From legends like Missy, Timbaland, and Pharrell to newcomers like D.R.A.M., there’s no shortage of talent and musical influence coming out of Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Yet the DMV, as it’s commonly called, still doesn’t get the recognition it deserves — in fact, you may have already heard the common sentiment that DMV artists are “slept on.” With its sheer diversity in movements and sounds, the region definitely deserves its shine. Here, we highlight a crew of emerging artists, mainstream and underground, who are changing the game. DMV, we see you.
With his hit single “Crew” on steady rotation, “future bounce” rapper Goldlink has been on the come up since he released The God Complex in 2014 and made the 2015 XXL Freshman Class. Raised between D.C. and Prince George’s County, MD, Goldlink often mentions how genres like go-go music, which originated in the DMV, have heavily influenced his sound. In a recent interview with The FADER, he called his latest project, At What Cost, a tribute to his hometown: “[The DMV] almost shapes us as a community and who we are,” he said. “It’s like the music is the background for the entire city.”
2. Nappy Nappa
“People can come to D.C. through music,” says NAPPYNAPPA. “I’m in the middle. My music is a bridge.” An incredibly gifted lyricist, NAPPYNAPPA’s songs grasp a diverse range of experience — the positive, the contemplative, the confrontational — and always keeps things real. On “D.C. DAILY NEWS,” NAPPA speaks out on gentrification and other injustices in the city, stating, “hurts to say D.C. don’t look the same.” Having just released his his latest EP, GET PHYSICAL///DON’T GET THE PHYSICAL COPY, we’re excited to see what’s next from this D.C. newcomer.
3. IDK (formerly Jay IDK)
IDK is best known for his loyal fanbase and conscious lyricism — having first caught our attention with his 2015 debut album Subtrap, the Maryland rapper recently toured with Isaiah Rashad and has announced a visual creative partnership with Adult Swim for his upcoming album. In a recent interview with Billboard, IDK stressed the importance of balance in his music. “I might make a banger and that’s the way that I feel and then I may want to make a song that’s really deep,” he said. “It’s a representation of my name, Ignorantly delivering knowledge.”
4. Chaz French
In an interview with XXL, Chaz French called his debut album, True Colors, his “mood ring:” “I put my heart and soul into every song,” he told XXL. “I just wanted to show people that anything is possible no matter what you are going through. No matter the situation, there is always a way out!” Released in early July, the project centers the Motown/Capitol Records signee’s personal experiences with fatherhood and being black in America, showcasing a range of talent from the DMV (Shy Glizzy, Phil Adé, Innanet James, Marco McKinnis, and Saba Abraha). “I wanted people to know exactly who I am and what I stand for.” Check out the recap photos from our recent event in celebration of French’s album release, and listen to True Colors below.
5. Rico Nasty
Self-described “sugar trap” rapper Rico Nasty has been consistently making moves, pushing a truly distinct, self-made aesthetic and sound. Her beats and verses are irresistibly catchy, her music videos are on point, and she’s consistently serving looks. Earlier this year, we featured Rico in our roundup of “25 Artists We Hope Blow Up in 2017” — and we still firmly believe she’s gonna blow up. Born in New York but raised in Maryland, Rico introduced us to her sound with her mixtape Sugar Trap in 2016, and her newest tape, Tales of Tacobella, can be streamed on SoundCloud.
6. Brent Faiyaz
Most known for singing the infectious chorus of Goldlink’s “Crew,” Brent Faiyaz keeps a low profile: “I’ve never been too active in any local music scenes,” he told Artistic Manifesto in 2015. “I feel like with the internet you can reach people on a much larger scale. I enjoy just putting out records and watching new fans familiarize themselves with my music and the movement.” But the Baltimore native’s music speaks for itself — having released his first track, “Natural Release,” in 2014, followed by his first EP A.M. Paradox (2016), he’s showcased his impressive vocal abilities and smooth, sensual productions. We can’t wait to see more of Faiyaz, who recently announced a tour with his group Sonder that’s kicking off on September 8th.
7. Kelow Latesha
Kelow Latesha is destined for greatness. Hailing from Prince George’s County, Maryland, and drawing inspiration from DC go-go, club music, and trap, Latesha has been steadily releasing smooth bangers on Soundcloud — her seven-song EP Amethyst Stoner (2015) was full of standout tracks, most notably “Finna,” which blew up and led to a remix featuring Lil Uzi earlier this year. She recently teased her upcoming project, Flight Attendant, by dropping the single “Yeah” on Soundcloud. If this track is any indication, we know it’s gonna be fire.
Born in D.C. and raised in Maryland, Kelela seemingly came out of nowhere with her impressive debut mixtape, Cut 4 Me, in 2013. With a refreshingly unique blend of dark dance music, alternative R&B, and hypnotic vocals, the tape was widely praised, with cosigns from artists like Solange and Bjork. “My music sounds like one synergised thing, one message,” she told The Guardian. “The goal is to blow the audience’s mind.” The following EP, Hallucinogen (2015) was equally if not more inspiring in its innovative sound, musical textures, and lyrical intimacy. We’re beyond hyped to hear her debut full-length album, which she recently announced via Twitter, titled Take Me Apart.
9. Innanet James
Maryland MC Innanet James’ songs are upbeat and contagious, full of clever lyricism and witty references and stark go-go influences. Standout tracks from his debut EP Quebec Place (2016) include afrocentric anthem “Black,” which was recently featured on the Netflix Original Series “Dear White People”, “Summer”, and “Girls.” Innanet made his first festival appearance this year at Bonnaroo, and we hear he’ll be releasing new music soon — don’t sleep on it.
10. Jefe (formlerly Shy Glizzy)
Anyone who follows D.C. hip-hop should know about Jefe, more widely known as Shy Glizzy. Adopting his new moniker (“jefe” being the Spanish word for boss) at the start of the year, the “Crew” rapper first made waves with the viral hit “Awwsome,” which peaked on Billboard charts and was eventually remixed with features by A$AP Rocky and 2 Chainz. Jefe stays putting in work, boasting over 10 released projects over the span of 5 years — and while Jefe refers to himself as an “underdog,” he has high aspirations to establish his own empire. “I might be one of the people in a few years that’ll be all they listen to,” he told Noisey in January. “I’m getting me and all my people together and getting the structure there to be one of the biggest brands to ever do hip-hop. Especially coming from DC.”
11. Ari Lennox
As the first woman signee to J.Cole’s Dreamville Records, Ari Lennox draws influences from the likes of Anita Baker, Bilal, Aaliyah, Common, and D’Angelo. With her sound blending classic and contemporary jazz, R&B, and soul, Lennox has definitely put the work in since her 2016 debut with the Pho EP: “D.C. teaches you how to hustle,” she told Washington Post. “I remember trying to be popular as a singer here — it was so hard.” This Summer, she’ll be touring select cities on the North American leg of Cole’s tour.