From Daniel Caesar to Kelela, we rounded up a list of performers you need to check out right now.
In 2014, while weary fans were still questioning Frank Ocean’s whereabouts, a voice arose to fill a void. That voice, raised on The Beatles and “sounds in the church,” possessed a familiarity that sparked ultra nostalgia. But while Daniel Caesar shares similarities with R&B’s elusive lothario, make no mistake: he’s an artist of his own.
The Toronto native is the son of Norwill Simmonds, a critically-acclaimed gospel singer. He notes Quentin Tarantino as one of his “top three” film directors, and revealed to Noisey that he once slept homeless in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
In fact, Noisey notes that most of Praise Break, his breakout EP, was recorded while “living on the couches of friends”—which could have been detrimental to the flow of production, but ultimately didn’t affect the final recording.
“I was happy with my performance, as well as how everything blended,” Caesar shared. “It sounds like this album had a budget, like we recorded in a professional studio . . . It sounded different enough that people would be like, ‘what is this?’”
Following the success of Praise Break, Caesar released his follow up project, Pilgrim’s Paradise, in 2015.
“Pilgrim’s Paradise picks up where I left off with my story on my last body of work,” Caesar told Complex upon its release. “Together these new stories are a self-pilgrimage. I’m finding my way through my songs. I’m not sure I know exactly what matters in life yet, but I know what doesn’t.”
Watch the video for his latest single, featuring Kali Uchis above.
“I was in Berlin, on the tour with Lenny Kravitz,” Gabriel Garzón-Montano told Complex of the moment he learned Drake wanted to sample his music. “It was so strange because I had been listening to ‘How About Now’ and ‘6 God’ a bunch.”
Montano admires Drizzy, who later sampled “6 8” for If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late‘s “Jungle,” garnering Montano’s Bishouné: Alma del Huila EP critical attention in 2014.
“In the morning, when I was getting dressed or whatever, I would just put [IYRTITL] on and feel good about myself,” he continued. “That’s what I think he does very well: make tracks that boost your self-confidence and give you a powerful voice to sing along with.”
Montano’s music also does this well, but he needs no celebrity attached to his name. His unique minimalist approach to R&B—infused with Latin percussion and his French-Colombian roots—is inviting enough.
“I’ve always felt like I had an obligation to include my awareness of drum machines and those rhythms, to make it a fusion that was contemporary and that talks about where we’re all at now, and to put me in the current conversation, even though the ‘warmth” of the tape influences people to feel a certain way about my music,” Montano explained to Bandcamp Daily. “I find that most contemporary music is just way too digital and cold.”
This year, Montano released his debut full-length album, Jardín, which Pitchfork called “a slice of buzzing hip-hop soul.”
Get into the album’s latest single, “My Balloon,” above.
CUT4ME is an underground treasure. Released in 2013, Kelela‘s debut mixtape blends the most poignant elements of traditional R&B with moody, sensual grime—an entrancing dichotomy she seems (rightly) proud of.
“Most people point to some emotional experience, some hardship, some high or low when they talk about my music,” she told Dazed last year. “It’s that euphoric, crying-in-the-club moment. It’s drugs, without the drugs.”
But before fans were wallowing in the depths of her narcotic refrains, the first-generation Ethiopian American singer—born Kelela Mizanekristos—was floating between jazz standards and progressive metal, Janet Jackson and Green Day, “trying to fit in” with her “white guy friends,” but ultimately feeling displaced.
“Popular music was this abstraction,” she told The Washington Post in 2014, “an abstraction that I was relating to immensely but was ultimately far away.”
Enter Teengirl Fantasy, with whom she’d later collaborate for “EFX.” The collaboration—which appeared on Teengirl’s Tracer in 2012—would later connect Kelela with the production geniuses behind Fade To Mind and Night Slugs.
Suddenly, things made sense.
“It’s so heartening,” she said while reflecting on the moment. “I can cry almost instantly.”
Alex Sushon (Bok Bok), cofounder of Night Slugs, explained to The Washington Post, “We don’t want to be making awkward music that pushes people away. We want to be making music that makes people feel a range of feelings and emotions. Just like real life, you can feel a number of things while essentially enjoying something on the surface. But it can be a trigger for more.”
Kelela’s debut album should drop some time this year. Until then, get into “Rewind” from 2015’s Hallucinogen above.
“It’s in my blood to break free,” Atlantic Records’ Ravyn Lenae told Pigeons & Planes in February. Citing Erykah Badu, Pharrell and Outkast as influences, the 18-year-old Chicagoan songbird approaches music through a colorful lens.
“Not a lot of people paint pictures anymore with words,” she continued. “I look to artists like OutKast and Erykah Badu because they executed there. I feel like a lot of key aspects of music are being lost, and they need to be replenished by up-and-coming artists.”
And Lenae does so aptly on her debut EP. Moon Shoes is the corollary of the songbird’s classical training; its allure lies as much within its aerial approach to sound as it does Lenae’s lofty songwriting. As Pitchfork touts, “She roars. She soars. She has the right.”
Get into project standout “Sleep Talking” above, then check out her followup EP, Midnight Moonlight, which dropped this year.
Born Tommy Paxton-Beesley, Toronto producer singer/songwriter River Tiber finds it difficult to describe his city’s music scene, but he knows “that the music sounds like the city looks,” as he told Zane Lowe on Beats 1 last year.
Just check Toronto’s roster.
The Weeknd, Majid Jordan, dvsn—they all share a common thread. But something about Tiber’s music feels… Different. It’s grand yet understated. Eccentric yet classic. A lot of that has to do with his camaraderie with BADBADNOTGOOD and Grammy Award-winning producer/DJ Frank Dukes, who he says greatly influenced him as an instrumentalist.
“Working with Frank Dukes revolutionized the way I think about production and sampling,” he told The FADER in December. “Going to BADBAD’s studio and seeing how they were doing everything was a direct influence for how I ended up building my own studio.”
It was BADBAD who introduced Tiber to the wonders of the tape machine.
“There’s a lot of tape recordings on Indigo. Every single song has some shit that was sent through tape, and that’s a big shift in methodology, where you’re getting away from the computer and letting the sound happen in the room.”
Note: Montano wasn’t the only one to be sampled by the 6 God. As Noisey points out, Tiber’s vocals from “No Talk” can also be heard on IYRTITL (“No Tellin’,” 2:51 mark). You can also catch River Tiber and Daniel Caesar’s “West” sampled on SZA’s latest single, “Broken Clocks“.
Watch Tiber’s latest video for “Acid Test” from Indigo above.