Okayplayer's 23 Breakout Artists to Watch For in 2023

The artists to watch for in 2023 all contributed to one of the most riveting years for independent rap and R&B in recent memory. 

Twenty twenty-two certainly saw its share of stars returning (with widely varying rates of effectiveness) from long pauses and predictable hiatuses. But some of the most resonant musical moments of the year bubbled out from the musicians not getting the algorithmic boost from an increasingly A.I.-powered label system. And while it's concerningly dystopian to even feel like this needs to be noted, we can assure you the artists to watch for in our next lap are, to a reasonable degree of certainty, actual flesh-and-blood beings.

With that out of the way, the definitely very real humans who shaped the definitely very good sound(s) of 2022 took on myriad forms and frequencies. They span gracious and galaxy-brained writers, hook-savvy and sentimental singers, and, more broadly, a range of gifted musicians who defy definition and discipline altogether. Several of the year's standouts gave us a decades worth of eye-and-ear-candy in a fairly narrow band of time. Others have been more tactful with when and how they chose to release projects. But none of them missed in 2022, and all of them contributed to one of the most riveting years for independent rap and R&B in recent memory.

Scroll on to comb through Okayplayer's artists to watch in 2023, and hold tight to see what they do next.

Gwen Bunn

Artist to watch, Gwen Bunn. Photo provided by artist.

With a resume that ranges from production credits on the Black Hippy siren "Collard Greens" to crucial collaborations with Faith Evans (and more recently, blAck pArty) there isn't a whole lot Gwen Bunn can't do. But with the arrival of her stellar sophomore studio album, PHASE, the Decatur-born, LA-based singer and sound sculptor has only shown that even as she approaches a decade in the game, the journey's just begun.


orion sun

Artist to watch, Orion Sun. Photo by Tyler Borchardt

In a 2018 interview, Tiffany Majette, the singer known as orion sun, revealed she'd once aspired to become an astronaut as a child. So, it isn't exactly a coincidence that over the subsequent four years of her career, she's taken R&B to the moon, back, and beyond with two more sweetly sentimental projects. On Getaway, the latest dispatch from the artist, Majette stays in her feelings in the best way, continuing to explore deep emotional caverns while avoiding moody affectations across six-ish gorgeous cuts. The Getaway EP might be a placeholder, but if so, whatever's en route will be more than worth the wait.


Artist to watch, TiaCor Photo by Terry Suave.

This year has been kind to TiaCorine (or maybe it's the other way around?). Either way, the momentum from a still resonant Soundcloud smash carried the anime-obsessed North Carolina rapper to a banner year in 2022, which saw the release of I Can't Waita stalwart sophomore album brimming with confidence and a jarring hit ratio, bolstered by immutable anthems like "Chaka Khan" and "Freaky T."


New York rapper, YL, in his video for "Gilbert Arenas." Source: YouTube

A New York rapper proving to be as versatile as he is prolific, YL has spent the last few years releasing music at a dizzying clip. In 2022 alone, the LES native broadened his catalog with a four-piece of pristine projects in a range of solo and collaborative formats. Across all of these he displayed uncommon ease rapping over anything and everything: the stuttering hi-hats of drill, the lush loops of dusty soul segments, and the wide-panning synths of pitched-down boogie chops. As he steps into the new year, don't be too surprised if YL and his RRR collective (featuring producer Zoomo and rapper Starker) bring some earned attention back to the boroughs.


DoeChii in the video for "Persuasive." Source: YouTube/Top Dawg Entertainment

As one of Top Dawg Entertainment's newest signees, DoeChii entered the fold on the cusp of the label's first real transition. Kendrick's off to be the face of his own company, SZA's heartbroken and heated, and Ab-Soul's bearing it all in a state of open and committed self-repair. But these are just growing pains for a banner that has bent the entangled worlds of rap and R&B around the gravity of talent they've consistently produced over the last decade. And, frankly, if the reception to the first few glimpses at what's in the chamber is any indication, the Tampa-born triple threat will factor heavily into a new era of TDE that is already being written.

Rome Streetz

Rome Streetz in the video for "Heart on Froze." Source: YouTube

With one of the year's best rap albums under his belt, Rome Streetz doesn't have a lot left to prove at this point. He's worked with single producers and ensembles, traded bars with praised pens, and brought needed energy to an aging rap crew on his grizzly and grated Griselda debut. With Kiss The Ringwracking up acclaim from all corners, the next few years of Rome's run should prove to be as exciting as the last.


Artist to watch, Glorilla. Source: YouTube

If Memphis is regaining its stature among rap's capitals, Glorilla's year surely has a hand in it. After an explosive introduction with "F.N.F.," the 23-year-old went on to deliver her debut EP, Anyways, Life's Great..., a stout and promising nine tracks of deceptive strength and stature. Now, fully basking in the blast radius of a thunderous entry (and a crucial Cardi B collaboration for that matter), she's on the fast track to stratospheric stardom.


Symba jimmyfontaine2022 0 Photo Credit:Jimmy Fontaine

A Bay Area breakout brought up on battle rap and the work of NYC titans, Symba has displayed the type of dynamism that tends to get noticed. After nearly a decade of shuffling between labels mid-ascent, the Oakland rapper made 2022 his biggest year yet with the release of the star-studded and aptly-titled Gangsta Grillz tape, Results Take Time. With appearances from 2 Chainz, Key Glock, Roddy Rich, and Pusha T (who ramps up an already menacing "Never End Up Broke"), the project offers a glimpse at what Symba can do with the right support, and provides a proper introduction to a rapper that will be turning heads on both coasts (and everywhere in between) for years to come.

Kenny Mason 

Artist to watch, Kenny Mason.

Though it has effectively dictated the terms of rap's sonic architecture and aesthetic for two decades and running, the sound of Atlanta is growing broader (and, frankly, weirder) for the best, thanks to buzzing locals like Kenny Mason. The 27-year-old rapper has spent years excavating a precious space between white-knuckled trap and unconfined rock in the modern rap mecca. It all came to a head in 2022, when Mason followed up his debut album with a deluxe treatment, a trippy three-pack, and his lauded second studio outing RUFFS, in which the rapper’s keen sense for crafting catchy earworms and roaming wordplay collide with a wide range of genre deconstructions. If the years ahead are anything like his last few (or even just this last one), Mason should be well on his way to the marquee with a whole new vanguard of ATLiens in tow.

Butch Dawson 

Butch Dawson in the video for his 2021 single, "All Mine." Source: Youtube

Unlike the bulk of the artists on this list, Butch Dawson didn't spend the pandemic clearing out his hardrives. The West Baltimore rapper's lone studio submissions arrived in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But on his abbreviated 2021 set Stardust, Dawson's command on cold cinematics crystalizes over frigid trap beats, setting the tone for a year that saw the release of two face-scrambling cuts, and signaling just how polished his next phase will be.

Camden Malik 

Artist to watch, Camden Malik. Source: Bandcamp

Another rapper playing the numbers game better than most, Camden Malik flooded the year with off-kilter cadences and frigid trap testimonials over a crater-wide range of production. Between 2021 and 2022, the Sacramento rapper released a staggering 12 projects, several of which pushed well past the 40-track mark. And while it remains to be seen whether he (or anybody, really) could keep at it this well and for this long, Malik doesn't show any signs of slowing down too soon.


Artist to watch, demahjiae. Source: Bandcamp

Over the last five years or so, a community of cerebral, in-looking rappers and producers has gradually taken form up and down the West Coast. You can count Demahjiae among those keeping the decentralized collective grounded in open sentimentality and glitched-out beat experiments. Case in point: the Oakland-based artist's Angels Wear Black EP, a late 2022 project that stitched his gratitude and introspection into a batch of soulful, spacey, and stirring arrangements.


Artist to watch, MESSIAH!. Source: Instagram

Year after year, the Queen City submits an elite talent for superlative consideration. While MAVI made waves after a few years of finetuning, it's the rapper's Killswitch co-conspirator MESSIAH! who dropped one of 2022's hardest-hitting bodies of work. Released in late March, MESSIAH!'s aptly-titled Perfect 7 is a delightfully dense and hopeful display of the rapper's abilities. And it makes for one helluva statement piece on where Charlotte (but more broadly rap at large) is headed in the years to come.


Ogi, in the video for her single "Bitter." Source: Youtube

While so many of today's R&B practitioners lock in on what might be next, Ogi has found the keys to the future in the source code. The Nigerian-born singer's debut EP, Monologues, is cut from a deep study and reverence of soul, and the many shapes it has taken over the years. From the three-count burners of post-doo-wop and the smokey ballads of Motown's prime to the catchy confidence of its modern form, all is accounted for in Ogi's first bloom, teasing some gorgeous growths ahead.


V Photo Credit: Artist

An experimentalist that pulls inspiration from high-flying jazz, cosmic funk, and late-night R&B, V.C.R. can seemingly harness it all. Her 2022 album, The Chronicles of a Caterpillar: The Egg, is a testament to her powers of symphonically-minded synthesis, melding those strains into something sturdy, spiritual and surreal — like Alice Coltrane and Madlib meeting in the astral plane. 

Ice Spice 

Ice Spice in the video for her new single "Bikini Bottom." Source: YouTube

If you managed to get through this year without ever uttering the word "Munch," more power to you. For the rest of us, it's been hard to ignore the one syllable siren that lifted New York rapper Ice Spice into viral stardom. And though she's taken her time to set up the next step in her takeover, the resonance of her breakout hit (and its rumbling, just-nostalgic-enough follow-up "Bikini Bottom") are early signs Ice Spice is here to stay. 

Goya Gumbani 

Goya Gumbani in the video for "Letter To Pooh" Source: YouTube

London-based and Brooklyn-born Goya Gumbani is the latest in a peculiarly potent line of gifted and gracious storytellers with transatlantic resonance. Over the last few years, the rapper has explored a number of solo, group, and ensemble formats across five stellar projects. And while he scaled back the output a bit in 2022, his lone submission of the year, Face In The Storm,saw him reuniting with Scottish producer Kiina, who supplied Gumbani with the murk and muddiness the rapper's most cutting observations grow their strongest roots.

Raz Fresco

Raz Fresco in the video for "Where Did The Love Go" Source: YouTube

Arguably the artist on this list with the deepest back catalog, Raz Fresco has generated dozens of projects over the last decade. However, his last two-ish years in particular have been something close to herculean. In 2020, the Canadian rapper and producer commenced what would become the conceptual nine-issue mixtape series, Magneto Was Right. The following year, another five tapes and a grip of instrumental albums peppered an otherwise difficult year for rap at large. But it was his 2022 output that cemented his status as one of the most consistent multi-hyphenates operating on either side of the Northern border, releasing three more tapes and Arm Leg Leg Arm Head, a gorgeously gritty collaborative studio album with producer Eric Right that went criminally unacknowledged upon landing.

Leon Thomas 

Leon Thomas in the video for his single "X-Rated." Source: Youtube/Motown Records

Grammy-nominated, Broadway-approved, and brandishing enviable credits on recent albums from pop and rap's elite, Leon Thomas already has the makings of an unconventional career in entertainment. In his next chapter, the accomplished singer and producer will embark on a proper solo stint supported by Ty Dolla $ign, as the first artist signed to the hit-maker's new imprint, EZMNY Records. The partnership has already been a bountiful one, producing a trio of woozy and entrancing singles, which should set the stage for a massive 2023 from Thomas.


Ojerime in a visual treatment for her single "Alarming." Source: Youtube

When Ojerime dropped her 2020 album, B4 I Breakdown, the South London singer and songwriter was shaking off the residuals of a mental health crisis. The project detailed her internal struggles over smokey melodies and sleek send-ups to '90s R&B. By any set of metrics it was a triumph, wracking up numbers and playlist placements across DSPs. When she reemerged in 2022 with Bad Influence, the fog seemed to have settled, clearing the way for the strongest and most convincing testimony to her talents yet. It's somehow future-focused and reverent of bygone eras at once. Despite the title of the resurgent nine-track outing, the budding British star is poised to have precisely the type of impact R&B needs in 2023.


Artist to watch, YUNGMORPHEUS. Photo by Jack McKain.

Nobody makes the collapse of modern civilization sound as relatable or digestible as YUNGMORPHEUS. The Miami-raised and LA-based rapper has lived through his share of doomsday scenarios, and has emerged as one of rap's most slyly poignant pens with heady musings on the state of our increasingly disconnected societies. His back catalog is brimming with those forecasts, but the floodgates burst open in 2022 with a trio of projects that contain some of his most biting, brilliant, and personal reflections to date, across loop-heavy and synth-specked suites.

Santana Fox 

Santana Fox Source: Instagram

For Santana Fox, an aptitude for frigid lyrics and brain-burning melodies runs in the family. As the youngest daughter of the late Prodigy (who was himself the son of two doo-wop stars), Fox has all the makings of a formidable force in rap. Her 2022 debut album Girl Next Door is all the evidence you'll ever need, lining Fox up with some of rap's heavy hitters and proving she's already in the running for the title.

Vel Nine

Los Angeles rapper, Vel Nine. Source: Artist

Across the nine tracks comprising her 2022 entry Freakjet, SoCal rapper Vel Nine (formerly known as Vel The Wonder) greets glossy beats and lush soul loops with a full-float cadence and hushed bravado. She picks her pockets like a drunken kung fu master, seamlessly sliding between sedated postures and knockout bars on a not-so-quiet contender for rap album of the year.