The best thing about these year-end lists is the rediscovery. It's a sad side-effect of the 24-hour news cycle, but forgetfulness is a real issue when there's so much good music coming out every day. These lists—especially this one—provide an opportunity, however brief, to replay some of the music that blew us away back in February or March.
This was an especially global year for new artists on P&P—smaller cities in the U.S. and the U.K. shined next to newcomers from Canada, Scandinavia, and Ireland. From the global successes like Lil Yachty and 21 Savage to raw talent like Liss and Ravyn Lenae, here are the best new artists of the year.
Location: Oakland, CA
The golden coast has yet another album artist with hitmaker potential. "Every song gon' be good if I sing," Kamaiyah accurately boasts on "Out the Bottle," the trunk-rattling ego-booster off the Oakland artist's debut tape A Good Night in the Ghetto. It's just one highlight in a project full of standouts.
The tongue-in-cheek positivity of the title manifests itself throughout the Bay Area native's work. Her swaggering presence could go toe-to-toe with industry vets and the embrace of independent, sensual expression is a welcome addition to slapping production.
Hypnotic, sing-song raps and heartfelt moments of tragic storytelling ("For My Dawgs") have the potential to take Kamaiyah to the top, and the top is taking notice—Kamaiyah might be the best part about "Why You Always Hatin?," a song with YG and Drake. Expect more big name artists to come knocking in the future.—Alex Siber
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Throughout 2016, THEY. have developed a rapidly growing fan base by seamlessly blending seemingly opposing influences. Their breakout single "Bad Habits" danced a fine line between R&B and alternative rock, combining lead guitar chords with a booming bass line. THEY. continued to perfect this formula on later releases like "Say When," "Deep End," and "What You Want." The duo also performed at ComplexCon, and proved that they also have an engaging stage presence to match the music.
After a great year solidifying their sound and earning the attention of new listeners, THEY. are ready to release their debut album in February 2017. Traditional R&B has expanded tremendously within the last few years and THEY. are here to help keep pushing those boundaries. As the duo continue to fuse different sounds, THEY. have the potential to unite different crowds over a common interest. THEY. are certainly in store for an even bigger year in 2017.—Adrienne Black
Location: Ocala, FL
Kaiydo hears colors and sees sounds, a condition known as synesthesia. It's something he shares with Kanye West and many other musicians, and is bolstered by his background in graphic design. It shows in the music—each of Kaiydo's 2016 releases has come with a distinctly styled piece of cartoon artwork that tastefully reflects his former career path.
Radiant, warm hues encircle the Florida rapper's lax deliveries on "Lottery" and "Arcade," songs in which dreams of jackpot winnings and aerial city-gazing encircle one another with a smooth charisma. He upped the energy on this summer's "Fruit Punch," and is slated for big things in 2017. A charming voice and sly wit make this upstart a must-listen.—Alex Siber
Location: South London, U.K.
His name may be simple, but his bars most definitely are not. Young British rapper Dave (formerly SantanDave) might have had the best year of anyone on this list, releasing his debut EP Six Paths, selling out his first headline shows, making his festival debut, and even reaching L.A. to record in Mark Ronson’s studio. Oh, and there was that small matter of Drake remixing Dave’s song “Wanna Know” and debuting it on OVO Sound Radio.
Dave subsequently returned the favor, dropping a new version of Drake’s “Two Birds No Stones,” but it’s his stunning Six Paths EP rather than any cross-Atlantic cosign that should make you respect this fast-rising teenager. On the EP, Dave reveals the parts of London that don’t appear in the tourist brochures—the stabbings, the drugs, the poverty, the police—never glorifying the situation he grew up around, instead preaching the power of self-belief and hard work.
Provoking introspection without ever getting preachy and delivering punchlines that will have you rewinding to make sure you caught them, Dave isn’t just a talented, thoughtful rapper, he’s a versatile one too. He can bring stories to life with vivid detail (“Six Paths”), he can lay melodic hooks (“Wanna Know”), and he can go in over grimy, high-energy beats (“Thiago Silva”).
"Don't let anybody tell you you can't run, dance, sing, or be a baller / You can be a king," Dave raps on "Picture Me." Wise words from an 18-year-old who is doing something special.—Alex Gardner
Location: Chicago, IL
Waltzing through the worlds of imagined characters, Ravyn Lenae uses words in ways that obscure her age. The high school senior is continually exploring fresh perspectives—she considers a lunchroom made lonely by rejected love on “Recess,” and narrates a relationship’s decline with bedside ruminations on “Sleep Talking.”
Before revealing her precocious knack for narrative on this year’s Moon Shoes EP, Ravyn was Chicago’s best-kept secret. The months since have seen her collaborate with Noname, Mick Jenkins, and Saba—a citywide seal of approval. Spinning words in novel ways while adhering to today’s high standards for unique delivery (just press play on “Something in the Air” for a two-minute dose), Ravyn’s cathartic musings shine bright.—Alex Siber
Location: Atlanta, GA
Early last year, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a tweet from Sonny Digital. He linked out to a mixtape with cover art featuring a menacing looking man with what looked like a sword tattoo on his forehead. I now know, issaknife.
That mixtape was The Slaughter Tape and that man on the cover was 21 Savage. In 2016, he went from buzzing to blowing up, with an undeniably raw sound and addictive ad-libs. The Atlanta rapper took things to another level upon the release of his breakout project Savage Mode, a collaboration with Metro Boomin. Aside from a guest verse from Future on "X," Savage Mode is all 21, and he made an anthem out of "No Heart."
He then went on to tour with Young Thug and destroyed guest verses for stars like YG, Meek Mill, Fetty Wap, and of course, Drake. 21 Savage is arguably the hottest new rapper of the second half of 2016 and doesn't show any sign of letting up when 2017 hits.—Eric Isom
Location: Dublin, Ireland
From one moment to the next, Hare Squead are impossible to predict. Smudging the already blurred boundaries of hip-hop’s adventurous contemporary sound, the Irish trio comfortably bounce from colorful, dance floor-ready songs like “Long Way to Go” to edgy punk-inspired bangers like “Loco” within the brief runtime of their head-turning (and undeniably catchy) Supernormal EP.
In the same year that A Tribe Called Quest reminded us how much fun it is to listen to a diverse crew of hip-hop artists with complementary talents, Tony Konstone, Jessy Rose, and E-Knock are pushing each other to create some of the most inventive music we’ve come across over the last 12 months.
2016 served as a sparkling introductory year for the self-described “three black Irish kids making waves,” and difficult as they may be to predict, we’ll happily follow these guys down any new melody-paved paths they want to explore in 2017.—Eric Skelton
Location: Brooklyn, NY
When the year began, Desiigner's single "Panda" was an admittedly catchy track that had some potential to be more. By the beginning of February, there was no denying it: "Panda" had taken on a life of its own, and Desiigner had embraced its virality wholeheartedly.
On its own, "Panda" buzzed just enough to start grabbing some attention, but it wasn't until Kanye West used the single for "Pt. 2" on The Life of Pablo, that it really took off. But when it topped the charts—well, none of us expected that.
Location: South London, U.K.
Jorja Smith's introduction to the world was simultaneously serene and ferocious. Her debut single "Blue Lights" opens with production that feels like a sweet lullaby. Although the song is smooth and relaxing, this was no quiet entrance.
Smith began to draw some well-deserved attention almost immediately for the song's political overtones and the singer's incredible voice. The Dizzee Rascal sample at the end of "Blue Lights" demonstrated a deep connection with English music history, and Smith soon found herself with fans like Stormzy.
Smith shared a few features and singles after "Blue Lights," and just dropped her Project 11 EP last month. She has exhibited incredible versatility and range as an artist. For "A Prince," she did the unexpected by sampling music written in the 17th century, and showed she can float over electronic production on the Cadenza collaboration "People." What didn't change, however, is the fact that Jorja Smith is one to watch.—Adrienne Black
Location: El Paso, TX
Khalid is a star in the making. The 18-year-old El Paso singer just graduated from high school this year and he hasn't been able to fully focus his efforts on music until recently, but his two breakout songs, "Location" and "Let's Go," are the start of something great.
"Location" is a cool, breezy love song, and "Let's Go" is an all-out pop hit. He followed them up with "Hopeless" in October, and it's another addictive modern, poppy cut. With Khalid's robust, soulful voice and impressive stage presence at his first ever show, Khalid's future is wide open with possibility. It's a pretty safe bet that he'll be a household name within the next couple of years.—Jacob Moore
Location: Aarhus, Denmark
XL Recordings has long been known for providing a home to forward-thinking talent (M.I.A., Dizzee Rascal, Jai Paul, and Vampire Weekend, to name a few), and they keep the streak going with teenage Danish band Liss.
Liss' music is built on a strong pop foundation so prevalent in Scandinavia, but instead of cookie-cutter production, their music is organically fluid, impressively dynamic, and irresistibly soulful. On songs like "Sorry" and "Try," lead singer Søren Holm steals the show as the backdrop melds sounds ranging from tropical to electronic.
Sometimes pop music starts to sound repetitive and watered down, like the best of it has already come and gone and we've collectively run out of good ideas to switch up the format. Then a band like Liss comes along.—Jacob Moore
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Saint JHN has been making music for a long time—we started covering him in 2010 when he was going by Carlos Saint John—but in 2016 he returned with a new name, a cohesive visual identity, and, most importantly, excellent new music.
Saint JHN’s songs fall somewhere in the realm of contemporary R&B and melodic rap, but his songwriting is so compelling that songs like “Reflex” and “Roses” stand out after one listen. There are perfect pop hooks in those songs, but instead of polishing them up, Saint JHN delivers an ominous, alluring late night cocktail of flexes and regrets.
This edgy darkness runs through everything Saint JHN delivers to his audience, from song artwork to videos to his live performance at ComplexCon. "This is just the beginning, it's preseason," he sings on "Reflex," and we're already hooked.—Alex Gardner
Location: Portland, OR
Aminé injected carefree energy into 2016 with his hit song "Caroline" and its accompanying video. Bursting with youthful energy, the video succeeds on the strength of Aminé's personality and the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. It's the perfect accompaniment to a bouncy, light-hearted song about a girl, and it was most people's introduction to the rapper's elastic flows and easy melodies.
The Portland artist has been making music for a minute and dropped his Calling Brio project in 2015, but 2016 was the year everything started to fall into place. For all the fun of "Caroline," Aminé proved that you shouldn't put him in a box with his impressive debut late night TV performance on Fallon. Performing a week after Trump's election, he added a politically charged, personal verse to "Caroline," proving that he's more than a viral hit or a funny video.
Aminé has something to say and we encourage you to listen.—Alex Gardner
Location: Brixton, London
British producer Mura Masa put us on to Bonzai through a number of musical collaborations, and by releasing her EP on his label, Anchor Point Records. 19-year-old Bonzai is American born, was raised in Ireland, and is currently based in London. She blends electronic production with R&B and pop vocals throughout her jaw-dropping Sleepy Hungry EP, and has continued to release challenging, experimental one-offs in the time since.
It's a combination of sounds that is becoming increasingly popular, but very few artists bring such a level of creativity or deliver such a coherent end product as Bonzai. "Daniel Gets It Wrong" is a glitchy dance music extravaganza, "No Rest" is a chant-heavy, vocal-driven pop-rave song, and "Lights On" is a moody R&B song. Her latest release, "Cruel," is a more ambitious slow-burner with a huge payoff. Four very different styles, but they all fit together so well in her hands.—Alex Gardner
Location: Atlanta, GA
Lil Yachty's charisma is inimitable. As with many young rappers (Yachty is only 19 years old), he's unconcerned with technical rapping skills, and this turns off a lot of hip-hop traditionalists. But when you start to accept Yachty for what he is and spend some time listening with an open mind, it's easy to become a fan. These days, Yachty is winning over a lot of those.
Unlike many of Atlanta's aggressive up-and-comers, Yachty's delivery is odd, gentle, and glistens with a childlike playfulness and hypnotic sense of melody. His debut mixtape Lil Boat establishes one of the most compelling new brands in hip-hop, and his features—on Chance The Rapper's "Mixtape" and D.R.A.M.'s "Broccoli" especially—make a strong case that most songs are better with a Yachty verse. He hasn't stopped working, either, dropping his second project of the year, Summer Songs 2, in July and touring extensively.
Lil Yachty is destined to have haters, but he's got the youth on lock, and when the kids love you, you're going to have a bright future. Either learn to love him, or get ready to be pissed off for the foreseeable future, because Yachty's only going up from here.—Jacob Moore
Location: Chicago, IL
Anyone familiar with P&P will know that Noname became something of an obsession for us in 2016. She got everyone's attention with a blistering guest verse on fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper's Acid Rap, but her debut release Telefone only arrived this past July.
But what an arrival—Telefone is a breath of fresh air, an album full of warm, thoughtful production and melodies that pair some of society's darkest ills with Chicago's most innovative production, thanks to an amazing group effort led by Noname, Cam'Obi, Phoelix, L10MixedIt, and a host of collaborators.
She's done a few interviews and played a few shows in the months since Telefone dropped (including an iconic performance at our No Ceilings showcase), but 2017 is the year Noname really goes on tour and shows the world the power of her words.—Graham Corrigan
A Boogie Wit da Hoodie
Location: Bronx, NY
Who's going to save New York rap? That question, one that plagued hip-hop's birthplace ever since power shifted south and west, is increasingly irrelevant thanks to a crowd of newcomers like A Boogie Wit da Hoodie.
He doesn't sound like "New York rap" in the conventional sense, but the heartbroken, bouncy melodies on songs like "My Shit" and "Jungle" have earned the young Artist (not a typo, his first name is Artist) a slew of fans. And with NYC legends like Fabolous stepping up to remix A Boogie's songs, the future is bright.—Graham Corrigan
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Starrah had already worked on two of our favorite songs of 2016 before she released her own brilliant single "Rush." The Los Angeles-based artist is a songwriter as well as solo act, and she has credits on songs like Rihanna's "Needed Me" and Travis Scott, Young Thug, and Quavo's "Pick Up The Phone." The levels are very high.
For all those big name credits, it's "Rush" that has us mesmerized. It has the perfect balance of bubbly electronics, sticky pop hooks, and contemporary R&B style. There’s a long history of songwriters becoming stars in their own right, from Missy Elliott to Sia, and we wouldn’t bank against Starrah making a similar transition.—Alex Gardner
Location: Atlanta, GA
6LACK, even when singing of freedom, often elicits a sense of entrapment, of endless corridors with nothing but his own emotions for company. True to his name, Atlanta’s latest export deals with darker shades, retracing romantic failings and reflecting on the contractual chains he escaped.
Free 6LACK, a debut album as absorbing as any in 2016, is a byproduct of the tireless grit needed to navigate shady deals and artistic suffering within an industry meant to foster creativity. He’s a survivor who doesn’t step down from his past. Pipe dreams and expired relationships add fuel to fire, leaving this long shot with a liberated life.—Alex Siber
Lil Uzi Vert
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Like a number of other artists in this list, Lil Uzi Vert came into 2016 with a strong library of music already. Releasing the Luv Is Rage mixtape late 2015 to building buzz, Uzi gradually amassed a cult following of sorts. With his infectious energy and rockstar-like persona, Uzi truly had the time of his life in 2016. Having released two solo mixtapes and showcasing why he's one of most affable rappers around in process, Uzi even managed to tap Gucci Mane for an entire project.
On his Perfect LUV mixtape, Uzi is able to go from tracks like "Original Uzi (4 Of Us)" to the joyous and colorful Metro Boomin-produced "Ronda (Winners)" with ease. His more aggressive trap moments sit aside his vibrant, uplifting tracks perfectly. Uzi is throwing everything at the wall, and most of it is sticking thanks to his ability to cram hypnotic hooks into each of his songs.—Joe Price
Location: Toronto, ON
One song was all it took, and we were on board with Jessie Reyez. In these times of EDM drops and overblown, over-produced pop songs, it's good to know that simplicity is still alive. "Figures" is stripped back to its bare bones, putting Jessie's vocal performance—cracking with raw emotion—front and center.
"I remember thinking over and over I wish I was capable of vengeance... but love doesn't let you," Jessie told us, but if success is the best revenge, we wouldn't bet against Jessie getting hers, and soon. The singer and songwriter was born in Toronto to Colombian parents, and she has already made music with King Louie and hung out with Chance The Rapper.
Based off "Figures," we can't wait to hear her EP, which we're told is coming soon.—Alex Gardner
Location: Tottenham, London
Avelino is due in more ways than one. First off, there's the voice: the English MC's baritone can flip from warm to menacing in a heartbeat, and is equally capable of floating over punishing beats and lilting, airy production.
Then there are the raps themselves. Avelino hustled hard to get this far, and he's approaching his burgeoning stardom with a wary eye: "How am I going to sign a deal with ya," he raps on "Ring The Alarm," "Even deal with ya'/If you don't deal with me properly what's the deal with ya?"
Avelino's previously released tapes contain features from artists like Stormzy and Bonkaz, but this April's Fuck Your Opinion release was a huge step forward for Avelino as a solo artist. He followed it up with a massive collab with Tiggs Da Author, "Ring The Alarm." It's not grime, reggae, or boom-bap—Avelino is in his own lane, finding beautiful melodies between hard-knocking production, and it's working.—Graham Corrigan
Location: New York, NY
Maggie Rogers’ success story sounds too good to be true. But it all happened, despite the fairy tale narrative: travel to a remote western state, write a song about it, play said song for Pharrell during his visit to NYU’s recording studios, watch the video of that visit go viral, and see the record pop.
Between “Alaska” and Blood Ballet, her overlooked 2014 project that will likely go down in history as an unofficial demo, Rogers turns to nature samples in her music, wrapping birds, wind, and rocks in audible packages for the rest of us to enjoy. Ditto goes for her "Alaska" follow-up "Dog Years"—Maggie Rogers makes music in the name of hope and exploration—and if our interview earlier this year is any indication, she'll keep doing so for a long while.—Alex Siber
Location: Los Angeles, CA
24hrs appeared seemingly out of nowhere with a fully formed sound and a bunch of hits. The first song we heard was "Stylist," a rap/R&B hybrid packed with pop culture references, full of quotable lines, and riding some crazy production from Apex.
Across the whole of his Open EP, 24hrs raps and sings in effected vocals, giving his boasts, romances, and late night tales an otherworldly air. The production, from Apex, Bugzy Mogues, and NonStop, is incredible throughout, an ominous, edgy take on ATL rap production, but what elevates 24hrs' music is his songwriting—the hooks and melodies on every song are top level.
In the second half of 2016, 24hrs was revealed to be Royce Rizzy, but he's still releasing music as 24hrs—most notably with Ty Dolla Sign, who teamed up with the singer on slinky hits like "Back Up" and "Count Me Out." "What's the secret behind your unique sound?" we asked 24hrs earlier this year. His answer: "It’s just a lot of sauce."—Alex Gardner
Location: Carol City, FL
Something happened in Florida this year. Between Kodak Black and Denzel Curry, the state's rap scene took off in new and exciting ways in 2016—but it wasn't all about the bars. Twelve'Len decided to do something different with his musical talents, and his unique voice is the reason we can't stop listening to songs like "Star Dust."
It's off his Fri(end)s album, a truly unique release with elements of metal, rap, soul, R&B, and funk. With allies like Curry and JK Tha Reaper in his corner, Twelve'Len is poised for a huge 2017. It all kicks off at our No Ceilings show in January.—Graham Corrigan
Location: Atlanta, GA
Dae Dae's name cropped up more and more as 2016 progressed. It started with his 2015 viral hit "Wat U Mean (Family To Feed)" (which eventually landed a Lil Yachty remix), but the Atlanta rapper's stock skyrocketed with the release of DefAnition, his joint album with London On Da Track. Songs like "Dead Axx Wrong" and "Bulls**t" proved Dae Dae has the skill set to stick around for a while, and recent features from 21 Savage, Young Thug, and Young M.A went a long way in bringing his music to a wider audience.
Atlanta is rallying around Dae Dae, and he's signed to 300 Entertainment—a great place to be going into 2017. And the father of five has plenty of motivation, in the form of his kids: "They all love music," Dae Dae told Merry Jane. "When their particular song comes on, it changes the whole vibe. It’s some powerful music. I have a studio in my house right now and they love going in there with me. They come up with new things with me."—Graham Corrigan