Music 2016: Scene’s Rookies of the Year
XXL Freshman Anderson .Paak may be Scene’s true rookie of the year; the soul singer/songwriter/producer not only cracked our Best Albums of 2016 list with the delightful “Malibu” LP but also dropped a lovely record in collaboration with producer Knxwledge (“Nx Worries”) and made guest appearances on too many great albums to count. However, .Paak isn’t the only new artist to shake up the scene this year. Be sure to catch these wonderful artists before they’re cool so you can get the indie cred you deserve.
D.R.A.M. by Jack Riedy
Take two simple piano chords and add a kick drum and a sub-bass that never coincide, circling each other like two sheepish middle-schoolers at a dance. Add in the most polarizing and innovative Atlanta artist since Future, a red-haired rebel who references a school shooting within two bars. Mix a heartfelt verse about success borne from hard work with a chorus about smoking weed and flirting at a party. What sounds like a recipe for disaster became a sublime double-platinum hit in the capable hands of D.R.A.M.
The Virginia native was inescapable in the back half of 2016. “Broccoli” and other bangers from his debut boomed out of speakers as long as the weather was warm enough to leave the windows open. He was propelled to new heights by his feature on Chance The Rapper’s album, warbling a child-like affirmation that would have felt corny coming from anyone else. Like Chance, D.R.A.M. is driven by a relentless positivity that makes his music feel like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal year. When he performed at Taste of Chicago, it felt like the entire city swayed together as he crooned “everyone is special.” D.R.A.M. certainly is, and we’re lucky to have him.
Big Thief by Erin McAuliffe
Big Thief’s 2016 debut album, “Masterpiece,” was fittingly titled.
Adrianne Lenker’s endearingly fragile vocals and illustrative lyrics garnered attention as a solo act; when they’re supported by a three-piece backing band they are impossible to ignore. Elevated by swirly riffs and emphasized by drums, Lenker leads her listeners on a highly personal journey. The album is also just 12 tracks long, with only two tracks clocking in over four-minutes long, a testament to its concise poignancy.
From the cover art depicting kids playing with pets and toys on a beige carpet, the album is uniquely ingrained in nostalgia and place. Title-track “Masterpiece” depicts a common first date: “Crossing your legs inside the diner / Raising your coffee to your lips, the steam.” The track “Lorraine” delicately depicts a love that is a bit more comfortable but still exciting: “Your new blue eyeliner caught my distraction / And like we were two lovers forming from fiction / Your mouth caught my ear with such perfect diction.”
Big Thief’s album will prove familiar but exciting to fans of Lenker’s solo work while fresh listeners will feel the rush of a first date that could lead to long-term commitment.
KAYTRANADA by Adam Ramos
Just listen to a KAYTRANADA remix from this year and you’ll immediately recognize why Louis Kevin Celestin isn’t your average DJ bro. After gloriously rising from the SoundCloud remix sea of mediocre, Canada’s darling DJ released his 15-track debut “99.9%” this year, an album as inventive as it is banging. Celestin’s gift with percussion arrangements is utterly unmatched. Whether with guest drummers like on standout track “BUS RIDE” or with his own polyrhythmic drum loops, each of Kaytranda’s tracks feel alive and active. Celestin pulls sounds from just about everywhere, crafting an eclectic sound matched only in the album’s artwork, courtesy of Spanish artist Ricardo Cavalo.
Nine of 11 tracks have a feature, and Celestian’s Kanye-ian ability to get the very best from his collaborators is just another perk on the album. Despite having successful 2016 records, Anderson .Paak and Vic Mensa both deliver some of their best work this year on “99.9%.” Vocalists AlunaGeorge and SYD both shine on the album as well, providing delicate counters to Celestin’s often frenzied beats.
Lil Yachty by Jimmy Kemper
Bringing a flaming hot Cheetos aesthetic that the rap world desperately needed, Lil Yachty is the perfect response to the hyper-serious realities of 2016. After appearing as a model in Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion and album release show at Madison Square Garden in February, Yachty released his divisive mixtape “Lil Boat” in March, featuring the SoundCloud jams “Minnesota” and “One Night.” While some critics were concerned his style might be alienating and dull, Lil Yachty nevertheless managed to break into the mainstream later this year by collaborating on D.R.A.M.’s smash-hit “Broccoli.”
Lil Yachty has succeeded where other SoundCloud struggle rappers have failed: his persistent challenge to the rap industry, and to the collective culture at large, to not take itself so darn seriously. His rapping may not even be objectively good at times, but the universe he has created — one that features N64 samples, cotton candy references and a hazy drug-addled production — is so absurdly innovative that it almost feels OK to cut him some slack.
STREET SECTS by John Darr
Industrial, as a hybrid of electronic dance music and metal, is a bizarre genre in that it lends itself to both dancefloor-stomping fun and furious intensity. Even when classic acts like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails crafted industrial masterpieces that grappled with relentlessly dark topics, the danceable, high-energy rhythmic cores of their tracks prompted raving as much as raging. Street Sects successfully translate this duality of extreme darkness and entrancing rhythms into a contemporary form. Their debut LP, “End Position,” is anchored by throbbing kick drum rhythms and decked out to the brim with swirling, menacing sound effects that make the record as rewarding through headphones as through a club-ready subwoofer. “End Position” makes for a thrilling debut; hopefully it’s also an omen of even crazier Street Sects records to come.