Who will win for best new artist at the 2021 BET Awards on June 27? Unlike some years where there’s a clear favorite, this year’s contest seems wide open. The nominees are evenly split between male artists (Giveon, Jack Harlow and Pooh Shiesty) and female artists (Coi Leray, Flo Milli and Latto). All six nominees are in their early to mid 20s.
The three male nominees have all reached the top five on the Billboard 200. (Not so the female nominees.) Giveon and Harlow both received Grammy nominations in November.
The last two winners in the category — Lil Baby (2019) and Roddy Ricch (2020) — were both male rappers. Leray, Flo Milli or Latto would be the first female winner since SZA three years ago. Giveon would be the first non-rap winner since SZA.
Here’s a closer look at the nominees. They’re listed in alphabetical order.
Coi Leray: The rapper, 24, has two nominations. She’s also up for best female hip hop artist. Leray has placed two singles on the Billboard Hot 100: “No More Parties” (featuring Lil Durk, No. 26) and “Big Purr (Prrdd)” (featuring fellow nominee Poo Shiesty, No. 69). Coi is featured on YSL’s “I Like,” a track from Slime Language 2, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in May. Leray was Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop rookie of the month for April. As Neena Rouhani noted in a Q&A that announced that designation, “Despite the infancy of her career, the multi-faceted performer has already collaborated with a plethora of fellow charting rappers, including Gunna, DDG and Yung Bleu.” In addition, Leray has released two mixtapes, Everythingcoz and EC2, and an EP, Now or Never.
Flo Milli: The rapper, 21, is the youngest of this year’s nominees. (She’s a couple of months younger than Pooh Shiesty, who is also 21.) Flo Milli’s 2020 mixtape, Ho, Why Is You Here?, reached No. 78 on the Billboard 200. The mixtape spawned five singles, “Beef FloMix,” “In the Party,” “Not Friendly,” “Like That Bitch” and “Weak.” (The latter track samples SWV’s hit of the same name, which topped the Hot 100 in 1993.) The mixtape ranked No. 37 on Billboard’s list of the 50 Best Albums of 2020: Staff Picks. Writing about the mixtape for that list, Tatiana Cirisano observed: “Ho, why is you here? similarly finds the [then] 20-year-old talking herself up, with both the catty attitude of a teenager and the posh confidence of a veteran rapper, adding up to an album that feels like a shot of pure caffeine.”
Giveon: Giveon is this year’s oldest best new artist nominee (26) and the only non-rap artist among the nominees. He has a second nod for best male R&B/pop artist. His compilation When It’s All Said and Done…Take Time reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200. It consists of two previously released EPs — Take Time (which received a Grammy nod for best R&B album) and When It’s All Said and Done — plus new material. Take Time included the deeply moving and musically sophisticated ballad “Heartbreak Anniversary,” which reached No. 17 on the Hot 100. Giveon has climbed even higher as a featured artist on Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” (No. 1) and Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle” (No. 14). “Heartbreak Anniversary” ranked No. 17 on Billboard’s list of the 50 Best Songs of 2021 So Far: Staff Picks. Billboard also included Giveon’s compilation in its list of the 50 Best Albums of 2021 So Far: Staff Picks, where Gail Mitchell wrote: “Giveon is steadily winning fans on his own with a gutsy brand of R&B that embraces influences that range from Frank Sinatra to Frank Ocean.”
Jack Harlow: Harlow, 23, has three nominations, more than any of this year’s other best new artist candidates. He’s also nominated for best collaboration for the “Whats Poppin” remix (which featured DaBaby, Tory Lanez and Lil Wayne) and best male hip hop artist. Harlow has climbed higher on the Hot 100 as a lead artist than any of the other nominees. “Whats Poppin” reached No. 2. The track received a Grammy nomination for best rap performance and placed No. 26 on Billboard’s list of the 100 Best Songs of 2020: Staff Picks, where Andrew Unterberger praised the song’s “tiptoeing bounce and tight one-bar-at-a-time flow.” Harlow’s studio album Thats What They All Say reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200. His earlier EP Sweet Action hit No. 20. Harlow, who received four nominations at last month’s Billboard Music Awards, is the first white rapper to land a best new artist nod at the BET Awards since Paul Wall 15 years ago.
Latto: The rapper, 22, changed her stage name from Mulatto just last month. (As Billboard’s Carl Lamarre explained here, “Coined during slavery, ‘mulatto’ was a racial slur used to describe multiracial children.”) Latto has a second nomination for best female hip hop artist. She reached No. 44 on the Billboard 200 with Queen of Da Souf. A track from the album, “Bitch From Da Souf” (featuring Saweetie and Trina) reached No. 95 on the Hot 100. The album spawned four more singles: “Muwop” (featuring Gucci Mane), “On God,” “In n Out” (featuring City Girls) and “Sex Lies” (featuring Lil Baby). Latto has also released three mixtapes (Miss Mulatto, Latto Let ‘Em Know and Mulatto) and three EPs (Time and Pressure, Big Latto and Hit the Latto).
Pooh Shiesty: The rapper, 21, has climbed higher on the Billboard 200 than any of this year’s other nominees. His mixtape Shiesty Season reached No. 3. Billboard included the mixtape on its list of the 50 Best Albums of 2021 So Far: Staff Picks, where Jason Lipshutz wrote: “Memphis rapper Pooh Shiesty’s debut mixtape Shiesty Season sneaks up on you. The singsong hooks, slow-drawled rhymes and menacing beats initially register as straightforward Southern rap — but then you keep playing it, keep absorbing every percussive creak and threat of violence, and realize just how deep the thing goes.” “Back in Blood” (featuring Lil Durk) reached No. 13 on the Hot 100. It ranked even higher (No. 6) on Billboard’s list of the 50 Best Songs of 2021 So Far: Staff Picks, where Andrew Unterberger called Shiesty “the year’s rookie breakout sensation.”