Marco McKinnis, a Hampton, Virginia-born R&B artist, has slowly risen in the musical sphere with his silky and soulful vocal range. He has featured in Rex Orange County’s renowned album Apricot Princess on “Nothing” and has collaborated with DJDS—duo DJs who have helped work on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo—on the tracks “Trees on Fire” and “Falling” seen in Big Wave More Fire. These features exhibit his flexibility in different genres outside his affinity for R&B considering that Rex Orange County and DJDS are alternative and electronic musicians, respectively.
McKinnis’ six-track EP, Underground, is saturated with layered instrumentals ranging from synthesized keyboards to acoustic guitar solos. Hit songs “Silence” and “CPR” gained recognition for its down-to-earth lyricism and overall old school vibes. Although many of McKinnis’ songs are reminiscent of the works produced by Babyface, Jon B., D’Angelo, and Maxwell, they still have their own fresh approach to R&B, and are similar to contemporary artists Brent Faiyaz and Daniel Caesar.
“CPR” music video:
Mac Ayres, a 21-year-old New York native, is an upcoming R&B artist that has shaped his music from legends Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, and J Dilla. His contemporary take on the elements seen in his inspirations’ work is reflected in his EP, Drive Slow, and album, Something to Feel.
Interestingly enough, Ayres originally wanted to create music similar to John Mayer upon entering Berklee College of Music. After being exposed to multiple genres of music, Ayres strayed away from his original desire to produce Blues-Rock music and gravitated towards soul and R&B. Because of this shift, Ayres dropped out of Berklee to discover his own musical identity.
Ayres first gained recognition on his debut single “Easy,” with the help of Joe Jonas providing a platform for the song on his social media. “Easy” garnered the attention of Fête Records, and with this label, Ayres was able to produce the nine track EP, Drive Slow. The recurring car themes of Drive Slow is a “metaphor for life” according to Ayres. This collection is based on Ayres’ thoughts about how “too many people are rushing through life, and it’s important to remember to appreciate where you’re at in any stage of it.”
Christian Andrew Berishaj, better known by his stage name JMSN, is an alternative R&B and soul artist who was raised by Albanian immigrant parents. JMSN has collaborated with big name rappers such as J. Cole, The Game, and Ab-Soul, and has also worked with renowned producer Sango. His striking vocal range and eccentric discography has infiltrated the music industry since 2005.
Berishaj’s introduction to the music world was before he created the moniker JMSN (pronounced Jameson). Berishaj was originally a part of a band named Love Arcade. He took on the name Snowhite and was recognized as the frontman of the group. At the age of eighteen, Love Arcade signed with Atlantic Records in 2005 and released their self-titled album. The band broke up after three years, but Berishaj still pursued a music career despite the division.
Mahalia Burkmar, better known by her stage name Mahalia, is an English R&B and Neo-Soul artist based in Birmingham. Drawing inspiration from Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, Mahalia’s euphonic vocals earned her a spot in Asylum Records UK—a record label that released Ed Sheeran’s debut album +. Interestingly, all of this took place when Burkmar was 13.
Her first EP, Head Space, was released July 2012, and is the epitome of an emerging adolescent’s approach to love. Mahalia’s follow-up EP, Never Change, was released in 2015 after the singer went on a hiatus to finish up her education. The three-year gap gave Mahalia time to mature. In a way, Never Change converses with her previous EP since the themes of the songs “Never Change,” “Borrowers,” “Up,” and “Maisie” focus on personal growth, self-worth, and a more jaded perspective on young love. Her 2016 album, Diary of Me, carries the same messages and can be interpreted as a reflection of Mahalia’s journey into adulthood.
Mahalia’s discography is primarily acoustic-based, but her recent music such as the track “One Night Only” in her 2018 EP Seasons and singles “No Pressure,” “Sober,” “No Reply,” and “I Wish I Missed My Ex,” has experimented with synthesized jazzy instrumentals to align with the contemporary R&B genre popular today. Mahalia has also collaborated with artists Buddy and Little Simz in singles “Hold On” and “Proud of Me” respectively.
Toronto musician Lou Val is a distinguished SoundCloud artist whose sultry vocals and acoustic guitar-heavy beats have made its mark in the R&B sphere. His music was elevated from SoundCloud to renowned platforms such as OVO Sound Radio, Pigeons & Planes, Noisey, Spotify, and Apple Music.
Lou Val released Lonely In Paradise last May. This EP is packed with tracks that capture the artist’s approach to handling topics such as romance, failed relationships, self-reflection, and nostalgia. Lonely In Paradise is a blend of R&B, Indie, and Electronic beats complemented by Lou Val’s honeyed singing.
Songs off of Lonely in Paradise include the leading single, “The Earth Stood Still” as well as “We Live Fast,” “Not So Naive,” “Float,” “What She Needs,” and “Learn To Love.” Lou Val made sure to create an EP that spotlighted his lyrics by avoiding distractingly synthesized drops. These tracks encapsulate his insecurities about intimacy, the longevity of budding affairs, and finding love from within.
MANILA GREY is a Filipino-Canadian duo based in Vancouver. With the help of their producer and collaborator, azel north, the duo has been able to rise within the hip-hop industry in the past two years.
Childhood friends Neeko and Soliven have made it clear that they wholeheartedly embrace their Southeast Asian roots after donning the capital of the Philippines in their stage name. MANILA GREY strives to connect their Filipino and Canadian culture into their electronically-fused music. With smooth, reverberated beats and haunting vocals that are reminiscent of artists such as The Weeknd, MANILA GREY creates a moody atmosphere throughout their discography.
Soliven’s R&B-inflected choruses complement Neeko’s striking flow in their singles such as “Backhouse Bounce,” “Friends of Friends,” and “Midnight.”
MANILA GREY has only released one EP in their music career called No Saints Under Palm Shade, which contains video-accompanied tracks “Timezones” and “Youth Water.”
Both aforementioned songs give a mesmerizing account of Metro Manila nightlife and the seductive elements of party culture. In the “Timezones” music video, Soliven and Neeko are immersed in a world full of neon-aesthetics, distorted images, and friends ready to make bad decisions under the guise of emerging adolescence.
Chicago is one of many cities that has cultivated renowned hip hop artists such as Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and Vic Mensa. In an area saturated with many people attempting to rise to fame within the music business, Nigerian-born rapper Tobi Lou stands out among the rest.
Tobi Lou incorporates heavily-synthesized beats, R&B-influenced choruses, and exuberant wordplay in his work. This is seen in two of his EPs, tobi lou and the Loop and tobi lou and the Juice.
The music video for “Buff Baby,” which is featured in tobi lou and the Loop, pays homage to Adventure Time’s “Memory of a Memory” episode. The artwork seen in this music video is also consistent with the cover art of his EPs and singles.