of its musical buoyancy. His boyish tenor finally feels built to last. —JM

Sheer Mag

Listen If You Like: Ex Hex; Thin Lizzy and Lynyrd Skynyrd but also OG punks from that same era
Album: EP II, out now

Sheer Mag is one of the best things to come out of Philly’s booming underground rock scene in the last couple years, but if there’s one hope I have for music this year, it’s that the punks with a jones for Daddy’s old records finally put out a full-length and blow up like they deserve. There are tons of bands that recycle sounds from the '70s radio dial, but what makes Sheer Mag so special, so life-giving is that they take riffs that are dripping with masculinity and pair them lines like, “You don't know who you're tanglin' with / I'm a bad bitch if I please / I've done it before and I'll do it again / I brought many a man to his knees.” Essentially, they’re a whole lot of fun, but not at the expense of actually speaking up for what they believe in, which is harder and rarer in music than you might think. Singer Kristina Halladay’s scowl is the sort of thing that gets me up in the morning. This year, Coachella crowds get to know the same joy. —JM

Wet

Listen If You Like: SWV, Majical Cloudz, Banks
Album: Don't You, out January 29

Wet are often referred to as an R&B band, as their sound is a throwback to '90s-R&B girl groups like SWV, Brownstone, and Zhané. But it would be a mistake to call this nostalgia-baiting. What Kelly Zutrau, Marty Sulkow, and Joe Valle have done is created a something elegant and spacious, anchored by Zutrau's wispy, cotton-soft voice and complimented perfectly by Sulkow and Valle's minimalist arrangements. The trio met in college while studying in NYC — Zutrau at Cooper Union, Sulkow and Valle at NYU — and spent much of last year touring with Tobias Jesso Jr. Songs from their debut album ("Weak," "Deadwater," "You're The Best") have been trickling out since 2013, and after a few delays, the LP will finally see the light of day this month. It's a gorgeous piece of music written mostly in a cabin in the woods near Amherst College, and for my money, it's already a strong candidate for one of this year's best. —LC