We can’t yet predict the impact that 2020 could have on the years to come, but the cultural renaissance the music industry has undergone in the past few years is impossible to ignore.
Last year was marked by the domination of women in rap, led by emerging artists like Houston rap sensation Megan Thee Stallion.
Simultaneously, a wide-ranging emergence of Afro-influenced sonics gained an audience stateside, with WizKid, Yemi Alade, and Burna Boy at the forefront of that wave. The reception of Afrobeats bolstered after the release of The Gift, companion album to Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King, which Beyoncé held an executive producer spot on, and boasted a variety of Afrobeat artisans.
A ‘90s and Y2K era indulgence also consumed the mainstream, most notably in Tory Lanez’s fifth installment of his fan-favorite Chixtape series. But for the last year of the decade, it was hip-hop and R&B’s new incoming class (such as Roddy Ricch, Koffee and Doja Cat) whose fresh, inventive, radical sounds created a launchpad to spring them onto the polestar of music’s new decade. Similarly, established names of the millennial scope (like Tyler the Creator, Young Thug and Kehlani) put forth projects that cemented or, in Tyler’s case, showcased a maturation of their sound.
While 2019 was a crucial year for emerging artists to find their footing in the fast-changing music industry, it was noticeably void of full-length releases from several prominent artists that fans desperately prayed all year (including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Ocean). Of this handful, only a few signaled new music in store for 2020. With 2020 arriving as the turn of a new epoch, there’s both excitement and speculation for how things will shake out in the music world.
BET.com scaled down the list of music’s most impactful, sought-after and hopeful new talents from 2019 to highlight what and who fans could be anticipating in 2020.
Voices We Need To Hear More Of In 2020: As 2019-emerged musicians showcased career landmarking bodies of work and artistic versatility, here are some of the names from who fans are awaiting follow-ups.
Rico Nasty brought something new to the rap game that can’t be easily replicated with her self-described “sugar trap” sound, which naturally progressed into her 2019 EP, Anger Management. Conceived alongside her trusted soundmaker, Kenny Beats, the DMV rap artist fully blossomed into a more lyrically adept rap form that she fine-tuned across her first three studio efforts. Rico brought together the more abstract qualities of her lyricism with her grunge-femme gamer persona in a way that doesn’t feel cartoonish. Her long-teased follow-up, Nightmare Vacation, might be her breakthrough moment, if fan hype is anything to go by.
The lush soulfulness of Ari Lennox's debut project, Shea Butter Baby, sonically harked back to R&B-soul’s yesteryears. Masterfully digging deeply into the roots of rhythm and blues, Shea Butter Baby set Lennox apart from her more alternative-leaning contemporaries. The 12-track project was the perfect synthesis of raw sensuality paired with Lennox’s velvety vocals and established a definitive sound that she’s projected to beautifully evolve. From here, the R&B soultress is only going up, and we can’t wait to hear which direction is next.
Nao ascended to British R&B’s forefront scene when she released For All I Know in 2016. The avant-neo soul singer’s next project, Saturn, became a transcendental and cross-continental moment that pushed R&B forward as well. The Guardian heralded the album as an "evolution of mainstream British R&B.” Conceptualized around the astrological spectacle known as Saturn returns, Nao told Harper's Bazaar she conceived the album following a “lot of internal growth.”
“The fact that when you get to your late twenties, you're going to go through changes because that's the part of your life when you start to decide on the direction of what you're doing. Some things work, some things don't.”
We can only hope things continue to work in Nao’s favor in a mainstream direction for 2020.
Summer Walker’s introductory album, Over It, epitomized the increasing convergence of trap, pop, and R&B. Maximizing the visibility from the breakout hit, “Girls Need Love,” Walker presented untapped vulnerability that R&B lovers everywhere deeply connected with. While Over It wasn’t an overly-ambitious project, Summer flirted with pop culture zeitgeist (hear: “Come Thru”) and struck a perfect balance between riding the 90’s R&B nostalgia wave while sustaining modernized elements popular among the current R&B sound. Over It’s transparency brought fans up close and personal to Summer, and by proxy, every young woman dealing with her emotions. While Walker has since revealed that she’d recline from the mainstream scene after her Over It tour, fans are still expectant of her follow-up moment to the album.
Jorja Smith found her stride as a lyricist and vocalist on her debut album Lost And Found, which was anchored by poignant storytelling of a 20-something journeying to self-discovery. The 12-track album would go on to earn a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. Most recently, she linked up with Burna Boy for “Be Honest,” an uptempo, Afrobeat-influenced track (which was also the first solo song she’s released since Lost & Found). This came after she appeared on his African Giant album for “Gum Body.” As it stands, , it appears Jorja could be biding her time and letting life happen naturally—including her career. “I am working on new music,” she told Gulf News. “But I don’t want to put too much pressure on [myself] or label what I’m trying to achieve. I look forward to being able to put out new music in 2020.”
As do the fans, Jorja!
London-born singer Tiana Major9 had a momentous and well-deserved peak for 2019. Some became acquainted with the up-and-coming soul singer via her collaboration, “Collide” with Johnny Venus (Olu) of Atlanta’s hip-hop duo EarthGang, which appeared on the soundtrack for Queen & Slim. They later performed together at the 2019 Soul Train Awards. The single aso made it to the honor of Michelle Obama’s 2019 workout playlist. In 2019, Tiana dropped off her debut EP, Rehearsal @ Nine, which was well-received by critics. Described by VICE UK as a “singular voice in Black British soul,” the 6-track EP was an impeccable introduction to her musical style, which is a smooth mixture of jazz, R&B, hip-hop. Stormzy borrowed her for his track “Rainfall,” for his 2019 album, Heavy Is The Head as well. Safe to say, she’s just getting warmed up. “Can’t wait to release this new music. I’m over being anxious about it already,” she wrote on Twitter on February 26.
Thus, Tiana’s 2020 in music is another anticipative thought for the fans.
Most Anticipated Albums Of 2020: Plenty of the industry’s stars, both old and new, are posed for album release albums this year. Here’s whose albums fans are sitting on the edge of their seats for:
Although Rihanna has been making impressive strides in fashion and beauty, there’s nothing more fans could want than her long-awaited follow-up to ANTI. The 2017 album has been widely hailed as her magnum opus in its symbolism as the final evolution of the Caribbean-influenced pop/R&B sensibilities that made Rihanna such a unique talent. Though supposed song leaks from the project have slipped to the public here and there, not much else is known about the album. Rihanna recently told Vogue that she's going for something “reggae-inspired” and that she’s possibly considering a dual project, however. Most recently, the bad gal revealed that she linked up with famed hip-hop production duo Neptunes. Last time that happened, we got “Lemon.” Now, only time will tell what they’ll have for us in R9.
You can't hold educated conversations about modern-day R&B without mention of SZA. While her initial musical efforts registered with a niche audience of the general R&B public, the release of her critically-acclaimed debut album, Ctrl, in 2017 exploded the mainstream. For millennial-aged Black women, the album centered unspoken fears, anxieties, vulnerabilities and sensibilities that lurk around our lives. Undoubtedly, SZA’s sophomore undertaking would have big shoes to fill after Ctrl. Wisely enough, the TDE singer experimented with a wide-range of features for 2019, appearing on soundtracks for Black Panther, Game of Thrones, and now Trolls World Tour to a hit single on DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd. Her sound evolution after three years will unarguably be a compelling focal point for SZA fans in 2020.
Megan Thee Stallion was the rap star titlest of 2019 — period.The Houston hip-hop novice rose to the top of rap’s food chain with the release of her 2019 mixtape, Fever, and cemented herself as the queen of the summer with her Hot Girl Summer manifesto. In 2020, Houston rap star hasn’t slowed down her breakneck pace either with the promise of her forthcoming debut studio album, Suga. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Megan revealed that SZA, Kehlani, and the Neptunes will be on the project. She also shared that this studio will be a “little deeper” and show her more “vulnerable” side.
Looks like the Hotties are waiting on Round 2 for 2020!
One of hip-hop’s undisputed facts is that Queens-bred rap icon Nicki Minaj still reigns supreme as one of the genre’s culture-shifting, era-dominating talents. 2018’s Queen wasn’t shy in championing that, which unleashed a handful of top-charting singles. Despite some confusion that ensued over a tweet where Nicki seemingly bowed out of the game, she later clarified that was referring to her fifth studio album. Interestingly enough, this next era of Nicki will be quite the spectacle, as she’s generously lent bars to the hottest names of rap’s new class (such as Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, and the late Pop Smoke). Throughout her career, Nicki has had to walk a tightrope between satisfying both her pop and rap fanbases. A hint for the possible direction of her fifth studio album came with the February arrival of “Yikes,” which bore the straight bars of the Old Onika that longtime fans have been clamoring for.
Since Fifth Harmony’s group hiatus, Normani’s name steadily rings bells with a handful of chart hits to her name (and all before she’s even dropped an album). Normani used 2019 to spread her wings and experiment with her own sound, from R&B singles with Khalid and 6lack to her internet-breaking, Ariana Grande-cowritten “Motivation” song and visual. In September 2019, Normani announced that her debut album will be released in 2020, stating “it is a little more than halfway” complete.” In the meantime, Normani collaborated with Grande and Nicki Minaj on the song “Bad to You,” for the soundtrack of the 2019 film Charlie's Angels, released in November 2019. She followed up with the Megan Thee Stallion-collaborative “Diamonds'” on the film soundtrack for Birds of Prey: The Album. Given the wide range of influences that Normani pulls from, it will be interesting to see what form her debut album shapes into.
For years, H.E.R. hid behind an aura of mystique while letting her artistry talk for itself. A talented multi-instrumentalist with the pen to match, H.E.R.'s contemporary R&B sound has drawn comparisons to Prince and Lauryn Hill. Following a string of highly-successful singles and EP releases, the 22-year-old won a Grammy for Best R&B album in 2019. Additionally, she took home an award for Best R&B performance for her Daniel Caesar-assisted single “Best Part.” At the 2020 Grammys Award, H.E.R. garnered five nods, even though she has yet to release a proper studio album. Thus far, the R&B singer has not announced her next solo project. She spent this past year pushing her sound forward through a litany of collaborative singles, which include R&B-rap mashups with YG ( “Slide”) and YBN Cordae (“Racks”) to a fuzzy love number with Skip Marley (“Slow Down”).
Artists Who Carved Their Own Lane: As the skill of genre-bending becomes more frequent in alternative music tastes, here are a few of the artists developing a signature definitive sound.
Alongside Megan Thee Stallion and Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack was the only other rapper of the women’s circle to be recognized in XXL’s annual Freshman class in 2019. In what was a banner year for women in rap, that was no easy feat considering her relatively small body of work. Her debut audiovisual album, Whack World, is an ambitious effort that shows how small punches can pack a lot of might. Clocking in at 15 tracks, the project showed a level of creative vision that hip-hop hasn’t seen since Missy Elliot made trash bags a fashion statement. Most recently, she was featured on Melanie Martinez’s “Copy Cat.” It seems the Philly rapper might be cooking something up for 2020 if her playful Twitter ribbing keeps its promises.
Regardless of how listeners may feel about Doja Cat’s viral kicks-and-giggles jingle, “Moo!,” the song set the tone for how her career has shaped up thus far: Doja does what she wants when she wants to. Her discography is a broad mix of body-affirming bangers (“Juicy”) and metaphorical homages (“Tia Tamera”) to spitfire rampages (“Rules”) and 90s-esque synth-heavy bubblegum raps (“Cyber Sex”). As her full-length release Hot Pink exhibited, Doja’s superpower is her versatility and duality. The Los Angeles rapper isn’t afraid to subvert conventional norms, whether she’s breathlessly crooning for her man to talk dirty to her or spitting straight bars. The 24-year-old effortlessly injects her lyricism with unique witty wordplay and quirky humor that keeps her left of center — just how she likes it.
“With my first album it was a little bit like I was practicing,” she told Fader in 2019. “It’s like, you know the first time you do anything, you kind of have to figure out who you are? I feel like with this second project I know who I am and I know what I want and I know what I want it to sound like. I’m really proud of this.”
As Big Sean noted in a recent interview with Joe Budden, a considerable amount of the new crop of alternative R&B artists owe their thanks to Jhené Aiko. She perfected her sound with her 2016 project, TRIP, an atmospheric and moody, yet mystical ephemeral, continuation of her established aesthetic. Although Jhene hasn’t released another project since TRIP, she dropped off some loosies,“Triggered (Freestyle)” and “None of Your Concern,” in 2019. In 2020, she released the single, “Pussy Fairy (OTW),” and revealed all three tracks will appear on her third studio album, Chilombo. Whereas TRIP was about Jhene finding escape from the grief of losing her older brother, Miyagi, to cancer in 2012, she shared in a new interview with ESSENCE that her next album is all about healing.
It’s been awhile since reggae has had a star emerge from the scene, and at just 19, Jamaican-born Koffee is a promising star in the making. Heralded as the future of reggae, the teenage sensation is leading the new wave of young talent reshaping the genre. At 16, Koffee had her first brush with success Usain Bolt re-posted a clip of her single, “Legend” (which was penned as a tribute to him) on social media. In 2017, labels came calling after she released her official debut single, “Burning. Come 2018, Koffee shot into the mainstream stratosphere after she dropped her Major Lazor-produced smash hit, “Toast.” Furthermore, she made history at the 2020 Grammys where she won the award for Best Reggae Album for 2019’s Rapture, simultaneously making her the first woman and youngest recipient ever to take home that award.
The Guardian noted Koffee’s socially conscious lyricism harkens back to the “positive-vibes-only doctrine of roots [reggae].” “[Bob Marley] was so positive all his life, so influential and substantial,” she told i-D in 2019. “I’m trying to be inspired by his purity, [and] the way he took his experiences, his environment, and made it relatable to the whole world.”
Jessie Reyez’s starpower has only brightened since the release of her 2016 breakout hit, “Figures.” Her distinct gravelly voice has drawn comparisons to late British singer Amy Winehouse. But it’s the Toronto-born Colombian singer-songwriter’s introspective lyricism that brings to life the earnest struggles, life-altering growth, and virtues which give her music its wings to fly. She has also used her platform to bring light to social injustices, from her personal account of being propositioned by music producer Noel “Detail” Fisher (“Gatekeeper”) to speaking out against Donald Trump’s racist immigration policies (“Far Away”).
During a recent appearance on The Daily Show, the 28-year-old spoke about her forthcoming album, Before Love Came To Kill Us. “Sad songs have a little love, and even love songs have a little bit of sadness because you know, love can’t last because nobody gets out of love alive,” she explained of the project’s title. “You don’t survive love. But you know what, if you keep that in mind, then today you might not cheat. If you know tomorrow’s your last day, then today you might not be a jerk. Today you might be authentically yourself if you know tomorrow it could be all over.”
Photo: Cassidy Sparrow/Getty Images for MAXIM