10 Exciting Artists Exploring New, Innovative Avenues in Songwriting

Emmavie promo photo
Emmavie promo photo
Emmavie

+ Ryan Lott (of Son Lux) teaches how to build custom virtual instruments for sound design and scoring in Soundfly’s new course, Designing Sample-Based Instruments.

There’s certainly no shortage of fascinating up-and-coming artists out there right now — in fact, there are so many new voices being heard across the airwaves, it can be overwhelming. Especially given the DIY culture of art nowadays, great new artists are bubbling up all the time.

But today, we’re here to shine a spotlight on a few of our favorites right now; artists who we think have combined the traditions of their cultures with the limitless potential of a boundless creative future. Let’s take a look! And be sure to check out this first one on the list, for a very special reason…

Son Lux

What started out as the moniker for frontman Ryan Lott’s solo projects, Son Lux, has become much, much more. Lott expanded his creative, daring musical circle to include friends Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia, with the goal of deconstructing music down to its very fundamental molecules, and rebuilding songs from the ground up.

To call such a band “experimental” may well be an understatement — when one listens to any Son Lux album, one can make no assumptions about what to expect. Strains of classical, electronic, pop, soul, and a veritable musical gumbo of other genres are prevalent. And having worked with pop icons like David Byrne, Moses Sumney, Mitski, and many more, the pedigree of influence is unarguable. Their most recent release, Tomorrow, is perhaps one of their most ambitious works to date; it’s a trilogy album dedicated to shaping entire worlds and textures of sound.

And on that note, Soundfly just launched our newest online course with Ryan Lott himself, exploring his singular approach to building new hybrid electronic instruments and synths out of raw, sampled source audio, and so much more about his unique, creative composition and production process. Check out Ryan Lott: Designing Virtual Instruments here and preview a full lesson for free.

Somi

The music of Somi is a unique blend of African grooves and a re-envisioning of the traditions of American jazz, combined in creative ways that sum up to elevate her entire genre. Somi’s voice is sentimental, full of emotion, and reminiscent of classic the torch singers, with sonic elements that challenge and enthral the ear. But within the sentimentality and groove, her lyrics are raw, honest, and heartfelt — she sings frankly about her experiences in songs like “Alien” (feeling alien as an African in America) and “Black Enough.”

Her recent album Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper (with Frankfurt Radio Big Band) earned a 2021 Grammy nomination for the Jazz category, further cementing Somi’s impact on the contemporary songwriting scene. What’s more, she is the first African ever nominated in any Jazz category for the Grammys!

Arlo Parks

What do you get when you cross influences like Joni Mitchell, Sylvia Plath, Radiohead, and Lianne La Havas? Arlo Parks is what you get. This LGBTQ+ British-born, French singer/songwriter (with roots in Nigeria and Chad) paints words like lush and vivid pictures, weaving beautiful prose with an indie bedroom pop and R&B feel.

In fact, she’s so “bedroom” that Parks’s first EP, Super Sad Generation, was recorded in her home in South West London and in an Airbnb. Now, though, she boasts over two million daily listeners, scores of fans and admirers of her work, as well as Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album.

Kieynan Lonsdale

Kieynan Lonsdale is a queer artist out of Australia, drawing from his rich Nigerian heritage. Lonsdale has already made his mark on the entertainment world — having appeared in The Flash as Wally West, as Bram in the film Love, Simon, and as a VJ on MTV for two and a half years. He is also an accomplished dancer and has appeared in Camila Cabello’s music video “Liar.”

Yet musically, his sonic imprint runs the wide-ranging gamut from the very commercial sounding “Kiss The Boy” to “On My Wave,” a song that features an African rhythmic phrases and a choir with power pop synths. His debut album, Rainbow Boy, has been nominated for a GLAAD award for Outstanding Breakthrough Music Artist.

MC Jin

MC Jin (born Jin Au-Yeung) was the first Asian-American rapper to be signed to a major label. He has been called “the future of hip-hop” by NBC News, and his skills as a freestyler have been widely regarded as top notch by veterans across the industry. Yet despite his obvious talents, pursuing his path has been anything but breezy; his first studio album, which included collaborations with producers like Wyclef Jean and Kanye, was a bomb. Despite this setback though, he was able to break through in China — releasing an entire album in Chinese. This garnered him endorsement deals, his face on billboards, and appearances in movies, prompting Jin to refer to himself as the “Justin Bieber of Hong Kong.”

Although his entire discography doesn’t appear to be on Spotify, there are some great songs to be found — including “Stop The Hatred,” with Wyclef Jean, which features real and honest lyrics about rising anti-Asian sentiment and hate.

Boyfriend

The songwriting work of Boyfriend stands apart, even among an entire list of innovative artists. To say there’s nothing quite like her stage show would be putting it very mildly. Calling to mind shades of “cone-bra-era” Madonna, she often takes the stage in lingerie, curlers, and large granny style glasses. Coining her style as “Rap Cabaret,” the New Orleans based singer and songsmith is unabashedly feminist, sex and body positive, and aims to represent a casting off of the proverbial chains, doing away with norms and puritanical judgments that are often so oppressive to many in today’s culture.

Although Boyfriend is probably best experienced live, her discography contains some serious standouts like “Re:Future” about feminism, believing women, and the patriarchy.

Wafia

This artist has quite a story to tell, and if you listen to enough of her music, you’ll get to experience quite a bit of it. Wafia (born Wafia Al-Rikabi) was born in Australia, the Iraqi-Syrian artist began writing songs to escape the monotony of studying biomedicine in college. Fortunately for her fans, she switched tracks and decided to share her musical gifts with the world. Wafia stands out for her keenly insightful, tightly written lyrics, and her pointed observations about life. From the gorgeous and poignant “How To Lose a Friend” to her song “Bodies,” influenced by her family members being denied refugee status, her catalog can touch any listener willing to engage.

Emmavie

Emmavie is not only an exciting emerging artist, she is a bonafide triple threat: artist, writer, and producer. Her style — which she herself defines as “limitless soulful future R&B” — is certainly unique unto itself. It is sultry, reminiscent of ’90s R&B, but with a fresh take that is all her own and hyper-contemporary, having worked with underground artists like Alfa Mist. Though all her songs are surefire aural treats for listeners, a standout is “Uh Huh, Okay” from her recent album, What’s a Diamond to a Baby.

Natanael Cano

Natanael Cano has done something only a few artists can claim to have done — he’s helped to create a whole new genre out of thin air. The Sonora, Mexico born Cano taught himself guitar at age 13, since his family couldn’t afford music lessons. By 16, he was uploading videos of his playing to YouTube and had dropped out of school to pursue music. (Not a recommendation, but props for being bold and audacious!)

His sound combines the popular trap beat style with a 150-year-old traditional Mexican style of music (called corridos); and by achieving that balance, Cano has put himself at the forefront of a brand new sound. Calling the genre “Trap Corridos,” his music relies heavily on a rhythmic acoustic and punchy bass. It’s worth a listen for any curious music fan around the world.

Morgan Toney

The bearer of a crucial cultural torch, Morgan Toney, is keeping the flame of Mi’kmaq ancestral songs and fiddle playing burning bright. The Wagmatcook First Nations artist blew audiences away when he appeared in 2020 at the Celtic Colors Festival. Singing in his native Mi’kmaq, and carrying forward the stories of his elders, Toney combines his culture with his passion for Celtic music in a fresh and unique sound. His single “Wela’lin (Thank You)” not only combines Celtic fiddle and Mi’kmaq lyrics but rap verses as well — a truly unique combination and likely a global “first.”

Whether pioneering new genres, crossovers, or contemporary interpretations, or just sharing highly personal visions and messages, these artists are undoubtedly breaking new ground in the world of pop music, and creating a trail of beautiful music that will last for years to come.

Next time you turn to streaming, step out of your musical comfort zone and give some a try.

Don’t stop here!

Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with in-depth artist-led courses by KimbraCom TruiseJlinKiefer, and the newly released Ryan Lott: Designing Sample-Based Instruments.

Jlin: Rhythm, Variation, & Vulnerability

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