This year has already been a remarkable one for hip-hop. Seemingly every week, a new, game-changing album arrives from an MC who has elevated the game, be it Kendrick Lamar’s thoughtful To Pimp a Butterfly, A$AP Rocky’s psychological mind-bender At.Long.Last.A$AP, Earl Sweatshirt’s claustrophobic cavalcade of self-loathing I Don’t Like S— I Don’t Go Outside, or Drake’s refreshingly buoyant surprise release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
And those are just the boldface headline-grabbers—there have also been stellar collections from the likes of Action Bronson (the freewheeling Mr. Wonderful), Czarface (the comic book-obsessed Every Hero Needs a Villain), Joey Badass (the delightfully old school B4.DA.$$), Big Sean (the grown-up blockbuster Dark Sky Paradise), Meek Mill (the joyously aggressive Dreams Worth More Than Money), and Wale (the Jerry Seinfeld-assisted The Album About Nothing). Heck, even Lil Wayne’s Free Weezy Album was better than anything Weezy has put out in years. And we still have new stuff from Dr. Dre and Kanye West that has yet to make it into our ears.
The point is, 2015 is shaping up to be a great year for hip-hop, and particularly so for new voices. Here are four recent chart-busting breakouts whose names you’ll be hearing for years to come.
VIBE High school pep-rally pop-rap.
KILLER SONG The kinetically sticky left-field smash “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).”
WHY HE MATTERS What’s better than a novelty dance? How about all the novelty dances? His viral “Watch Me” might be his sole single, but his infectious energy and skills at social media (part of the song’s success is due to fans who have made their own dance videos to his track) turned him into an instant player at the nexus of YouTube pop and blockbuster rap.
LOCATION Paterson, N.J.
VIBE Deceptively sweet Trap&B.
KILLER SONG “Trap Queen” is the hit, but Fetty flexes his muscles best on the bouncy, futuristic strip-club classic “679.”
WHY HE MATTERS “Trap Queen” takes gangsta grime and makes it radio-ready. Considering it’s an anthem about the drug trade, Fetty is as subversive a star as we have on the Hot 100.
LOCATION Long Beach, Calif.
VIBE A detail-oriented, openhearted novelist of the streets. He’s the James Joyce of SoCal hip-hop.
WHY HE MATTERS A bubbling fountain of electric charisma and a consummate student of the game, Staples is a veritable hip-hop Voltron: righteous like Kendrick, experimental like Kanye, charming like Jay Z.
VIBE Fierce, half-crooned battle rap.
KILLER SONG The don’t-step-to-this-line-in-the-sand “Back Up.”
WHY SHE MATTERS In a field of wannabes, DeJ is a female MC earning her stripes the old-school way: staring down established dudes (recent collaborators include Big Sean and Future) and laying down scene-stealing hooks (like on the Eminem-led posse cut “Detroit vs. Everybody”).
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1375.