Updated date:

30 Black Artists Under 30 That You Should Know

Andrea has been an online writer for 8+ years. She mostly writes about dating, couples, weddings, travel, interior design, and gardening.

Brandy and Chance the Rapper in the music video "Baby Mama".

Brandy and Chance the Rapper in the music video "Baby Mama".

Honoring Black Youth

If I asked you to name 10 Black artists, most of the ones that would pop into your head would be over 30, right?

Maybe I'm wrong: maybe you're affluent on the TikTok, SoundCloud, and Instagram crowds. Either way: I think it's time that we get educated on the rising stars in the Black community.

I think it's important to see who is making big waves in the music scene in contemporary times. There are always fresh, new singers with pressing lyrics.

I've done research all over the place to figure out who are the big names floating around music circles today.

I am including Black artists from any country, of any gender, and of any style. This post is about appreciating Black youth. They have the torch today, and they'll continue to carry it into the future.

We can discuss the 30+ crowd another day, and of course... all these people (god willing) will eventually reach the third floor.

  • This list does not rank people.
  • I've tried to give everyone the same amount of spotlight.
  • I've included content that isn't deemed explicit.

30 Black Artists under 30

ArtistsGenreCity

Chance the Rapper

Hip hop, Rap, R&B

Chicago

Lil Nas X

Country Rap, Hip Hop, Trap

Atlanta

Jean Deaux

R&B, Neo Soul, Hip Hop

Chicago

Ravyn Lenae

R&B, Neo Soul

Chicago

Masego

Jazz Fusion, Future Soul, Funk

Kingston Jamaica / Newport News, VA

Cardi B

Hip Hop, Rap, Pop

New York City

Ella Mai

R&B, Hip Hop, Pop

London

H.E.R.

R&B

Vallejo, CA

Kaia Kater

Indie Folk, Americana, Old Time Music

Montreal, Quebec

Gunna

Hip Hop, Trap, R&B

Atlanta

Saba

Hip Hop, Rap

Chicago

Princess Nokia

Emo Rap, Trip Hop, House

New York City

KAYTRANADA

Electronic, Dance, Funk

Port-au-Prince, Haiti / Montreal, Quebec

Megan Thee Stallion

Hip Hop, Rap

Houston

Queen Naija

R&B

Detroit

Brent Faiyaz

R&B, Hip Hop

Columbia, MD

Doja Cat

Pop, Hip Hop, R&B

Los Angeles

Saweetie

Hip Hop

San Francisco Bay Area

Rico Nasty

Hip Hop, Punk Rap, Trap Metal

Largo, MD

Mahalia

R&B, Neo Soul, Hip Hop

Syston, UK

GoldLink

Hip Hop, R&B, Electronica

Washington D.C.

Justine Skye

R&B, Hip Hop, Pop

New York City

Tinashe

R&B, Pop

Lexington, KY

Summer Walker

R&B, Neo Soul

Atlanta

Cordae

Hip Hop

Suitland, MD

Jorja Smith

R&B, Pop, Grime

London

Tierra Whack

Hip Hop, R&B, Experimental Rap

Philadelphia / Atlanta

Earl Sweatshirt

Hip Hop, Rap

Santa Monica / Chicago

Cupcakke

Hip Hop, Dirty Rap

Chicago

Vince Staples

Hip Hop

Compton / North Long Beach

Chance the Rapper

Born: April 16, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: Chancelor Jonathan Bennett

Hometown: Chicago

One of the biggest names right now in the music industry is Chance the Rapper. His third mixtape Coloring Book in 2016 earned him worldwide attention. It earned him three Grammys, including Best Rap Album. His debut studio album The Big Day was released on July 26, 2019.

Chance the Rapper is also a member of the Chicago collective Savemoney. He is also a vocalist for the group Social Experiment.

Chance grew up in Chicago. His father, Ken Wiliams-Bennett, was an aide to the late mayor Harold Washington, and later Senator Barack Obama. Lisa Bennett, his mother, worked for the Illinois Attorney General.

In his youth, Chance met with President Barack Obama and told him his aspirations were to become a rapper. He grew up in a home where music was constantly playing. Some of his favorites: Michael Jackson, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, and Kanye West.

Chance used to get in trouble when he gave out his CD mixtapes out for free. His dad tried to get him to understand that it costs money to buy CDs, so it makes no sense to just give them away.

The rapper felt otherwise. He felt it wasn't just giving away his music for free, but allowed him to be a free artist. It broadcast that he was independent.

His activism led him to co-create a non-profit designed to help Chicago youth. He participates in campaigns to stop the city's gun violence problem. He supports government intervention to support young Black men. In 2017, he donated one million dollars to Chicago Public Schools.

Chance the Rapper Discography

ProjectsMediumDate Released

The Big Day

Studio Album

July 26, 2019

10 Day

Mixtape

April 3, 2012

Acid Rap

Mixtape

April 30, 2013

Free (Based Freestyles Mixtape)

Mixtape

August 5, 2015

Coloring Book

Mixtape

May 13, 2016

Merry Christmas Lil' Mama

Mixtape

December 22, 2016

Lil Nas X

Born: April 9, 1999

Age: 21

Real name: Montero Lamar Hill

Hometown: Lithia Springs, Georgia

I assume you have been living under a rock for the past couple of years if you haven't heard of the name Lil Nas X. His song "Old Town Road" was a major hit, and he was only a teenager when it became big.

The country rap single achieved viral success first on Tik Tok in 2019. It became diamond certified by November of the same year.

It spent 19 weeks on top of the US Billboard 100 chart. It was the longest-running number one song since the chart debuted in 1958.

Several mixes of "Old Town Road" were released, the most popular one featured country singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

Nas X came out as gay while "Old Town Road" was atop the Hot 100; he is the only artist to announce he is gay while having a number-one record. Following the success of the song: he released his debut EP, 7.

The singer was the most nominated male artist at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. Time named him one of the most influential people on the Internet in 2019. He appeared on Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2020.

Lil Nas X tried a few social media experiments before finding success. He made comedy videos on Facebook, then he moved to Instagram, then Twitter.

Yeah, I'm gonna take my horse

To the old town road

I'm gonna ride 'til I can't no more

I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road

I'm gonna ride (Kio, Kio) 'til I can't no more.

I got the horses in the back

Horse tack is attached

Hat is matte black

Got the boots that's black to match

Riding on a horse, ha

You can whip your Porsche

I been in the valley

You ain't been up off the porch, no

— Lil Nas X | Old Town Road

Jean Deaux

Born: May 4, 1995

Age: 25

Real name: Zoi Harris

Hometown: Chicago

An artist with a unique, distinct sound. Jean Deaux hops around different genres from R&B, neo soul, house, and hip hop. She has noted Missy Elliot as one of her biggest influences.

Her songs are layered, a mix of chill and angry, and refreshingly diverse. She doesn't use the same tired tricks from song to song. Each track stands on its own as a unique sampling from her universe.

Before music, she got involved in acting and poetry circles. Her name came to light in the music industry with uploads on SoundCloud. She appeared on tracks with Mick Jenkins, Saba, Mykki, and Isaiah Rashad.

"Wikipedia" was her breakout track back in 2017. The song sounds somewhat reminiscent of the band Zero 7.

Jean Deaux is part of the music collective Medicine Woman with Ravyn Lenae, Drea Smith, and Via Rosa. She is also part of the hip hop collective The Village 777 with Alex Wiley, Monster Mike, Isaiah Rashad, Spiff, and the Magician.

Ravyn Lenae

Born: January 22, 1999

Age: 22

Real name: Ravyn Lenae Washington

Hometown: Chicago

Another Chicago based artist who is young, challenging the scene, and has infectious tunes. She is a member of the musical collective Zero Fatigue.

Her debut EP Moon Shoes was released in 2015. Her follow-up EP Midnight Moonlight was released in 2017.

Ravyn's music is mostly categorized in R&B and neo soul. She has been described as a younger and more honey / sweet version of Kelis. She mixes neo soul standards with jazz, chamber pop, and ambient.

She has named OutKast, Eminem, India.Arie as her music inspirations. Occasionally her songs seem to borrow from older soul and reggae generations.

Ravyn was raised in the Pullman Christian Reformed Church in Chicago. Her grandfather, Richard Williams, served as the pastor for 30 years. She has said participating in the music and worship services at her church helped her develop her music abilities. In middle school, she started writing her own tunes.

Ravyn went to the Chicago High School for the Arts and studied classical music.

Masego

Born: June 8, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: Micah Davis

Hometown: Newport News, Virginia

Not going to lie, while doing research for this article I immediately fell in love with this singer's style. The track "Navajo" immediately grabbed me.

I want this musician to be a household name by the end of this decade. The Jamaican-American singer is known for adding saxophone into his songs. He is fluent in jazz, soul, funk, and R&B. His songs are composed to perfection, with beautifully enunciated lyrics, gorgeous instrumentation, and expertly layered vocals. It's easy to get addicted to this artist.

Two of his biggest influences: Cab Calloway and Andre 3000. The OutKast vibes are noticeable. As a child, Micah Davis grew up in a room with hundreds of vinyls on the walls. He was obsessed with music at a young age. He describes his music style as TrapHouseJazz. I would be okay with this genre becoming mainstream.

Both of his parents were pastors. He was raised in a non-denominational Christian home. Church gave him a space to learn music. He learned to play the piano as a child.

The name Masego translates to "Little Blessing", a name he was given at church. The name is also related to South Africa.

Cardi B

Born: October 11, 1992

Age: 28

Real name: Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar

Hometown: New York City

Born in Manhattan. Raised in the Bronx. She gained international fame through Vine and Instagram. She was a regular on the VH1 reality TV series Love & Hip Hop: New York. The show took a look at her music aspirations.

Her debut studio album in 2018, Invasion of Privacy, debuted at number on the Billboard 200. It broke several streaming records all at once. It won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, a first for a woman as a solo act.

"Bodak Yellow" and "I Like It" were big chart topping tracks. It put her in league with records that Lauryn Hill achieved. Forbes has recognized her as one of the most influential female rappers of all time.

Cardi B is known for her aggressive style and candor. Her rap is explosive, colorful, and makes you want to dance. She is the only female rapper with multiple billion streamers on Spotify.

The stage name Cardi B comes from Bacardi, a rum brand that was a nickname for her. Her music combines the Latin music vibes of her childhood with the New York hustle anthems of her adulthood.

I like those Balenciagas (Those), the ones that look like socks

I like going to the jeweler, I put rocks all in my watch (Cha-ching)

I like texts from my exes, when they want a second chance (What?)

— Cardi B | I Like It

Ella Mai

Born: November 3, 1994

Age: 26

Real name: Ella Mai Howell

Hometown: London

Ella began her music career at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute in London in 2014. During that time, she auditioned as part of a trio on The X Factor. The next year, she uploaded a solo EP to SoundCloud titled Troubled. She was discovered by American record producer Mustard.

From 2016 to 2018, Ella released three EPs. Her self-titled debut album was released in October 2018.

In 2019, the track "Boo'd Up" was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Song of the Year and Best R&B Song, it won the latter award.

Ella Mai was named after the famous jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. Her mother loved American jazz music. Mai moved from London to New York City at the age of 12: she graduated from Queens High School of Teaching in Oaks Queens before moving back to London.

She has named Lauryn Hill, Chris Brown, Destiny's Child, Alicia Keys, and Mariah Carey as her biggest musical influences. Her songs are reminiscent of classic '90s R&B tunes.

Fun fact: She is a fan of football (soccer). Her favorite club is Arsenal F.C.

H.E.R.

Born: June 27, 1997

Age: 23

Real name: Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson

Hometown: Vallejo, California

H.E.R. has a mature sounding voice. I'm surprised that she's only 23 as of writing this. Gabriella plays guitar and sings R&B. People weren't sure it would work in 2017, but they were wrong. She's now a staple of contemporary music.

Raised in the Bay Area city of Vallejo, Wilson got signed at the very young age of 14. She drew on classics from Prince, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Lauryn Hill to try and create an R&B sound for listeners of today. This led to her signature tracks: "Focus", "Slide", and "Slow Down", to name a few.

H.E.R. was nominated in 2019 for five Grammy Awards. She won Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance. She was again nominated for five Grammies in 2020. She had three Grammy nominations in 2021, one with a song she worked on with Bob Marley's grandson, Skip Marley. The song, "Slow Down". She won song of the year and Best R&B song for "Better Than I Imagine".

H.E.R. sang "America the Beautiful" at Super Bowl LV. She appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. It was the episode Adele hosted in 2020.

The singer has worked with several other artists including Chris Brown, WizKid, Ella Mai, and Daniel Caesar.

Kaia Kater

Born: September ?, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: Kaia Kater

Hometown: Montreal, Canada

Folk music isn't so popular with Black artists right now, at least not to where it brings fame and big bucks. That's why I think there should be special attention on Kaia.

She specializes in indie folk, Americana, and old time music. She grew up in Quebec. She also spent time in Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Kaia went to Davis & Elkins college in Elkins, West Virginia on a banjo scholarship. (Parents take note: there are banjo scholarships out there.)

The singer explores themes of poverty and racism in her songs. She has toured extensively in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The singer says Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill were all influences on her music, art style, and politics. Her 2016 album Nine Pin garnered a Canadian Folk Music Award. Her album Grenades explores themes of migration and belonging.

Her fans describe her as an inspiring mix of ancient techniques and much needed freshness. She plays folk songs as if she has been around the circuit for decades. If you hear her voice on the radio, or elsewhere, you would likely suspect her songs come from another time.

These clothes you gave me don't fit right

The belt is loose and the noose is tight

I'm drunk out looking for a fight

I'm soft and heavy as the night

I'm soft and heavy as the night

I've drowned the leagues of thirty men

And I've borne the wrath of each of them

Oh sugar cane and sugar plum

And the evils of a setting sun

The evils of a setting sun

— Kaia Kater | Nine Pin

Gunna

Born: June 14, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: Sergio Giavanni Kitchens

Hometown: College Park, GA

Best known for his collaborations with Lil Baby and Young Thug. He was raised by his mom and had four older brothers. He grew up listening to: OutKast, Cam'ron, and Chingy.

Gunna attended North Springs Charter School of Arts and Sciences and Langston Hughes High School. He released his debut mixtape in 2016: Drip. He gained fame in 2016 as a feature on Young Thug's "Floyd Mayweather". . . he was sought-after following this by labels and the like.

His sound is described as airy trap. It is smooth, it is mellow, and it fits afternoon vibes. His music is spacious, temperate, and chill.

The track "Sold Out Date" has received millions of streams on YouTube and SoundCloud. The song featured rapper Lil Baby. He released Drip Harder in 2018 with Lil Baby. The pairing was given a GOAT status by artist Future.

FYI: "Drip" is Gunna's slang word for personal style.

Besides Young Thug and Lil Baby, he has worked with: Don Toliver, Lil Keed, Roddy Ricch, Turbo, Wheezy, NAV, Metro Boomin, and Lil Gotit.

Saba

Born: July 17, 1994

Age: 26

Real name: Tahj Malik Chandler

Hometown: Chicago

Rapper and producer who grew up in the Austin neighborhood of the West Side of Chicago. He co-founded the musical collective Pivot Gang: it included his brother, Joseph Chilliams, their late cousin John Walt, and their high school friend Mfnmelo.

Saba is also one third of the supergroup Ghetto Stage with Smino and Noname. Saba was also featured on Chance the Rapper's mixtape Acid Rap. The duo performed the song "Angels" on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

As a child, Saba was into music. He started playing the piano at age 7. He graduated from high school at age 16. After school, he did music performances in Chicago. Most of his music is classified as hip hop.

He says his father influenced him to do music. His father was a Chicago artist as well, under the name Chandlar. He would bring Saba into the studio. He was also influenced by the music of Lupe Fiasco, Bone Thungs-n-Harmony, and Kanye West.

Saba is young, but he has released several mixtapes and albums. His songs are infectious and he often works with some of the biggest names in the industry including Smino, JID, Sylvan LaCue, Jamila Woods, and Mick Jenkins.

Saba Discography

ProjectsMediumRelease Date

Bucket List Project

Studio Album

October 27, 2016

CARE FOR ME

Studio Album

April 5, 2018

Get Comfortable

Mixtape

December 21, 2012

Comfort Zone

Mixtape

July 15, 2014

JIMMY

Compilation Album

October 15, 2013

You Can't Sit With Us

Compilation Album

April 19, 2019

SpareChange!

Extended Play

September 25, 2015

Princess Nokia

Born: June 14, 1992

Age: 28

Real name: Destiny Nicole Frasqueri

Hometown: New York City

With a name playing to nostalgic phones, Princess Nokia is a blend of EDM and trip hop. Her debut studio album was released in 2014: Metallic Butterfly. Her mixtape Honeysuckle followed the year after, 2015.

She rose to prominence in 2017 with the album 1992 Deluxe.

Frasqueri is Afro-Indigenous and of Puerto Rican descent. Her mother died when she was only 10 years old. She lost her mom to AIDS. She went into foster care from ages 9 to 16. In her late teenage years, she left foster care and went to live with her grandmother. That's about when she started writing rhymes.

Nokia is experimental. She doesn't really stick to one genre or the other. Her career started to take off after she did performances at gay night clubs. She practices Santeria.

As for her music, she cites MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, TLC, Korn, and Slipnot as influences. She looks to punk and rave for inspiration in her performances.

I find Nokia's songs infectious. Some of the lyrics are real ear worms, as well as the beats. She lets her angst run wild and free, and she has had plenty of angst in her life.

A is for the apple, take a bite and spit it out

B is for bodega, eatin' on your mama couch

Low bazooka with a Puerto-Rican chula

Says she workin' in the city and she gettin' moolah

C is for the crib, the cats that call you catch

— Princess Nokia | ABCs of New York

KAYTRANADA

Born: August 25, 1992

Age: 28

Real name: Louis Kevin Celestin

Hometown: Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The artist has captured a contemporary sound perfect for chill bars and clubs. The Montreal producer mixes together synths, soothing vocals, an edge of funk, and an elixir of smooth.

KAYTRANADA specializes in the genres funk, rap, R&B, and pop. He moved to Montreal as a child. He started DJing as a teenager. He put out his first tapes at age 18.

The artist previously went by the name Kaytradamus. He started his career as a top notch remixer. He puts spins on songs from Drake, Ratatat, Justice, and Rihanna.

The artist is working hard to create a style for modern soul. He has written songs for Pharrell Williams. His preference is to make beats. He likes instrumentals.

KAYTRANADA has released 13 projects and 41 remixes. He has toured in more than 50 cities in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia.

He is one half of the hip hop group The Celestics. His brother is the other member: Lou Phelps.

KAYTRANADA Discography

ProjectsMediumRelease Date

99.9%

Studio Album

May 6, 2016

Bubba

Studio Album

December 13, 2019

Bubba (Instrumental Version)

Studio Album

September 4, 2020

Kaytra Todo

Extended Play

February 25, 2013

Nothin' Like U / Chances

Extended Play

November 30, 2018

Kaytra da Mouse

Mixtape

April 2010

The Weather Report

Mixtape

August 23, 2010

Teriphikness

Mixtape

December 1, 2010

Merrymaking Music

Mixtape

June 28, 2011

Kaytra LaBoom

Mixtape

August 22, 2011

Kaytra Nada

Mixtape

February 26, 2012

Kaytrap EP

Mixtape

July 12, 2012

Spring Mixtape For Bromance

Mixtape

October 31, 2014

Instrumental Hip Hop Is Dead

Mixtape

July 3, 2013

Whatever

Mixtape

May 16, 2014

For Mixmag: The Cover Mix

Mixtape

October 31, 2014

0.001%

Mixtape

September 22, 2016

Megan Thee Stallion

Born: February 15, 1995

Age: 23

Real name: Megan Pate

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Representing Texas, Megan Thee Stallion jumped up to the mic to impress a dude. She had been writing for awhile, but she hadn't done anything public yet.

She was named the 2020 Apple Music Awards Breakthrough Artist. She is ferocious, infectious, sharp, and popping. Her key tracks are: "Big Ole Freak", "Savage", and "WAP", tracks that are reminiscent of Lil' Kim, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, and The Notorious B.I.G.

Megan Thee Stallion rose to fame when her freestyling videos went viral on Instagram and other platforms. She signed to 300 Entertainment in 2018. She released her first mixtape the next year: Fever.

At the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, she became the first female hip hop artist to win Best New Artist since Lauryn Hill did in 1999. Time magazine in 2020 named her one of the most influential people in the world.

Her stage name comes from adolescence. She was called a stallion for her height: 5'10" and a thick frame. Megan has a dream to establish assisted living facilities in Houston. She went to college for health administration. Her mother died from a longstanding brain tumor in March 2019, her grandmother died the same month.

In 2020, the artist was shot in her feet. Tory Lanez was charged in the shooting.

Okay, the hate turned me to a monster,

so I guess I'm evil now (I'm evil now)

Woke up and I blacked out everything

so I can see it now (See it now)

I'm on that demon time, it's only right

I cop the Hellcat (Skrrt)

— Megan the Stallion | Go Crazy feat. Big Sean & 2 Chainz

Queen Naija

Born: October 17, 1995

Age: 25

Real name: Queen Naija Bulls

Hometown: Detroit, MI

Queen Naija first came into fame as a contestant on American Idol. She didn't make it to the top 30, and she went back to work as a security guard. She started uploading videos to YouTube and built a solid following.

Her self-titled EP debuted at number 26 on the Billboard 200 in the summer of 2018. Later in the year, she released her first album, Missunderstood. The album debuted and peaked at #9 on the Billboard 200.

She went through a nasty divorce with Christopher Sails. A good deal of her songs are about or hint at the soured relationship. This includes the tracks "Medicine" and "Karma". The couple had worked together on building a social media following. Some of those social media channels were split up in the divorce.

Queen Naija's music is effectively R&B. She has worked with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, DDG, Tee Grizzley, and Wale.

The singer has stated that when people doubt her. . . that's when she thrives. She likes to push back on critics, which was the basis of her album Missunderstood.

Brent Faiyaz

Born: September 19, 1995

Age: 25

Real name: Christopher Brent Wood

Hometown: Columbia, Maryland

A charming blend of R&B and hip hop. The singer started making music at the age of 12. His parents were concerned that he wasn't focusing on other important aspects of his life because he was so consumed by music.

In 2014, he started uploading his music to SoundCloud. He moved to Los Angeles to further his music career. In October 2016, Faiyaz formed the group Sonder with record producers: Dpat and Atu.

His debut LP Sonder's Son featured him telling childhood stories over beats. His 2018 EP, Lost, is about his fears as a young Black man in the United States.

Many of his songs are about the hedonistic and fast-paced lifestyles of Hollywood and how he tries to find the meaning of it all while living there.

His songs are subtle, dreamy, and almost some kind of brand of meditative rap. This is the kind of music to listen to when you need to calm down. It's afternoon tidying up. It's slipping into bed without the rest of the world noticing.

I can literally feel my anxieties and heart rate going down as I listen to this man. Is there such a thing as meditative rap or dream R&B? I think that's what he has tapped into.

Doja Cat

Born: October 21, 1995

Age: 25

Real name: Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini

Hometown: Los Angeles

Singer, songwriter, rapper, and record producer. Her song "So High" garnered her fame. She is known for hip hop, pop, and R&B tunes.

Her debut album Amala didn't do so hot initially. But the track "Mooo!" became highly successful as it spread into the world of Internet memes. Her singles "Juicy" and "Tia Tamera" also gained traffic.

Her second studio album Hot Pink did better. Her single "Say So" was a big hit. She also did remixes with Nicki Minaj.

Doja Cat's music videos do well on YouTube and TikTok. She has been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards. In 2021, she was listed on Time's annual list of 100 most influential people.

Every move she has made in the music industry has been unpredictable. She is fun, whimsical, and a little nutty. Growing up she frequently skipped school to participate in online chatrooms. She eventually dropped out of high school. She was more interested in dance than rigid education. She took lessons in ballet, tap, and jazz when she was a child.

After dropping out of high school, she says her life was pretty messy. She would scour the Internet for music and beats and she would try to start piecing together her own stuff. She would work on GarageBand and would upload music to SoundCloud. Her playfulness on SoundCloud eventually led her to making the song "So High" which rollercoasted her to stardom.

Mooo (I'm a cow, I'm a cow, I'm a cow)

— Doja Cat | Mooo!

Saweetie

Born: July 2, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: Diamonte Quiava Valentin Harper

Hometown: Hayward, California

Saweetie became big in the music industry after the release of her single "ICY GRL", she was then signed on with Warner Records. She often collaborates with Doja Cat.

Her mother is Filipina-Chinese; her father is African-American. Saweetie grew up in the Central Valley area. She started writing music at the age of 13. She attended both San Diego State University and University of Southern California. She has a BA in communications. After graduating, she started focusing on a rap career.

Like many of the artists on this list, she released her music on SoundCloud. The video for the song "ICY GRL" went viral garnering more than 100 million views on YouTube, a rare feat.

She had a high profile relationship with rapper Quavo on social media. Their breakup was noted when they stopped following each other on Instagram.

She is the cousin of actress Gabrielle Union. Her grandfather played for the San Francisco 49ers, Willie Harper.

Can't stop won't

stop get guap

Ten white toes in

them Tory flip flops

Manicures and

pedicures I'm

always tip top

When they say I'm

not hot all these

lies need to stop

'Cause I'm icy,

wifey, haters wanna

fight me.

— Saweetie | ICY GRL

Rico Nasty

Born: May 7, 1997

Age: 23

Real name: Maria-Cecilla Simone Kelly

Hometown: Palmer Park, Maryland

Rico Nasty (not Rico Suave) is dancing around all the genres: hip hop, trap, punk, rap, trap metal, hyperpop, and rap rock. While in high school, she started releasing content. She released five mixtapes by 2017.

She gained a following on SoundCloud with the Nickelodeon themed singles: "iCarly" and "Hey Arnold". She signed with Atlantic Records in 2018.

Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly was born in Largo, Maryland. She was an only child. Her father shared his love of rap music with her. She would listen to artists like Bob Marley, Beyoncé, and Jill Scott.

Her parents divorced when she was a child. That same year she was put into a Baltimore boarding school. She was expelled after she and another student were caught smoking marijuana.

After graduating high school, she started focusing on her music career. Her "iCarly" single drew in 500,000 views on YouTube in a few months.

Rico has a son named Cameron. The child's father died of an asthma attack. Before her music career took off she worked as a hospital receptionist.

People describe her style as aggressive, cutthroat, and banging with candor.

I don't wanna be on the ground when the time flies

Had so many friends going "Wonder when it's my time"

I live everyday like I'll die by the night time.

— Rico Nasty | Time Flies

Mahalia

Born: 1 May 1998

Age: 22

Real name: Mahalia Burkmar

Hometown: Syston, United Kingdom

Jamaican-British singer, songwriter and actress with a chill sound. She often spent her summers growing up writing music. She wrote her first song at the age of 8. She signed with a major record label at the age of 13.

She has a sobering R&B kind of style. She has a long list of singles that she has been pumping out since 2015. She has released two albums: (1) Diary of Me and (2) Love and Compromise.

Mahalia has also released four EPs:

  • Head Space
  • Never Change
  • Seasons
  • Isolation Tapes

She has worked with the following groups on various music projects:

  • Ella Mai
  • Little Simz
  • Kojey Radical
  • Burna Boy
  • Rudimental
  • Jacob Collier
  • Ty Dolla $ign

Her songs are stylistically smooth and tame. These are perfect for a Sunday morning drive, a walk through the rain, or a chill bar hangout. There is a certain addictive simplicity to her music. Every once in awhile she strums her guitar and everything seems to just fade into the ether.

There is a certain kind of ambivalence that she has captured. There is nothing too invasive about her songs. It's soothing, chill for studying, and without annoyance.

GoldLink

Born: May 17, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: D'Anthony Carlos

Hometown: Washington D.C.

GoldLink started writing music in his late teens. He mixes together forms from hip hop, house, electronica, rap, and R&B. His music can switch from the vibes of a chill afternoon to an intense dance beat. His rap is fast and sporadic. Sometimes his music combines ambient sounds like crickets or old voicemails.

He released his first tracks on Bandcamp under the name Gold Link James. In 2014, he released his debut mixtape, The God Complex.

GoldLink began working with producer Rick Rubin in 2015. He has worked with the following acts: The Celestics, KAYTRANADA, Jazmine Sullivan, Hare Squead, Radiant Children, April George, Lil Dude, Louie Lastic, Shy Glizzy, Teddy Walton, Christina Aguilera, and Gorillaz.

The track "Crew" peaked at #45 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song was nominated for Best Rap/Song Performance at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

GoldLink Discography

ProjectsMediumRelease Date

Diaspora

Studio Album

June 12, 2019

The God Complex

Mixtape

July 22, 2014

And After That, We Didn't Talk

Mixtape

November 8, 2015

At What Cost

Mixtape

March 24, 2017

Justine Skye

Born: August 24, 1995

Age: 25

Real name: Justine Indira Skyers

Hometown: Brooklyn

Singer, rapper, model, actress, and dancer. Justine is comfortable in hip hop, R&B, and pop. Her career got a big boost from Tumblr.

Justine got her first foray into music when she stunned a panel that was being held by the performance rights organization BMI. Her mother, Nova Perry, is an entertainment lawyer and took her daughter to an event with the organization. Justine stunned the audience by singing a cover of Sam Sparro's "Black and Gold".

The singer gained even more attention with a cover of Drake's song "Headlines", which was uploaded to YouTube. She released her first mixtape in 2012, Skye High. After some persistence, she signed with the label Atlantic Records in 2013. She has signed with a few other labels since then.

After becoming Tumblr famous, she moved to Los Angeles. She subsequently became friends with Jaden and Willow Smith, and Kylie and Kendall Jenner.

Her music is smooth, sensible, and infectious. Justine's style radiates with glamour and poise. There is a reason she attracts fame: her style has luck written all over it. She'll likely continue to be a bright shining star in the music industry.

Tinashe

Born: February 6, 1993

Age: 28

Real name: Tinashe Jorgensen Kachingwe

Hometown: Lexington, KY

The singer got her music break with the all girl group the Stunners. She released a series of mixtapes that showcased her abilities in pop and R&B. Her music also plays to textures and beats common in trap and electronica.

Her breakthrough hit was "2 On", released in 2014. She has collaborated with Future, Ty Dolla $ign, and Little Dragon.

Her debut album Aquarius received strong reviews from critics. She earned nominations for Soul Train and BET Awards for her album. She appeared on Britney Spears track "Slumber Party". Her second album Nightride reached number 8 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2016.

Fun fact: she has a black belt in Taekwondo.

Before her music took off, Tinashe started out as an actress. She was featured on Two and Half Men, Out of Jimmy's Head, and the film Polar Express.

Summer Walker

Born: April 11, 1996

Age: 24

Real name: Summer Marjani Walker

Hometown: Atlanta

R&B is making a big comeback. Many of our younger singers are looking to Lauryn Hill's playbook for inspiration.

In January 2019, Walker released her debut EP, CLEAR. She followed it up with her first album, Over It. Her album broke records as the biggest streaming debut-week of any female R&B singer.

Walker taught herself how to play the guitar by following tutorials on YouTube. She posted several videos of her playing covers onto YouTube.

The singer was discovered by someone who has the same name as her: the studio manager of Atlanta based recording label Love Renaissance. Walker has several inspirations including: Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, and Erykah Badu. (She reminds me a little bit of Alicia Keys.)

Summer has a soulful voice. It makes you feel at ease. She doesn't try to stun you. She's not into shocking you. Walker is about good craft, lounge vibes, and getting to the roots of sexy sounds. Some of her songs are stripped down to the nuts and bolts, and it works beautifully.

Cordae

Born: August 26, 1997

Age: 23

Real name: Cordae Amari Dunston

Hometown: Suitland, Maryland

Formerly known as YBN Cordae and Entendre. The American rapper and singer rose to fame by releasing remixes of popular songs. This includes "My Name Is" by Eminem.

His debut studio album, The Lost Boy, was released on July 26, 2019. He received two nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for the single "Bad Idea" at the 62nd Grammy Awards.

Cordae was a member of the YBN collective until it disbanded in 2020. He specializes in rap and hip hop. He listened to Rakim, Nas, Big L, and Talib Kweli growing up. As a teenager, he self-released mixtapes under the name Entendre.

Cordae began writing rap at the age of 15. It started out as a hobby for him.

Before college he worked at T.G.I Friday's and hated it. He felt he was destined for something bigger.

The artist participates in Black Lives Matter rallies. In July 2020, police arrested him at a Breonna Taylor protest in Louisville along with football player Kenny Stills. He encourages people to help young artists rather than judge them. He is considered an ambassador for rap's Gen Z.

Step back in my zone (My zone)

I had to get out there alone (Alone)

And figure it out on my own (My own)

And I know what I really want now

Can't stop me, can't break me

(Can't break me)

— DJ Khalil | Elevate feat. Denzel Curry, YBN Cordae, SwaVay, & Trevor Rich

Jorja Smith

Born: 11 June 1997

Age: 23

Real name: Jorja Alice Smith

Hometown: Walsall, West Midlands, England

A voice with strength. It is noticeable that Jorja is classically trained. She has fantastic control of her voice. She mixes that training with R&B, reggae, and hip-hop.

Her name is gaining attention in the United Kingdom, where she hails. Her single "Blue Lights" came out in 2016. Jorja reminds me of Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna.

She grew up listening to a range of music: punk, hip-hop, reggae, R&B. She started writing music at the ripe age of 11. She, like many others on this list, was obsessed with Amy Winehouse. Some of her other influences include: Adele, Nina Simone, Mos Def, Sade, and Lauryn Hill.

The track "By Any Means" is a must listen. The song switches gears multiple times with different rhythms, it has ethereal vocalizations, and sobering lyrics. This would be the track I would start with if you are new to Jorja. I think it showcases her originality. The song is fluid with a kind of flexibility most artists would struggle to imitate. She shows us what is possible to craft in a digital music age. I can't believe she isn't about 15 years older.

Tierra Whack

Born: August 11, 1995

Age: 25

Real name: Tierra Helena Whack

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Singer and songwriter. Whack used to perform under the name "Dizzle Dizz" but later decided she liked her birth name better. Her first album was released in 2018: Whack World.

Whack was raised by her mother. She has two younger siblings. She and her father are estranged. Whack says she was an introverted child. She wrote often to herself. She loved Dr. Seuss so much, she would rhyme in all her homework assignments.

Since she received positive feedback for her rhymes, she kept doing it. Whack asked her mom for composition books, so she could fill them up with rhymes and lyrics.

She attended The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia for three years. She was a vocal major. Her mother moved the family to Atlanta. Once there, Tierra began working at a Mister Car Wash. She saved up her money for a Mac laptop and started recording her music.

She kept a low profile while in Atlanta. She wanted to focus on herself for the chance to grow her music. She returned to Philadelphia with a lap top full of music. She hasn't shared it with anyone.

When she moved back to Philadelphia, she left her family behind in Atlanta. She spent three months homeless. She believed staying in Philadelphia would grow her career.

I ain't tryna rush things

But it's been a while now

People have names

And they all smile now

Throwin' in the towel now

— Tierra Whack | Flea Market

Earl Sweatshirt

Born: February 24, 1994

Age: 27

Real name: Thebe Neruda Kgositsile

Hometown: Chicago

Rapper, poet, songwriter, and record producer. Earl Sweatshirt used to go by the name Sly Tendencies. His music is mostly classified as hip hop.

Earl Sweatshirt's mom, Cheryl Harris, is a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles. His father, Keorapetse Kgoitsile, was a South African poet and political activist. The couple separated when the artist was eight years old. The father was mostly absent during his son's life.

He gained recognition with his debut mixtape: Earl. It was released in March 2010 when he was only 16 years old. He was sent to a boarding school following the release. His mom sent him to Samoa for at-risk teens. He was unable to record music while there. He eventually made his way to Los Angeles. He rejoined the music collective Odd Future.

Earl Sweatshirt released his first studio album in 2013, Doris. All of his projects have received widespread praise from critics.

He was raised a Nichiren Buddhist. There was a period of his life where he was atheist. In 2016, he announced that he had gone back to his childhood religion.

Cupcakke

Born: May 31, 1997

Age: 23

Real name: Elizabeth Eden Harris

Hometown: Chicago

A sweet stage name, but her music is entirely inappropriate for children. Cupcakke is aggressively dirty in her songs. She uses whatever words she pleases. She raps, and it is biting and menacing. It's hyper-aggressive.

Cupcakke's music is also known for including themes relevant to the LGBT+ community and to female empowerment.

Cupcakke grew up in Chicago. She was raised by a single mother. She spent years in her childhood in homeless shelters. Cupcakke went to school with other established famed Chicago residents: Lil Reese and Chief Keef.

During her adolescent years, Cupcakke got a big push to do music and poetry through her local church. This was also where she first started performing. When she was young, she went to churches to recite poetry about her views on Christianity.

In September 2019, Cupcakke threatened retirement. She was accused of racism for making fun of K-pop artist Chungha's name. Following that, she made a post on Instragram that she was going to stop posting content, she felt like she was corrupting the youth with raunchy songs, and she had a bad gambling addiction. She deactivated her Instagram and Twitter accounts.

On November 2019, she came out of retirement after a 40 day absence. She compared her fast from media to Jesus fasting for 40 days.

On June 1, 2020, she released the song "Lemon Pepper" and half the proceeds went toward the Minnesota Bail fund.

Vince Staples

Born: July 2, 1993

Age: 27

Real name: Vincent Jamal Staples

Hometown: Compton, CA

American rapper and singer. He is part of the hip hop trio Cutthroat Boyz. The other members of the group are Aston Matthews and Joey Fatts. He became famous with appearances on albums by Odd Future members and his shared mixtape: Stolen Youth.

His first two albums received critical acclaim: Summertime '06 and Big Fish Theory.

The singer grew up in North Long Beach. His mother moved them because she was concerned about the growing rate of violence in Compton. Staples is the youngest of five siblings.

He went to Optimal Christian Academy from 4th to 8th grade, which he noted as a positive experience and influential. He jumped from different high schools throughout California. In his youth, he did get involved in criminal activities and also struggled with poverty. He is known for opening up about his troubled youth and trying to direct younger generations onto better, more steady paths.

He was discovered by Dijon "LaVish" Samo and Chuck Wun. LaVish took him to Los Angeles where he met Odd Future collective members Syd the Kyd, Mike G, and Earl Sweatshirt. He did not intend to become a rapper, but he made some guest appearances on their songs.

Key Albums from Artists

AlbumArtistReleased

Suga

Megan Thee Stallion

March 6, 2020

Hot Pink

Doja Cat

November 7, 2019

Bubba

KAYTRANADA

December 13, 2019

Coloring Book

Chance the Rapper

May 13, 2016

Invasion of Privacy

Cardi B

April 6, 2018

Ephorize

Cupcakke

January 5, 2018

7

Lil Nas X

June 21, 2019

Diaspora

GoldLink

June 12, 2019

Whack World

Tierra Whack

May 30, 2018

Lady Lady

Masego

September 7, 2018

© 2021 Andrea Lawrence

Related Articles