Last year, hip-hop and R&B put out the welcome mat for several emerging artists eager to break through. Yung Bleu, Blxst, Morray, Pooh Shiesty and others all entered the fray with high hopes of becoming mainstream successes, and ended up exceeding expectations.
Before becoming Muni Long, Priscilla Renea was writing on pop hits (Rihanna’s “California King Bed,” Fifth Harmony and Kid Ink’s “Worth It”), country hits (Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s Grammy-winning “Somethin’ Bad”), and everything in between (Pitbull and Kesha’s Hot 100 No. 1 “Timber”). But her slow-burning solo artist efforts finally paid off at the tail end of 2021 when the 33-year-old singer’s sumptuous R&B ballad “Hrs and Hrs” grew viral on TikTok, and became her first own Hot 100 hit — recently climbing into the chart’s top 20. With her slippery smooth-like butter vocal runs, nimbly sensual rhyme schemes, and emotive storytelling, Muni deserves to feel the love under her solo spotlight. — HERAN MAMO
Last year, Jamaican polymath Shenseea emerged as a rising star after showcasing her versatility on Kanye West’s Grammy-nominated album DONDA. Not only did she spar with West and Rooga on “Ok Ok pt 2,” but she allowed her singing prowess to take center stage on “Pure Souls.” Now, Shenseea looks ready to release her long-awaited debut album after she enlisted hip-hop powerhouse Megan Thee Stallion for her sugary single “Lick.” — CARL LAMARRE
After defining summer 2021 through her insanely infectious feature on Wizkid’s “Essence,” Temilade Openiyi (better known as Tems) established herself as a force in afro-fusion and beyond. Fans were left craving more — many going back in time to her 2020 album, For Broken Ears, while others tapped in last fall, when the Nigerian singer-songwriter released a five-track EP, If Orange Was A Place.
The last year was nothing short of explosive for Tems, who signed to Since ‘93/RCA Records, landed a feature on Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, was named Billboard’s October Rookie of the Month, and topped Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart following Justin Bieber’s feature on “Essence.” While the accolades represent how far the singer has come, Tems’s songwriting skills, vocal prowess and personable attitude prove her undeniable staying power. — NEENA ROUHANI
A popular fixture on his home turf after a decade of perseverance, Detroit native Babyface Ray (born Marcellus Register) is taking his grind national — alongside next-gen Motor City rappers such as 42 Dugg and Tee Grizzley. Spotlighted on a series of well-received solo mixtapes, Babyface’s relaxed, conversational flow coupled with clever, insightful lyrics caught mainstream attention via 2021’s EP Unf*ckwitable, with guests including Moneybagg Yo, and a subsequent deluxe edition, boasting a remix of Babyface’s 2020 track “Paperwork Party” with Jack Harlow. Babyface’s new album Face dropped Jan. 28 through Wavy Gang/EMPIRE. – GAIL MITCHELL
Nardo Wick slow-grinded his way to success in 2021. The Jacksonville native released his incendiary breakout hit “Who Want Smoke?” in January 2021 — though the menacing track didn’t crack the mainstream’s radar until Lil Durk, G Herbo, and 21 Savage provided rap reinforcements and added their grim street tales to the official remix in October. With A-list star power attracting the rest of the country’s attention, Nardo Wick’s “Who Want Smoke??” cracked the Hot 100’s top 20 and earned himself a memorable first platinum single. — MICHAEL SAPONARA
With her infectiously positive summer single “Energy,” released in June 2021, Tyla Jane is forging her path to becoming the next alternative R&B star. Through its lyrics, Jane modestly opens up about her past struggles while encouraging listeners to utilize manifestation tools and gain unwavering self-assurance. With her angelic voice, the singer-songwriter croons, “’Cause last year was a mess but I’m growing up/ Thanking God that I’m so blessed/ Yeah, he showed me love/ Said ‘Girl, don’t cheat yourself on this, get your glow up’/ And it’s all because I’m working on my energy.” — DARLENE ADEROJU
Capella Grey had Uptown in a frenzy last year when he unleashed his blistering summer anthem “Gyalis.” Reaching Hot 100 top 40 status last autumn, Grey’s sticky sing-along and slick bravado etched him a lane as one of the city’s promising stars. Grey has also proven to be a reliable assist-man, dishing out features for notable rap heroes such as A Boogie, Joey Bada$$, Russ, and more. The Captiol Records signee hopes his oozing melodies continue to keep listeners enthralled — especially as he readies his debut project, set to be released later this year. — C.L.
As for who’s got next on the R&B scene, Marzz can rightfully claim dibs. Captivated two years ago by the Louisville, Kentucky native’s lilting vocals and penetrating lyrics on freestyles the queer singer-songwriter posted on Instagram, Grammy-winning producer Timbaland asked Marzz to record several tracks.
Last June, the minister’s child born Laria McCormick released her debut EP, the relationship-themed Love Letterz (Keep Cool/RCA Records). Its vibey latest single “Countless Times” — about confronting the need to end a romantic liaison — has racked up more than 1 million YouTube views. Marzz’s first full-length album is due later this year. — G.M.
Nija Charles already has a Hot 100 No. 1 (Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me”), Grammy-winning albums (Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, The Carters’ Everything Is Love) and multi-platinum hits (Drake and Chris Brown’s “No Guidance”) on her songwriting résumé. Following her verse on “My Power” from Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack, Nija made her artist debut last year with three singles from her recently-released project Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You. The 24-year-old multihyphenate showcases her expert R&B and drill mix on “Ease My Mind (Come Over),” sultry melodies on “Finesse” and lyrical panache on “On Call.” Her tantalizing efforts affirm Nija needs to be the voice behind her own pen game. — H.M.
Ghanaian singer Amaarae’s voice is unmistakable. The Interscope signee’s baby-soft whisper and genre-bending rhythms are in a lane completely of their own, and thanks to TikTok, millions were introduced to her flourishing catalog of music. In 2021, “Sad Girlz Luv Money (Remix)” featuring Kali Uchis and Moliy, went viral on the video creation app, leading to hundreds of millions of listens across platforms. Her 2020 album The Angel You Don’t Know perfectly captures the burgeoning singer’s carefree, confident demeanor, and sets the stage for a fruitful 2022. — N.R.
New York City naturally breeds competition between its rugged boroughs when it comes to rap. The Bronx attempted to snatch the NY drill crown from Brooklyn in 2021, largely thanks to 21-year-old South Bronx resident B-Lovee. With an ear for implementing nostalgic samples — like Gyptian’s “Hold You” and Mary J. Blige’s “Everything” — or delivering unnerving lyricism throughout his “My Everything” series, B-Lovee will soon be one of NYC’s integral rap exports. — M.S.
Joyce Wrice has become one of the hottest entities in R&B, particularly after earning the opportunity to sing a new rendition of Disney’s iconic Proud Family theme song. Originally sung by Solange Knowles and Destiny’s Child, the highly anticipated revamped series is titled The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. Prior to landing the major gig, Wrice released hit collaborations with artists including Wale, Lucky Daye and Masego. A shining Leo, Wrice continues to exemplify a positive attitude and incredible morale. — D.A.
Stop us if you’re heard this one before: A former Love & Hip Hop cast member from The Bronx parlaying her fame into rap stardom. Well, DreamDoll is taking a page out of Cardi B’s playbook and looking to follow in her money-making footsteps. She held her own with a raunchy verse on Hitmaka’s “Thot Box (Remix)” among a phalanx of female rap cogs, and stole the show on Rick Ross’ stripper friendly “Wiggle” to close out 2021. The Warner Records artist should take the next step in her ascension with the release of her major label debut in 2022. — M.S.
The Nigerian-Beninese singer-songwriter has captivated the likes of Kelly Rowland, Rema and more with her swoon-worthy blend of Afropop percussion and R&B melodies underlining her stunning, raspy vocals. Alongside Tems, the 19 & Dangerous artist (born Oyinkansola Aderibigbe) is leading a new class of Nigerian women singing about preserving their power, persevering through heartbreak and protecting their peace, like on her Top Triller Global-charting single “Bloody Samaritan.” Starr, who is signed to Nigeria’s leading label Mavin Records, is destined for the stardom spelled out in her stage name. — H.M.
The Tri-State area has another spry lyricist capable of wrestling with anyone if tested. London’s wordplay serves as her shiniest attribute, most notably displayed on her new record “Lisa Story,” featuring Harlem neophyte Dub Aura. With lofty cosigns from Diddy, Nas, and more, it’s only a matter of time until London pounces her way to mainstream glory. — C.L.
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