From rappers to singers to punk rock bands, Okayplayer has handpicked 20 breakout artists you should keep an eye on in 2020.
This past year was a wildly creative year for musicians, singers, and songwriters. The energy of 2019 provided a progressive lane for emerging artists to leave a unique mark on the music industry.
Numerous genres experienced growth alongside hip-hop: from R&B to pop to alternative to even rock.
Looming ahead is 2020 which could prove to be an equally busy year in entertainment. Rising artists this year may rely on sheer talent, social media tactics and more to garner newer fanbases. Yet, there’s really no foolproof formula that has proven to turn up-and-coming artists into overnight stars.
As the new year begins, take a look at the 20 artists who will leave a mark in 2020.
Normani is best known for once being a member of the platinum-selling group Fifth Harmony. Since leaving, she has carved a lane for herself as a solo artist. This year, the Atlanta born, New Orleans raised singer dropped the smooth “Dancing With a Stranger” with Sam Smith. A viral moment for her came when she unveiled “Motivation,” a bass-heavy, pop track accompanied with a music video paying homage to Beyoncé and Britney Spears.
Rising singer-songwriter Baby Rose introduced herself to the mainstream by releasing her debut album, To Myself, earlier this year. Her roots in D.C., Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Atlanta are distinct components of her artistry. In an interview with HYPEBAE, from last year, she shared that she grew up listening to Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, and Sam Cooke. To Myself is an emotional debut featuring songs that allude to a love lost and the remnants of a messy relationship.
Mahalia signed her first major label deal when she was just 13-years-old. Now 21, the English singer has built her career off of her 2016 album, Diary of Me, and singles over the past few years. This year she rolled out Love And Compromise, an album featuring appearances by Lucky Daye, Terrace Martin, Ella Mai, and more. This album’s sound drove forward Mahalia’s exploration of elements of soul, R&B, and funk.
At just 21 years old, Jayla Darden has seemingly mastered writing, producing, and engineering her own music. Back in 2018, she captured our attention when she released two EPs, Ideas Vol. 1 and Ideas Vol. 2. The Detroit native then signed to Interscope Records. In 2019 she dropped her catchy single “Mercedes Key” and a seven-track EP Onto Something. The songwriting on this project is filled with hooks about situationships, brushing someone off because of bad vibes, and dating exclusively.
Amber Mark’s debut EP 3:33 AM, from 2017, was a mixture of emotional tracks that allowed listeners a chance to feel out her husky, soulful voice. As time has gone on she’s stepped into her artistry with the releases of Conexão and other noteworthy singles. This project boasts jazz, pop and mainly R&B. On Conexão her Sade remake “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” is our favorite cut. There’s no limit for her trajectory due to the fact that her music doesn’t sound like anything out right now.
[READ MORE: Jamila Woods, Amber Mark, & Mereba Display Why the Future of R&B is in Good Hands at ‘True Notes’]
Lucky Daye’s funk-filled debut studio album Painted left an indelible mark. The release was filled with romantic, neo-soul tracks that leave listeners yearning for more. Earlier this year, his NPR Tiny Desk performance was rolled out equipped with a live band and background singers. During this set he shined as he gave riveting renditions of “Roll Some Mo,” “Misunderstood” and “Late Night.” His New Orleans upbringing indefinitely separates him from his R&B peers, 2020 could prove to be a promising year for the singer-songwriter.
In 2016, Eli Sostre released his first EP Still up All Night and from that point it became impossible to ignore the Brooklyn rapper and producer. Sostre’s moody tracks are filled with instrumentals that paint a vivid picture of his underworld. This year his EP Eros told a tale of his journey through fatherhood, nightmares, and his life in Brooklyn.
Last year during the season finale of HBO’s Insecure, Ilham’s “None of Your Friends Business” was featured. Before this breakout moment, the Queens singer had already revealed her expressive EP 41-10. Fast forward to 2019 and the budding songstress has accumulated an even bigger fan base, successfully wrapped a tour, and also dropped another project, with time. She’s slowly becoming a staple in the R&B community due to her lush voice and honest songwriting.
As the first singer to ever sign to Quality Control, Layton Greene has big shoes to fill. The budding R&B star’s music tells the story behind her experiences with heartbreak, homelessness, and more. Despite her young age, 20, she has lived a life that should provide inspiration for her forthcoming success in the industry.
Asian Doll, who’s fiery bars address her sexual prowess and love for designer brands, first arrived on streaming platforms in 2015 with her mixtape Rise of Barbie Doll Gang. This was followed by five other tapes. Hailing from Dallas, Texas, she is the sole female rapper on Gucci Mane’s 1017 Ent. label. Last year, she left a splash on the entertainment market with So Icy Princess which included features by Gucci and Lil Yachty.
At the top of 2019, Mulatto’s “Bitch From Da Souf” set the precedent for the rest of her year. Known for participating in Jermaine Dupri’s show The Rap Game in 2016, she has since released numerous mixtapes that have led to a bustling fanbase. Her Atlanta cadence, paired with bass-heavy beats, are a perfect match.
Right before the summer hit, Pop Smoke dropped what would be one of the biggest songs of the year: “Welcome to the Party.” With its roots in the UK, Brooklyn drill music has proved itself to be a driving force behind Smoke’s menacing music. Pop Smoke’s aggressive bars combined with the energetic beats he selects makes his music undeniably unique.
[READ MORE: Okayplayer’s 19 Best Songs of 2019]
Out of St. Petersburg, Florida Rod Wave had been releasing mixtapes and making music for fun before signing to Alamo Records. He built his following through shows and by word-of-mouth which proved to take him quite far. On Ghetto Gospel, his latest project executive produced by Kevin Gates, he addresses relationships and the demons he’s fighting. The mark he’s leaving in hip-hop right now stems from his lyricism alongside the use of instruments such as pianos and guitars.
Detroit rapper TeeJayx6 has been slowly but steadily making a name for himself in “scam rap.” This year alone, he’s gone viral for his songs that touch on credit card fraud, fake online marketplaces, and identity theft. TeeJayx6’s sound is a bit sinister, but it also shares the mindset of tech-savvy kids like him who grew up on the Internet.
Baby Keem’s breakout 2019 single “Orange Soda” is a catchy track featuring a chorus worth remembering. Recently, Keem co-wrote Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s “Nile” off The Lion King soundtrack. The emerging rapper could easily segway into pop with how he easily floats on numerous songs on his EP Die For My Bitch which surfaced at the height of the summer.
[READ MORE: Okayplayer’s 19 Best Albums of 2019]
Mavi’s quiet production and straight forward delivery featured on his EP Let the Sun Talk are a breath of fresh air. What he manages to do on this release is take hip-hop listeners back to the days when mixtapes reigned supreme. The Southern flavor he adds to each track will carry him to new heights this year.
Black Pumas are a soulful Austin-based duo made up of singer/guitarist Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. The commanding group’s music is reminiscent of the funk-filled ‘70s — despite being inspired by Wu-Tang Clan. Sam Cooke is also a notable inspiration for the group. Earlier this year, they released their debut, marked by the exploratory singles “Oct 33,” “Black Moon Rising,” and “Colors.” This album solidified the authentic nature of their retro-themed music.
In 2019, Los Angeles rapper Maxo dropped his major label debut LIL BIG MAN. On each song, he raps with a straightforward cadence about what’s on his mind. The topics he explores on this album include depression, overwhelming feelings, his dreams, and more. The lo-fi beats paired with his rapping style make the project an easy listen.
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This year, Soul Glo dropped The Nigga In Me Is Me, an album that pushed the band further into their experimental punk universe. Based in Philadelphia, the group’s latest project mixes rap, rock, and riot music. Coming in at just 18 minutes, the album addresses politics, rage, and even police brutality. Guitar riffs, distorted beats and biting lyrics make up Soul Glo’s rambunctious sound.
Baltimore singer-songwriter Joy Postell has a soothing and soulful voice. In 2018, her debut album Diaspora introduced her pro-Black genre of R&B. Postell pulled from Baltimore’s jazz history in addition to her upbringing to piece together Diaspora. Memorable songs on that release included “HYD” and “Consciousness.” This year her EP Back and Forth continued her unique artistry which consists of her creating beautiful tracks accentuated by electric beats.
Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind @robyn_mowatt.