By Bethany Madden
Hailing from South London, Ray BLK’s sound infuses soulful R&B with hip hop beats. She’s not been around for long, only releasing her debut EP Havisham on SoundCloud last year; and yes, that is a Great Expectations reference. The singer-songwriter quotes the lives of herself and her friends as inspirations, after taking years to understand her own musical identity. The EP, taken with break-through single ‘50/50’, the late-2016 EP Durk and recent Stormzy collaboration ‘My Hood’ have earned her the title of BBC Music’s Sound of 2017. The 22-year-old also has support in the form of rap and grime star Wretch 32, who joined her for her recent BBC Live Lounge performance. While it may seem like things have happened almost overnight for Ray BLK, she insists that she has worked hard and got here by herself, stating that her family are not massively into music “not even as listeners”. Her self-starting attitude is exemplified by her refusal to sign a record deal, preferring to remain autonomous and put her music out on her own label. Her honest lyrics and soulful sound, as well as her down-to-earth persona only serve to enhance her appeal.
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After going viral in a video where she left Pharrell Williams in a state of stunned silence, Maggie Rogers has been propelled into the limelight. He described her sound as “singular”, and her unique folk infused R&B sound, intermittent with dance didn’t just happen by accident. Rogers has spent years perfecting her sound, with two albums already under her belt: 2012’s The Echo and 2014’s Blood Ballet. Having already mastered the harp, piano, guitar and song writing before leaving high school, it seems as though Maggie was destined for success. She has an authentic essence (Maggie describes herself as an ‘environmentalist’) which comes through in her videos as well as her music, and has an ability to make even her Facebook bio sound poetic. Now That the Light is Fading is the title of her upcoming EP which will be released on the 17th February, and if you want a taste of what the album will be like you can listen to her latest single, ‘On+Off’.
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Not one to shy away from the big issues, Declan McKenna was only 15 years old when he released his first single, ‘Brazil’ in 2014; a song about the corruption of FIFA, which earned him a copious amount of attention. After winning Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Prize in 2015, he has since gone on to release singles ‘Paracetamol’, regarding the lack of media coverage surrounding transgender issues, and ‘Isombard’, inspired by the poem “next to of course god america i” by E. E. Cummings. The upbeat, indie melodies of his music do not at first suggest such hard-hitting lyrical content; a device, he says, he has taken from inspirations such as Bowie and The Beatles. Also citing Sufjan Stevens, St Vincent and TV on the Radio as influences, McKenna demonstrates a vast musical, as well as cultural knowledge and with an EP set for release later this year we can look forward to more funky beats and sharp rhetoric from the teen, but until then, check out his two 2016 EP’s Stains and Liar.
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With heavy backing from BBC Radio 1, Loyle Carner might be a name you’ve heard before. The London-based rapper has been praised for using rap to tackle more sensitive issues such as family; something the south London rapper holds in high regard. Apart from 2014’s A Little Late EP, Loyle Carner had only released singles, frequently collaborating with Tom Misch, however his second EP, Yesterday’s Gone was very recently released on the 20th January. With this release much attention will undoubtedly ensue for the rapper; however, with previous gigs including supporting the likes of Nas, Kate Tempest and Joey Badass, as well as a much-coveted Glastonbury slot back in 2015, it seems that he is already well on his way to success. His live shows are not to be missed, exhibiting his abundance of energy, and the rarity of an artist who sounds even better live.
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Alongside other female MCs such as Lady Leshur and Little Simz, Nadia Rose is taking the male-dominated UK hip hop and grime scene by storm. Her recent win at the MOBO’s for Best Video for ‘SWOD’ has led to much more mainstream exposure. Citing American hip hop legends Missy Elliot, Lil Kim and Eminem as big influences, the 23-year-old aims to merge her American influences with her UK ones such as Ms. Dynamite and Lily Allen. She’s proven that she’s got the lyrical mastery to make it big, after freestyling on Radio 1 Xtra for both DJ Semtex and Toddla T and, considering her background, it’s no surprise. With Stormzy for a cousin and a father who was also an MC, musical ability clearly runs in the family. Her sharp, witty lyrics are brimming with confidence and, after recently co-signing with Alicia Keys as well as opening for Busta Rhymes, it’s no surprise.
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Reading favourites The Amazons are a rock band who formed in 2014. Originally, the quartet made electronic music but decided to switch to rock after a particularly inspiring Foals gig at Alexandria Palace where they were supported by Cage The Elephant. Their debut EP Don’t You Wanna was produced by Catherine Marks who has also worked with artists such as Wolf Alice and The White Lies. The band have made waves on the UK indie rock-scene, and have recently supported The Kooks on the German leg of their tour, as well as frequently performing alongside fellow Reading band Sundara Karma. Their most recent single, ‘Little Something’ showcases their gutsy, guitar-driven sound.
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