If there's one thing we've learned from 2016 thus far, it's that there's so much young talent out there. Too much, maybe—it would be impossible to list off all the teenage musicians making waves this year, but we have to start somewhere. Easy access to production software has democratized music making and overnight success stories give rising artists hope. As ever, it is the youth who are pushing boundaries and creating without limits—those artists whose names you don’t recognize now are the stars of the future.
Or maybe they are the stars of the present. Artists like Lorde and Desiigner had No. 1 singles before they even hit 20, while viral sensations like Lil Yachty and independent grinders like Night Lovell are already touring to loyal fan bases.
Whether they’re just getting started, already wildly successful, or somewhere in between, these 20 artists under 20 years old are all pushing music forward.
Location: Pompano Beach, FL
He’s been called a lot of things: the new Boosie, the future of rap, Maggie Simpson… However you choose to nickname him, you can’t ignore the fact that Kodak Black is making his name known. With his rags to riches life story, endearing southern twang, and perfectly-timed flows, Kodak certainly has an exciting career ahead of him. That is, if he can stay out of jail.
In the last year, Kodak has been arrested twice, and he’s been imprisoned since June, facing charges of armed robbery and false imprisonment. The legal drama is ongoing but we have faith that his music won’t be put on hold forever.
Kodak's latest release, the Lil Big Pac mixtape, was released in June.
Location: Evanston, Illinois
For some young artists, their age seems to work against them. Often, they just haven't reached their full potential. But for Kweku Collins, age has the opposite effect. The rapper makes the kind of lighthearted, breezy music that could only come from a teenager, and more often than not, the results are pure bliss.
But that doesn’t mean his work is amateur. Collins’ debut full-length Nat Love is a stellar project, with all the marks of a more seasoned star. The rapper’s rhymes roll of his tongue like honey, and he’s got a warm, soothing singing voice when he uses it. For an introduction, get into Nat Love standout track “Stupid Rose,” a testament to Collins’ talent for turning a traditional theme on its head.
Location: El Paso, TX
When Khalid sings “I just graduated, I don’t have any obligations” on “Let’s Go,” he isn’t lying—at least not about the graduation part. This artist comes to us fresh out of high school, even if his booming, soulful vocals don't sound like it.
The El Paso native blew us out of the water with the Syk Sense and Tunji Ige-produced “Location,” a lighthearted, bass-heavy song about craving face-to-face interaction (“I don’t want to fall in love off of subtweets,” he pleads). Then, he released the aforementioned “Let’s Go” in June, a blast of pure confidence. Looking for a hidden gem? His down-tempo, finger-snapping cover of Frank Ocean's "Lost" from last November is gold.
It doesn’t seem like Khalid can go wrong, and thankfully, the 18-year-old has many, many years ahead of him to prove us right.
Location: St. Petersburg, FL
Who do you think of when you think of Florida rap? Maybe Rick Ross’ bombast, DJ Khaled’s personality, or Plies’ social media presence. Forget them, because there’s a new wave of talent coming through, and rappers like Chester Watson, Kaiydo, Denzel Curry, and Marcellus Juvann can straight spit.
With dusty beats, vivid rhymes that jump from subject to subject with gleeful abandon, and a gruff delivery, Chester’s Past Cloaks album strikes a chord with fans of MF DOOM and Earl Sweatshirt, but he isn’t sticking with just one sound. Subsequent release Spring Mirage explored new territory with production relying less on obscure samples and more on booming 808s. Whatever direction he takes his music, Watson’s youthful creativity continues to impress.
Location: London, England
London-based singer Jorja Smith is 19 years old, but age hasn’t stopped her taking on an intimidating list of subjects in her music, from police brutality to a birthday tune written by English composer Henry Purcell in 1695. For the record, the former is her Dizzee Rascal-sampling breakout debut “Blue Lights," and the latter her glittering second single “A Prince."
When Smith sings, we listen. And thankfully, she continues to sing: in May, the teenager released “Where Did I Go,” a soulful track that showcases her buttery vocals and raw, emotive lyric writing, and in August she collaborated with Cadenza on the party starting “People.” Smith seems to have emerged out of nowhere, but she’s quickly blowing up. Sold out shows and features in fashion magazines are just the start.
Location: The Midwest
We first came across pnkblnkt when the anonymous 18-year-old producer and “broke college student” sent us an email from his dorm room unveiling his debut project, COZY. It’s safe to say we were impressed. Over nine tracks, pnkblnkt takes us through otherworldly, ethereal soundscapes that—while echoing the work of Flying Lotus or Shlohmo—seem to forge a new genre entirely. From the throbbing head-banger “Numb” to the ghostly “U.F.O,” it’s a stunning first taste of what the producer has to offer.
The May project, which includes cameos from Kevin Abstract and Jack Larsen, took a year to produce, but pnkblnkt isn’t taking any breaks. Just the next month, he gifted us with a hypnotic remix of Beyoncé’s Lemonade opener, “Pray You Catch Me.” We may not know exactly who you are, pnkblnkt, but whoever is behind that pastel pink cloth: we’re listening.
Location: Orlando, FL
If you’ve been following P&P over the past year, you’ll know what big Kaiydo fans we are. The Florida rapper/producer has yet to make a bad song, and his latest solo track, “Fruit Punch,” shows off more new skills. The exuberant, joyful cut will soundtrack summer functions for years to come. Kaiydo is an artist with a natural ear for samples—his breakout “Arcade” borrows from Sampha’s “Without,” and “Lottery” grabs riffs from Wiz Khalifa’s early hit “Ink My Whole Body.”
Kaiydo’s recent collaboration with Bridgit Mendler became a trending topic on Twitter, and with more music and live shows on the horizon, the rapper is set to have a big 2017.
Location: Chicago, IL
Nothing seems to escape the gravitational pull of Ravyn Lenae’s pen. At only 17, the high schooler’s attention to detail and versatile vocal talents spell trouble for veteran acts reliant on tired formulas. Moon Shoes, Ravyn’s most recent release, explores undocumented territory, zipping through a number of vivid images: hallway politics, untied shoes, carefree summer love, cryptic languages, and damaged lungs.
Better still, Ravyn sounds like no other. Her warm voice—tinged with attitude—tiptoes through melodies before employing lush harmonies that seize your ears. Collaborations with Soulection producer Monte Booker and critical darling Noname suggest that Chicago has yet another secret weapon roaming the city.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Lil Yachty recently dubbed himself “king of the teens,” and there may not be a more appropriate title for the breakout star. At his live shows, teens abound, probably because every kind of young person can find something to admire in Lil Yachty. Even kids who might not listen to any other rap music are being put on to the genre via Lil Boat, whose self-described “bubblegum trap” sound incorporates pop hooks (“King of Teens,” “So Many People”) and bouncy production (“DipSet,” “Minnesota”) alongside rapped bars (“Shoot Out The Roof,” “For Hot 97”).
Yachty knows that his popularity is not split evenly among the generations of rap fans—he’s used the majority of his recent media appearances as opportunities to dismiss the old heads who denounce his playful, lackadaisical style. Regardless of how you feel about his sound, it’s undeniable that he represents youth culture in an almost unprecedented fashion.
Catch him live on the P&P stage at ComplexCon, which goes down November 4 and 5 in Long Beach, CA. Tickets are on sale today, find more info here.
Location: Madison, WI
Trapo graced the stage at our last No Ceilings showcase, and if we needed any more proof that he's one of rap's rising stars, that was it. He already knows how to control a stage and has the hits to make it happen.
"Chicago" is still an easy favorite, but go back and give Trapo’s entire She release a listen. It's full of impressive instrumentation, clear-eyed ruminations on burgeoning adulthood, and addictive hooks. If "Chicago" scratches an itch, try his equally smooth "She Moved On," and be on the lookout for the Shade Trees album, scheduled for release in September.
Location: Houston, TX
Our list wouldn’t be complete without one of the guys from our favorite “All-American boy band,” Brockhampton. While Texas-bred crew member Ameer Vann has kept pretty quiet since dropping his self-titled EP at just 17 years old, the tracks he’s released this year are making noise.
First there was the gritty, blood-boiling “LOVE,” a track with a threatening beat that seems out of line with its title. Then came Vann’s soothing, reflective “Sincerely Yours.” While the first track shows an artist unafraid to experiment, the second showcases a talent for crafting profound lyrics. Sound-wise, they may be polar opposites, but they yield the same conclusion: Vann has serious talent. Last we heard, the rapper is gearing up for his next solo project—not bad for 19.
Location: Calabasas, CA
It would be all too easy to write off Jaden Smith because he’s the son of multimillionaire superstar parents—many do—but in a way, his celebrity makes his commitment to creative freedom and experimentation all the more impressive. Jaden could be making pop hits with big name producers and songwriters, but instead he’s spitting over jazzy beats and rolling with his MSFTSrep crew.
It was back in 2014 when we first started to seriously pay attention to Jaden as an artist. The audio/video combination of "Fast,” specifically, had us reconsidering our position, and as with any talented young artist, he’s only improved since then. Highlights include Ta-ku collaboration “Beast Mode,” “Scarface,” Rich The Kid collaboration "Like This," and the new track with Lido that was teased at Coachella.
No one knows where Jaden will be in ten years, apparently, so let’s celebrate while we have him with us, dressing fly and spitting about everything from consumerism to Sarah Snyder.
Location: Calabasas, CA
From whipping her hair back and forth at age ten to making dreamy R&B with SZA five years later, Willow Smith has already had a full and varied music career. As unpredictable as her brother, we never know when Willow is about to release new music, but in the last few months she’s appeared on Jesse Boykins III’s album and on a song produced by none other than Michael Cera.
With a unique take on the world (see: any of her interviews), lush, dreamy vocals, and still only 15 years old, Willow Smith is set to be blessing our ears for many more years.
Location: Ontario, Canada
Ontario's Night Lovell is one of the grittiest, gnarliest rappers making music in 2016. His beats are always straight out of horror films, with the lyrics to match—drugs, sex, and power are central to the message, but it’s delivered with a sinister, Gothic toughness that separates Lovell's music from the pack of big talkers.
Red Melody is his most recent release (and one of our favorite albums of 2016 so far), but don't sleep on 2014's Concept Vague, the album that put Lovell on the map.
Location: London, England
Skepta is the UK’s most visible grime export right now, but there are a whole host of talented youngsters following in his footsteps. London MC and producer Novelist has been on our radar since 2014, and since then he’s released an EP with Mumdance on XL Recordings, and kept his Soundcloud well populated with beats and bars. He’s also performed in New York, featured on songs with Baauer and Skepta… oh, and there’s the small matter of the new genre he’s created.
Not afraid to get political, Novelist is a man on a mission, seeking to represent his hood and stand up to greedy politicians and racist police. There’s only one thing missing—that debut album that he told us about when we interviewed him back in 2015. Whenever it does come, it’s sure to be special.
Location: Mt. Eden North, New Zealand
It's been a while since we've heard from Lorde—but we probably don't need to remind you of that. The New Zealand songwriter has kept relatively quiet since 2013's Pure Heroine, most recently appearing as a co-writer on a Broods track. Prior to that, she featured on “Magnets,” the highest charting single from Disclosure’s 2015 album Caracal.
Despite her absence, however, we'd be foolish to leave Lorde off this list. The 19-year-old still commands legions of fans and for good reason: she's the definition of smart pop songwriting, and we'll be here for her music whenever it is released.
Location: Stirling, Scotland
Cosigned heavily by both online tastemakers Soulection and storied independent label XL Recordings, Scotland’s Sam Gellaitry is a producer rising fast. His tracks get millions of plays on Soundcloud and he’s already toured internationally, but what might be most impressive is the sheer variety in the music he produces.
Bombastic TNGHT drums, twinkly Ryan Hemsworth melodies, lush ‘80s synths, and masterful vocal sampling might all appear in one song, but the result is never audio mush. Sam Gellaitry’s sound is eclectic and constantly evolving, and that’s why we can’t stop listening.
Location: Chicago, IL
The sounds coming out of and around Chicago right now are so diverse, from Chance’s joyful rap and Noname’s soulful reflections to Sicko Mobb’s infectious turn up, and Max Wonders is yet Midwestern rapper on the rise. Listen to just a few of his songs, and you’ll discover there’s an old head on Max’s young shoulders—ruminations on growing up and longing for the innocence of childhood abound. There’s a weight to his delivery as he raps “I was begging to grow up until I realized that it’s closer to the morgue” on “Kid Again,” or “I want to hang on the swings instead of hanging on the trees,” on “Grow Up.”
As he explores different topics, Max’s music is kept cohesive by the woozy but melodic production, which is equally influenced by sample-based hip-hop and forward-thinking electronic music. Paired with his ability to write subtly catchy hooks and bars for days, Max Wonders has all the tools for success. We first got familiar with Max on his You Will Never Find EP, but now he has an album on the way. Look out for Hues to Blame, dropping this month.
Location: Atlanta, GA
“I suffer from depression, which has has taken me to dark places,” Demo Taped told us last year. “I’ve set my sights on spreading love and good vibes through my music... I want to be able to put a smile on someone’s face, or to make someone dance. I want to have an audience that I can spread my love to.”
Demo Taped created glittering synth-pop hits like “Game On” from his humble bedroom studio setup, and when we invited him for his first show in New York at No Ceilings, he blew us away with his one-man live setup. We weren’t the only people watching—shortly afterwards, he signed to Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment label. With those experienced hands to help guide him, Demo Taped is in an incredible position, and now we’re just waiting to see whether a debut album is on the way.
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Desiigner is only 19 years old, but between the viral success of “Panda” and his cosign from Kanye West, the G.O.O.D. Music artist has seen more success in the past year than most artists achieve in their whole lives. They say that the earlier you invest, the more you’ll yield—if that’s the case, then Desiigner, who bought the “Panda” beat for $200 off YouTube, could probably teach us all a lesson or two.
Although his latest single “Tiimmy Turner” wasn’t exactly universally loved, we encourage you to keep up with his antics—behind the dabbing and the ad libs lies a unique and talented artist.