They’re defying genre conventions, telling deep stories, befriending Taylor Swift, and…. setting their sights on conquering outer space? Meet the up-and-coming artists you need to hear now, from country breakout Devin Dawson to rock-gods-in-the-making Greta Van Fleet and rapper Towkio.
If you’re old enough to remember Y2K, the very mention of “rap- rock” might trigger some PTLBD: Post-Traumatic Limp Bizkit Disorder. But Bryce Vine, 29, is infusing his hip-hop tunes with an alternative feel in ways that, well, actually rock. “Third Eye Blind was my first [love],” he says. “It was super dark material with an uplifting edge.” You could say the same about tracks like “The ‘Thug’ Song,” which samples Green Day and touches on police brutality, or the fuzzy “Sour Patch Kids,” about longing for your childhood. Up next? A debut LP showcasing his boundary-pushing aesthetic. Says Vine, “Since everything is up in the air musically—Lil Uzi Vert is singing the lyrics of rock musicians as his chorus—it’s a great time for me, with a rock back- ground, to bring this up.”
“I’m not really in a position where I can afford to spend a lot of money on therapy,” Liz Huett says with a laugh, “so songwriting is my therapy.” Need proof? Listen to the gloriously petty “H8U,” on which she calls out an ex over crunchy guitars and sunny synths. (Choice lyric: “Seems like just yesterday you were so out of shape/And never wanted to touch me.”) The genre-bending track is the result of a winding career path: After high school the SoCal native moved to Nashville to pursue music and ended up singing backup for Taylor Swift, a gig she calls her “music-industry education.” Now she’s outfitting her mix of pop, country, and ’90s rock — she just released a cover of Tom Petty’s 1994 hit “You Don’t Know How It Feels” — with unfiltered lyrics. “That’s what draws me into my favorite artists: feeling like they’re telling you their deepest secrets,” she says.
Musical intimacy has always appealed to 22-year-old singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus. “My favorite music is when the sound is supplementing the message,” she says, recalling spinning her parents’ Springsteen records as a kid in Richmond. “I don’t think it’s dramatic; it’s cinematic.” So while her sweeping second album, Historian, adds strings, horns, and layers of guitars to the lo-fi vibes of her 2016 debut, No Burden, Dacus’ lyrics remain central to her craft, whether she’s examining lost love (“Night Shift”), death (“Pillar of Truth”), or political engagement (“Yours & Mine.”) “I end up writing about hope in every song,” she says. “[Historian] was kind of stretching hope to its limits…and seeing if hope could stand up to the challenge.”
Thanks to the magic of the internet, hip-hop has become an international art form. And few artists embody the genre’s cosmopolitan energy like Stefflon Don. Born in England to Jamaican parents, the rapper-singer spent most of her childhood in the Netherlands (she speaks fluent Dutch) before moving to London at age 14. Now the 26-year-old (real name: Stephanie Allen) is bringing the hip-hop sounds of the U.K. to the States by linking up with Quality Control Music, the Atlanta-based label behind Migos and Lil Yachty. Expect her upcoming mixtape to feature a musical style that’s as borderless as her upbringing. “Everyone has something differ- ent to bring to the table,” she says. “It’s going to have a Caribbean influence and all these sounds but still be Stefflon Don.”
It’s hard to ignore someone with chartreuse hair, but spend some time with the Finnish singer’s buoyant dance pop and it’s her powerful voice — often compared to Sia’s — that you’ll remember. Already a success in Europe, the 22-year-old says she was slow to embrace music as a career because, unlike neighboring countries Sweden and Norway, Finland isn’t known for its pop exports. “I never understood that singing could be a job,” she says. “We have no superstars.” But after placing fifth on Finland’s version of Idol in 2013, she might become one: She’s working with hitmakers Charli XCX (who featured ALMA on her recent mixtape) and Justin Tranter on her debut LP and also hopes to spotlight her fellow Finns. “I’m trying to get some Finnish producers,” she says. “We have great talent, but we’re kind of shy.”
Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp. In a few short years Chicago’s Savemoney crew has turned regional acclaim into music-industry domination. Towkio, the 24-year-old rapper born Preston Oshita, is poised to break out next. “Everybody had to establish their own brands,” says the Windy City native, who earned a reputation as Savemoney’s electro guru before collaborating with Chance, Justin Bieber, and more. For his debut album, WWW., due next month, Oshita decamped to Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studios, where he recorded in Bob Dylan’s old tour bus. To say that Towkio has sky-high ambitions would be an understatement: “I’m gonna be the first artist to go to space and listen to his [own] music, 100 percent.”
Call it destiny that a boy growing up near Folsom Prison — the inspiration for a 1955 Johnny Cash song and the site of his most famous concert — would emerge on the country scene on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Cash’s seminal 1968 LP, At Folsom Prison. “It’s pretty f—ing cool,” Devin Dawson, 29, says of the stars aligning for his debut full-length, Dark Horse, out now. But with his intoxicating swirl of pop, R&B, and rock, Dawson doesn’t sound much like the Man in Black, which, it turns out, is exactly the point. “Nobody was like him before him, and no one was like him after,” says Daw- son. “I’ve been drawn to that.” Dawson’s vision is sure: “I want to play stadiums my whole life. I want to take this to the f—ing top of the world.”
Greta Van Fleet
“I really think this has the power to change the world,” bassist Sam Kiszka, 18, says of his band’s debut LP, due later this year. The Frankenmuth, Mich., family act — Kiszka’s twin brothers, Josh and Jake, 21, handle lead vocals and guitar, respectively, while longtime friend Danny Wagner plays drums — is the latest group on a mission to revive good ol’ fashioned rock & roll. It’s not a mantle they take up lightly. Kiszka says he was overcome with emotion recently while drafting a potential track list. “It was terrify- ing to have the pen in my hand,” he says. “My bones were rattling. [But] this is the most fantastic job in the world; we’re public servants. It’s about giving this positive energy that fans can interpret in their own way and create their own art.”