After showcasing our fierce 15 last year, Billboard runs the table back and presents this year’s Hip-Hop/R&B Artists to watch Class of 2021.
Last year, Billboard watched a bevy of rookies take a leap forward and graduate into stardom.
Rod Wave, Jack Harlow, and Don Toliver’s chart dominance helped solidify their standing in the hip-hop game while R&B singer Kaash Paige exuded promise on her sizzling debut. Along with standout campaigns in 2020, the hip-hop community mourned the losses of Brooklyn’s Pop Smoke and Chicago’s King Von, as both stars were victims of gun violence. With 2021 currently in session, a new breed of neophytes looks to cause a stir. After showcasing our fierce 15 last year, Billboard runs the table back and presents this year’s Hip-Hop/R&B Artists to watch Class of 2021. Check out our list below.
In 2020, Blxst rocketed to success when fans unwrapped his eight-track project No Love Lost. The Cali polymath doesn’t shy away from messy topics, working through heartbreak and relationship woes with elastic ease. Fortunately, Blxst doesn’t allow his losses to define him, as he proves to be a slithery Casanova on “Wrong or Right,” “Overrated” and “Be Alone.” His skill for hitmaking shines on the project’s deluxe edition, as he recruits West Coast all-stars Dom Kennedy (“Got It All”) and Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga (“Chosen”) for his daily escapades. — CARL LAMARRE
READ MORE: https://apple.news/AsjqbK4xlS_-0NZQjTCgcLg
Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper, ‘Holy’The earnest, restrained “Holy” doesn’t exactly announce the arrival of Justin Bieber as a Christian pop star — he’s more doing devotional R&B, blending themes of loyalty and faith with those of romantic commitment. (For example, “I don’t believe in nirvana, but the way that we love in the night gave me life, baby.”) These are lines that are already fuzzy in gospel and contemporary Christian music (CCM), but Bieber’s turn in this direction — amplified by a squeaky, nimble, praise-adjacent verse from Chance the Rapper — signifies both Bieber’s ongoing journey away from his tumultuous teen years and also the increasing visibility of spirituality in secular spaces. Did you have Justin Bieber-goes-Amy Grant on your 2020 bingo card?
Sam Smith, ‘Diamonds’
Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” morphing from ballad to club propulsion, has been a durable template for songs by resentful exes. The latest is Sam Smith’s “Diamonds,” a denunciation of a mercenary partner that starts as a lament but gradually takes on a 4/4 disco thump and busily scrubbing rhythm guitar. “You’re never gonna hear my heart break,” they (Smith’s pronoun) declare, adding, “Take all the money you want from me.” But there’s anguish in their voice, even as the beat pushes Smith toward freedom.
Blood Orange and Park Hye Jin, ‘Call Me (Freestyle)’
The pandemic has fostered the kind of web-surfing that leads to unexpected, long-distance collaborations. For “Call Me (Freestyle),” Devonte Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange, places his melody and lyrics atop the hazy, looping piano refrain and drum-machine beats of “Call Me,” a 2018 track by the South Korean singer, songwriter and producer Park Hye Jin. Her vocal in Korean, from the original track, chants, “Don’t answer my phone. It’s just a depressing story anyway.” Above her serenely melancholy piano, Hynes — sometimes harmonizing with himself — sings in quick triplets about bicycling late at night and poses questions: “How do you feel?” “When was the last time that you cried?” Mood: suspended, isolated, wondering.
She has eight nominations Sunday night, a performance slot and the devotion of fiercely loyal fans. What’s behind this Lizzo momentum? Let’s discuss.
JON PARELES Lizzo enters this year’s Grammy Awards with the most nominations — eight, including all four top categories. Nominations don’t guarantee wins — ask India.Arie or Jay-Z — but Lizzo also has a prime-time slot as a performer, and she knows how to take over a screen.
Going big, of course, is Lizzo’s home turf and her brand. She’s a physical force, reveling in her body. Her musical skills are considerable: Singing, rapping, writing, playing flute and leading an ecstatic troupe onstage, she’s a full-spectrum entertainer. She’s ubiquitous as a celebrity, online presence and self-appointed idol, an exemplar of unshakable self-love and punch-line-slinging, take-no-guff arrogance who started her 2016 EP, “Coconut Oil,” with a song that instructed, “Worship me!” (Her social-media posts mingle her own milestones with fans testifying about how she helped them accept themselves.)
And she turns up the volume, speed and energy. “Cuz I Love You,” her long-in-the-making major-label debut album — Lizzo’s first indie album, “Lizzobangers,” came out in 2013 — literally starts with a scream and rarely lets up from there.
CARYN GANZ Wins or no wins, this is Lizzo’s year at the Grammys, which isn’t a shock because 2019 was Lizzo’s year everywhere: the charts (she earned her first No. 1 with “Truth Hurts”), the red carpet (did you catch her tiny Valentino bag?), so many presidential candidates’ playlists (we see you are feeling “Good as Hell,” Pete Buttigieg!). It helped that her hallmarks — the emotional cheerleading, the fierce attitude, the big-tent sound — aligned so perfectly with the national mood distilled to its rawest form on social media, where people (young women in particular) are anxious, angry, craving humor and distraction, and tired of seeing perfectly posed influencers flogging tummy-slimming teas and pretending to be flawless. And the B-side to all that, of course, is Lizzo has the voice and stage presence to back everything up.
JON CARAMANICA In a year when the Grammys were looking to display an embrace of difference, a modicum of open-earedness, a sense that the show is taking place in the present day and not being hologrammed in from a decade or two earlier, it would have been difficult to invent a musician better suited to the situation than Lizzo.
Lizzo is indisputably modern — a singer and a rapper, a meme-ready (or meme-biting) songwriter, a hilariously present personality in every sense. And yet she is completely legible to the sorts of people who vote for Grammys: She prefers time-tested pop structures, she revisits the sweaty soul and disco energy of the 1970s, and sometimes even finds herself channeling some 1920s bawdiness. Or there’s that one song that (lawyers stop reading here) rips off Bruno Mars ripping off everyone else, which is the type of thing Grammy voters love, because it reminds them of when they were relevant.
WESLEY MORRIS That, Jon C., I must say, is the only nagging element of “Juice.” It really is a Bruno Mars song. And Lizzo makes the approximation feel like a dare — anything Bruno can do, she can do with a flute. But there’s more going on with the sweetest sugar of that song. The chorus also knows the real delight of CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” is the stanked-up “Ya-ya-ee,” so it swipes that, too. “Juice” is a perfect pop song. All high. Even the deadpan bridge — “Somebody come get this man” — is cleverer than it needs to be. (You guys, why is that not up for record or song instead of, or alongside, “Truth Hurts”?) SEE MORE ON THIS STORY:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/arts/music/lizzo-grammys.html
It was the shot and meme that was heard around the world. Earlier this year, Portland Trailblazers’ star point guard Damian Lillard hit a series-clinching jumper from beyond the arc as time expired, advancing to the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. The shot, launched over former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George’s outstretched hands was a big deal to seemingly everyone else on the planet, but for Lillard, it was simply business as usual. “We’re a really resilient team,” Lillard told a reporter in a post-game interview. “We knew it was ups and downs throughout the series, we just had to keep our heads right, stay focused, stay together. We stayed together and it came down to one play and we executed really well and we were able to get it done.”
This wasn’t the first time he had shattered a championship contender’s dreams and delivered defeat as a cold dish served. In May 2014, Lillard buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the ‘Blazers a 99-98 win over the Houston Rockets, clinching a 4-2 win in the first round of that season’s NBA Playoffs, Portland’s first in fourteen years. When asked about his ability to keep his composure during these pressure-packed moments, Lillard credits his big-picture outlook with keeping him poised. “It’s usually not a whole lot going through my head,” he says. “I think what allows me to be confident and just keep my cool in those situations is knowing that I put the time in to give myself a chance to be successful and to end these games and staying in shape physically and just having my mind in the right place. And also understanding that I can shoulder the success and the failure of it. Whichever one happens on that night, I know I can handle both. So I go into those situations not really concerned with the outcome.”
Selected by the Trailblazers in 2012 with the sixth overall draft pick, Portland, Oregon would be a culture shock for the average kid bred in the mean streets of East Oakland, California. But for Lillard, his collegiate tenure at Weber State in Utah, where he competed in Portland on several occasions, afforded him some familiarity with the city. “I always liked Portland,” he shares. “Because when I was in college, at Weber, we’d play Portland State every year. So when you get a chance to come to a real city like Portland where it’s like an actual downtown and stores you can go to and kind of move around, you just have a different appreciation of it when you’re playing all of these different small towns. I already kind of liked the city to begin with. Now I get to explore more. My best friend was already going to college here when I got drafted so I’ve always liked it even before I got here. When I got here and started to meet people and learn the city, move around and just being a resident here, I’ve only grown to like it more. It’s become more of a home to me over the years.”
READ More of this interview: https://www.vibe.com/featured/damian-lillard-dame-6-interview
After over a decade, NIGO® and Kid Cudi have inspired many of the biggest names in music, fashion, and pop culture. But how did they do it, and what’s next? The two cultural icons get together for the first time since they met 11 years ago and open up about their beginnings, new projects, and legacy.
Kid Cudi was 20 years old when he decided to leave his hometown of Cleveland and move to New York City. He had tried college for a year, but wasn’t feeling it, and even considered joining the Navy, though that didn’t work out, either. Ultimately, he wanted to pursue music, and craved an environment where he could “grow and meet interesting people.” New York, he thought, could be that place.
So one day he bought a one-way ticket to New York, packed up his things—clothes, sneakers, the demo he made in college, and $500 in cash—and left. It wasn’t easy. He still remembers the day his mom dropped him off at the airport. “She was crying,” Cudi recalled during his TEDx talk in 2015. “She was giving me a hug at the airport and leans in and goes, ‘I can always turn back around and we can go back home. You can change your mind. Everything will be fine.’” But Cudi stuck to his guns. “I was on a mission,” he added. “It was bigger than just wanting to be a musician or do movies. It was about finally showing the world what Scott could do.”
Except things didn’t immediately pop off for him. His first few jobs in New York were in retail—at American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Dean & DeLuca. He held most of the jobs just to cover his bills and studio time. But there was one that Cudi, to this day, calls a “dream job.”
Shortly after relocating to New York, Cudi learned about A Bathing Ape, the wildly popular and exclusive Japanese brand founded by NIGO® in 1993, and fell in love with its loud graphics and bright colors. At the time, Bape’s two-story, million-dollar flagship in SoHo—the label’s first store outside of Japan, a strategic move by the designer to expand his empire internationally—had just opened in 2004. Cudi desperately wanted to work there, so he applied. And then applied again. And again. Until he finally got hired in 2008.
At the time, Cudi was so broke he didn’t have a bank account (he used his mom’s instead). And for the first few weeks on the job, he wore the same outfit every day or borrowed clothes from co-workers. It didn’t matter, though; he was just happy to be there. “I didn’t own anything [Bape] prior to being hired,” he told Hypebeast. “So it was a dream come true to be able to work at the store I dreamed of shopping in one day.”
But Cudi’s stint at Bape wouldn’t last long. The year before, while he still worked at Abercrombie & Fitch, he met Dot da Genius through a co-worker. They clicked instantly and began making music together, including what wound up being Cudi’s first single, “Day ‘N’ Nite.”
Hello, my name is Christopher Kenji. I’m a 24-year-old singer-songwriter, graduate of Berklee College of Music and a print/runway model.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO BOTH MUSIC AND MODELING?
Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve always had a deep passion for music. I picked up the guitar when I was about 10 years old and fell in love — I would spend all my free time playing and writing music (sometimes seven hours a day until my fingers hurt and I couldn’t play anymore). Music has always been and will always be my biggest passion in life; there’s nothing that compares to performing on stage, wearing your heart on your sleeve with your lyrics and melodies and having people connect with you so purely and intimately. Before anything else, I am first and foremost a musician.
As for modeling, it’s kind of funny — I never in a million years ever thought I would become a male model. I know a lot of people grow up having dreams of becoming a supermodel and living that glamorous lifestyle or something but that was never me as a kid. Growing up, I never really thought of myself as a physically attractive person; if anything, I was told the opposite at times so it’s still kind of surreal to me when I think about it. Anyway, my modeling journey started last September when I was at my friend’s show in LA and he introduced me to a woman there who happened to have spent years working in the fashion industry (little did I know, she would go on to become my mentor). She told me that I should become a model and I kind of laughed it off at first but then I realized she was actually very serious about it. I was kind of tipsy at the time, but I told her I guess I could give it a shot and she held me to it.
She then signed me up for a runway show casting in San Francisco. I went, got placed in two shows and ended up being awarded best model of 2018. They made me make a speech in front of the whole audience and it was one of the few moments in my life where I was truly and utterly dumbfounded. It almost felt like the world was playing a big joke on me but it wasn’t a joke; it was real. Having that experience really gave me the motivation to seriously pursue modeling and ever since then, it’s become a huge part of my life.
DO YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIFIC TO KEEP UP YOUR APPEARANCE FOR MODELING?
Yes, I actually kind of changed my life for modeling. I treat modeling like a job now because, well… it is my job. So, that means I can’t just make poor lifestyle choices all the time anymore. I remember getting an interview with IMG Models in New York City, which was pretty much the biggest interview of my entire life and asking my mentor what I should do to prepare. The first thing she told me was to completely cut out booze for the two weeks before I met with them. I said to her, “I’ll cut it out after tonight when I’m done performing at the bar” and she said “no, cut it out starting right now”. I remember feeling super weird playing 100% sober to a packed crowd of wasted people that night but it really taught me something. After just four days, I noticed that I looked and felt better than I had in literally years. Nowadays, I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat sugar, I work out super hard in the gym at least 3-4 days a week, I don’t drink any caffeine and I take ice cold showers to wake myself up every morning. Despite it seeming like I gave up all the things that I love in life, as a byproduct, I feel the most healthy and confident in myself that I have ever been. To me, that’s the most rewarding feeling of all.
DID YOU ALWAYS BOTH SING AND PLAY GUITAR OR DID ONE COME AFTER THE OTHER?
No, I used to never sing. I was terrified of the idea. I remember specifically not applying to a music school I was really interested in because they required all of their students to sing. Singing always really fascinated me but I was always too nervous to try to do it myself. When I first ever tried to sing, I immediately realized my voice was weird. An astounding majority of the famous male vocalists we all know and love such as Freddy Mercury, Michael Jackson, Sting, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, etc. are all tenors with very beautiful, clear, high-pitched voices. I am basically the complete opposite (a bass/baritone with a very low, gritty voice) and I found out pretty quickly that I would never sound like any of them no matter how hard I tried.
It took me a long time to really find my voice. When I finally first gathered up the courage to start singing in front of people, I remember getting comments like, “you’re good at guitar, I think you should stick to that” and whatnot. It was a lot of work behind the scenes to get my singing to where it is today but it’s interesting —the qualities of my voice that I used to view as imperfections are now often the things that people tell me they like most about my voice. It’s crazy how things work out like that ––I’ve come to realize that sometimes a lot of the things in life that seem like curses really are just blessings in disguise.
DO YOUR TATTOOS HAVE MEANINGS? IF SO, WHAT DO THEY SYMBOLIZE?
Yes, all of my tattoos have meanings. I’m a very OCD person and all of my tattoos are organized. The right side of my body reflects my internal qualities (my birth name, birth year/place and birth order) and the left side of my body reflects my external qualities (my music and my martial arts). On my right side: being a quarter Japanese, I have my Japanese middle name “Kenji” (which translates to ‘healthy; rule’) on my right upper arm. I was born in New York City in 1994 and when I was in New York last year, I got that tattooed on my right forearm. I’m also the oldest of three boys and under my right collarbone, I have an arrow with three circles in it symbolizing me and my brothers; the biggest circle represents me (the oldest) and the other two smaller circles represent my two younger brothers.
As for my left side: I have a guitar fretboard which symbolizes my passion for guitar/music on the back of my left forearm ––pretty self-explanatory. And lastly, after training three days a week for 14 years, I wanted to have something on my body representing my black belt in mixed martial arts, so on my left shoulder, I have a rising sun blended with an American flag, which is a symbol that was on the wall of my martial arts studio all the years I trained there.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST GOAL FOR THE FUTURE?
The short simple answer is that I just want to be a rockstar — not going to lie that would be pretty cool. But really, the bigger answer is I want to create art that brings people together. It’s so easy to feel lonely and lost in this world and I hope to make art that helps people feel less alone and inspires them to use their own voice and be heard. When you feel like no one in the world understands you or knows what you’re going through and you hear that one song that just somehow you gets you when no one else does ––a song from a person you’ve never even met but who’s music and lyrics help you know that they’re there living somewhere in this same, big world as you and they feel it too; that’s power. It could also be a character from a story you connect with or a piece of art — it’s something bigger than you or me or anyone.
That’s the reason I chose to be an artist. If I could just even make one person’s life a little bit better or inspire them to express their own individuality whether that be through my music, fashion/modeling work, art, etc., it would make my purpose feel served. I would rather have one person really connect with my art and be invested in what I am trying to say than a million people who don’t really care that much. I’ll either shoot for the stars or die trying but I refuse to be mediocre — that’s how it’s always been and that’s how it’ll always be for the future!
… RECORDING ARTIST – SONGWRITER
AMERICAN BALLET THEATER’S NEW YORK SUMMER INTENSIVE
at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (July 26, noon and 2:30 p.m.).
Curious about the next generation of dancers? Two afternoon performances
wrap up Ballet Theater’s 24th annual training program, directed by Kate
Lydon, for dancers ages 12 to 20. Students of the five-week intensive,
under the instruction of former company members including Cynthia
Harvey, Leslie Browne,
Lupe Serrano and Cheryl Yeager, will perform selections from
“Coppélia,” “Don Quixote,” “Giselle,” “La Bayadère,” “Swan Lake,” “The
Sleeping Beauty” and August Bournonville’s “Le Conservatoire.”
212-477-3030, ext. 3416; abt.org
at Gerald W. Lynch Theater (Aug. 1-3, 7:30 p.m.). This East London
hip-hop group, last seen at the 2018 White Light Festival, returns to
Lincoln Center for an encore of its acclaimed political and virtuosic “Blak Whyte Gray.”
Presented this time by the Mostly Mozart Festival, the company explores
themes of oppression, identity and transcendence. Michael Asante (also
known as Mikey J) is credited with creative direction and music, while
Kenrick Sandy (who goes by H2O) is the piece’s choreographer.
YOSHIKO CHUMA AND THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS at the Invisible Dog (July 26, 7 p.m.). Chuma, a veteran experimental choreographer and conceptual artist, presents the final presentation of “My Diary: Secret Journey to Tipping Utopia.” In it, musicians, dancers and designers interact, but never directly as fragments of sound, text and action — a metaphor for the cycle of life — fluctuate between states of utopia and war. Chuma has been in residency at the Invisible Dog since July 1.
COMPAGNIE HERVÉ KOUBI at Prospect Park Bandshell (July 27, 8 p.m.). For the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, this company led by Koubi, a French-Algerian choreographer, presents his evening-length “What the Day Owes to the Night.” With a cast of 12 French-Algerian and African dancers, this vibrant production combines capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop and contemporary dance; it’s Koubi’s signature work and his second collaboration with street dancers from Algeria and Burkina Faso.
JACOB’S PILLOW DANCE FESTIVAL
in Becket, Mass. (through Aug. 25). This weekend, the festival hosts
the Paul Taylor Dance Company in repertory works and the tap
choreographer Caleb Teicher with the composer and pianist Conrad Tao for
their collaboration “More Forever” (both performances run through
Sunday). In the coming week, “The Day,” an anticipated piece by the
cellist Maya Beiser, the dancer Wendy Whelan and the choreographer
Lucinda Childs, has its premiere; the production, which features music
by David Lang, explores memory and resilience (Wednesday through Aug.
4). Also, A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham offers a mixed repertory program, which
includes his own works as well as one by Andrea Miller (Wednesday
through Aug. 4).
MADE IN N.Y.C. 2.0: NEXT GENERATION TRADITIONS at Hearst Plaza (July 28, 1 p.m.). As part of its Heritage Sunday series, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presents this free, mixed bill featuring Redobles de Cultura, a collective of three New York City Afro-Puerto Rican bomba practitioners; Sri Lankan Dance Academy of New York,
an intergenerational group based in Staten Island; Michael Winograd
& the Honorable Mentshn, a Brooklyn klezmer group; and Inkarayku, an
Andean band that performs Quechua folk songs and dance music. This
presentation highlights the art and culture of first- and
second-generation New Yorkers.
92Y MOBILE DANCE FILM FESTIVAL
at the 92nd Street Y (July 27, 4, 5:30 and 7 p.m.). How often have you
lost track of time watching dance videos on your smartphone? Here’s an
opportunity to see three programs’ worth
— 48 films in all — at the 92Y’s second annual festival celebrating
works shot on mobile devices. Its international jury considered more
than 100 submissions from 14 countries, including Argentina, Cuba,
France, Greece and Japan. The selected films include David Fernandez’s
“The Clock,” Rebecca Gillespie’s “The French Girl,” and Roma Flowers and
Nina Martin’s “Secondary Surfaces Redreamed.”
YOUNG DANCEMAKERS COMPANY at various locations (July 26, 7 p.m.; July 28 and 31 and Aug. 1, 2 p.m.; July 30, 1 p.m.; through Aug. 3). This dance ensemble,
which comprises students from New York City public high schools,
continues its 24th annual touring season, taking place at different
locations across four boroughs, from the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on
Friday to the Kumble Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Since the end of
June, the young dance artists have developed original choreography under
the guidance of Alice Teirstein and Jessica Gaynor, as well as the 2019
guest artist John Heginbotham, and now present the end result in these
free public showings.