Let’s face it, the Grammys don’t always get it right. Think back to 2015 when Beck beat Beyoncé. Perhaps the most galling was the 1967 best contemporary rock and roll recording going to the New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” … and not “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles or “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys. But the gold-plated gramophones that will be handed out at tonight’s socially distanced 63rd Grammy Awards, hosted by Trevor Noah, still constitute a landmark moment for these artists, establishing their credentials on the biggest night in music. Today’s Sunday Magazine tells you the surprise nominees and trends to know, and introduces you to the Grammy winners of tomorrow. Don’t say you didn’t see them coming.
Joshua Eferighe, OZY Reporter, and Jed Gottlieb, OZY Correspondent
Potter didn’t know if she was finished with the music industry or it was finished with her. The singer/songwriter/rock-and-roll powerhouse had some hard years leading to her album, Daylight. She divorced. She split with Hollywood Records. Her backing band, the Nocturnals, broke up after a decade of touring and two top-20 albums. When she approached songwriter Mike Busbee to help her with Daylight, he was blunt. “He said, ‘I hate to say this to you, but [you are] a pregnant woman with no record company and no plans to go on tour … and I have a waitlist of people that want to work with me,’” Potter tells OZY. “This was enough to shake loose the doubts, pain, regret, fear and apprehension I had about making this record.” The two ended up co-writing a few tracks and jump-started Potter’s rebirth. Today Potter, 37, has a 3-year-old son with new husband Eric Valentine, a new record label and an artistic triumph that netted a pair of Grammy nominations: The title track “Daylight” is up for Best Rock Performance; the album competes for Best Rock Album.
2. Country Music’s Racial Reckoning
Last month, fresh, young country superstar Morgan Wallen laid bare the genre’s long-standing problems with race and representation when a video emerged of him shouting a racist slur. It’s the same genre Mickey Guyton has devoted her career to. One of the few Black artists in country, Guyton, 37, minted a minor viral hit last summer with the personal, passionate and bold “Black Like Me.” It tallied hundreds of thousands of views and streams, but it didn’t make a dent on the country charts. Now Guyton has a second chance to win the song the attention it deserves, with “Black Like Me” making her the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Country Solo Performance.
3. You Oughta Know Lauren Patten
In 2018, OZY asked “Is She Broadway’s Next Rock Star?” The Grammys and Tonys may soon answer that question. Lauren Patten, 28, originated the role of Jo in the Broadway production of Jagged Little Pill, which brings together ’90s rock sensation Alanis Morissette’s music, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody’s book and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus. But Patten emerged as the breakout star — her performance of Morissette’s signature song “You Oughta Know” prompted standing ovations at each of the 79 sold-out performances in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before Broadway theaters shuttered, Patten brought the same electricity to New York’s Broadhurst Theatre. Now Patten is up for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, and she and her castmates are nominated for Best Musical Theater Album at the Grammys.
Antibalas’ 2021 Grammy nomination was more than a half-century in the making. The versatile New York-based group, which features as many as 19 members, has only been around for two decades, but its music channels the great Fela Kuti — with a dash of kung fu teaching. Starting in the late ’60s, Kuti became Nigeria’s greatest sonic export by pioneering Afrobeat, a hybrid of traditional Yoruba music, funk and jazz. Antibalas’ first Grammy nomination, for Best Global Music Album, Fu Chronicles,comes in a year when Kuti himself may be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the “fan vote” giving him the lead over Tina Turner, Foo Fighters and Iron Maiden.
These rising stars will be on music’s biggest stage before long.
1. Cakes Da Killa
Born Rashard Bradshaw, this New Jersey-bred rapper is leading the trend of LGBTQ+ acceptance in the rap community. Although he released his debut album, Hedonism, in 2016 and only five singles from 2018-2019, the Atlanta resident is building traction, having competed in Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow in 2019 and released viral hits “Luv Me Nots” and “Don Dada” last year. With the 30-year-old delivering a fusion of dance, electronic and hip-hop, don’t be surprised if you see his vibrant music nominated next year as he rounds out his sophomore album.
At first, she didn’t know she could just … make music. A theater kid and classically trained choral singer, the Tampa, Florida, native never took the songs she’d been writing or her YouTube channel seriously, until a friend showed her how they could record and produce themselves. Her first drop, “El Chapo,” five years ago racked up tens of thousands of streams and she embraced a music career. “It seemed really farfetched,” she told SVGE magazine. Not anymore. After her first single, “Girls,” and EP Coven Music Session, Vol. 1, Iamdoechiikeeps teasing a debut album called The Broom Closet, supposedly inspired by reading tarot cards, but has not announced a release date. Instead she kept fans hooked with a follow-up EP last year called Oh the Places You’ll Go.
With his top buttons undone, Afro nicely picked and a smile that will light up any room, it’s no wonder Ali’s single “Keemy Casanova” has exploded online, sitting well over 1 million views. Grabbing some elements off his 2019 project Rollin’ — “Mhmm” is another Superfly-esque tune — the braggadocious Jackson, Mississippi, native is a newcomer, with just one single and one EP under his belt. But if he continues with his current momentum, he may be bringing his ’70s-style pimpin’ persona to your screens soon.
The world knew her voice before it saw her face. Thanks to rapper Sleepy Hallow, who used an instrumental sampling of her voice, and TikTok’s algorithm, the New Jersey native experienced anonymous second-hand success — then she successfully petitioned TikTok to credit her. Now that Fousheé’s name is attached to a song with tens of millions of views, she’s used the virality to launch into her own soul sound. With a mother who was the drummer for a female Jamaican reggae band named PEP, music runs deep — she started writing songs at age 6. You can hear it clearly in her latest tracks, “Single Af” and “Sing About Love.”
Pronounced “Rumor,” there is no single category that can effectively contain the sonic sensation of this Los Angeles-based singer — and he thrives in that mystery zone. The masked artist is in his early 20s, according to Fader, and insists on remaining anonymous. There’s a freshness that surrounds everything he does, as evidenced by his single “Rascal.” Featuring a Rascal Flatts sample, the tune is as unforgettable as the video — with his drop-dead gorgeous voice set against a Saint Laurent bulletproof vest and an array of firearms menacing the camera. RMR sounds like a cross between Young Thug and Keith Urban, and those varied skills are on full display in his album Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art.
A warm lullaby is the best way to describe the voice of this 25-year-old up-and-coming singer. Listen to it on his 2019 single, “Aunque Me Digas Que No” (“Even If You Say No to Me”), and you’ll understand why it catapulted him to national attention in Spain. Born Jonathan Cortez, Zheit also has a gifted pen with lyrics that break the bounds of language. Inspired by R&B, soul and hip-hop, he delivers a smooth version of Latin trap the world has been missing in his latest EP, Mala Suerte.
This Panama-born rapper (given name: John Farrish) transitions seamlessly between Spanish and English with a sound unlike any other. Ever since moving to Atlanta at age 9, Farrish couldn’t help but succumb to the lure of hip-hop’s current mecca, citing Travis Scott, Saint Jhn and PARTYNEXTDOOR as influences. The result is Latin trap from a Black perspective, distinguishing it from other trap artists like Bad Bunny and J Balvin. Listen to the 19-year-old’s debut album, El Saint and hear the sonic range between tracks “Drama” and “Posty” — then ask yourself who else can do that.
3. Rauw Alejandro
Born Raúl Alejandro Ocasio Ruiz, this singer credits new and old school influences — from Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley to Chris Brown and Ozuna. And like his idols, the 28-year-old Puerto Rico native aims to set himself apart through high-energy performances and dance routines. Following the success of “Luz Apaga,” which has more than 136 million YouTube views, he’s worked with Ariana Grande and even performed at and nabbed a Best New Artist nomination at the 2020 Latin Grammys. His debut album, Afrodisíaco, shows off his signature voice and charm and will put him in contention for golden gramophones, Latin and otherwise, in the coming years.
4. Fyah Roiall
Born Brandon Wedderburn, this up-and-coming Jamaican rapper is part of the new “grimehall” wave — an exciting fusion of trap, U.K. grime and dancehall. His debut album, Underrated, released last year, offers a more authentic look at the island as he’s more in touch with the streets than his dancehall contemporaries. Rapping in his hometown patois, Roiall brings that authenticity to his videos “Nobody” and “Soda,” which was shot at Half Way Tree in Jamaica.
After accruing 45 million-plus views performing their hit single “Dalaga” on a radio station bus in 2019, the R&B quartet from the Philippines became impossible to ignore. Made up of rappers Crakky and Russell and singers Clien (who is from Italy) and Jom (a Canadian), this group can deliver any kind of vibe. From “Dalaga,” which feels like an Usher deep cut, to their recent single “Sexing Maliit,” closer to a Chris Brown track, this talented group is making heads turn.
Donning a mask and colored bangs that cover her eyes, this Japanese pop artist forces you to listen, not look. Her first break came two years ago by uploading song covers on YouTube, and in October she dropped her debut single, “Masshiro.” Two million-plus views later, it’s safe to say she has good material of her own. In her brief career, Yama already has a song (“Haru wo Tsugeru”) that’s hit No. 3 on TikTok’s weekly ranking and charted on Billboard. With a heart-melting voice, she is the Japanese Sia you should be looking for.
Short for “ATEEnagerZ,” as in they represent “everything about the teenagers from A to Z,” this K-pop band’s rise has been unstoppable since their 2018 debut EP, Treasure Ep. 1: All to Zero. Known for their masterful dance skills and choreography, the eight-member South Korean group has seen all of their EPs make Billboard’s World Album Chart. This month’s Zero: Fever Part.2 could send them over the top to global stardom. Is this the next BTS in the making?
This Filipino artist has been a fixture in the battle rap scene since 2010. In 2015, BLKD (pronounced “balakid”) released the critically acclaimed album Gatilyo, solidifying him as one the preeminent rap artists in the Philippines’ increasingly competitive industry. The Cavite native’s 2019 project, Kolateral, garnered him international attention while raising sensitive questions about President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs. The compilation album features local artists and interviews with families who have lost loved ones to extrajudicial killings. With socially conscious artists taking off around the world, he’s a name to know.
the future is african
When your dad is a music giant, a career in the same field inevitably comes with pressure — though sometimes you can also benefit. That’s the case for this Ghanaian Afro-fusion singer, whose father is Nana Acheampong (one-half of the famous Lumba Brothers). While Gyakie is new on the scene — her debut EP, Seed, premiered last year — the 20-year-old from Accra displays an arsenal of talent, rapping and singing to the diverse beats she picks.
He doesn’t have a prominent music background, but when Barack Obama queues you on one of his playlists — as he did with this 20-year-old’s song, “Iron Man,” back in 2019 — it puts the world on notice. Before “44” and the general public, the Benin City native captured his fellow Nigerians’ attention when his freestyle to the local hit “Gucci Gang” went viral. It was so good that D’Prince, who sang the original, flew Rema to Lagos and offered him a record deal. While he’s still building his career and has not yet released a full album, the kid has already twice charted on Billboard’s Top 10. Check out a compilation of the singles here.
She has an inviting voice that glides note to note with certainty, delivering lyrics infused with emotion. This Nigerian singer is a refreshing reminder that the continent is about more than Afrobeats. Her 2018 single “Mr Rebel” first put her on the map, showcasing a range and tone that has garnered her a die-hard fan base who refer to themselves as the Rebel Gang. Born Temilade Openiyi, the 25-year-old cites Aaliyah and Alicia Keys as early influences, as well as her guitar-playing older brother who blasted Coldplay and Paramore from his room. She did not see success until heading off to school in South Africa to study economics, but the wait was worth it, as evidenced by her critically acclaimed debut project, For Broken Ears.
While still early in her career, this Irish singer is already on her second act. Born Cassia O'Reilly, she released three EPs and collaborated with established artists like Mura Masa under the moniker Bonzai. She now chooses to go with the phonetic pronunciation of her given name as a nod to her new direction, debuting RIP Bonzai in 2018 under the new name. She returned last year with her signature tone while adding warped, enigmatic elements as well. Listen to her latest singles — “No Kink in the Wire,”“Berlin Air,”“Lapdance From Asia” and “Tighter” — and see why she should be on your radar.
2. Laila Al Habash
This 22-year-old Italian-Palestinian artist’s career unfurled without much of a plan. After uploading music onto Bandcamp so her friends could hear, she found herself in the company of Niccolò Contessa and Stabber — pop and rap producer savants — and with major label distribution. Now signed to Undamento, she’s released her first EP, Moquette, which offers a unique pop sound that fuses the indie music of her Italian childhood with the flow and rhyme schemes of the rap she’s been listening to lately.
If you’re a fan of the Italian pop band Canova, you might know what to expect from this artist who led the group from 2013-2020. Solo acts can soar or flame out, but his debut single, “20 100,” should be a sign of good things to come as he branches out on his own. It displays his light voice that matches the ambient instrumentals he gracefully floats across and shows a confident artist ready for a breakthrough.
4. Altın Gün
This psychedelic folk band, with a modern jam band kind of style, was nominated for a Grammy in 2019, and should be in the winner’s circle before long. The Dutch-Turkish collective came together after Dutch bassist Jasper Verhulst sought out Turkish musicians on Facebook. What he got was a talented six-member group with varied skills and instruments, including the traditional Turkish stringed saz (also called a bağlama). Their third album, Yol, released this month, busts out some of the best funk grooves you’ll find.