Slingshot’s 2021 Artists To Watch

alto saxophonist and composer immanuel wilkins is one of our slingshot artists to watch in 2021. dana scruggs hide caption

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dana scruggs

it’s a new yr, tch'mins new opportunities for fresh faces to rise above the noise. npr ♫ ptner stations spent the last 3 mnths listening to emerging ♫ians and selected 17 for our annual slingshot list of artists to watch. some ‘ve been honing their crafts for yrs and are finally primed for impact. some released their 1st project inna past yr. packed with discoveries, our 2021 slingshot list is a celebration of innovative artists, many of whom had a big 2020 and don’t ‘ve any plans to slo down now.

you can stream a playlist of these artists via spotify and apple ♫.


arlo parks

british r&b singer and songwriter arlo parks creates songs filled with warmth, empathy and attention to literary detail. it’s easy to hear why parks was shortlisted as a breakthrough act for the bbc’s sound of 2020. her star will continue to rise onna strength of her magical debut album, collapsed in sunbeams, set to be released l8r this yr. parks’ songs welcome you into a charming realm of beauty. she has a stunning ♫al maturity for some1 so young, not to mention a singular voice. —bruce warren, wxpn



do a quick g search of bakar and you’ll see his ♫ labeled as everything from experimental indie rock to hip-hop to soul. give his ♫ a listen and you’ll realize that all of these descriptions are =ly accurate. genre aside, his ♫ (espeshly the vocals) is sonically raw, which aint to say he doesn’t sound polished. bakar sounds like a real human performing well-crafted songs that ‘ven’t been over-produced using studio tricks — and trust me, these songs don’t need any extra touches to stand out. the british artist had a no. 1 radio hit in 2020 w'da song “hell n back;” the song surpassed kings of leon’s record for longest climb to the top, confirming radio’s adoration of and commitment to the longevity of an artist with 1-ly a handful of songs. the new single “1st time” contains one of his most memorable hooks yet, further establishing bakar as 1-odda most exciting artists to watch this yr. —amy miller, kxt


bartees strange

this genre-agnostic young bro was rezd on opera, gospel and funk in a country-loving suburb of oklahoma city b4 he discovered the ecstatic release of hardcore shows. his 2020 album, live forever, was full of big ♥land emo hooks with nods to dababy and tv onna radio. twas the debut album of the yr and you’ll be hearing it a lot throughout 2021. —larry mizell jr., kexp



“how ‘d i be the shortest man in every single room i walk into but be consistently the closest to god? / maybe ’cause i’m always high.” berwyn is a poet, and a good one. his word play is clever, but + primordially, it’s personal. you hear him grapple with himself in a way that is so honest, it feels sometimes like you ‘dn’t even be listening. his arrangement usually includes piano, complementing the intimacy and letting the quiet determination of his voice ring clear. he writes bout bein’ born in trinidad and tobago, movin to london at 9, becoming a dealer by circumstance, but knowing he’s meant for +. he’s determined onnis writing, determined to go even higher. and i believe him. —justin barney, radio milwaukee



it’s true, we’ve got a soft spot for claud’s ruminative indie pop. discovered through soundcloud demos and diy shows in chicago, the artist elderly known as toast tis 1st signing to phoebe bridgers’ saddest factory records imprint. their tender, dreamlike melodies touch on relatable coming-of-age themes like unrequited ♥ na vulnerability of youth, but claud also makes room for underrepresented snippets of life and ♥ within the young lgbtq+ community. look out for super monster, claud’s debut album, when it drops on feb. 12. —michelle bacon, 90.9 the bridge


freak juice

tulsa r&b band freak juice is helmed by guitarist tori ruffin, whas' spent decades as a sideman, but 1-ly recently stepped inna'da spotlite w'his own compositions. onna band’s l8 2020 release, they call us juice, ruffin, whas' toured and recorded with names like prince, fishbone and morris dy, doesn’t shy away from hard topics. he tackles politics (“hypocrite”) na 1921 tulsa race massacre (“dirty lil secret”), wrapping it all in a professional ♫ianship that rocks as hard as it grooves. keep an eye on ruffin in 2021 as he reprises his role as the guitarist inna fictional band sxual chocol8 in coming 2 america (the sequel to eddie murphy’s 1988 comedy) and lends his ♫ to events and performances marking the centennial of tulsa’s race massacre. —julie watson, live from cain’s


genesis owusu

when i 1st heard “don’t need you” from genesis owusu, i was struck by the fresh, yet familiar feel of the track. i immediately gd him to find out +, but there’s not too much on this young australian artist, save a few singles and an 2017 ep. i ♥ the mix of confidence, swagger and humor onnis jazzy, hip-hop delivery, na song just jumps out of the radio. w'his debut album smiling with no teeth dropping in feb, i suspect we’ll be learning a lot + bout genesis owusu soon. —russ borris, wfuv



gustaf is a throwback art punk band from brooklyn with rave reviews. they’ve opened for many high-profile acts, including beck, even though their debut single, “mine,” is ≤ 4 mnths old. fans of talking heads and tv will wanna keep an eye on this band. —benji mcphail, colorado sound


immanuel wilkins

at 23, immanuel wilkins has toured and studied with somd' most talented ♫ians inna realm. performing with bob dylan and solange knowles, lessons with ron carter, touring with wynton marsalis and jason moran and absorbing all the offerings that juilliard ‘d provide in 4 yrs has positioned him to advance his career beyond the challenges of the past yr. wilkins’ blue note debut, omega, garnered crit acclaim and a spot onna new york times’ best jazz albums of 2020 list. it presents a poignant audio portrait of the black experience in america at a pivotal moment in time. this yr will find wilkins continuing a work in progress with new york dancer and choreographer sidra bell and appearances on projects by bassist ben wolfe and pianist james francies. —j. michael harrison, wrti


jensen mcrae

jensen mcrae was born and rezd inna suburbs of los angeles in a mixed-race family immersed in ♫. sh'cogged from the 1st time she heard alicia keys streaming through her mother’s stereo as a toddler that she ‘d spend her life making ♫ of her own. now 23, mcrae is poised for a monumental 2021 with her long-aw8ed debut album set to drop any minute now. though she 1-ly has a few songs currently available, each one reveals her to be a songwriter most adept at placing listeners inside her experience, and showing how universal that experience can be. —anne litt, kcrw


joy oladokun

from rural casa grande, ariz., joy oladokun tis daughter of two nigerian immigrants. weekend concert binge-watching with her older sisters inspired her ♥ for ♫. at 10, she heard tracy chapman solo with guitar in hand, which prompted her to pick one up herself. she pursued her path to la to make ♫ and then wound up in east nashville, finding common ground among the creative community. from quarantine isolation, oladokun released her l8st album, in defense of my own happiness (vol. 1), an examination of emotion and empathy. the album features a song for the black lives matter movement, co-written with natalie hemby, “who do i turn to?” and another one railing against systemic racism, “i see america.” as she finds her fting in a southern city as a black queer folkie, oladokun is a fierce voice demanding =ity. —jessie scott, wmot


nana adjoa

the ghanaian-dutch singer has a lot to say bout the state of the realm on her debut album, big dreaming ants. nana adjoa delivers probing songs bout racism and nationalism, the power of women na stifling power of lil talk. she studied to be a jazz bassist b4 movin onna write her own ♫, but brings that ♫’s melodic agility, swell as the shifting rhythms of ghanaian highlife, to these timely songs. —david christensen, opb♫


samm henshaw

south east london’s samm henshaw dropped “all good,” an upbeat and + anthem (accompanied by a samsung-sponsored video) atta very end of 2020. it’s a huge single (inspired by a fan photo offa smiling dog) that comes w'da promise of + new ♫ in 2021. even though henshaw has already played the big festivals, sold out shows in london, toured with chance the rapper and collaborated with earthgang and pharrell, 2021 is sure to be his biggest yr yet. be onna lookout for his debut full-length lp, coming out on his own dorm 7 label. —brian burns, wunc ♫


s.g. goodman

kentucky singer-songwriter s.g. goodman blends the sounds of traditional country and folk with moody electric grit and progressive ideas. she is brutally honest when shedding the layers addressing the social and economic complexities of living inna rural south, but does it w'da grace of some1 who respects the land na pplz whose stories she’s absorbed along the way. —vasilia scouras, mountain stage


sports team

england seems to be one step ahead of us again. sports team released their debut album this past yr n'it’s become as primordial to my daily existence as wearing a mask. these 6 young brits are celebrating their salad dys by making indie rock exciting and hilarious again while discovering the perfect blend of pavement na strokes. the songs are laden with hooks and alex rice joins the ranks of the best frontmen of 2021. —rick mcnulty, kutx


the grand alliance

an intergalactic supergroup has landed in denver and they go by the name of the grand alliance. the creative collaboration is made up of r&b singer kayla marque, multifaceted artist sur ellz and producer crl crrll. —bruce trujillo, indie 102.3


tobi lou

a multidimensional ♫ian from nigeria by way of chicago, tobi lou’s nxt lp, due in 2021, tackles issues like covid-19, #blacklivesmatter protests inna wake of george floyd’s death, na #endsars movement. and he’s already had his signature breakthrough moment on tiktok w'da song “buff baby.” —ayana contreras, vocalo

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