My personal philosophy toward music is simple. The act of listening to a song is an experiential encounter during which you can properly expose yourself to perspectives unlike your own. The beauty of a song, although it is an actual result of physical musical production, is truly represented by the response you muster while listening to a song. This is supported by the inherent subjectivity of listening to music. Because of this nature, qualitative judgement on music should be among one of the last considerations when you hear new music. Your first step should simply be to understand. And you can only understand when you listen.
Each new day is a new opportunity to learn more. If it becomes happenstance that the mood strikes you to spread your wings and dabble in some palettes you normally don’t expose yourself to, please take this opportunity to consider some artists whom I have found to epitomize the idea of perspective shifts. Don’t expect anything going in. I will do the best I can to describe each artist’s respective music, but we all know the best way to talk about music is by saying nothing at all and just listening.
1 – Bane’s World
Bane’s World is a young artist who shines particularly in his talent for dreamy and spacy production. A category for artists like Bane’s World has started to develop more in recent years called Bedroom Pop. This genre is reserved for artists who follow a trend for musical production that literally happens in your bedroom. This is obviously due to the rejuvenation that music has experienced as a result of technological advancements, so even your average Joe can make a song and share it with the world all from the comfort of their own bed if they so wish. Bane’s World, though, prefers his garage.
He has not released much music in recent years. In fact his latest solo release is dated in 2017. That doesn’t mean the few songs he has published aren’t angelic. My personal favorite is “You Say I’m in Love,” a loose single that Bane’s World released. The strength of this song and his music in general is in the creation of a specific musical aesthetic that blends lo-fi, jazz and phenomenally layered vocals to create a dissonant sense in listeners. It’s these talents that draw me toward Bane’s World because he is able to capture a very distinct vibe while still coming off as original. At times you may think he is going off the rails with how much voice distortion he utilizes, but I think the beauty to take from that is conceptual. His art almost feels like the product of distortion rather than just the utilization of it.
2 – Cautious Clay
I got put on to Cautious Clay early on last year, but as I tend to do, I procrastinated actually listening to this dude’s music. So now I want to help you avoid the mistakes of my past. Cautious Clay is a New York based artist whose music leans toward the undefinable. It’s just good. He has a clear tendency to replicate R&B tendencies in his music with an emphasis on background sounds and choral backdrops. Obviously talented in an all-around musical sense, Clay’s versatility reminds me of Khalid in his clean production and songwriting.
Songs such as “Cold War” and “Erase” represent some of Clay’s most popular cuts, but my personal favorite is “Elsewhere” from Clay’s 2018 debut, “Blood Type”. Clay uses a perfect balance of autotune with his natural voice to produce perfectly smooth electronic vocals which just feel like watching a widescreen movie filmed in 4K. He clearly draws influence from pop music, but coming from a tradition of hating pop music probably more than country, I have to say he takes pop and shows everyone what it could sound like if some variation was introduced to the genre. “Joshua Tree” is a good example of this. It takes on fairly standard musical progressions in the incorporation of soundscapes like claps, tambourines and a choir going crazy in the back. But what sets Clay apart is his attention to detail is the fact that these sounds never take predominance to his voice, meaning his songwriting takes precedence. This is a quality that I think pop music has lacked for a long time.
3 – Cosmo Pyke
I have a thing for artists who just exude soulfulness in their voices. This can happen in many different ways, whether that be the pitch of an artist’s voice or simply something distinct about it, like raspiness. Cosmo Pyke is an artist based in the United Kingdom, and it’s not just his accent but the pure soul in this man’s voice that makes him remarkable. Actually, it’s probably the combination of the two that really gets me. But Cosmo Pyke would most easily be categorized as an alternative artist to me, as his strength is purely his voice. He uses very minimalist production to center the melodies present in his tracks. The best way I can describe his music is to imagine you were sitting at a coffee shop in Liverpool because this is probably the music that would be playing in the background. While he uses plain sound and instrumentation, his voice makes him one of the most interesting artists to make my list. Some of his best tracks include “Chronic Sunshine” and “Social Sites.”
4 – Jay Prince
Jay Prince is another artist based in the United Kingdom who thrives in a very different way. Prince has more of an affliction for rapping rather than singing, but just as well, he best embodies a strain of island music that isn’t typical of the region he is making music from. I first heard of Prince when he released his 2017 project, “Late Summers.” This project was a perfect fusion of rap and dancehall, which represented the quintessential island music. This was perfect for me considering it was the summer when I started listening to Prince, and who doesn’t love some island music during the summer? “When I Die,” “Anthem” and “Vice” are among my favorite songs from Prince. He definitely takes influence from American rap and has drawn many comparisons to Kendrick Lamar throughout his career.
5 – Celeste
So one day I was chilling by my lonesome and just listening to random songs that were coming on a song radio that I was listening to on Spotify. And then Celeste came on. Celeste is creating music in a strain of R&B which hasn’t been popular since the late 20th century, when artists such as Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston were driving forces in the genre. This makes Celeste come as a breath of fresh air in an era when R&B is rapidly transitioning to become more and more electronic based. Songs like “Coco Blood” and “Both Sides of the Moon” emphasize the use of live instrumentation, which makes her music very transferable to experiential settings. She frequently collaborates with musicians from the Gotts Street Park group who set her tonal foundation darker and more emotional.
6 – Mavi
Mavi is a more recent discovery of mine who has gained a phenomenal amount of credibility with a small amount of published music. His latest album release “Let the Sun Talk” was immediately garnering album of the year claims. Mavi is a rapper who is currently attending Howard University, which shows in his music. My favorite thing about Mavi, more than the actual music itself, is his ability to convey black liberation from a particularly academic standpoint while still making good music even absent consideration of his critical discourse. While Mavi is a rapper, don’t go in expecting anything like mainstream rap. Mavi takes influence most predominantly from artists like Earl Sweatshirt who make it a point to take an experimental route to music creation. Songs like “Eye/I and I/Nation,” “Love, of Money” and “Self Love” feel more like visual art portraits than simple songs to me. Mavi doesn’t subscribe in the least to traditional song structure and because of this, he creates a unique sound with each song.
7 – MIKE
MIKE makes music in a similar community as Mavi, but instead coming from New York. Mavi is, in most ways, experimental. But MIKE takes that and triples that experimental value in his music. The beats that he uses are typically very erratic and almost unrhythmic, yet he is not too afraid to spend multiple verses rapping over them. These are obviously political statements he is making considering his breakout album is titled “War in My Pen,” but MIKE’s latest release, “Tears of Joy,” really captured my ear in how reserved he is in his experimentality. It makes his music endlessly interesting to listen to while you might be studying, walking or doing any simple task.
8 – Waldo
Waldo is a rapper from California who has been surprisingly consistent throughout his small discography. His 2016 project “Nsde/Outsde” stands out for me in terms of the high-level production quality he is able to accomplish at such an early point in his career. Since then, he has released two other albums that have been received with high critical acclaim. The heavy electronic production that Waldo uses makes his voice come off as particularly tailored for each track that he is on. While he belongs to a more traditional trend of rappers, he manages to still stand out in his pure rap ability.
9 – Zacari
Most people had not heard of Zacari before he appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s album, “DAMN.” The track entitled “LOVE.” was a beautiful ode that saw Zacari on the hook and immediately had people wanting more music from this man. Soon after, Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment, signed Zacari to a record deal, and in the spring of 2019 Zacari released his first project, “Run Wild Run Free.” This project is probably my favorite of all that I’ve mentioned simply due to Zacari’s clear knack for incorporating lo-fi influence into his music, which is fundamentally R&B. He has done an incredible job early in his career of forging his own musical path that hasn’t been replicated by any other artist. My personal favorite by him is “Lone Wolf,” and “Midas Touch” is a close second.
10 – REASON
REASON is the latest newcomer to Top Dawg Entertainment, though he occupies a completely different strain of music than Zacari. While Zacari features more soft melodies, REASON is at the opposite end of the spectrum with gangster rap. The distinguishing quality about how REASON makes music is that he tells incredibly descriptive and impassioned stories. His rough vocal aesthetic contributes well to the soulful samples that REASON prefers to use. While he is only one full-length project in, I think he has a lot of promise moving forward.