Welcome to 2012! I hope you all had a great New Year’s. For my Chinese readers, we’ll celebrate next month. I’m very pleased to kick off this fresh new year in a similar fashion to how we ended 2011: with a list. Typically I leave all the listmaking for December and Listmas, but in this particular case I wanted to set a few objectives for 2012 and stick by them. That is to say, I want to step out on a proverbial limb and predict what will be hot this upcoming year. So I have created what I’m calling the Class of 2012: 10 Artists to Watch This Year. These are artists that, if you haven’t heard of them yet, hopefully you’ll know much more about them by the end of the year. I’m expecting big things from all these artists, though to be clear “big” can be defined a few different ways in this case. A couple of them will sign minor league record deals and make a small splash on the indie circuit, going from completely unknown to only relatively unknown. Others will become enraptured in the hype cycle and achieve much critical acclaim and potentially indie stardom. And even a few might just break out huge, turning into the next music superstars. The grand hope is that all these artists will obtain some serious forward momentum and reach your radar screens sooner rather than later. My plan is to provide periodic updates on all 10 of these artists, keeping a close eye on where they’re at and what they’re doing, in addition to the site’s more typical cycle of album reviews and mp3 giveaways. Stick with me as we learn more about the Class of 2012 so we can say we discovered them together. Let’s start with some introductions, so click past the jump to learn more about these wonderful ladies and gentlemen and hear some music by each one of them as well.
In terms of hip hop, you can do a lot worse than A$AP Rocky. With Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All gently fading into that good night having weathered the storms of controversy, some would openly argue it’s time to get back to basics. Clearly the powers that be have seen something special with A$AP Rocky, because based on a couple songs and videos released, he was handed a $3 million major label contract. His first (un)official release was last October’s LiveLoveA$AP mixtape, distributed for free digitally as so many tend to do these days. The purpose it really served was to get people’s attention and earn a bit of hype an goodwill. Consider it a success on all counts then, and it’s now made him the biggest thing to happen to New York hip hop since Jay-Z. In 2012, it’ll only get bigger. The label executives are undoubtedly going to want to cash in on their investment, so look for A$AP Rocky to put out an official record you’ll have to pay for along with a couple radio-friendly singles to spur hype and sales. Thanks to some creative guest spots and some dynamite up-and-coming producers like Clams Casino and SpaceGhostpurrp, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of this exciting new voice in hip hop.
A$AP Rocky – Palace
A$AP Rocky – Wassup
Download the full “LiveLoveA$AP” mixtape free at HulkShare
“Holy shit!” I readily exclaimed with a huge smile on my face the second, not the first, time I heard Azealia Banks. The first time I heard Azealia Banks was via her cover of Interpol’s “Slow Hands”. Just on the last name alone the cover makes sense, given that Paul Banks is frontman for Interpol, though quite clearly he is of no relation to Azealia. But I thought her version of that Interpol hit was fascinating, a very different, very soulful R&B take on the otherwise rock song. When it really hit me though, it came via her song “212”. I am by no means a rabid fan of hip hop, but that track killed just about everything I heard from the genre in 2011, Odd Future and Shabazz Palaces notwithstanding. Ms. Banks is extremely talented, foul mouthed, hilarious, and knows her way around a beat. Great as they may be, when it comes to female MCs, in 2012 you can throw Nicki Minaj and Rihanna to the wolves. I’m very much convinced Azealia Banks is the next hip hop superstar, and there’s been a fierce battle between labels to get her properly signed. She’s stepped away from her Harlem home base to work on recording her full length debut with producer Paul Epworth in London. Coincidentally, she’ll also be touring there in February. If you’re not ready to get on board with her now, if you have any stake in hip hop you’ll definitely be on board with it before the end of 2012.
Azealia Banks – 212 (ft. Lazy Jay)
Nope, I didn’t spell that wrong. There’s about a good few dozen bands out there with “blondes” or some variation on the word within their names, but there’s really only one Blonds. They’re a male-female duo from Florida, currently unsigned and giving away their debut EP Dark Roots for free via Bandcamp. Given their current status as only just now beginning to attract attention, I suppose I can’t 100% confirm they’re set for a huge 2012, but at the very least I’m expecting them to sign with a label and release something to coordinate with a U.S. tour that’s inevitably coming. For them, this is sheer growth, and for early adopters, this truly is getting in on the ground level. As to Blonds’s sound, they’ve got a fascinating mixture of grimy garage pop and darker, more electronic-based soundscapes going for them. Singer Cari Rae Woodfield’s voice aches and moans and yelps in all the right ways when it needs to, and Jody Asher’s compositions on a variety of instruments proves this band’s versatility and makes them just a touch difficult to pin down. No worries though, because they’ve still got plenty of time to flesh out some more ideas and craft songs as exciting as “Kites” and “206” for the pleasure of our ears.
If you haven’t heard of Charli XCX yet, don’t worry – you will very soon. The 19-year-old Londonite has been attracting plenty of attention these last few months with some rather exciting remixes and a pair of original singles “Nuclear Seasons” and “Stay Away”. The sound is very familiar in that it’s 80s-esque goth pop of the highest order. Think one part classic Kate Bush, another part Siouxsie and the Banshees, with more modern day comparisons to Bat for Lashes and Lykke Li. In spite of these rather familiar tropes, Charli XCX is working hard to make herself as original and exciting as possible. Her debut album will be out sometime in 2012, more likely in the Spring to make way for a dance party all summer long. It will most likely contain both songs she’s unleashed on us so far, which as indicators go, bodes exceptionally well for her. Also playing an assist are her multiple musical contributions to the soundtrack of the upcoming British film Elfie Hopkins, and you can hear part of the song “Lonely Jaguar” in the teaser trailer. I don’t know about you, but I’m exceptionally excited to hear anything and everything she’s going to throw at us in the next 12 months and beyond.
Charli XCX – Nuclear Seasons
While Tyler, The Creator and a host of other Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All members are working to earn much of the hype that was handed to them through some gonzo live performances in 2011, collective member Frank Ocean has been working hard on his own material and doing a pretty great job with it. Though he’s affiliated with hip hop through OFWGKTA and his appearances on the Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration Watch the Throne, Ocean is more of a singer with R&B ambitions than a future rap star. It’s all in the same family anyways. Though he’s more content to keep his head above the fray and avoid some of the more controversial topics of his friends, Ocean did stir up some waves of his own by putting out the nostalgia,ULTRA. mixtape for free on his Tumblr site after his label Def Jam chose to ignore it. After an overly positive reception, they’re not ignoring him anymore. Expect an official debut album from Ocean in 2012, and the rising tide of public opinion to jump on board his ship as well. If things go well enough, he might be the one calling the shots in the Odd Future camp while his brother in arms Tyler rides sidecar.
Download the entire “nostalgia,ULTRA.” mixtape
Technically speaking, Grimes has been an up-and-coming artist for the last couple years. The name under which Montreal-ite Claire Boucher performs has been responsible for quite a few remixes recently, not to mention a pair of self-released full length albums and a split EP all unleashed just in 2011. With such a wealth of material released over such a short period of time, you’d think the buzz would have built and remained steady last year. Yet people have been slow to adapt in this particular case, and so the dreamy/dark electro-pop soundscapes Grimes composes have felt steadily under the radar. 2012 has Grimes poised to finally reach that next level, courtesy of her album Visions which is due out at the end of January. Already the record’s first single “Oblivion” has been attracting the ears of the right sorts of people, and as she likes to put it, in a way it feels like this full length will truly be her debut. There’s a newfound confidence, professionalism and stability already very much apparent in what we’ve heard so far, and if all goes according to plan, Boucher will just further prove that the boundaries between genres and styles of music are growing thinner each and every day.
Grimes – Oblivion
Let’s see if I can guess what you’re thinking right now. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you don’t like Kreayshawn, that you wish she’d go away, and that her first couple small successes were flukes. Here’s my thinking: she’s legitimately talented. Now when I say that, I don’t mean that she’s going to change hip hop or music in general. I think she’s talented in the way that Ke$ha is talented, which is to say she’ll achieve fame and popularity in spite of her perceived weaknesses. Part of it has to do with a strong marketing team, who will most assuredly force her name, tracks and unique image out into the worldwide consciousness. Not that she really needs it anyways, given the millions that have seen the music videos on YouTube for “Gucci Gucci” and “Bumpin Bumpin”. 2012 holds the promise of her first official full length record that’s reportedly going to “silence all the haters”. Don’t count on that, but do count on plenty of people talking about Kreayshawn and saying plenty of positive and negative things. As it has been said many times before, any press is good press.
Kreayshawn – Bumpin Bumpin
Lana Del Rey
Okay, so if you’ve been paying a decent amount of attention to music in the last few months, chances are you’re already well aware of Lana Del Rey. Those that don’t know, in 2012 you’ll probably be in the know. She’s not without her controversy though. Not but a couple years ago, Del Rey was known as Lizzy Grant, a struggling singer. With a change of her name and image, getting more dolled up perhaps with some plastic surgery as an assist, Lana Del Rey emerged with a pair of very good songs called “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” in tow. Many are angry that this sexed-up, “fake” person is earning such high praise from music lovers, but if you ask me the music matters far more than the name and way she carries herself. Her debut album Born to Die arrives in stores at the very end of January, and many will be paying extremely close attention to see if she can follow up her early buzz with something truly excellent and worthwhile. Something tells me that even if the record is crap, she’ll continue to score plenty of attention and new fans anyways – even if it’s from a collection of guys that find her attractive.
Lana Del Rey – Video Games
2011 should have been THE year for Nicolas Jaar. In many ways, it was, as he released his debut album Space Is Only Noise to much critical acclaim. Here’s the thing: I don’t really know many people that noticed. The guy’s name wasn’t being touted around the proverbial water cooler, in spite of the record even securing a “Best New Music” tag from Pitchfork. Instead, the album slid by as one of 2011’s vastly underappreciated gems. One of my favorite things about the album is how unabashedly weird, yet completely comfortable it sounds. I’m hard pressed to come up with an accurate description for it, all subtle electronic textures blended with flourishes of singing, sound effects, samples, dialogue and other instrumental nonsense. There’s a distinct flow and cohesion to it all though, no matter how many transitions get thrown your direction. So where does that leave Jaar in 2012? It’s tough to say. He could quietly release more new material, hopefully to greater notice than before, or he could keep doing randomly brilliant remixes, or he may just sit back and watch as his star hopefully rises. No matter what ultimately winds up happening, I have a strong suspicion that the new year will be even better for Jaar than the one before.
Nicolas Jaar – Don’t Break My Love
Nicolas Jaar – Why Didn’t You Save Me
With the ever-increasing rate at which music is becoming homogenized these days, it makes sense that Purity Ring would be attracting attention now. Of course, they’re also just emerging themselves, with only 3 actual songs to their name so far but a debut full length due in early 2012. Nevermind the fact that it’s been nearly a year since they dropped their first single “Ungirthed”, which to date has now been streamed over 150,000 times on Soundcloud alone. Their second single “Lofticries” has hit the 225,000 stream mark in the 8 or so months it’s been around, and the last 4 months “Belispeak”, part of a split 7″ with Braids, is now checking in around 80,000. Imagine where it’ll be in another 6 months. What makes the duo of Purity Ring so attractive is their use of hip hop beats married with electro-pop traditionalism. There’s a Sleigh Bells-like attractiveness to it, but replace the buzzsaw guitars with synths and pop vocals. Megan James’ sweet vocals provide a grand counterpoint to the distorted and deep Knife-like ones that Corin Roddick brings with him, which is why this band sounds like things you’ve heard before, repurposed in a way you haven’t. If we’re lucky, their album will be as good as those first 3 songs, and we’ll have another name to inscribe on the wall of indie superstars.
Purity Ring – Belispeak