Celebration and Resolutions:
IN THIS PHOTO: IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Naomi Wood
2017’s Best and the Promise of 2018
I have spoken about the shift from Pop's mainstream…
IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz
dominance and a recognition of genres like Hip-Hop and Rap. Here; the Mercury Music Prize continued its eclectic and, at times, eccentric nominations (having Ed Sheeran and J Hus on the same list) whereas, a few days back, The Grammys brought out its nominations. There is a definite push, at the biggest award shows, to include black artists and genres that have to fight hard to silence the biggest Pop stars around. There is a long way to go in music – for award shows and creating equality – but I am hopeful more positive steps will be made. I would like to see women provided more opportunities and have their voices heard – there are still issues when it comes the male-female ratio of award nominees and festival headliners – and black artists kept in the spotlight. Away from the politics and discussions we could have; the problems that need to be addressed and positives that require conservation – it is worth noting all the good things that have come from music. Lorde released Melodrama earlier in the year and amazed me with its depths, addictiveness and quality. I was not expecting to fall for a great Pop album but I did – and have not looked back. The New Zealand songwriter has had an amazing year and created a fantastic record.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lorde/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
There has been a raft of brilliant Hip-Hop/Rap albums this year and it seems the tone and nature of popular music is starting to shift. There is a split whereby polls such as BBC’s – and their tips of 2018’s best – are focusing on Pop whereas award shows and the mainstream seems to be welcoming and promoting Hip-Hop. It is interesting seeing this happen but I am excited to see this continue. We cannot keep the mainstream as it is and have to accept things will change. I am glad seeing artists like Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar receive Grammy nominations. Jay-Z created a career-best album in 4:44; Kendrick Lamar is on a real roll and brought out the tremendous DAMN. earlier this year – an album that could top many critics’ end-of-year lists. I am amazed how many great Hip-Hop/Rap albums are coming and some of the newer examples. Princess Nokia has impressed me this year and produced wonderful singles – ABCs of New York is a song that shows what she is made of. Cardi B and SZA are artists who are two terrific black female artists who are primed to do great things in 2018 – the latter received a raft of Grammy nominations and has been courting press recently. I think this year has seen a shift from the rather commercial and bland Pop tastes – we can all name a few acts that fall into the category – and an awakening to the real and substantial music that is out there.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kendrick Lamar/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Of course, there are plenty of fake and hollow Pop stars continuing to get credit: their dominance and rise is starting to dwindle. I feel the finest albums of the year have been those from artists who pride musicianship and nuance over quick money and streaming figures. We are in a modern time but the greatest achievements from 2017 are those that nod to the past and preserve music’s traditions. From Kendrick Lamar and SZA to Jay-Z and Thundercat; it has been a great year for decent music. I have not even mentioned Thundercat and his exceptional album, Drunk. It is an ambitious, long and adventurous record that has graced many critics’ favourite albums of 2017 so far – BBC Radio 6 Music crowned it as such – and it shows what an extraordinary force he is. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with in the future but his current album is a gorgeous and soulful selection of songs that get into the heart and remain with you. That record was in my top-twenty and I am going to follow Thundercat’s career closely. In my top-ten have been records from Queens of the Stone Age, Dizzee Rascal and Robert Plant; Benjamin Clementine and Baxter Dury. There are some familiar faces in there but, the more I think about the best of this year, the more I revise my thoughts and wonder whether the likes of Thundercat should have been higher in my thoughts.
IN THIS PHOTO: Thundercat/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
One of the best things from this year has been discovering new acts and hopefuls – from the radio and the course of my travels. I have discovered some great independent artists but there are radio-played acts that have caught my ear. Phoebe Bridgers and Jordan Rakei are two artists I am excited about; bands like Django Django (not new but still brilliant) are in my thoughts – IDLES are the guys that stand aside. The Bristol Punk/Alternative band was robbed of a Mercury Music Prize when their sensational Brutalism was unleashed on the world. I have been dubious regarding bands and how meaningful they have been this year. There are too many generic and predictable options who fail to bring the punch and wonder. IDLES are renowned for their fantastic live performances but you get a sense of what they are about on the album. It has been championed by a lot of D.J.s but I feel it has been denied by high-profile sources. I know the guys will continue to pervade and strike but I worry a genuine and forward-thinking band have been overlooked. They are among a small selection of groups who are original and have the potential to remain. Maybe it will take a little longer for the critical world to wake up but IDLES are not going away anytime soon.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
This year has been fantastic when it comes to the underground and the best of the new breed. I do not have time to put them all here, but I know there are some terrific acts coming through who will make a big difference in music. The best albums of this year are, perhaps, not as strong as last year’s but some wonderful L.P.s have been released. I am optimistic there are going to be sensational albums out next year and some further shifts. I am worried the band market is struggling but pleased genres like Hip-Hop and Rap have been pushed further towards the forefront. The mainstream has a few questionable acts gaining traction but the new Pop artists coming through seem to have more structure and promise than artists from previous years. It is going to be interesting seeing how the industry changes. I will provide my list of artists to watch in 2018 in a couple of weeks but there are some upcoming artists who, I feel, will be doing good things in 2018…
IN THIS PHOTO: Camila Cabello/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I will talk about the likes of Camila Cabello and how Pop music will shape up in 2018 but, reflecting my own thoughts, a few acts that have been tipped by Pitchfork. Jorja Smith is a name I am very familiar with and have been following her music for a long time now. Songs such as Blues Lights (which samples Dizzee Rascal’s Sirens) meant she was included in BBC Music’s Sound of 2016 rundown – and has made steps since then. There is something sensational and wonderful in her voice and, when looking at the piece she conducted with Pitchfork earlier this year - there were some interesting points that came out:
“In the wake of the success of “On My Mind,” Smith says people keep asking her to make more upbeat tracks for the album, but she’s already made up her mind. “No, sorry,” she says unapologetically, answering a potential would-be opportunist. “Do you just want me to write an upbeat song because you want one?” Then again, it doesn’t mean we’ll never hear another uptempo track from Jorja Smith. “I’m not gonna just disappear after one album,” she says. “You’ve got a whole lot of time to hear more from me.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz
There is a grounded and pragmatic personality inside Jorja Smith. She is a modern youth but not someone who is going to be guided by marketing forces and record label demands Her voice has a sultriness and seductive quality but there is toughness and direction. She has malleability and versatility that will see her continue to succeed and grow. When talking about labels; she was keen to express her independence:
“It’s not even about what I don’t like. I just like what I’m doing right now without getting a label involved. So why would I change it at the moment when we’re doing well? I don’t want to mess up that structure just yet”.
I am pumped seeing where she head and how far she can go! It is clear she has driving ambition and does not want to be exploited and guided by labels. That determination and clear-sight will see her forge a unique path and rise to the mainstream. When she is there; I know she will exert a lot of pressure and influence the market. Remaining pure, focused and true is what goes into the music; it is how she comes across – and the way she wants to stay.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sudan Archives/PHOTO CREDIT: Kristyna Archer
Another star featured in Pitchfork’s rundown was Sudan Archives. She is a striking and tough figure who, earlier in the year, gave us the exceptional Time. It is clear the American artist has a lot of potential and, when the website were featuring her; they were struck by the complexities and qualities she possesses:
“In person, Parks is sweeter than a line like that implies, but she’s no pushover. She’s model-thin with dancing eyes and natural curls, but her boho artistic sheen remains her most arresting quality. Sitting in a café in her current hometown of Los Angeles alongside a display case full of vegan, dried-fruit-studded pastries, she’s oblivious to any attention she attracts as she pours fresh-squeezed orange juice over ice”.
There are a few great newcomers that have the potential to ascend from their home nations and make it internationally. Sudan Archives captivates with her fashion and looks; her personality explodes and bursts with colours and exotic scents. She has such an alluring and wonderful aura; you gravitate towards her without a word being sung. I am interesting seeing where she goes and how her career shapes up in 2018. The material she has released so far has been instilled with her variegated D.N.A. and exceptional voice. It comes from someone who is modest and rather humble:
PHOTO CREDIT: Kristyna Archer
“In fact, at this point, with her music gaining more praise and fans with each passing week, Parks is a bit shellshocked. “I didn’t expect people to take it so positively. I felt like I was gonna be more misunderstood than anything, ’cause that’s how it’s always been,” she says. “I wasn’t the kid that was lonely, but sometimes I felt like a ghost.”
IN THIS PHOTO: YXNG Bane/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
YXNG Bane is a rapper from the East End and has gained attention following his remix of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. He broke through with his single, Rihanna, and has been included in the BBC’s list of acts to watch next year. He is new to the industry but it seems like he has potential to go far and make some headway. He knows Rap music needs to compete with the best of the U.S. – our finest artists cannot compete with the range and quality of America. YXNG Bane is hoping to bring a sense of purpose to the scene, and with it, a confidence boost that has been missing. We have Grime/Rap stars like Skepta, Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal but there is a need breed emerging. I am keen to see what he can come up with and how far he can go in the industry. It is always hard being part of a list that promotes the best new artists of the year – having to prove that place and make some quick moves. The young rapper will not hurry into releases: he has been building a following and is one of those performers to keep an eye out for.
IN THIS PHOTO: Tayá /PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
There are some great female Pop artists who could come into the same league as Lorde – rather than the more lifeless and commercial brand. Ashe is someone I have proffered a lot and has had her vocals approved by D.J./production duo Louis the Child. There are many ears turning her way and it seems like 2018 is an important one for her. Used to It, her catchy single from this year, matches controversial and provocative verses with thudding and singalong choruses. It is a classic Pop slice that has turned many heads. I have mentioned Camila Cabello (pictured above) as someone who could make moves and breaks next year. Tayá was discovered aged thirteen after attending a local choir; the Liverpool singer-songwriter has spent the past few years perfecting her music and is a bold artist who is ready to break into the mainstream. When Ur Sober, a collaboration with fellow Yxng Bane, shows what a turbulent emotional time she has had! She went on to support Zara Larsson and is someone who can fit into a packed Pop market – alongside the more credible options. Camila Cabello, with her hit song Havana, amazed critics and it has converted many to Pop. It has some exotic flair and Cuban heels; sassiness and sweat; a sway and punch that means its depths and contrasts make it more appealing and long-lasting than many songs out there!
IN THIS PHOTO: Camila Cabello/PHOTO CREDIT: Camia Cabello
Two other female artists who could make some big moves are Billie Eilish and IAMDDB. They are both on BBC’s Longlist of artists to watch in 2018 and with good reason: both have created sensational music and have a distinct personality. Manchester’s IAMDDB was taught Jazz by her father and had a six-month stay in Angola – she returned to the U.K. with a scattershot musicianship and exposure to African sounds. She has been compared to SZA and the best female artists out there. Maybe there is a bit of Jazz and Soul here and there but the most interesting aspect of her music is the installation and distribution of international flows and beats – there are bits of Africa and Europe working alongside one another. I know she will continue to get attention and her music will reach new heights. It is great to see a fantastic British artist take her own path and not follow the herd. I expect her to cement her reputation and continue to compel and entrance. A tough and confidently artist whose attitude and boldness do not get in the way of quality and likeability – she is an artist who captures the heart but takes no nonsense from anyone!
IN THIS PHOTO: IAMDDB/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Billie Eilish is a young star but someone who is already assured and making moves. Not only does she have the ears and eyes of critics; she is shaping up to be one of the most respectable and inspiring artists coming through. I have mentioned Phoebe Bridgers – who has a different slant and take – but they are both young artists who take control of their music and look set to put their stamp on 2018’s music. I wonder whether her young years (she is fifteen) means that pressure and expectation could weight quite heavily. I know she will overcome and is a stunning songwriter who is starting to get the respect and pulpit she warrants. I shall end things there but that is only a tip of what is to come. I will reveal my series of artists to watch in 2018 – worth watching that for more depth and a greater range. I feel 2018’s Pop will start to change and welcome in female artists with depth and genuinely ability; Soul, World and R&B artists bringing something fresh to music – alongside a raft of hungry Rap/Hip-Hop stars, from the U.K. and U.S., challenging for acclaim. There are voices that wonder where the next big Rock and Alternative sounds will come from. In all the lists of artists to watch and be aware of; I am not sure if there are that many great bands being heralded. I think you could write a piece called No False IDLES and assess the Bristol band on their own terms. They are among the groups that will be worth following next year. There will be others but it seems solo artists are going to be bigger names in 2018 – the best albums of this year (aside from IDLES and Queens of the Stone Age) have been solo-based. I am excited to see how 2018 unfolds but we are all catching our breath right now. It certainly has been…
IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Eilish/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A terrific year for music!