In 2018, we watched a plethora of new sensations zoom their way into stardom with scintillating releases, including the likes of Jorja Smith, Ski Mask The Slump God, and Jessie Reyez. These three were not only included in Billboard’s Artists to Watch list at the top of 2018, but later, bloomed into formidable talents.
This year, we have a new batch of artists flirting with stardom and looking to come into their own sooner rather than later. Not only do we have precocious MCs adept at whipping up punchy verses, but we have singers looking to win listeners over with their silky melodies.
Get familiar with these 11 artists and see why they’re up next.
Pardison Fontaine became known in the industry for being Cardi B’s longtime friend and co-writer (which earned him two Grammy nominations, no less), but he’s ready to break out as his own solo artist this year. Following the September release of his infectious “Backin’ It Up” single — which features the regular-degular-shmegular girl herself — the rapper is now prepping a major-label debut via Atlantic Records and a new mixtape in March. “My music is so tailored off of actual experiences,” Fontaine told Billboard, “that it takes me some living to come up with the content.” — BIANCA GRACIE
When you have a roster boasting blue-chip talents like Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jay Rock and ScHoolboy Q, you have no choice but to trounce the competition. Fortunately for REASON, his grit and dexterity proved himself quite a prospect in his own right, especially when he re-released his TDE debut There You Have It last September. Tracks like “Better Dayz” and “Summer Up” showcase a nimble wordsmith whose soul remains ensnared by the streets’ expectations. Still, don’t get it twisted — REASON is more than just a punchline rapper, as proven on “Colored Dreams,” a seamless tale of a cold-blooded killer who commits suicide in prison.
REASON’s high-octane raps has also earned him effusive praise from his TDE cohorts. Not only did Kendrick Lamar enlist him for the Black Panther soundtrack last year, but he later earned himself an opener slot on Jay Rock’s Redemption Tour. This year, REASON earned a golden ticket to J. Cole’s Dreamville Rap Camp, where he and a selected group of artists (T.I., Rick Ross, Wale) joined Cole and his crew for a 10-day recording process for the Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation album. — CARL LAMARRE
Melii’s name began to percolate thanks to her rework of Cardi B’s breakout hit “Bodak Yellow” in 2017, which she quickly parlayed into a deal with Interscope Records. The MeliiMob then continued to multiply, riding the wave behind the rapper’s boastful “Icey” record, that even caught the ear of Rihanna for an elusive co-sign. The Harlem native then capped 2018 off with her introduction to the mainstream by notching a stage-stealing assist on Meek Mill’s Championships album.
As the 20-year-old Dominican singer-rapper continues to check off the necessary boxes on her rapid ascension, she has significantly raised expectations going into her debut project, Phases, which she’s hinted will feature a guest appearance from the 6 God. Will Melii be the next burgeoning artist vaulted to stardom thanks to a Drake guest appearance? — MICHAEL SAPONARA
There’s the idea of Blueface (divisive, memeable and hilarious) and then there is the reality of Blueface (also divisive, memeable and hilarious). Genuinely beloved too: Just watch this clip of the 21-year-old L.A. rapper performing on top of a car outside Tahquitz High, just showing out for the kids. Listen to fan favorites “Thotiana” or “Dead Locs” and you’ll notice immediately his run-on flow, the stylistic device that’s inspired too many Twitter arguments. (Why tweet when you can memorize “Freak Bitch”?) Personally, I’m rooting for Blueface because he’s got two dicks in his pants and also because he rapped “Mama always told me I was gon’ break hearts/ I guess it’s her fault, stupid, don’t be mad at me.” Seriously, though — why be mad at Blueface when the music is this fun? — ROSS SCARANO
Roddy Ricch kicked off his Feed Tha Streets series in late ’17, but his debut mixtape didn’t rattle many cages around the industry. The Compton-raised MC maintained a willingness to experiment with his sound, pulling on inspiration from his travels to Chicago, and later years to the trap capital of Atlanta.
The 20-year-old spawned his largest smash to date with 2018’s somber “Die Young,” which he penned hours following the murder of polarizing rapper XXXTENTACION. The London On Da Track-produced tune propelled Rich’s ascension and considerably raised the stakes for FTS II in November, signifying progress in building a fan base, with the project peaking at No. 68 on the Billboard 200. After also receiving major co-signs from those that paved the way for him in Nipsey Hussle and Meek Mill, Ricch is in position to become a hip-hop mainstay and keep on feeding the streets in 2019. — M.S.
Megan Thee Stallion
There was an exciting rise of new female artists who claimed their stake in the notoriously unyielding rap game in 2018, and Megan Thee Stallion skyrocketed herself into the forefront. The Houston rapper (who cites Pimp C as her biggest influence) can spit just as hard as the boys while unabashedly embracing her sexuality. After signing to 300 Entertainment, she’s ready to shake everyone with her new mixtape Fever (out in January) — and without the help of a male co-sign. “If you are not dating somebody popping or you are not just acting a complete ass, then people nine times out of 10 are probably not going to know who you are,” Megan told Billboard. “You find out about me because of my music, and that’s how I want to keep it.” — B.G.
In case you’re looking to drown yourself in an ocean of falsetto, Pink Sweat$’ “Honesty” will surely have you gasping for air. After starting off as a songwriter, Sweat$ switched lanes and and emerged into a flourishing crooner. With a penchant for sugary hooks, the upcomier has quickly galloped his way into R&B circles, courtesy of his debut project, Volume 1. On “Drama,” he flexes on his naysayers who “wanna see him low” and glides his way to success. “Everything I’ve always wanted, I’m starting to get,” Sweat$ told Billboard recently. Don’t be surprised if it’s all-pink everything in 2019. — C.L.
The Atlanta-based LVRN Records is home to lovelorn and moody artists like 6LACK, so it made perfect sense when they signed newbie Summer Walker to their roster. The R&B singer’s debut album Last Day of Summer captured the souls of many women — especially ladies of color — who could relate to her raw and honest lyrics about desiring rough sex, mending a broken heart and owning your unique femininity. The singer plans to keep the melancholic wave afloat with a new project set to arrive sometime this year. — B.G.
He might not be the most well-known of the YBN boys at the moment, but Cordae’s future is undoubtedly the brightest. The late addition to the Young Boss N—-s crew has studied his hip-hop predecessors like a future surgeon at medical school, and 2019 should be his time to strike.
The 21-year-old boasted maturity beyond his years stepping up to accept J. Cole’s open challenge on “1985” with his “Old N—as” response. Cordae’s artistic versatility ranges from socially conscious records like “Target,” where he details a dangerous encounter with a police racial profiling him, but he can also lighten up and have fool around with the youth of his generation on tracks such as the hubristic “Kung Fu.”
The Maryland native is expected to step into the spotlight as more of a solo act in the new year, where he’s slated to release his long-awaited solo album, which will continue his pursuit of being one of the few artists attempting to bridge the generational gap. Oh, did we mention he’s under Dr. Dre’s masterful tutelage? — M.S.
Allow Key Glock to introduce himself: “Once upon a time, this lil’ n—a named Glock got paid every day but he never punched a clock.” That’s just part of the hook for “Once Upon a Time,” a stand-out track from his lean, mean and perfectly titled 2018 tape Glockoma. The 20-year-old Memphis rapper, who now stays in Atlanta, is signed to Young Dolph’s Paper Route Empire imprint — he and Dolph are cousins — and his sound is indebted to his hometown heroes, like Project Pat. He keeps his circle of producers local, favoring the young phenom Tay Keith, and his bars hard-nosed and direct. “Russian Cream” is a good introduction, and “Talk My Shit” contains a vivid, dryly humorous description of a courtside NBA game, complete with chicken tenders. — R.S.
In case you didn’t get the memo, Philly is really on the rise and Bri Steves is one of the reasons why. The Temple graduate caused tremors last year when she released his earworm “Jealousy.” The Hitmaka-produced banger was a summery bop, racking up 1.6 million views on YouTube. The song also proved to be a favorite for Kendrick Lamar, who brought out the burgeoning MC out during his headlining set at Made In America last year. To keep her momentum intact, Steves joined H.E.R. as an opening act for the I Used to Know Her Fall Tour. In case you think Steves is only infatuated with love, her new single “Miami” displays a voracious MC thristing for quality wins. — C.L.