What do a feisty R&B singer, a fierce trio of women, and a Nigerian highlife band have in common? They’re just three of the newcomers that EW predicts will break out in 2017. Get to know the artists below.
1. Dua Lipa
When Dua Lipa was in primary school, she bombed an audition for the choir. “My voice is so low that sometimes when I try to do high notes, nothing but air comes out,” she says. That didn’t deter her from pursuing a music career: At age 15, she moved by herself to London (where she grew up) from Kosovo (where her family had relocated a few years earlier) to attend theater school. Now it’s her rich, smoky voice, which echoes Amy Winehouse’s, that’s become an asset on her debut album, due in June. Musically, the LP covers tropical house, electro-funk, and acoustic R&B. But Lipa, 21, says the stories tie everything together: “I never want to seem weak in my songs. The second I start writing a sad song, I always change it to make it seem like I was more empowered.”
“My musical ADD is all over the place,” Bowman says, but you already knew that if you’ve listened to his SoundCloud. There, the Philly native, 23, posts his acclaimed “refixes”—inventive covers that mash up Justin Bieber with Drake or Rihanna with *NSYNC. He’ll soon combine his love of TRL-era pop and cutting-edge R&B with his 22 Minutes Later EP, due early this year. “It’s my musical autobiography and a confessional diary at the same time,” he says. Citing Chance the Rapper’s DIY career as an inspiration, Brayton will release the EP through his own label, Big Deb Inc. “I’m always going to do and say whatever the f— I want, and I have my own label because of that,” he says. “I’m a feisty bitch.”
If the United Nations’ General Assembly convened at Studio 54, Ibibio Sound Machine would easily be that night’s headlining act. This octet fuses ecstatic African highlife music and pulsing disco beats with British singer Eno Williams’ folktales of her Nigerian heritage, which she delivers in the country’s native Ibibio tongue. The group isn’t afraid to get political: “Give Me a Reason,” from their March album Uyai, addresses the heartbreaking kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014. There is still a joy in Ibibio Sound Machine’s approach. “Growing up, I was around very strong and positive women,” says Williams, 43. “I wanted to write about those things. People shouldn’t be afraid or stifled.”
4. Drake White
Growing up in Hokes Bluff, Ala., Drake White was enthralled with the Delta blues. “It was about listening to acoustic guitars and storytelling,” he says. So on his debut solo album, Spark, the 33-year-old fused that vintage vibe with Stax-era soul and bright country-pop. For White, music is about creating a feel-good escape. “I’m trying to help people get along,” he says, “maybe make them disconnect from this crazy world or just enjoy a sunset now and then.” After spending the past two summers opening for the Zac Brown Band, he’s embarking on his first headlining tour this month. He’s hardly nervous: “I want to turn out some badass, funky stuff and rip people’s faces off with music.”
5. Colony House
Brothers Caleb, 27, and Will Chapman, 25, who lead this quartet, were seemingly groomed for rock stardom as kids growing up in Franklin, Tenn. Their grandfather owned a music store, and their father, the prolific Christian-rock songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman, hired his sons as his backing band. “I feel kind of inadequate when I’m around those two guys,” Caleb says. “It’s inspiring but a little bit intimidating to have to keep up with these old fellas!” But they’re deftly stepping outside those shadows with their second album, Only the Lonely, which was partly inspired by the late icon Roy Orbison. “If he was my age in this day, maybe he’d do something like this,” says Caleb. “[But] it’d probably be a lot cooler.”
While many college students don’t think seriously about a career until they’re seniors, Cari Fletcher’s was already blowing up by her final year at NYU: In 2015, “War Paint” topped Spotify’s U.S. viral chart, but instead of dropping out to pursue a record deal, the artist (who performs as FLETCHER) finished her education and continued releasing music independently. “I was still figuring myself out as an artist,” says the 22-year-old, whose 2016 EP, Finding Fletcher, put an electro-pop sheen on the story-focused songwriting she’d honed during a stint in Nashville. Next up: a debut full-length, which she hopes to release in 2017.
Sampha Sisay, born in Sierra Leone and raised in Britain, has collaborated with superstars like Drake and Kanye West, yet it was his own tune, the soul-stirring R&B anthem “Blood on Me,” that took off in 2016, scoring more than 3 million Spotify streams. No one was as surprised as Sampha himself: “I felt like it was more aggressive than what I usually do,” says the 28-year-old. So on his debut LP, Process (due Feb. 3), he’s dialing down that intensity for a sound that’s in line with his introversion. “I have all these insecurities,” he says with a laugh. “But I listened to [the record again] and realized that feeling of anxiety and self-deprecation is the feeling I’m expressing in my music. I empathized with myself.”
The lush folk sound of 1960s Laurel Canyon gets a reboot with this Texas trio, featuring longtime buds Mark Wystrach (the 37-year-old lead singer and a former Calvin Klein model!), guitarist Jess Carson, 37, and bassist Cameron Duddy, 31. After forming in 2014, the band’s first recording session didn’t go as smoothly as you’d expect. “There were a few fights—a few choke-outs,” says Wystrach. “But halfway through that week there was a clear chemistry between the three of us and a real joy about what we were doing.” That uplifting vibe shines through their debut EP, which mixes Nashville twang with robust, Eagles-style harmonies; a full-length album, released on Taylor Swift’s label Big Machine, is expected this year. Says Wystrach, “We’re just excited to be making music that’s emanating from our heart and our souls.”
When this trio started jamming as college students in 2013, they didn’t know what kind of music they’d create. “Josette [Maskin, 22] comes from a more progressive-rock background, and Naomi [McPherson, 24] grew up in a jazz family,” says frontwoman Katie Gavin, 24. “So I think they were surprised when I was like, ‘Oh, we made pop music.'” But the band, who produced their upcoming debut, About U, are using their ’80s-inspired tunes to tackle topics rarely found on the Top 40: “Loudspeaker” explores the aftermath of sexual abuse, while “I Know a Place” is a rallying cry for the LGBT community. (All three women identify as queer.) “If I’m going to try and get stuck in somebody’s head,” Gavin says, “I hope it can be something that’s going to help their life.”
10. Rag’n’Bone Man
Soul, hip-hop, drum and bass: The music of the 31-year-old Brit Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man, has many flavors. “I didn’t want to sound like B.B. King over a Pete Rock hip-hop beat,” he says when explaining how he fused his love of the blues with contemporary rap and neo-soul. Thankfully, Graham avoided the pastiche he feared, and to rousing effect: His single “Human” hit No. 1 in 27 countries last year. “It’s kind of mad, really,” says Graham, whose debut album, also called Human, arrives Feb. 10. “All the dudes in [airport] security in Hamburg were like, ‘Yo, we love your song!’ ”