Sights & Sounds: These UK Artists Are The Ones to Watch in 2019
By Rachel George
2019 is off to a great start for Ella Mai. She won a Grammy for everyone’s summer favorite hit “Boo’d Up” and her platinum-selling self-titled debut album. The 24-year old British singer was discovered by music producer DJ Mustard via social media. She’s the modern version of 90s R&B we always knew we needed. Next month, she’ll begin the second leg of her debut tour with special guests Mahalia and Victoria Monet.
Soul singer Jorja Smith also started the year in gratitude, winning British Female Solo Artist at the Brit Awards. Her music is a collective rendition of neo-soul and UK garage. Lost & Found, her debut album peaked at #3 on the UK Albums Chart in 2018. This spring, Jorja Smith will go on tour with Colombian artist Kaliuchis.
Championed by Stormzy as Nottingham’s finest and boasted by Prince Harry himself, the dynamic duo Young T & Bugsey are on their way. They are quite entertaining, especially on social media, where they began growing a huge presence. Each performance is better than the last. Their hits include “Gangland,” “4X4,” “Green Light” and more recently, “En Route.”
The Masked One rapper first introduced himself to the world in 2016, as part of Brixton collective, 67, before branching out on his epic debut project in 2018. His flow is distinctive, his lyrics tell stories and he’s viewed as a pioneer of drill scene in the UK to many.
5. Arlo Parks
To be so young, yet so brave. 18-year old British singer Arlo Parks shared her struggles with her identity on her debut single “Cola.” Her songs are personal and intimate, with themes of love, making mistakes, suicide, self-medication, and being apart of the “Super Sad Generation“ that’s killing time and losing our paychecks. Watch the video here.
Grime MC Stormzy had an exceptional year in 2018, winning awards for both British Male Solo Artist as well as Album of the Year. 2019 is no different, as he’ll become the first Grime artist to headline the currently sold-out Glastonbury Festival this summer. Aside from working on new music and changing the spectrum of what it means to be “young, black and British,” the rapper made his second actorial debut in BBC’s new drama Noughts + Crosses, a novel exploring political themes of race and privilege between black people (Crosses) and white (Noughts), reflective of some of his politically charged music.
Do not disturb Mahalia’s vibe. The British songstress blends her conscious lyrics, soulful melodies, and free-spirited personality very well. She calls her music “psycho-acoustic soul.” “Pyscho” refers to her lyrics, “acoustic” refers to her guitar love and the “soul” that runs through her blood. She doesn’t “want anyone to have any expectations” when it comes to her music. Mahalia may have her work cut out there: whatever style she turns her hand to next, hopes are high, and expectations are great.
West London artist Lava La Rue is the leader of NiNE8, an underground DIY arts collective of creatives. She was highlighted as one of Converse’s most exciting creatives in London. Her debut project Letra was food for thought that touched on systematic racism and being more than a social media activist. “I think it’s very important to spread healthy ideologies and spread awareness but at the end of the day retweeting a hashtag is exactly what the government would rather us be doing than actually like barricading Downing Street [the official residence of the Britsh Prime Minister],” she explained to Complex. Keep watch for Lava La Rue and the soon to come NINE8 mixtape.
France-born, London-based rapper Octavian’s minimal, spacious mixtapes have marked him out as one of the UK’s most intriguing talents. A producer in Octavian’s Essie Gang collective, J Rick has been integral to creating some of the most distinctive UK rap music of recent times. Alongside Octavian, he co-produced anthems like Party Here and Hands, establishing a sound that blends contemporary rap with club music and is drenched in emotive melody. Fans of J Rick’s style will be excited to know that he’s releasing his own mixtape entitled No Retreat, No Surrender in 2019.
Her four-track EP KSB showed the world why Rai-Elle made it as a finalist on 2017 season of X Factor. Her vibe, her chill aura, unapologetic attitude and 90’s aesthetic, it’s everything. 2019 is hers and I’m here for it. Stream her debut single “KSB (Always On My Mind).”
At home, Isabella is a normal teenager who hangs out with friends shopping and has dinner with her family. To the world, she’s one of the next big artists to come out of the UK. The self-assured singer holds your attention with her soulfully rich voice and nostalgic sound. Its been one year since her 7-song EP Only Having a Laugh featuring her star-studded single “Pot of Gold,” but we can’t wait to see what else she does this year.
West Londoner AJ Tracey is a hot lyrical beast known for his wordplay and catchy references, who started out as one of the best MC’s of 2017. There’s no way you can man that I can’t do what I want. His self-titled debut album hit #3 in UK chart as an independent artist. His lineup of breakthrough EP’s solidified his place in the music scene, and we definitely want more.
I was put onto Olivia by media personality Scottie Beam’s weekly female empowered #ListenToBlackWomen, Literally playlist. She reminded me of Mary J. Blige back in the day. She’s young but from her spills the soul of a first-time lover, as she did on “Smother Me.” ‘Only one who makes me feel this way, since you left your mark on me without a bruise.’ Still riding the wave of her For You EP last year, we’re excited for what’s next for the young queen.
London-based singer, songwriter, and producer MNEK has worked in the background of the music industry for a long time, writing for artists such H.E.R., Craig David, Tinie Tempah, and Queen B’s Lemonade. “Now It’s time to step up to the front row so you can hear me out,” he sings on the first single from his 90’s inspired debut album. MNEK hopes to create the blueprint for other black gay pop stars speaking on love from a male perspective, self-confidence and making people feel comfortable with themselves.
Kojey is playing no games this year. “ALL STUNTS. ALL GENRES. ALL SMOKE. I AM HERE FOREVER!. His latest single “25” discusses his career, his haters, motivators and how blessed he is to see 25. Hopefully, this is a tease from his new music since it been two years since his last project.
British-Nigerian born Flohio is one of the fiercest, stylish rappers in the underground UK scene. Her style and flow is impeccable, coupled with her gritty lyrics and carefully selected beats. Once her tour, the British-Nigerian born rapper will be in the studio working hard on her EP. “I feel like I’m ready now. I want to be able to put something out that I’m really proud of,” she explained.
17. Jvck James
Jvck James is another emerging UK artist bringing the 90s R&B vibes. A growing force in the industry connecting with audiences through his relaxed melodies and comforting melodies for a soulful, authentic sound unlike no other. Get lost in his ‘Wave.’
When it comes to songwriting, the 17-year-old Ghanian-British rapper pulls inspiration from his favorite music and artists such as The Weeknd. “I take inspiration from the styles I like, the music I like and the artists I like. I like Hip-Hop and RnB, and all the great artists that do that like, The Weeknd definitely inspires me, I think what inspires them,” he said. He’s worked with Stormzy and has been co-signed by rap newcomer Idris Elba. His music intermixes UK rap and Afrobeats with classic and contemporary styles.
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It was a long time coming, but last we got to see just how special Jamilah Barry is with her long-awaited EP. Impressive vocal skills, Showing her selflessness and sense of unity, the young star gave an entire track to another London artist Midnight Phunk on her EP.
Tiana Major9’s successful momentum is built around her jazzy voice and her epic live performances, flipping between singing and rapping. She’s guarded but open to love and exploration, ‘letting her past decide how I should feel today.’ This could be the year she catapults her career, releasing her EP Rehearsal @ NINE.
Huge things are in store for the 20-year-old singer and songwriter. Inspired by the late singer Amy Winehouse, Jaz Karis explores multiple genres outside of R&B; hip hop, jazz, gospel and soul, and hip hop. She developed her unique sound and creativity as a student at BRIT school, where students dreams come true. Stream “Petty Lover,” because let’s admit it, we’ve all been there before.
East London rapper Big Tobz discusses cultural appropriation, while uplifting black women on ‘Black Girls.’ He makes his transitions between verses and powerful messages seem so effortless, influenced by his Caribbean background. Listen to his rendition of Summer Walker‘s “Session 32” here.