Kwes and more...
Dom Kennedy just confounds me. Sometimes I hate him, sometimes I love him. Most of the time, I just feel ambiguous towards him. And yet here I am, nominating him as one of the artists looking to have a huge 2013. There’s just something about Dom that feels on the precipice of radio stardom. Maybe it’s the lush Los Angeles production from new school heavyweights like Swiff D, THC, K Roosevelt and Polyester to name a few. Maybe it’s the way his delivery sounds like Keith Murray draped in molasses and medicinal marijuana. But the overall effect of his sound is one that just feels like it should be pure drugs for the typical college hip-hop fan that loves women and recreational mind alteration (or just parties with the Greeks). His free album The Yellow Album dropped this year and while I have my issues with it same as everything else, it feels on the precipice of something really special. Nowhere was this more evident than Too $hort collaboration ““Don’t Call Me”, which is so smooth that it truly angers me hip-hop radio has become so staid and generic. It may boil down to integrating every touchstone of ‘90s West Coast rap into present day internet rapper tropes (clothes, girls, weed), but when it’s done this well I feel that’s about all a rapper needs to get one foot in the door to whatever stardom is these days. David Amidon
Up to the release of his 2012 EP, Meantime, Kwes was primarily known in his native UK as a producer who had worked with a range of acts, most notably the xx, Speech Debelle and Micachu. But over the course of these four songs, he asserts his abilities as a talented and creative singer-songwriter whose blithe electronic love songs unfold with a unique sense of sincerity, grace and precision. Kwes belongs to the same experimentally-inclined, dance-inflected lineage as Hot Chip and Caribou. But he breathes a spirit of humble and joyful energy into these songs that is entirely his own. After a high profile Jimmy Fallon appearance as a member of soul legend Bobby Womack’s band (alongside Damon Albarn and Jaleel Bunton of TV on the Radio) in September, here’s hoping Kwes gets back in the studio to work on some more of his own material. Robert Alford
After the release of three EPs—two in 2011 and one in 2012—Lianne La Havas finally picked up some steam with her major label full-length debut, July’s Is Your Love Big Enough? with help from the album’s inescapable title track. The record landed a spot as a Mercury Prize finalist and in addition to climbing all the way to No. 4 on the UK charts, she found success in eight other countries, including the Netherlands, where her record made it all the way to No. 3. All this comes after taking her time to, as she put it, “work on her song-writing” before releasing a proper introductory album. In a word, the result was magical. Not only did that extra attention to craftsmanship pay dividends with such a wonderfully mature 12-song set, but it also set the singer up for a career that now seems just as promising as the career of another young songstress from Britain who’s gone through her own share of bad breakups. Colin McGuire
With hick-hop making inroads on the charts lately, most visibly through Jason Aldean’s top 10 pop hit “Dirt Road Anthem”, the world is ready for two Loud Ass Crackers named Uncle Snap and Rooster. On their fine 2012 album 190 Proof, the Lacs visited strip clubs with Bubba Sparxxx (“Wylin’”), stole a skit from Mannie Fresh (“Great Moments in Redneck History”), and released an irresistible, wildly unpopular single with Big & Rich—“Shake It” is even giddier than Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”. The duo’s scruffy front porch vibe and taste for hooks redeem even their most hackneyed ideas. The next single “Country Boy Fresh” celebrates living cheap and shooting off-season venison while a fiddle solo wheedles and the guitarist plays OMC’s “How Bizarre”. As long as pole dancing and doomsday prepping remain in vogue, the world is theirs. Josh Langhoff
If you have any ear for hip-hop right now, you probably know the deal. Kendrick Lamar is the most unanimously beloved new rapper since Lupe Fiasco, the guy we rap writers are pinning all our hopes for the future on. And why not? Lamar’s star rose significantly on the Club Paradise tour with Drake, culminating in last month’s debut major label LP, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, which sold a surprising 270,000 copies as of this writing mostly on word of mouth. That album certainly deserves all the praise myself and others have heaped on it, but it’s the rest of what Lamar’s accomplished that really makes his future looks bright. Section.80 was a collection of catchy, fun tracks with a message, deftly balancing heady topics with head nodding jazz beats and clever wordplay. Meanwhile, his features prove he can play nice with a variety of styles: he goes braggadocious gangster with E-40, New York rhyme stylist with Smoke DZA and Marvin Gaye-tributer with Terrace Martin without missing a beat. For all the praise Lamar gets for his storytelling, not enough praise has yet been given to his ability to play whatever role is asked of him on a given song, and now that he’s moved past his life story it’s pretty exciting to imagine what the future has in store for the 25-year-old. David Amidon