By Aaron Jackson
In today’s broad, decentralized musical marketplace, it’s become ever so easy to find artists that fit your personal music tastes. However it has not become as easy to find new and distinctive artists you might like that who aren’t white. Racism obviously plays a huge role in this, and while I could sit here and type about how artists of color still have trouble being noticed ahead of the many white guys with an acoustic guitar, I’d rather just jump right into my list of worthy contenders.
So starting us off is garage rock sweetheart, Mitski Miyawaki (formally known as just Mitski). Miyawaki first broke into the music scene with her 2012 studio album, Lush, but it would only be upon her 2014 release, Bury me at Makeout Creek that she would begin to get any remotely mainstream attention. Reviving and rehabilitating ‘90’s garage and soft rock, Mitski has found success by crafting the two into her own special brand of indie rock.
While Mitski’s sound is unique, it’s really the lyrics that get you. Let’s just say that if you stream her album more than once a week, you should probably have a depression hotline on speed dial. On her 2016 release, Puberty 2, she sings of betting on losing dogs because she knows they’ll lose, and murmurs about having someone to watch her while she dies. . . so you know, pretty much rainbows and butterflies. At one point it may seem that the emotions are just flowing out of her, but don’t get it twisted, she is in control and wants to make you very aware of that fact.
Moving on, we have Australian rap demi-sensation, Tkay Maidza. Maidza first began drawing attention when she dropped the lead single, “Uh-huh” from her 2014 mixtape, SwitchTape. And while she still wasn’t popular (even using the term ”popular” seems excessive) she became notable for her alternative aesthetic as well as for her channeling of early 2000s grime-rap. Jump 2 years forward to when she releases her official debut album, TKAY, and then we begin to really see her as an artist. If you are looking for something alternative-rap wise, Maidza’s the way to go. Her ability as a rapper definitely cannot be questioned as in her lead single, “Carry On”, she holds her weight against featured guest, Killer Mike. She has even garnered comparisons to Azealia Banks (you know . . . without all that extra stuff). Heck, she even landed a spot on Rolling Stone’s top 20 pop albums of the year. And oh my God, is she cool; her music, her style–everything that encompasses her just seems to be below negative 40 degrees. She’s like one of those popular kids in highschool who’s not popular because they’re social and outgoing, but are popular because they just give off the vibe that they’re several levels above everyone else.
Thirdly, we have pop princess Charli XCX. You might be familiar with Charli from her feature on Iggy Azalea’s 2012 hit, “Fancy,” as well as her own smash hit “Boom Clap” from the Fault in our Stars movie. After those singles Charli kind of fell under the radar due to the mediocrity of her album at the time, Sucker, but rest assured, Charli was busy working on something that would launch her in a pretty interesting direction.
In 2016, she began collaborating with PC Music’s alternative heavyweight SOPHIE for her EP vroom, and again later on in 2017, her mixtape, Number 1 Angel. Charli’s sound is pure bubbly pop with a whole lot of edge to it. It’s the musical representation of some early 2000s bubblegum packaging with flames printed on the wrapper because they want to seem radical or whatever. It’s fun bubbly pop, but never boring or bland; she’s seductive, enticing and witty–truly your Number 1 pop angel.
Next up, we have self-proclaimed “Dark Waved Duchess”, Abra. This New Yorker turned Brit turned Atlantite, hopped into the music scene by uploading videos of her acoustic covers of rap songs to YouTube. Then in 2014, she got signed to the rapper Father’s label, Awful Records. Since then, Abra has released 1 full length album, Rose, and two EP’s: BLQ VELVET, and PRINCESS. Keeping in the vein of the label she belongs to, her music is very style over substance. What she essentially produces is bedroom pop–not because that’s all she’s capable of at the moment, no no no. This is her aesthetic. It’s very tongue in cheek, self indulgent bedroom pop–but it’s also very glamorous and R&B influenced. Yeah you’re gonna get the vocals sounding like they were recorded on some 2000s-era flip phone, and you’re definitely gonna get that overused high pitch effect that sounds like aluminum being crushed. But with Abra, it’s a hot pink Motorola Razr; and instead of aluminum being crushed, its pastel pink diamonds. If you’re confused as to what difference those descriptors make–just trust me, it makes a difference.
Lastly, but definitely not least, is the Bronx native rapper Princess Nokia. After Getting her start on SoundCloud in 2012 under the pseudonym “Wavy Spice”, Destiny Frasqueri (her legal name) began putting out track after track right up until her 2016 EP 1992. What I think I like most about Princess Nokia is her duality. At some points (usually when she sings), she’s very relaxed and mellow and laid back; letting vocals as well as melodies just mix together seamlessly as if being carried off into the moonlight by the production. And at other points (when she raps) she becomes this in-your-face, abrasive figure that I think is really her biggest selling point.
Princess Nokia raps in a very essential, no “tricks/no filters” style. In songs like “Tomboy,” “Brujas,” and “Kitana” her rhymes flow relentlessly bar after bar after bar. And while the production might be nice, you never really get over how good of a rapper she is. If you’re looking for truly confident rapping and overall just straight up power — then Princess Nokia is the way to go.