By Miles Raymer
Updated October 07, 2014 at 04:16 PM EDT
London Richards
Credit: Taj Stansberry

“I’m just happy that I’ve been able to take my time to release this first single,” London Richards says. Actually, only about a year passed between London deciding to pursue a singing career and the release of his debut single “Will You Wait,” but Richards is only 17, and considering his age—and the fact that these days artists can make or break a career in a matter of weeks—he can be forgiven for thinking that’s a long time.

Richards may be new, but on “Will You Wait” and his upcoming EP love, London (out Oct. 27), he emerges as a seemingly full-formed artist with crafty songwriting skills, a supple voice, and a compelling, of-the-moment aesthetic that sets highly accessible pop hooks in a bed of darkly textured electronic instrumentation. This formula has already starting to pay dividends–soon after its release, ”Will You Wait” appeared on Billboard’s Emerging Artists and Trending 140 charts, and it’s starting to gain enough critical mass to make a run at the pop charts seem entirely possible. “There are almost no words to describe how amazing it’s been,” he says. “It’s all positivity.”

Richards got into music through his father, who played Michael Jackson and classic funk albums by Shalamar and Lakeside around the house, and let London play DJ on his turntables. From there, he discovered Usher and Justin Timberlake, who still rank among his main influences. “Justin Timberlake’s first album Justified, coming out of N*Sync it was so advanced,” he says. “He had the ballads, he had the disco songs. Usher just had those ballads that could make a grown man cry.”

Sonically, Richards seems to have more in common with artists like The Weeknd and FKA Twigs, who favor arrangements that combine nocturnal synthesizer tones and postmodern cut-and-paste editing techniques, but he’s more of an unabashed pop artist than most other artists commonly gathered under the “alt-R&B” umbrella. Like Usher and Timberlake (and MJ before them), he’s not particularly bothered by the idea of being seen simply as a pop star, or by listeners not necessarily knowing or caring that he writes and co-produces most of his material. “I think that just comes with great music,” he says. “People want to see the face behind it, and that’s something every person who makes good music should be ready for. If people want to know your face after the music, you’re doing something right.”

By that reasoning he’s apparently on the right path. A video clip from back in June shows Richards performing Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…Comes Around” in front of what seems to be an almost exclusively young and female audience. Over its 78 seconds, you can literally watch them become more engaged with his performance as the cell phones come out to record it. The crowd is small, and the effect is humble, but it has the feeling of something big that’s just getting started.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Richards plays a record release party Oct. 28 at Bootleg HiFi in LA.