Editor’s Note: It has been some years since GRUNGECAKE published a list of this nature, but when there are groups of new artists that you feel your readers should learn about and support, you have to do your part. With that said: Check out our top five hopeful list of breakout artists who will catapult to the top of the charts in 2020. This round, our all-star recording artists are Alex Mali, Bree Runway, Bri Steves, Doja Cat, and Rico Nasty.
There’s an absolutely lovely trend of women artists getting straight-to-the-point about what they want in their music. Even though ‘Ego’ by Beyoncé is a classic, even the Queen took a few albums to start saying what she really meant without metaphors. But SZA, Ari Lennox, Summer Walker, and now, Alex Mali all let you know what’s up within a few minutes of listening to one of their EPs. Mali’s honest and blunt lyricism displays a skill for songwriting that’s become very important for rising R&B stars. She’s been solid and consistent since 2017; a simply relatable girl from New York with no gimmicks—just talent. Oh, and to top it all off, she can actually sing. The vocals on her single ‘Crazy Eyes’ alone will prove me right.
She commanded my attention for the entire nineteen-minutes of her 2019 ‘Sweet & Sour’ EP; she had me figuring out which of my thirty Apple Music playlists to throw her on. From hosting Apple Music music labs to going by the moniker “Green Queen”, decking herself from head (literally, her hair) to toe in a shade of green that looks fantastic on her, Alex Mali is the person you want to know before it’s too late. Also, ‘99 Bottles’ slaps. Stream it.
Let’s talk about the UK bombshell powerhouse that is Bree Runway. One of her best qualities as an artist is apparent in the five minutes it takes to hear ‘2ON’ and ‘X2C’: versatility. Bree Runway has the range and flaunts it. Quickly switching from handing out bars to harmonizing with herself on her 2019 EP ‘Be Runway’, Bree Runway stands out from her competition. She effortlessly balances high-energy tracks with smooth, foot-tapping love ballads, mixing several different sounds on one EP yet somehow keeping it all consistent and most importantly, good.
She’s also hilarious; her music displays both her personality and talents very well. Clever and witty commentary and lyrics make Bree Runway a regularly enjoyable listen. Stream ‘2ON’, ‘All Night’, and ‘What Do I Tell My Friends?’. I wouldn’t steer y’all wrong.
First of all, the 2018 single ‘Jealousy’ is a solidified bop. The Philly starlet Bri Steves delivered an incredible modern flip of ‘They Don’t Know’, the certified classic by Jon B. She gave us vocals. She gave us bars. And still, ‘Jealousy’ only gives a glimpse into Steves’ rapping prowess as well as how hard she reps her hometown.
I was actually introduced to Steves right before ‘Jealousy’ came out by my best friend, who approached me with “a new, hard female rapper.” While many peoples’ first impression of Steves is a multitalented singer-rapper with a heavier lean towards singing because of her hit single, I went through her catalog to find hard-hitting bars spanning several 2018 singles like ‘Miami’ and ‘Late Night’. Bri’s pen ain’t nothing to play with, and the fact that she can sing too only means she’ll find it even easier to shake up the industry. Creative, stylish, and confident, Steves is one to watch.
From ‘Purrr!’ to ‘Mooo!’, Doja Cat has evolved into a full-fledged album-dropping rising star. Never losing her playfulness, Doja Cat has found a way to tiptoe the line between “she’s just a viral social media video” and a genuine, label-backed musical artist. Doja’s 2019 was a big one. She re-released her strong 2018 debut ‘Amala’ as a deluxe version with three more songs, including the chart-breaking ‘Juicy’.
She followed ‘Amala’ (Deluxe Version) up with ‘Hot Pink’ in the same year, doubling down on the spot she’s cementing as an upcoming pop and genre-blending star. Only adding to all this is her sense of humor and sex appeal. The perfect example of these combined is the official Twitter account of the Rolling Loud music festival tweeting a sexy, playful gif of Doja Cat killing her set at their festival, only for her to quote tweet it saying: “Please stop. No one liked me at your thing.”
Her incredibly blunt method of addressing what social media users pointed out was an abnormally quiet crowd during her performance is part of Doja’s staying power. She has personality, wit, and freedom with all the talent to back them up. Do yourself a favor and stream ‘Juicy’, ‘Tia Tamera’ featuring her fellow list-mate, Rico Nasty, and ‘Say So’.
Ah, the Black girl rager we know we needed. Representation matters, and joining the new era of Hip-Hop ragers like Travis Scott, Denzel Curry, Ski Mask the Slump God, and BROCKHAMPTON is the eclectic Rico Nasty.
Steadily growing a large and loyal fanbase since 2016, Rico brings so much energy and uniqueness to Rap. Her partnership and friendship with Kenny Beats is hilarious, genius, and inventive; they have both made some of their best music together and definitely thrive off of one another. Born in New York, but raised in Maryland, Rico is a stylish trendsetter and one of the leaders of the new school, proving her chops next to her peers for last year’s XXL Freshman showcase. She’s incredibly creative; my introduction to her was via a viral tweet of her album cover for her 2018 project, ‘Nasty’. The album cover features Rico’s edges, styled to spell out “nasty.”
And Rico’s not all show, trust and believe she has the bars to back up the green spiked mohawks. Her 2019 EP ‘Anger Management’ alone features an ingenious and woman-centered sample flip of JAY-Z’s ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’, cathartic and high-energy rage tracks, introspective bars about the music industry and the price of fame, and a terrific collaboration with Dreamville’s EARTHGANG. The Sugar Trap princess has so much to offer — if you’re not on her yet, it’s time to catch up by streaming ‘Trust Issues’, ‘Hatin’, and ‘Big Titties’.