The 25 Must-Listen Projects + Albums of 2021 (so far...)

 Evan Dale // July 1, 2021 

Jan. 8, Dot DemoHiatus

After the release of last Spring’s Burn One, Tap In, Zone Out – a ten-track deliverable that like its recent predecessors, My Brother’s Keeper, Delirium, and Nahforreal’ brimmed with the soundscape of an artist defined by lyrical dominance and stylistic breadth – Demo’s life changed. He drew inwards to focus on a growing family. But, true to himself and his natural existence as a poet unparalleled in lyrical ferocity or stylistic fluidity, his Hiatus didn’t seem to come without a deeper dive into his craft...

Jan. 8, Jazmine SullivanHeaux Tales

Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales breathes of the kind of complexities, rawness, and brash feminine energy that modernity is coming to expect more and more as counterpoint to the masculinity and overt sexualism that has defined mainstream hip-hop and R&B albums for years. And though Sullivan is no stranger to relatable tales of relationships, heartbreak, sex, and prevailing trauma, this project is particularly poignant and relatabe.

Jan. 11, RyAnneFrom RyAnne, With Love

Hers is a particular direction for modern R&B artists to take. Without mentioning those few, that are too, taking their own independence and emotional intelligence into account when crafting experimentally driven music, RyAnne is redefining what the future of R&B, of Neo-Soul, and of Nashville can sound like, not by looking forwards, but instead by weaving her seeming fondness for acoustic notes, instrumentalism, and all-encompassing musical softness...

Jan. 15, Just AdamBuckets II

Chicago’s most low-key, laid-back lyricist, Just Adam doesn’t really quite sound like anyone else, not only from his own city, but elsewhere in hip-hop, period. Delineated by a particularly gravelly voice, and effortless pace with the poetry, a relatable construct of subject matter, and an affinity for bridging jazzy East Coast beats with pops of West Coast synth to create a new wave for the Chi, the aesthetic of Just Adam bridges not only place, but era...

Jan. 29, Michael Da VinciRoses

Straight away, it’s clear that Roses is going to be different for Da Vinci, for The House, and for Chattanooga. From its psychedelic cover artwork to its opening Intro, the project takes a sledgehammer to any expectations. Removed from the meditative flow and oft hard-hitting aesthetic he brings to releases like last year’s single, Roid Rage with Nashville rapper, OGTHAGAWD, Da Vinci instead enters a realm of trippy, melodic soundscapes still brimming with bars, but founded on the precipice of...

Feb. 5, Reaux MarquezNo Roads

Fire by fire’s many modern meanings, No Roads is up-tempo, vivacious hip-hop from a rapper who lives by the sharpness of his tongue. Thankfully for everyone listening, there's not a breath wasted in the exhibition of prose and poeticism; power and painstaking craft. Beginning to end, adjacent to crafting a cohesive narrative, Reaux’s musicality dominates with a display of lightning-fast bars. Infused with meaning, each line delivered is a line meditated and crafted in the shadows of an emerging Nashville scene for years.

Feb. 5, VanJess, Homegrown

Homegrown as a whole speaks to the dialed range of their one-of-a-kind sound. Each track – many of which are spurred by the aesthetics of myriad collaborators – speaks to the knack of their range merging with others who, too, possess a unique and vibrant redefinition of R&B’s past merging with its nuanced future. Homegrown always finds its way home, to the intersectionality of VanJess’s retrofuturistic R&B experimentation. Their role in the cycles and the circles of it all continues...

Feb. 5, Sy Ari Da Kid, It's Not You, It's Me

Mostly bass-heavy, addicting R&B infused with Sy Ari’s tendency to sew raps between his vocally laden hooks, It’s Not You, It’s Me plays both of his stylistic lanes in persistent, liquid harmony. Even in the project’s slower tracks – the kind of ones that find themselves both thematically and instrumentally leaning towards the romantic edge of a classic, sexy R&B sound – Sy Ari weaves in and out of differing cadences and flows with such fluid effortlessness...

Feb. 12, Langston BristolM-Side Odyssey 2

From start to finish, whether a fan of the old-school or the new; whether a fan of hip-hop or R&B; whether a fan of the upbeat and lyrical or the slow-moving and melodic; the mixtape is a fluid exploration of the range of an artist whose sound knows no stylistic or epochal boundaries and therefore knows no one who doesn’t find something(s) to love about it all. So, who TF is Langston Bristol? There’s no better way to find out than listening to M-Side Odyssey 2.

Feb. 12, Trey Graves, Fern.

A capable, timeless writer whose songs – though also rangy in thematic discourse – breathe of a simple relatability that speaks to the hearts his small, yet ever expanding audience, his is a folky sort of understanding on how to really connect with his listeners. Oh, and he can rap, too. All in all, he’s a keymark representation of post-genre independence, and Fern is a shining exhibition of what happens when multi-pronged talent is hinged to artistic freedom and the vibrant emotionality – and oft-simple sweetness – of love...

Feb. 14, $avvyBoys Wear Pearls

Appearing from seemingly nowhere last year with a maturity to his differentiating auditory aesthetic and a professionalism about the production, the videography, and the whispery, mellow ease with which he marks every rap, every note, and every visual adaptation, $avvy has been a name worth watching for his sound worth knowing since the very beginning. And at the beginning of 2021, he’s here with his debut collection...

Feb. 22, MaviEnd of the Earth

Mavi is a force of seeming familiarity unlike anyone who has ever attempted the craft. And in that delineation exists his underlying genius – the reason why any fan of his seems to be not only a fan for life, but a fan of hip-hop’s storied and continuing lineage. For any rap listener, there is more than something and instead many things about the steady spring in Mavi’s meditative gait that make him a force to follow to the END OF THE EARTH.

Mar. 19, Kota the FriendTo Kill a Sunrise

Aside from the fluidity of their collective East Coast sound, what feels most standout about the album is just how far it pushed Kota the Friend to exist beyond his oft-subdued, always at peace demeanor. Though never an aggro-rapper, there is a side to Kota that any fan of hip-hop has been hoping to hear at length, only previously emerging in a hard-nosed occasional poetic punch. But alongside Statik Selektah....

Mar. 19, Joyce WriceOvergrown

A sun-soaked reminiscence has always tethered the auditory aesthetic of California soulstress, Joyce Wrice not only to the Golden State, but to the Golden Era. It’s not to say that she’s not a figment of Neo-Soul modernity – having been a collaborative name and a standalone artist on the rise for something like half-a-decade – yet, her music could have ornamented the wavy birthstones of R&B as we know it, and no listener would dare question its placement in the 90’s or early 00’s.

Mar. 19, FlySiifu$mokebreak

After their acclaimed 2020 FlySiifu’s – the duo’s collaborative debut that doubled as an immersive concept album painting both artists as blunted employees of a milk-crate record shop dropping bombs – not bars – in the back of the store, $mokebreak hinges on that same storyline, as an explorative albeit pointedly removed continuation of the plot and the range of sounds from where it is rooted. $mokebreak as a title itself, in accompaniment of the project’s cover artwork....

Mar. 19, JVCK JAMES, Joyride

JVCK JAMES recently released his JOYRIDE EP. The 6-track project – his second behind 2019 debut collection, DETOUR – is, as he says, his ‘best work to date.’ It feels pretty undeniable to say so, as the London vocalist has spent much of his four-year limelight run largely outside of it altogether. A bit illusive, JVCK JAMES’ emergence has been defined by occasional singles that, though rare, have still successfully soundtracked everything that romance, sunsets, and beach vacations have touched along the way...

Apr. 9, ElhaeAura III

Backdropped by bass-heavy beats that seem to always find flight in the playful keys of their production, ELHAE spends the duration of the 11-track ‘AURA III’ seamlessly meandering his own musicality and his own mind. From the hard-hitting verses, to the vocally vulnerable croons, to ELHAE’s comfort in the moving middle grounds, his sound knows less boundaries than ever before...

Apr. 9, NappyHighYellow

Beneath the mire of jazz and soul samples of the past, funky key progressions, West Coast synths à la Dre’s genius, and the entangled mosaic of his many featuring modern guest artists, exists Channy Cardenas. And Channy Cardenas is a product of his environment. Born in Fresno, raised in South Central Los Angeles, and residing in Palmdale, his was an upbringing of the same environment that raised many of modern hip-hop’s most notorious influences. Everything about that seems obvious in his sound today...

Apr. 23, Topaz JonesDon't Go Tellin' Your Momma

A refined, timeless confluence of 70’s funk and modern hip-hop drives the expansive direction of Topaz Jones’ new album, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma. The album, that’s auditory aesthetic bleeds crystal clear of its influence when paired with the mirroring visual aesthetics of its accompanying Sundance award winning short film directed by Jones himself and directing duo, Rubberband….

May 14, Vague DetailVague Detail

A fan of R&B is a fan of the emotional responses that the music evokes in our day-to-day lives. And a fan of that emotional vulnerability will find a lot of reminiscent comfort, while at the same time, a whole lot of experimental newness in the interwoven artistic force of Kaleem Taylor and The Code. Both artists are such raw products of the past – raw R&B vocals, 80’s synths, 90’s drum patterns, and the timelessness of heartbroken penmanship – and yet both forge new paths not only in the respective stylistic lanes...

May 21, Patrick Paige IIIf I Fail Are We Still Cool?

Through its 45 minutes, that knack for immersion and fluid flexibility is something that defines If I Fail Are We Still Cool?; defines Patrick Paige II as its creator; defines its creator as one seemingly always exploring self-reinvention with one hand firmly on the album’s aviatic theme and the other on his affinity and knack for a hip-hop oriented exploration of his myriad inspirations. Both points are unexpected. Both are welcome...

May 26, MerebaAZEB

From top to bottom, her newest EP is an exhibition of a sound that has come to exist only by her hand. No one else in this world is making music so infused with the specific blend of stylistic influences that she is. And though only a seven-track EP, AZEB is an explosion of late Springtime anthems coordinated in tumbling perfection in accordance of one another. Drawn akin by silky vocals, thought-provoking raps woven effortlessly into them, calming guitar riffs, and perfectly suited production surrounding it all…

June 4, MFnMelo + squeakPIVOTEn Route

Where MFnMelo’s fiery bars drive intensity into the tape, squeakPIVOT’s cool keystrokes douse them in equilibrium. Where MFnMelo’s established artistry saw just another day in the studio, squeakPIVOT’s pervasive, youthful energy in the creative process pulled both artists into their respective sweet spots. And from beginning to end, En Route – true to its name – is a Summertime case study on the producer-rapper relationship...

June 18, GoldLinkHARAM!

Haram! as a whole is undeniably unique, surprising a listener expecting any of the many roads GoldLink’s indefinably influential career has traveled in the past. But, with a great sound system and an open mind, it’s also yet another boldly experimental patchwork of risks taken successfully sure to have a monumental impact on the scope of hip-hop’s futurist texture....

June 25, Tyler, The CreatorCall Me If You Get Lost

There’s something hip-hop has been necessarily missing from its most prominent names in the most recent years. It’s an intersection of a grungy imperfection in its production, some lighthearted poeticism in its penmanship, and a timeless relatability to any fan of the scene through almost any era. Call Me If You Get Lost – channeling the fast-paced, rap-heavy, antic-laced audacity of Goblin – quenches...