Sometimes more rap than singing, but most times more singing than rap, Naji combines soulful vocals with avant-gard beats. On some records, like “Control”, you’ll hear him riding electronica-influenced production. But then, on others, like my personal favorite “Mona Lisa”, a bare-bones Monte Booker beat gives Naji’s singing prowess a ton of room to shine, and that’s exactly what happens.
The genre versatility that characterises Naji’s music is typical of a young artist experimenting with his sound and finding his lane. As his career progresses and his musical experience grows, I expect him to sound more and more at home, and reach a consistency he’s still looking for right now. His SoundCloud has some hits and some misses, but the hits are home runs.
Best Album: The Optimist (2017)
Tobi Lou is surprisingly focused for someone with only seven songs on SoundCloud, and it’s been that way since that number was even smaller.
Sometimes sounds come in waves, and that’s been a case with post-Chance Chicago. People like Noname, Saba, Mick Jenkins and Smino have all popped off doing a comparable sound. Tobi Lou fits in with this crowd (his latest song is produced by Cam O’bi, who has worked with Chance, Noname, Vic Mensa and Mick Jenkins, to name a few). But he brings to the table a playfulness, a danceability that’s been missing in that soundscape. Tobi Lou’s melodies and the bounce in the instrumentals he picks (and in most cases, self-produces) bring joviality to a wave that had a growing chance of becoming stale.
No full length has impacted at the time of this writing
Rex Orange County
Probably not hip-hop, but hip-hop adjacent. Rex Orange County fuses a ton of different genres – listen to a project of his and you’ll pick up traces of pop, soul, jazz, R&B, blues… you name it.
As a white teenager from London, you can look at him as an example of the globalization of music. Instead of being influenced by English names he “should have” grown up on like Bloc Party or Franz Ferdinand, Rex Orange County makes music that toes the line between white-boy-indie-rock and urban contemporary. He’s Coachella in a blender.
Best Album: Apricot Princess (2017)
Brooklyn, New York
Yes, it’s another dark R&B singer from Canada. Like we didn’t have enough of them already. However, I went from thinking he was a Bryson Tiller clone to loving his music very quickly.
Describing Eli, there’s not much you can say that wouldn’t apply to someone like PartyNextDoor or 6LACK, but he manages to stand firmly among these bigger, way more established names. His rapping flows are great, his singing vocals are pinpoint, and working with close producer Soriano on most tracks, as well as co-producing them himself, have granted him a consistency that’s remarkable for someone with such a young career.
Best Album: Still Up All Night (2016)
Charlotte, North Carolina
Soul is alive and well, and Brent Faiyaz is testimony to that. He’s one of the few I’d dare to compare to greats like D’Angelo, Anthony Hamilton or Tank, but he absolutely deserves it.
He does everything right. Almost every instrumental is slow and bare-bones, meaning that he’s almost “forced” to carry the songs through his vocal prowess – which he’s more than capable of. You can hear pain and longing in his voice, even when he’s recording with his group Sonder.
Best Album: A.M. Paradox (2016)
Brooklyn, New York
If you’ve paying attention to rap in the past few years, you’ve probably heard Morano’s voice without realizing it. His song “6 8” was sampled for the hook of Drake’s “Jungle,” easily one of the best records on If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.
But anchoring a description of his work around that sample would be a disservice to his musical abilities and to his catalogue. His latest album, Jardin, is a perfect storm of R&B, pop, soul, and latin music. It sounds summery, it sounds vibrant, and his vocals are objectively incredible.