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  • Writer's pictureSimisola Fagbemi

5 Genre-Defying Artists to Keep An Eye On

From a teenage Nigerian superstar in the making to an indie rocker from Cleveland, these five artists are poised to make a huge impact.

Photo: Mavin Records Youtube


The rise of social media and streaming platforms has made it easier to release music now than ever before, and with this paradigm shift comes a new class of innovative voices. These creatives tend to write and produce their material and evade categorization while expressing their realities in our ever-changing world. Part of their charm is that they defy genre, so I’ve only loosely indicated the sounds they straddle. Here are five artists on the rise to look out for. I can’t wait to say “I told you so.”


1. Ayra Starr


Photo: 1883 Magazine

Origin: Lagos, Nigeria

Genre-ish: Afropop, R&B

A year ago, the now 19-year old singer-songwriter was posting covers on her Instagram page. After a video of her singing her original song “Damaged” went viral, she was signed to the iconic Nigerian label Mavin Records and the rest is history. The Benin-born, Lagos-raised artist has topped the Nigerian charts twice this year — once for her debut EP and again for her debut album, which came out earlier this week. With her searing voice, unshakeable confidence, and killer social media presence, it’s undeniable that she’s only going up.

Listen to: “Away” and “Bloody Samaritan”

2. Griff

Photo: Warner Records

Origin: Kings Langley, UK

Genre-ish: Pop, Bedroom Pop, Soul

The Brit award-winner is already making waves and she’s just getting started. Her first single “Mirror Talk,” which I discovered in late 2019, will make you fall in love with her minimalistic production as much as I did. The singer-songwriter-producer, who proudly embraces her dual Jamaican and Chinese heritage, grew up in a small English town, which she frequently describes as “boring” and “very white,” and found refuge in music. While in high school, she would travel into London after class to collaborate with any producers she could, ultimately landing a deal with Warner Records. If that isn’t cool enough, she also studied textiles in school and often sews her outfits for performances and photoshoots.

Listen to: “Sound of Your Voice” and “Earl Grey Tea”

3. KennyHoopla

Photo: KennyHoopla SoundCloud Page

Origin: Cleveland, USA

Genre-ish: Indie, Rock

While the 24-year old is hesitant to refer to himself as an artist, his creative prowess is undeniable. The singer is a unique force, sitting somewhere between rock and indie with a blaring yet vulnerable boyish voice. He released an EP earlier this year with drumming legend Travis Barker, cementing both his range and signature sound. The titles of his songs — which sound like lines of poetry — are all followed by two forward slashes (//), which he has said symbolizes the importance of always moving forward, no matter what you have going on.

Listen to: “estella//” and “the world is flat and this is the edge//”

4. AUDREY NUNA


Photo: Diy Mag

Origin: New Jersey, USA

Genre-ish: Hip hop, R&B, Pop

After releasing two singles on her SoundCloud page while in high school, the Korean-American creative was discovered by Roc Nation producer Anwar Sawyer. Her singing voice is sweet and sticky, and when she raps you can feel the contours of every syllable. The artist’s music videos can only be described as strokes of genius, almost always showcasing her tomboyish yet feminine style, which is heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Not to mention, she just directed a short film with Acne Studios. I promise you, AUDREY NUNA is going to be huge.

Listen to: “damn right,” and “Space”

5. tobi lou

Photo: Michelle Estrella for GQ

Origin: Chicago, USA

Genre-ish: Hip hop, R&B, Pop

The Nigeria-born Chicago native has such a distinctive presence, I find myself comparing sounds and aesthetics to him surprisingly often. The self-proclaimed “buff baby” is what I would call a soft rapper, fusing a laid-back yet confident delivery with lo-fi beats and jazz chords. Fun fact: if not for an injury, the former semi-pro athlete would likely be a Major League baseball player. More recently, the rapper shaved off his signature pigtail puffs and is rocking a bald look, continuing to prove that he’s full of surprises.

Listen to: “Waterboy” and “Smiling at My Phone”

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