J. Cole and more...
After a slew of mixtapes, including 2010’s incredible Friday Night Lights, J. Cole finally unleashed his first proper album with Cole World: The Sideline Story in 2011 and unlike many who came before him, the rapper actually lived up to the hype. A protégé of Jay-Z, Cole’s knack for wordplay is only accentuated by his smooth flow and hook-crazy sensibilities throughout all of his Roc Nation debut. We should have seen this coming after he appeared on Jay’s 2009 smash The Blueprint 3 and quietly stole “A Star Is Born” right out from underneath his boss’s feet. His debut full-length is filled with more of the same honest deliveries and “this shit is too easy” approach that glistened throughout both his Blueprint cameo and those aforementioned mixtapes. Just check out the single-ready “Lights Please” or the Missy Elliot-collabo “Nobody’s Perfect” and you’ll see why he is the rare case of the kid that lives up to the accolades so many people wanted to shower him with even before his first record hit the shelves. Word has it that a follow-up to Cole World: The Sideline Story is in the works for a 2012 release, and if that’s the case, the hip-hop world better be ready to embrace a new star. Cole’s obvious talent, palpable sincerity and enlightening intelligence combines for a package that is simply too powerful to ignore. Colin McGuire
Making music under the moniker of Computer Magic, New York DJ, graphic designer and student Danielle Johnson has already attracted a following of Internet fans by uploading her home made slices of synth pop one track at a time. Having already posted enough songs online to fill a double album (and without any real dip in quality track-to-track) Danz, as she prefers to be called, lays down her delicate vocals over a light curtain of retro synths and shifty drum beats. With a natural ear for melody to boot, her music has been compared to Au Revoir Simone and much missed Ben Gibbard/Jimmy Tamberello collaboration the Postal Service. Given the fractured nature of her releases, one wonders where her creative ceiling might be should she put her mind to her music in 2012. This time next year Computer Magic could be huge. Dean Van Nguyen
The reason that the duo of Laurens Flax and Dillard are a hope for next year rather than one of the best of this is because, well, there’s just not that much there yet. In fact, the production duo’s work right now consists of little more than some remixes (their rework of Memory Tapes’ “Green Knight” is especially good) and two singles. But what singles; last year’s “Days” with Romy from the xx was striking enough, but 2011’s “You” featuring Nina Sky” is so good, and such a perfect match, that it’s hard not to wish the two groups would do a full-length together. On that song, CREEP tap into everything from trip-hop to the spectral R&B of (for example) Cassie’s “Me and You” to make music that’s just as dark as it is pop, without ever falling into the murky waters of witch house, chillgaze, or a dozen other subgenres. With the right vocalists, this guys should and will be huge. Ian Mathers
David Wax Museum
The noun “museum” that rests at the end of this Boston band’s name is entirely apropos, as this Americana group seeks to document and expand upon traditional Mexican music, bringing south of the border folk tunes to broader audiences. They may well be the American musical equivalent of chef Rick Bayless, as they educate non-Mexicans on the richness and complexity of Mexican music in the same fashion that Bayless does with regional Mexican cooking. David Wax Museum was recently named Boston’s Americana Artist of the Year, they burned up the stage at Nashville’s Americana Music Festival in October, and they’ve received plaudits from prestigious tastemakers like The New Yorker and NPR. The group’s latest album, Everything Is Saved, is an irresistible ride through the Americas, bubbling with energy and exciting instrumentation. And yeah, that donkey jawbone offering up rhythm on so many of these tracks is pretty cool, too. David Wax Museum is bound for greater success as they have a massive wealth of music to draw from as they bring a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to folk music. Sarah Zupko
For an outfit that sounds like it should be busy preparing for societal collapse (and, perhaps, ruling in the aftermath), Death Grips put a lot of effort into announcing itself in 2011. Evidenced by a stand-alone single, a mixtape, and a series of disturbing, low-budget videos (all available here), the Sacramento, California hip-hop group makes music that just came off its meds. On the mixtape Exmilitary, MC Ride swings back and forth between disjointed, paranoid commentary on contemporary culture and wacked-out boasts that are more Thus Spoke Zarathustra than Watch the Throne (“I am the beast I worship!”). Producer Flatlander and drummer Zach Hill (Hella, Marnie Stern’s backing band) do right by their frontman, whether it’s mining the rock canon for classic samples or crafting a backing track out of electronic blips and the slice of a guillotine blade. Given the quality and quantity of Death Grips’ work this year, their official debut album just may feel like a follow-up. David Bloom