One of the reasons musicians, fans and record labels venture to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest every year is to discover that up-and-coming artist on the cusp of greatness and worldwide recognition. WSN went to SXSW this year and of all the acts we saw, here are the five you should keep an eye on:
R&B artist Anderson .Paak has been moving around the L.A. hip-hop scene since 2011 but rose to prominence in 2015 when he appeared on six songs on Dr. Dre’s album “Compton.” This past January, he released his second studio album, “Malibu,” a funky fusion of genres that showcases his stunning vocal talents and star potential. His confidence and charisma were on full display when he opened for Vince Staples, singing, rapping and even playing live drums during some songs.
Car Seat Headrest
Originally a lo-fi bedroom Bandcamp project with a significant online cult following, Car Seat Headrest signed with Matador Records last year and started their reinvention. In 2015, they released “Teens of Style,” a compilation of previously released songs, and now frontman Will Toledo has moved into a harder, more epic sound for their next album of all-new material, “Teens of Denial.” The first single, “Vincent,” sounds heavier, darker and more distorted than anything they’ve done before, but with cleaner, professional studio production.
This 17-year-old from London, England has only released four songs so far but has still generated buzz for his complex lyricism about heavy subjects. Acclaimed single “Brazil” tackles corruption in FIFA and economic inequality, all over an earworm melody. He was without his band for his sets at the festival but the songs were full and vibrant, only created from his synths, guitar and loop pedal. You can expect McKenna to blow up once he releases a proper debut album.
Baker has already developed a reputation for the pummeling sadness of her debut album, “Sprained Ankle,” even openly acknowledging it with the lyrics “Wish I could write songs about anything other than death.” To see Baker perform is to be bludgeoned by emotional devastation and witness a songwriting prodigy discovering the depth of her talents.
Probably the most recognizable name on our list, Staples received immense critical and popular praise for his 2015 album “Summertime ‘06,” an ambitious album with moody, sparse beats and brutal lyrics focused on street violence and police oppression. His energetic live show at the NPR Music showcase confirmed his status as one of the most promising young stars in hip-hop. Staples is capable of crafting complex, nuanced songs and simultaneously putting on an insane, banging performance. His audience will only grow larger as he continues to create unforgettable music.
A version of this article appeared in the March 21 print edition. Email Zach Martin at [email protected]