30 New Musicians ‘Grown Folks’ Will Love
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone over 30 say “they just don’t make good music anymore!” I would finally be able to live out my dream of becoming the Black Tinsley Mortimer. Alas, I fear becoming a rich eccentric is not in my future.
Fortunately, I can guarantee that all the good music is not in my past. There are several new artists making music with mass appeal for Grandmas, aunties, and folx whose knees survived the “Buss It” challenge. That’s why I decided to compile a list of young Black womxn artists for the 30-and-up crowd.
Since I’m the definition of type A, let me give you a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, this list is by no means exhaustive. I chose to focus on Black womxn, but there are also tons of Black artists who identify as male killing the game right now, like Kwaye, Phony Ppl, and Saucy Santana. There are also Black womxn and femme artists who are not on this list. It doesn’t mean I don’t love their music. My focus is on artists who quickly became my faves in recent years — and deserve grown folks’ attention.
If you love Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, and Charli Baltimore, you’ll love:
Leikeli47: This Brooklyn rapper won’t show her face, but she will give you a piece of her mind. Leikeli’s dope beats, afro-futuristic visuals, and talent for storytelling gives me strong Missy Elliott vibes. Start with her 2017 album Wash and Set and work your way forward. You won’t be disappointed.
Thandi We and Niambi Sala, better known as the hip hop duo Oshun, use music as a form of activism and as a way of tapping into the ancestral wisdom of the Yoruba deity for which they are named. Their creative concepts are 100% Missy, but their rhymes put you in the mind of Queen Latifah.
Ever wondered what it would sound like if MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love made a love child? Meet Grammy award-nominated rapper and bi activist Chika. The 23-year-old rising star started her career as a slam poet and even released a poetry EP in 2017. Her lyricism and vocabulary almost guarantees that she will go down in history as a legend. Check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert and prepare to be wowed.
Like Chika, rapper Flo Milli is a body positive “Brown Skin Girl” from Alabama. That is where the similarities end. Flo Milli has a much younger sound but a straight nasty flow. Think Monie Love mixed with a pinch of early Lil’ Kim. The video for her latest single, “Roaring 20s” just premiered on February 4 and features Flo Milli serving Josephine Baker and Great Gatsby looks as she drags every other rapper in the game in the way that only she can.
Fans of Foxy Brown and Charli Baltimore will love CupcakKe. The Chicago rapper is not PG-13, and her rhymes are not for the faint of heart. CupcakKe’s raunchy, in-your-face style is a perfect compliment to her hard-hitting social commentary cleverly disguised as rap. Start wherever you like, but my personal favorite is “Grilling N — gas.”
If you love En Vogue, Cherish, SWV, and Brownstone, you’ll love:
Chloe x Halle, the Mableton, Georgia-born sisters, are so well known for their angelic harmonies, they named their latest album Ungodly Hour. At the young ages of 13 and 15, this dynamic duo caught the attention of Beyoncé, signing a million-dollar deal with her label, Parkwood Entertainment, in 2015. Solid harmonies + celebrity backing = Cherish, reincarnated.
Like Chloe x Halle, VanJess started off on YouTube and organically built a buzz. Nigerian-American sisters Ivana and Jessica Nwokike create music that reminds you of the golden era of R&B girl groups. Think SWV with a pinch of Brownstone for good measure. I recommend starting with “Addicted” and working your way backward from there.
Kristal Lyndriette Smith, Ashly Williams, Brienna DeVlugt, Gabrielle “Gabby” Carreiro, and Shyann Roberts, aka June’s Diary, can also trace their success back to a former member of Destiny’s Child. Kelly Rowland discovered these young ladies through the docuseries Finding Destiny. While June’s Diary is not quite at En Vogue level (yet), with Kelly on their side, I have no doubt that they will get there.
If you love Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, and India Arie, you’ll love:
Dahlia Elliot is one of those rare gems that showed up on my YouTube algorithm and changed my life. Dahlia is so new she only has 111 Youtube subscribers and less than a thousand Instagram followers. Dahlia’s music lives somewhere in the sweet spot between neo soul, R&B, and alternative. Every once in a while, I hear a hint of Jill Scott in her voice. Dahlia Elliott is going to be huge, I recommend you get in on the ground floor.
Ebony Nicholson, aka Ebz the Artist, is a 23-year-old genre-bending musician from Durham, North Carolina. She grew up singing gospel music and classic ’90s R&B around the house. Her sound is heavily influenced by Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Brandy, but her sound is uniquely her own. Start with “Surrounded”, follow up with “I Can’t Save You,” and if you’re not hooked by then… I can’t save you.
Summer Walker is a 24-year-old neurodiverse alt-R&B/neo soul singer from Atlanta. Walker, a former stripper, is known for her sex positive and sometimes controversial stances as much as her angelic voice. Summer Walker suffers from social anxiety disorder, and her very public struggle with the disease has helped raise awareness about mental health in the Black community. In Walker’s private, intense studio sessions, she lays her soul bare with heartbreaking lyrics and acoustic guitar. Listen to “Session 32” to get a good sense of Summer Walker’s sound.
Accountant-turned-singer Anhayla is making waves with her music and her activism. Anhayla describes herself as a “vocalist, writer, and motivational speaker who uses her voice to inspire, influence change, and positively impact people all over the world.” She is the co-founder of digital media company OneWayHope, an organization that aims to restore people’s faith in humanity. Her single “You Are Enough” is a love letter to Black women reminiscent of India.Arie’s “Video” that will restore your faith in music.
Chicago-born singer Jamila Woods’ integration of singing, spoken word, and compelling storytelling reminds me of I Am Jill Scott. Check out her EP HEAVN on Youtube. Start with “Emerald Street,” a nostalgic track about childhood featuring Saba. You won’t regret it.
If you love Faith Evans, Monica, Brandy, Ashanti, and Mya, you’ll love:
Twenty-eight-year-old Jamerican singer Fousheé caught Jennifer Hudson’s attention when she auditioned for The Voice. Fousheé’s clear tone and relatable storytelling puts me in the mind of Monica. Listen to her song “Single AF” when you’re having one of them days.
Jazmine Sullivan has a once-in-a-lifetime set of pipes, no doubt due to the fact that she was literally born into the music industry. Her mother, Pam Sullivan, was a backup singer for Philadelphia international records. Jazmine followed in her mother’s footsteps, singing throughout her school career and signing her first record deal at 15. Nearly 20 years later, Jazmine is better than ever. Her latest album, Heaux Tales, is a delightfully raunchy romp through the challenges of adulting.
Kirby Maurier, aka Kirby, is a singer-songwriter from Florida and founder of the Miami Music Museum, the first and only virtual museum to focus on the musical history of South Florida. Kirby’s sound is somewhere between R&B and trap, putting you in the mind of Faith Evans. “Loved by You” is a great introduction to the nuances of Kirby’s voice.
Afro-Swedish singer Awa Matilda Isakine Santesson-Sey, better known as Awa, has been singing professionally for almost a decade, and she’s only 23. The London-based singer is finally starting to gain international attention after her single “Like I Do It” was sampled by K-pop superstar BoA. Awa’s sound is upbeat R&B with a strong pop influence that will definitely appeal to anyone who bumped Ashanti throughout the early 2000s (and really, who didn’t?).
Originally a member of the girl group Fifth Harmony, Atlanta-born songbird Normani is making “Waves” as a solo artist. Her duet with Khalid, “Love Lies,” tied with Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” for longest-running top 40 pop song on the Billboard chart, and her platinum-selling breakout single, “Motivation,” peaked at number 25 on the Billboard top 40 chart.
Detroit-born R&B singer Aquariuz is, in my humble opinion, the second coming of Miss Brandy Norwood. She cites Jhene Aiko, Jazmine Sullivan, Aaliyah, Erykah Badu, and Brandy as major musical influences, and it shows. Aquariuz is fresh off the press, having only released two singles and a self-titled EP. Check out her single “Still,” then head over to her YouTube page for great covers and new songs.
If you love Aretha Franklin, Aaliyah, Sade, Tina Turner, and Rihanna, you’ll love:
Alex Mali is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. With her lime green hair and late-90s video vixen aesthetic, I expected a hard-boiled rapper, not a songbird with a falsetto that rivals Aaliyah’s and beats that feel like Rihanna. Born in Brooklyn to Jamaican and Trinidadian parents, her rhythmic, acoustic style is laid back listening for any occasion. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with this artist, but her single “Start It Up” is a low-key bop that lives rent-free in my head 24/7.
Twenty-two-year-old musician Hamzaa started playing the piano at four and writing songs as a preteen. By 11, she was arranging music and directing plays at her boarding school. Eleven years later, Hamzaa is now a smashing success in her hometown of Dalston, London and starting to attract international attention. Her vocal control, keen talent for storytelling, and gospel-influenced soul sound is like listening to the lovechild of Jill Scott and Aretha Franklin. Start with her track “Hard to Love,” and if you don’t fall head over heels, go get your ears checked.
Lead singer of The Internet, Syd Bennett, formerly Syd Tha Kid, has a voice that puts you in the mind of Sade but a musical style that is uniquely her own. The 28-year-old musician and DJ from South Central, Los Angeles is part of the house that Tyler (the Creator) built. In addition to singing, songwriting, sound editing, and producing music, Syd also plays the piano, guitar, and drums. Syd’s ultimate goal is to be the next Pharell, and she is well on her way, working on tracks with artists like Daniel Caesar, Little Simz, Dirty Projectors, and Kelly Rowland.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, raised in Memphis, Tennessee and straight out of Flint, Michigan, Shea Diamond is a soul singer with an edge. Her skill for storytelling gives me strong Angie Stone vibes, but her raspy growl and high octane performances are all Tina Turner, 2021 style. Diamond gained notoriety for her transgender rights anthem, “I Am Her,” but my personal favorite Shea Diamond song is “American Pie.”
I discovered Stout and the Revolution through The Terrell Show. Stout has been making music since she could walk. Growing up, she sang in the children’s choir and played drums for her great-grandmother’s church. After rising to fame as a backup singer for Alicia Keys, she started vocal directing and contracting for Childish Gambino. Oh, and she could sing the phone book and you’d beg her for more. Her sound is soulful and heavily gospel-influenced.
If you love Vagabon, Grace Jones, Phoebe Snow, Janelle Monae, Solange, Tracy Chapman, and Linda Martell, you’ll love:
Tahliah Debrett Barnett, commonly called FKA Twigs, is an alternative/electronica artist from Gloucester, United Kingdom. Her voice is haunting, and her unique, often disturbing creative concepts defy description. FKA Twigs music transcends genre. Watching one of her videos is like seeing a funhouse mirror version of a Solange video, co-directed by Janelle Monae and Jordan Peele. Check out her track, “Cellophane,” from her latest album Magdalene, then work your way back to her first EP, the self-titled Twigs.
British school teacher Laura Mvula started writing music between classes in the early 2010s. By 2012 she was signed to RCA, and the following year, she won fourth place in BBC’s Sound of, 2013. Laura Mvula refuses to be boxed in, combining elements of gospel, electronica, and jazz into what The Guardian calls gospeldelia. Mvula’s unique sound is rivaled only by her incredibly lush afrocentric visuals. Check out her video “Overcome” featuring Nile Rodgers to see what I mean.
Brooklyn-born Jamaican Trinidadian performer Shana McHayle, aka Junglepussy, reminds me of a young Grace Jones in many ways. She has legs for days, a completely unique fashion sense that no one else could pull off, and a habit of playing around with our perception of gender. She is all about self-love, self-expression, and being unapologetically sex positive. Her fierce style and immensely entertaining YouTube performances gained the attention of Erykah Badu and the media followed soon after. To reduce Junglepussy to a rapper or hip-hop artist is to downplay the enormity of her visual and auditory impact. You don’t watch Junglepussy, you experience her. Start by watching her music video/short film “I’m in Love” on YouTube, then work your way through the rest of JP3.
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 winner Yvie Oddly was born for the stage. As a child, they played dress-up constantly and was active in musical theater. Yvie, whose birth name is Jovan Bridges, was diagnosed in her teens with an invisible disability called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder that makes it painful for Yvie stand for prolonged periods of time and prone to dislocated joints. Oddly prides herself on being able to out-weird anyone, and while that’s certainly true, something about Yvie’s music, lyrics and aesthetics speak to the misfit oddball in all of us. In a community where extreme glamour has ruled for a century, Yvie’s poverty chic vibe is somewhat subversive. In their 2019 single “Dolla Store” Yvie says:
They got candy and ice cream/nice interior lighting/they’ve got drapes/and they’ve got tape to tuck my dick for your liking/I grab crafty shit, kiddie toys and coloring books/to help me find my inspiration for these dollar store looks.
Through her music, lyrics, and unforgettable performances, Yvie reminds us of the origins of drag — poor Black femmes creating art from the blank canvases of their bodies.
Brittany Howard, four-time Grammy-winning lead singer of the band Alabama Shakes has an unmistakable sound that will one day get her inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (mark my words). Her voice is singular in the way Phoebe Snow’s is, and her rock and roll sound is heavily influenced by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Howard, who along with her sister were both diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye, was blinded in one eye (her sister died). She now fronts three bands and has a successful solo career. Check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert and prepare to have your mind blown.
Last but not least, R&B singer and multidisciplinary musician Marian Mereba, who goes by her last name, has so much potential that Stevie Wonder mentored her through the production of her first album, The Jungle is the Only Way Out. Fans of Janelle Monae, Tracy Chapman, and Linda Martell will love this rising star who continues to break the mold. To get a feel for Mereba, start with the country-themed song “Kinfolk,” follow up with the folk-inspired “Souvenir,” then take a quick listen to the R&B/neo soul anthem “Sandstorm” featuring JID. Mereba’s musical style stretches the boundaries of R&B music, combining elements of folk, country, spoken word, and even grunge to create a sound that reflects all of the glistening facets of Blackness.
This list is a starting point, not a final destination. There are so many Black womxn musicians whose careers sink or swim based on our support. When you find someone you like, take a second to share their music on social media — it’s a great way to support new talent and gain bragging rights for your excellent taste in music. Feel free to hog the glory in the group chat. Just remember to come back here afterward and give credit where it’s due.
There are more Black womxn music artists to discover (and rediscover)
Celebrate them and dive deep into their work with these stories: