From left: $ki Mask The Slump God, Jessie Reyez & Jorja Smith
From left: $ki Mask The Slump God, Jessie Reyez & Jorja Smith
Getty Images; Design by Jessica Xie

10 Hip-Hop and R&B Artists to Watch in 2018

by Billboard Staff
January 05, 2018, 12:16pm EST

In case you were wondering, hip-hop had the music industry on tilt in 2017. We watched a barrage of new artists crash the party with no regard: First, Lil Pump challenged the standards of rap veterans with his rudimentary flows. Hate it or love it, "Gucci Gang" still remains alive and well, as it currently sits in the Top 10 on the Hot 100. Don't fret, as purists were blessed too, especially after Rapsody emerged from the trenches of the underground world and released her Grammy-nominated album Laila's Wisdom last September.     

On the R&B front, a multitude of stars sang their way into the hearts of fans with their enchanting releases. First, Kehlani showered the masses with her syrupy vocals on her debut album SweetSexySavage. Then, we watched SZA crush her naysayers with her transcendent project CTRL. And let's also not forget that Daniel Caesar morphed into a Grammy-nominated star with his ambitious release Freudian, while the mysterious singer H.E.R. kept the industry begging for more.     

It's safe to say that we were stuffed with a fistful of releases that warmed our hearts and fed our speakers. With 2018 officially here, Billboard has a new set of artists ready to make a similar leap into stardom. Take a look at our 10 artists to watch for this year.     

Jessie Reyez​

Looking for a singer with a fiery soul and intoxicating vocals to match? Meet Jessie Reyez. The 26-year-old Colombian songstress bloomed in 2017 with her captivating EP Kiddo. With a soulful voice that would make Amy Winehouse gush, Reyez's unfiltered demeanor and majestic abilities on the guitar had listeners cranking up the volume, salivating for more.

Her somber tune "Figures" finds her playing the role of a lovesick woman, yearning for a man's love and affection. Reyez's pen game proves to be more lethal on her gut-wrenching track "Gatekeepers," where she details a horrifying night when she denied a "big producer" sex, who had promised her a golden ticket into the music industry.

Don't sleep, Reyez's name will certainly be on the tip of everyones' tongues by the end of 2018. -- CARL LAMARRE

Trippie Redd

What's scary about this rambunctious 18-year-old star isn't his-stone cold swagger; it's his impossibly high ceiling. Redd gained traction for his rock-star abilities when he deftly pieced together two mixtapes in 2017 with A Love Letter to You and the sequel A Love Letter to You 2.

Adept at delivering sugary hooks, Redd relishes the concept of blurring genres, as shown with his poignant banger "Love Scars." In 2017, the song earned over a whooping 33 million listens on SoundCloud, increasing his visibility in the rap world. Following his newfound success, he partnered up with D.R.A.M. on "Ill Nana," while enlisting Travis Scott for "Dark Knight Dummo" and Swae Lee for his Scott Storch-produced "TR666." - C.L.

Jorja Smith

The effervescent singer-songwriter glided onto the scene when Drake enlisted her for his 2017 "playlist" More Life. Smith dazzled on "Jorja's Interlude," before raising the heat on the luminous "Get It Together." Hungry for stardom, Smith ventured to the States in hopes of elevating her status on the R&B circuit. In September, she was tabbed as a performer for JAY-Z's Made in America festival. In addition, Smith's one-off singles "Teenage Fantasy" and "On My Mind" showcased a multi-faceted singer bold enough to take chances when needed. Despite not releasing a single project in 2017, Smith's whispery coos and precocious pen game makes her a surefire pick for 2018. - C.L. 

Lil Xan ​

In an era where SoundCloud rappers are solidifying their standings in the genre, this new artist is quickly courting stardom with his melancholy raps. Last year, Lil Xan amassed a huge following after his breakout hit "Betrayed" found a home on the Hot 100. The record peaked at No. 62 and as of press time, has 83 million views on YouTube. Though the diminutive rap star is only 21 years old, he's emerging as a voice for anguished teens seeking solace through his music. Though his subject matters can be grim, the leader of the Xanarchy Gang recently overcame his drug addictions and seems poised for a monstrous 2018. He's alread off to a quick start, releasing his new video "Wake Up" last week. -- C.L. 

MIKE

If the nukes start flying tomorrow, I’m gonna walk down to my bodega and let MIKE’s music play me out. There’s a school of New York hip-hop that sounds best in cramped spaces with dingy lighting and at least three or four languages kicking around in the background, rap that makes you strain a little bit to hear the concise wisdom in a mumbled line straining against the dust and fuzz of a grimy loop. “Hunger,” the first song on the 18-year-old Bronx rapper’s latest full-length tape MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE, available on Bandcamp, is just that kind of rap song.

“Hunger make you eat your words instead, n****,” is the first line, a subtle doozy that he doesn’t obsess over, just onto the next one. Under the mentorship of Earl Sweatshirt, MIKE is carrying the torch for cerebral city kids making the most out of the simultaneous everything and nothing NY offers. In November of last year, he released the video for “GOD’S WITH ME,” the highlight from his BY THE WATER EP, and it encapsulates that joy best: a piano loop, a roving black-and-white, eye-in-the-sky view of a block, and then the long zoom out from the lone guy posted up on the roof of a brownstone, solo in the middle of the entire universe. - ROSS SCARANO

YBN Nahmir ​

When you have Vince Staples and Bryson Tiller remixing your track, you're doing something right. That was the case for YBN Nahmir, who scripted his hypnotic single  "Rubbin' Off the Paint" last September. The gamer-turned-rapper fresh out of Alabama isn't your typical down south artist, as his affinity for The Bay is clear and distinct -- after he befriended several of his peers through XBOX Live. As for "Rubbin' Off the Paint," the song has peaked at No. 46 on the Hot 100, and according to Nahmir, after earning a co-sign from Chris Brown, the two have collaborated on a new record together, as well. - C.L.

Smokepurpp​

​In 2017, South Florida became an instant hotbed for SoundCloud rappers when Lil Pump and XXXTentacion soared into mainstream prominence. Pump’s cohort, Smokepurpp, causes similar tremors, as he elbowed his way into the hip-hop world with his viral hit “Audi.” Like his contemporaries, Purpp’s instant success came from SoundCloud, as “Audi” compiled 33 million listens, and created massive anticipation for his project Deadstar.

Laced with bombastic production, Purpp provides rousing performances on Deadstar with highlights such as “Ok,” featuring Lil Pump, and his Travis Scott-assisted “Fingers Blue.” Despite his lyrical limitations, his penchant for hard-nosed hooks left Scott enthralled by his skill-set, causing the Rodeo rapper to sign Purpp to his Cactus Jack imprint in September 2017. With Scott offering guidance and his creative touch to the buzzing star’s career, Purpp has no reason not to break out in 2018. -- C.L. 

Rico Nasty 

The DMV is breeding a slew of notable acts. After watching D.C. flourish with GoldLink's glittering crossover hit "Crew,"  Maryland is hoping that one of their very own can make a formidable lane for themselves. So far, they have a reason to hope, as 20-year-old Rico Nasty is proving to be the burgeoning star the city has been desperately searching for. 

The Prince George County MC raised her profile when she released her debut mixtape Sugar Trap in 2016, spawning her breakout hit "iCarly." The following year, the Nickelodeon-lover boosted her star power when she topped her predecessor with Tales of Tacobella. Add a "Mamacita" collaboration with Lil Yachty from the Fate of the Furious soundtrack, and you have a girl with serious upside. She continued her onslaught when she released Sugar Trap 2 last October, her animated nature and spunky attitude gleaming on tracks such as "Poppin" -- which landed on the Insecure season two soundtrack -- and "Key Lime OG." 

Don't let the cartoony tracks fool you, Rico is nasty with the raps. -- C.L.

03 Greedo​

“Thuggin’s my religion, I’m like a vessel and I got special powers in the studio” is 03 Greedo’s explanation for his all-encompassing greatness. The 30-year-old Watts native first started bubbling in 2016 with his 40-track debut mixtape, Purple Summer. The sprawl of that project (and virtually everything he’s released since) is intimidating, but it’s worth the investment to get a complete survey of the rapper-producer’s ambition, personality and range. (Here’s an introductory playlist that captures his various styles and strengths.)

The years Greedo spent locked up color his work on a molecular level. You hear it in his candidly expressed insecurities about commitment and trust, in his ecstatic descriptions of simple pleasures, like throwing money in the strip club in “your cleanest Nikes and your dopest jacket.” Greedo’s music, most of which is self-produced, stands out for the depth of feeling, whether he’s declaring his love for the one who held him down when he was incarcerated or kicking drugs, on “03 Purple Hearts,” or remembering dead friends he didn’t get enough time with on “Mafia Business” and “Small Dollas.”

Listening to 03 Greedo is like uncorking something potent that’s fermented for decades, and once you’ve had a taste, you’re hooked. Because above all else, this smart street shit slaps. -- R.S.

Ski Mask The Slump God 

In case you needed another reason as to why South Florida is on the rise, check out Ski Mask The Slump God. Aside from notching collaborations with XXXTentacion and Lil Pump, Ski Mask has won the fans over with his sizzling releases. First, he capitalized off the popular meme "Cash me ousside" -- created by Danielle Bregoli a.k.a. Bhad Bhabie -- and flipped it into an addictive earworm titled "Catch Me Outside."

For that banger, Ski Mask revived Missy Elliott's 1999 track "She's a Bitch" and flips the record into his own, catching the eyes of not only Elliott, but also the track's producer, Timbaland.  ("Oh he rode the heck out of this Fiyah," tweeted a gleeful Elliott back last August in regards Ski Mask's track.) Timbo also seconded Elliott's cosign and elected to collaborate on a forthcoming project slated to come out this year. In case you thought Ski Mask was a fluke, he doubled up big time with his electric single "Babywipe." The Cole Bennett-directed video garnered positive reviews and currently sits at 31 million views on YouTube. - C.L.