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DJ Mag's artists to watch in 2020

From bass heavy club sounds, forward-thinking electronic music from West Africa and hip-hop flavoured house, through cosmic jungle and battle-grade grime, here are the essential acts set to make 2020 their own

Sicaria Sound
LONDON, UK

FOR FANS OF: MALA, KODE9, L U C Y

After meeting at the back of a lecture hall at university, surrounded by classmates whose music taste leant towards mainstream chart and indie music, Ndeko and Imbratura found common ground in a love for low-end. The duo, who DJ together as Sicaria Sound, first realised how closely their tastes aligned one night at pre-drinks. “I don’t know how you’ll feel about this one actually,” Ndeko said, over the murky opening bars of Coki’s ‘Goblin’. It’s a banging 2009 cut which, in Imbratura’s words, is “an acquired taste”, and proved a landmark moment for the pair. “From that moment,” Imbratura says, “we knew we were in it for the long haul.”

2019 has been a wild ride for Sicaria Sound. Despite only having been DJing together for a few years, this year saw them invited to play festival shows at Boomtown, Boiler Room Festival, Outlook and Glastonbury (their Sunday night set in Silver Hayes alongside L U C Y, Sherelle and Jossy Mitsu went down an absolute storm), as well as DJing in clubs across Europe. “We’ve been travelling to lots of new places to play the music we love,” the pair say. “Without sprawling into an Oscar speech, we’re extremely humbled by the support that has come our way this year, it’s felt like we’re living in a dream world.”

And on the subject of living out your wildest dreams, in late December, Sicaria Sound will set off on their first US tour. It’s a feat that, for both of them, seems “beyond mad”.

Ndeko and Imbratura describe their sound as “spicy, low-end heavy sounds that emulate the energy we share as sisters”. Sisters by nature if not by blood, it turns out best friends DJing together makes for a wicked synergy. Though they fell in love with dubstep independently, at uni the pair learned that they’d dived into the classic dubstep discography via the same route: through rock, metal and drum & bass. From humble beginnings cutting their teeth at home, messing around on a pair of old Technics 1210s and a Numark mixer, the duo soon progressed to hours and hours honing their craft on the industry standard set-up at the radio station they both worked for at the time.

Sicaria Sound are based in London, but their heritage (Moroccan and South Sudanese) plays a key role in how they shape their sets. Whether DJing out, delivering mixes for the likes of NTS, Radio 1Xtra, Hyponik, Fabric, or presenting on their own Rinse FM show, the Arab and African musical influence of their childhood comes into play as they consider soundscaping and their track selections. “We’ve also been playing around with the theme of heritage on some productions we’ve been working on lately,” the duo say. “We want to respect our heritage wherever possible in what we do.”

As Sicaria Sound look forward to a 2020 that promises to be even busier than 2019, we wonder what advice the duo will take with them into the new year. “Take breaks!” they both say without hesitation, “we’re guilty workaholics.” Time is of the utmost importance for Ndeko and Imbratura; that means taking time off and not rushing into things. “Patience is key,” they say, emphasising the importance of choosing the opportunities that feel right for them. “We’ve found that by waiting, we often end up winning.” KATIE THOMAS

Snowy
NOTTINGHAM, UK

FOR FANS OF: SLOWTHAI, MEZ, DEVLIN

THREE TUNES: 'REDDIT', 'EFFED', 'MIGHTY MOE'

It says a lot that despite his reputation as arguably grime’s most effervescent enfant terrible, Nottingham’s Snowy still has the ability to shock us with his candour. Those already familiar with his work will no doubt already be aware of the brutal sense of verisimilitude that has been punctuating his releases since he first came onto our radar as a fresh-faced newcomer, refusing to play by the rules during Red Bull Music’s spotlight- widening Grime-A-Side tournament back in 2016.
Having evolved from promising young MC to bona fide artist since then — without compromising the gritty roots of his musical and ethical principles — it should then come as little surprise that speaking with him in 2019 in person yields equally honest results. “They weren’t playing my tune so I had to run up on 1XTRA and do my thing last night,” he explains to us excitedly when we enquire as to why he had stormed the London-based BBC studio live on air the night before. “They banned my track over some bullshit reason and me not being the type to just have that, I badded them up and guess what? Man’s now on the playlist.”

It’s a typically forthright introduction from one of the UK’s hottest MCs, with the track in question being his Lenkemz-produced collaboration with fellow Nottingham native and Sleaford Mod, Jason Williamson, ‘Effed’. “For me it was important that that track got heard as people like me have been ignored for too long,” says Snowy. “I refuse to allow myself to be censored because my accent or my skin colour or my anything else don’t fit. Grime is the new punk in that we’re refusing to be brushed under the carpet anymore.
I’ve got something to say and I will be heard, y’know what I mean? Some people can’t handle a Brexit anthem but too bad.” Having already had much support from DJs at the station, it’s telling that the powers that be didn’t want you to hear from Snowy, and says more about the power of the artist in these digitised times that he was able to overcome such a challenge.

So with Brexit looming, what’s on the horizon for Snowy in the new year? “I’ve got big plans for 2020, man,” he explains to us in a slightly more serious tone. “I want to showcase me and my city, that’s why I’ve been working so hard to make sure this is my most successful year yet. I’m working with the Nottingham Playhouse to adapt a number of my tracks into stage productions and, of course, I’m going to continue to work within my community to try to help to provide people with opportunities where I can. “Musically, I’ve got two EPs set to drop in the first six months and am naturally working on my debut album, although I don’t want to put too much pressure on that. When it’s ready it’s ready, you can’t rush your art, innit.” Truer words were never spoken, Snowy. REISS DE BRUIN

Don Zilla
KAMPALA, UGANDA

FOR FANS OF: HYPH11E, SLIKBACK, LECHUGA ZAFIRO

THREE TUNES: 'FROM THE CAVE', STILL 'GOZPAAL (ZILLA REMIX)', 'INSIDE ME'

In a decade that’s seen attention shift from Western scenes to more global club sounds, East Africa has established itself as an epicentre of forward-thinking electronic music, largely centred around Nyege Nyege Festival, the party at the source of the Nile started by Kampala-based label, Nyege Nyege Tapes. Last summer, the imprint launched a sister label, Hakuna Kulala, with three electronic music producers circling their scene: Slikback, Rey Sapienz, and Don Zilla. The label represents an incredible array of electronic music coming out of East Africa, and has this year put out releases from MC Yallah, Debmaster, Ecko Bazz and many more. “Hakuna Kulala focuses on bringing out interesting cultures that have not been known to the outside world,” Zilla explains. “That’s the foundation, the power that the label stands on.”

Where the other label founders quickly crossed over with success following a string of releases on the label, music from Zilla has been slower to come, with his debut (and only release so far) landing in ‘From The Cave To The World’ in March. Showcasing the label’s aesthetic perfectly, it features a heavy payload club bomb built on jagged low-end, footwork energy and subtle polyrhythms. Part of the reason for Zilla’s slower crossover is that he also works as the studio manager for Boutiq Studios, the villa in Kampala owned and operated by Nyege Nyege Tapes. The space has welcomed European artists like Errorsmith and Rian Treanor for residencies, alongside artists from all over Africa to work as part of a cultural exchange. “It’s the only space in the entirety of East Africa where artists come and explore and get exposure,” he explains of the studios. “It’s a place where people come to learn from people around them. They come and learn, or master their art freely, without limitation.” 

2020 looks to be the year Zilla breaks out of the scene that is garnering so much attention, with an album currently in the works. He road-tested some of the material from the LP during his production-only Boiler Room set from Nyege Nyege Festival in September, another stepping stone to gaining wider recognition. “I’d waited for a long time,” he says of the set. “There was a lot of pressure, but the kind that pushes you to greater heights. When it’s your first time to step on such a platform, your heart is beating, but I just wanted to serve people what I’ve been cooking, and what I have not tested before. So it was really intense. But at the same time, it was good.”

Having started teaching himself to make beats on Fruity Loops in internet cafes just a few years ago, Zilla’s work marks him out as a singular voice in a scene rapidly establishing itself as one of the most dynamic in electronic music. “I used to tell my parents, ‘One day I’m going to become one of Africa’s greatest producers’,” he smiles. “And they would laugh, because for them it was impossible.” On the basis of his output for Hakuna Kulala, the dream doesn’t feel too far from reality now. ROB MCCALLUM

박혜진 Park Hye Jin
LONDON, UK VIA SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

FOR FANS OF: GALCHER LUSTWERK, BALTRA, YAEJI

THREE TUNES: 'CLOSE EYES', 'CALL ME', 'I DONT CARE'

박혜진 Park Hye Jin is fated to be compared to Yaeji, another Seoul-born artist pairing silky, half-spoken vocals with hip-hop-flavoured house. Along with Peggy Gou, a well-established Korean export, they’ve all been filed under the non-genre of “K-house”. Peel back another layer and you can locate their shared influence in the dreamy, dazy wanderings of New York’s Galcher Lustwerk. But 박혜진 Park Hye Jin’s music contains something altogether darker: her take on bleary bedroom house contains a grittiness, some unavoidable melancholy, that feels far stranger and spookier.

Park laid out her interests on 2018’s ‘IF U WANT IT’ EP, duetting with herself in Korean and English over lo-fi drums and blurry chords, sometimes in pounding house formations, sometimes as stoned-out boom-bap. She’s employed coy, breathy vocals (“A, I love you / B, I want you / C, I miss you,” from ‘ABC’), but is vague about the meaning behind her lyrics. On ‘I Don’t Care’, the half-sung title feels like a rejection of any attempt to decode her intentions. The lyrics “are just my story,” she deflects, responding via email. “My life, my love, everything I think and feel.” 

Park seems drawn to darker moods in general: the heavy throb of ‘Close Eyes’ is the EP’s standout, recalling Lustwerk’s labelmate DJ Richard in its windswept grandeur. On ‘Call Me’, she leans into the melancholy effect of trap, a genre that dominates Korean pop culture. Park’s own tastes were shaped through listening to homegrown underground hip-hop, as well as US imports. “And since I was a kid, I’ve listened and danced to Beyoncé and Rihanna,” she adds. But it’s that creeping sense of loneliness and alienation that defines Park’s music, placing it in a great lineage of misery-stompers by the likes of Traumprinz, Francis Harris or Burial. Loneliness is an all-too-common affliction, she believes. “There are more lonely people in the world than we know. Humans have a variety of emotions, and we’re living in a society where it’s even harder to trust each other.” 

Park moved to London in 2019, seeking out new opportunities and — confusingly — better weather. “I love the many days of rainy weather, it makes the clear days feel more precious,” she says. “I love the people in London, they look cold but they have warmth inside.”
Not that it’s been an easy transition. “I hate the loneliness and emptiness of being new in a big city.”
She had previously honed her craft as a resident DJ at Seoul’s Pistil Dance Club, a basement haven for deep house, darkwave and disco. In 2018, she dropped her first self-titled mixtape, framing her vocals over an eclectic tracklist (from Axel Boman to Azealia Banks), and revealing her natural affiliation with rap. Next came ‘IF U WANT IT’, released on Melbourne’s clipp.art during her brief stint in the city, which proved to be an irresistible calling card as the bookings rolled in.

The past 12 months have been a change of pace for Park, with highlights including her debut at Panorama Bar (where one fan praised her for not “sticking to the script”) and her Boiler Room performance. This summer she also teamed up with NYC producer Michael Baltra for a dreamy breaks track on his album ‘Ted’. As she evolves as a DJ and producer, that “K-house” description is looking increasingly useless. Unsurprisingly, though, she doesn’t care about the tag. “If I keep doing my music, their perception will change,” she says. In 2020, “I’m going to fly higher and farther.” CHAL RAVENS

Ariel Zetina
CHICAGO, IL VIA FLORIDA

FOR FANS OF: JASMINE INFINITI, BÉZIER, RUSSELL E.L. BUTLER 

THREE TUNES: 'VALENZETINA', 'I MISS THE SEA', 'WRITINGS ON THE WALL'

“My sound has the kick-drum of techno, percussion from house and punta, deconstructed club, reconstructed atmosphere and melody pulled from everywhere, and most importantly has the voice of the queer club scene in Chicago,” Ariel Zetina proclaims. A pillar of the Windy City’s younger queer club community, the Latinx artist’s past year has included releasing the dreamy ‘Shell’ and acidic ‘Organism’ EPs, a split release on Manifest Chicago, crafting a set of visionary and deeply personal mixes for Dummy and Truants, tours of Europe and wider North America, as well as putting a slew of other original productions and remixes out on various labels. She’s also continued to hold down her residency at legendary house club Smart Bar, is on Discwoman’s amazing roster, curates multiple parties around town and even remains an active playwright and poet. All this, and when asked what her favourite moments were from 2019, she still exudes tireless positivity: “It’s so hard to choose, because I feel like the real treat was being able to continually play all year.”

Originally from Florida, Zetina relocated to Chicago in 2008 and quickly put down roots while starting to add to the city’s rich dance music heritage. “Mister Wallace, who’s one of the key figures in the queer club scene in Chicago, had an interview where they talked about how Chicago DJs mix two tracks over each other for long periods of time,” she explains. “I think this notion of true synthesis is what makes the scene. The house music influences the techno, which influences the club music, which influences the noise scene, which influences house music.” However, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and changes that she would like to see: “I want to see more people paying attention to the younger DJs in Chicago. So many of them are so good, and they should be touring everywhere. I want to see more coin in general for the events in Chicago too. I want to see more diversity in the wider American and international scene, both in identity and in sound. There are so many trans women of colour making absolutely bonkers music, and I want to see all of us thriving with coin.” 

Zetina’s passion for lifting up other artists, especially younger queer club kids of colour, is ever-present in her curatorial work, and her DJ sets are always full of new producers that she’s championing. She’s even been referred to as a mother figure within her community, but approaches it with the cautious self-awareness and humility of a true leader: “You know, I always feel like I’m never doing enough as a mother, so I’m tentative to very seriously take on that role on paper. However, I am very invested in my daughters’ careers. House of Zetina is only semi-official, but it consists of DJs, musicians, drag artists, painters, performers and filmmakers — most of whom are queer people of colour. Things changed for me after my friend Don Washington passed away in April. I hold what being a mother means to a really high standard that I don’t feel like I have achieved yet, but I absolutely try to channel Blanca from Pose at all times.”

2020 will see Ariel Zetina releasing a new EP in February, “on a label I’m really excited to be collaborating with,” she says excitedly. “I can’t say much, but I watched a ton of make-up tutorials on YouTube as research for it. I will also be touring Europe again in May, and am still working on a longer-term writing project about trans inclusion/exclusion in the media.” ZARA WLADAWSKY 

Thugwidow
Anglesey via Hereford, UK

FOR FANS OF: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, PHOTEK, BURIAL

THREE TUNES: ‘A CLUSTER OF ANGRY REPEATING THOUGHTS’, ‘JESUS H FUCKING H CHRIST’, ‘PRAXIDIKE THE PUNISHER’

“Since I got my new laptop three years ago, I’ve made like 2,000-and-something songs,” Thugwidow tells DJ Mag, on the phone from North Wales. It’s a staggering amount of music, especially for someone who still works a day job, but what’s even more mind-boggling is how much he’s actually released. At our count, he’s at 12 albums since 2017 (including two collaborative albums), along with a bunch of singles and EPs. “It’s been 17 years since I started making music, when I was at college,” he continues. “I used to make a tune a day back then, and [my work ethic] probably hasn’t changed massively since. I dread to think how much music I’ve actually made. I’ve got whole harddrives that I’ve just filled with stuff... there’s a big pile of them that my wife tells me to get rid of periodically,” he adds with a laugh.

Thugwidow’s impressive output begins to make more sense when you find out about his process. “The songs are only separated because I render them out in chunks – they never really stop or start. If you played them all by date, by time, they would sound flowy, each similar to the one previous,” he explains. He recalls a recent incident where he made an album in a week. Afterwards, he realised that two of the tracks were finished just eight minutes apart.

“I use quite a minimal setup; I don’t have tonnes of hardware, got quite a lot of software, and then I use this gaming PC to make everything as fast as possible. It’s a very ‘from my brain to my hands’ kind of thing. I need there to not be too many things in the way when I’m making tracks.” The result is a sound that’s part jungle, part ambient: intricate and militant, yet delicate and cerebral. Thugwidow’s drums skitter in and out, heaped in delay and reverb, all pitch-bent, time-stretched and mangled by various methods. 

His pads and atmospheric elements are grainy and enveloping; as cinematic as they come (Alex is a film fanatic and sometimes produces scores), conjuring up images of cavernous halls and devastated wastes, where each percussive clank, snap and thud feels vital. They have epic and emotive titles, like ‘Kore (The Ship Collides With Jupiter)’, ‘A Cluster of Angry Repeating Thoughts’ and ‘What Ever Happened to the Pouring Soul Liger’; often movie or book references, or reflections of his state of mind at the time, they imply mysterious and cosmic moods.

It hasn’t always been like this, though. In 2010, he wasn’t in the best place. “I used to DJ all around Bristol, playing terrible house music in terrible clubs, and I got really disheartened with it because I didn’t really get on with anyone in the places. When I was younger, all I’d done was go to drum & bass clubs and metal gigs.”

He’d produce garage tracks influenced by ambient and drone-centric film scores, which didn’t go down well on the club circuit, with people often telling him to play something “a bit more exciting” — “I’d be like, ‘Oh, I thought this was pretty exciting.” He switched back to jungle a few years later, learning more about sampling (he’d previously tried to synthesise all his own sounds) and building what has since become his signature sound. 

Alex saw that artists like Special Request and Bristol-based Dead Man’s Chest were on a similar tip, which he found encouraging. The latter in particular has since become a crucial figure in the Thugwidow story. The pair collaborated on a track for renowned jungle party Rupture’s in-house label, and DMC released Thugwidow’s stunning ‘Hard Rave Aesthetic’ EP on his Western Lore label in 2019, which Alex says have been a “launchpad”, drumming up interest from more labels.

Thugwidow hopes to return to Western Lore later this year, and has confirmed releases on Warehouse Raves and Two Hungry Ghosts. But he also anticipates a slowing down of his output. “I’m going to take a different tact with it [in 2020] and try and make stuff I’m super happy with, take time over it, but then people always seem to prefer the stuff I make in, like, half an hour, than the stuff I spent all day doing,” he says. “It’s just weird, ambient, long songs that have these rattly drums in them, and everyone just seems to love it,” he laughs. “You never know where things are going to go.” BEN HINDLE

Rossi.
London, UK

FOR FANS OF: ENZO SIRAGUSA, CHRIS STUSSY, EAST END DUBS

KEY TUNES: ‘DUB INVENTIONS: A1’, ‘RYDM’, ‘DEVIATE’

It’s been a whirlwind year for Rossi., the London producer and DJ who has taken the city’s new, fast-growing minimal tech house scene by storm. With residencies at RINSE FM and fabric’s F0RMS party series, his groove-laden productions have turned the heads of Apollonia, Jamie Jones, Rossko and wAFF. His 2018 debut EP ‘Dub Inventions’, released on Lowerhand Records, charted at #1 in less than 24 hours on the Beatport Minimal Releases Chart, and he cites artists like Matpri, Alexis Cabrera, Traumer and Chris Stussy as his inspirations.

“My life has changed dramatically in such a fun way,” Rossi. says, reflecting on the past year. “I’ve just had so many wicked moments on what has been an amazing first year as, what I would say, an ‘actual artist’, or feeling like I’m finally a DJ.” 

In 2019, the upstart played his first international gigs - one of which led to an impromptu B2B with Fuse favourite, Rich NXT. “[Rich NXT] has always been a massive inspiration for me, right from when I first started producing on my banged up MacBook. Now that I know Rich personally, it’s so special for me to look back at that moment and still pinch myself about it all.” He also played gigs in São Paulo and Parma, as well as his hometown, at London’s Studio 338 and 93 Feet East. 

Moving into a new decade, Rossi. has his sights set further afield, planning to take on the worldwide scene. “I’m doing my first global tour, visiting Australia, South East Asia and South America,” he says. “It's always been a dream of mine, but in the next 18 months I’d love to play at DC-10. More hard work can make that happen.” 

He’s also working on his own label concept, which he says will come to fruition in 2020, alongside releases on some of his “dream labels – but I have to keep those close to my chest for now.” With his dedication, drive and confidence, the only way is up for Rossi.. AMY FIELDING

Hyperaktivist
Venezuela, South America

FOR FANS OF: VTSS, SCHACKE

Hyperaktivist has played an important role in shaping the clubbing landscape on the northern coast of South America. It began with illegal parties in her native Venezuela – throwing raves in abandoned buildings in the city she grew up in – and culminated in co-running a club called Solo for four years with friends. They went from a DIY party to established club, inviting artists from Colombia, Brazil and eventually Europe to play alongside local acts. 

Between 2007 and 2008, when the Venezuelan government brought in laws to control the currency exchange rates, Hyperaktivist and her crew were part of a thriving local scene. But the political situation soon jeopardised the future of the club, and so she made the decision to move on. “I studied journalism and I saw that I didn’t have a future as a journalist in Venezuela, or as a musician or DJ, so I knew I had to go.” At 23 years old, she applied for a Masters degree course in a city that she felt drawn to – Berlin. 

“When I saw Berlin, and I saw the reality of the club scene, culture and industry here – I don’t think I ever believed something like this could exist,” she explains, “where music and club culture was beyond a hobby, it was a lifestyle, something that people had decided to dedicate their lives to.” Developing her own party played an important part of her grounding in Berlin. After a few trials as a DJ at various venues, her own party MESS – Mindful Electronic Sound Selections – has become one of the few residents parties at OHM. 

“One of the biggest inspirations [for] MESS was realising that Berlin is such a masculine city in so many ways, the music industry included. I felt that I have met some of the most amazing and strong women in Berlin” she says. “When I decided to do MESS, it was kind of freaky because there’s been a lot of talk about how we need more female, queer and trans representation. At one point, I felt like this topic had become a bit of a promotional weapon: it wasn’t being done for the right reasons and had lost its honesty and origins. When I started MESS, I decided I won’t talk about this I won’t promote the party as a women or femme only party. I prefer to organise the night and let people see for themselves.”

MESS is now in its second year at OHM, and Hyperaktivist is excited for what 2020 might bring. The party also has a residency in Munich, and hosts nights Bogota, New York and Boston. In mid 2018, she started another event in Berlin, Mala Junta, alongside DJ Tool of Copenhagen techno collective Fastforward; focused on faster tempos, funky ’90s-influenced techno and trance, the party was quickly embraced by the local community. 

“The main objective of the party is the music. It’s very unpretentious. We really wanted to give this space to the community, celebrate diversity and get together again for the music. We try to take you to… a time and place where people come together, face the same social challenges, and dance as an act of rebellion.” 

Hyperaktivist’s DJ sets follow a similar philosophy: rooted in fast-paced BPMs, unearthing old techno records that evoke Latin percussion, digging into forgotten labels from the ’90s and early ’00s. As her parties have grown, so have her international bookings. She regularly plays parties of a similar ethos, like Cxema in Kiev. “Every time I go to Kiev I love it. You can feel that what’s happening there is really raw and honest. It’s crews like Fastforward in Copenhagen, Cxema in Kiev and Mina in Portugal that I love to work with. I always try to bring them to Berlin.” 

2020 will see Hyperaktivist continue to tour internationally: taking Mala Juna to the US and Canada, and MESS to South America. ANNA WALL

TOMMY B
ESSEX, UK

FOR FANS OF: SNOWY, JAMMER, D DOUBLE E

THREE TRACKS: 'LOOK NOW', 'CANT HAVE THAT', 'COME OUT MY WAY'

Despite not having blown out enough candles yet, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Tommy B for a grime scene veteran. His skills and sound bely his tender age. “I think that comes from the way I came through,” explains Tommy, with a serious tone. “By the time I got to spitting on Radar Radio I’d already spent two years on the radio circuit building myself up, so when the opportunity presented itself for me to get my name out there to a wider audience, I could grab it with both hands.”

During grime’s formative years, Tommy B’s route to respect within the scene was a common one. But as the genre evolves from the sound of contemporary UK street culture to a bona fide mainstream entity, it’s a path that not too many of his generation of MCs have been as keen to walk down. The hyper-competitive nature of the past might seem a daunting prospect now. Yet Tommy isn’t just unfazed by the challenge. He’s genuinely excited by it.

“I think the first wave of MCs who came through all had a point to prove,” he roars, “and I have that same hunger to prove myself. When I show up to a radio set, I’m super competitive. I’m there to be the best MC on that set. I don’t give a fuck who else is also there. I want to always perform at the highest level and rep myself the best I can. That’s my mindset.”

With such an attitude, it should come as little surprise that he was one of the first to put themselves forward for the latest edition of Jammer’s Lord of the Mics, going up against his opponent in one of 2019’s most memorable clashes. It was his collaboration with personal hero Devlin that arguably defined his year, though: ‘Come Out My Way’ announced his rise up the grime league table, with an accomplished performance that saw him go verse-for-verse with the legendary Dagenham spitter and more than hold his own.

“I just feel so blessed to have been given the chance to work with an artist like Devlin,” he says with a smile. “I went to see him live on his Bud, Sweat and Beers tour as a kid and, having such great memories of seeing him perform and listening to his music growing up, it’s surreal to me that I now have a tune with him.”

With Tommy B’s answers coming at the same breakneck speed and forceful delivery that characterise his bars, talk turns to his future plans. “For 2020 I’m focussed on creating bodies of work,” he asserts. “I want to release work that really represents me - both my struggles and my successes. I want to open up a bit more and showcase my storytelling ability. It’s easy to make bangers without worrying about substance but I want to give people more of an insight into who I am as a human as at the end of the day that is what my career as an artist will be judged upon.”

He says that he’s sitting on an EP at the moment, made in collaboration with a big producer, but he can’t quite drop that bomb yet. “Know this, though,” he says, “I’m not afraid to break out of boxes and say ‘Fuck it, I’m doing things differently,’ so my versatility will be on full display this year. There are no rules I feel I need to stick by.” Sounds good to us! REISS DE BRUIN

Capo Lee
London, UK

FOR FANS OF: P MONEY, STORMZY, JME

THREE TRACKS: 'LIFF', 'MUD', 'SLIME FREESTYLE'

With his verbal dexterity and ability to hop on such a variety of beats, North London’s Capo Lee feels like a special talent. Those in the know have been all in on Lee since 2015, with his show-stopping performance on underground banger ‘Liff’. Since then, there’s been his follow-up hit ‘Mud’, his acclaimed multi-genre mixtape series ‘Why Not’- how is Capo Lee not a bigger name already, we wonder? He attributes his slow-burn rise to his eclectic nature as an artist.

“Certain people are scared of experimentation, but I’m always eager to try new flavours,” he states confidently. “I get into the tune, I study the genre and immerse myself in it. I find a pocket and put myself in it. A lot of it is about tone - different genres require different tones. On grime it feels like it’s you versus the instrumental, whereas a garage tune is more like making love, ya get me?’ Whilst his approach often yields unexpected and excellent results, the diversity of his output can make it difficult to pin him down. The industry likes consistency, and the only thing consistent in Lee’s music is its quality. If it’s an issue, though, he’s not sweating it. 

“First and foremost, I make music for myself” he says. “If I were to stop making music professionally, I would still be in the studio just to make stuff for only me to listen to in the car. If you let music consume every aspect of your life then you put too much pressure on yourself. I just make music when I feel like it. I go with the flow. I’ve shown up to the studio before and haven’t liked any of the beats presented to me, which can be awkward for the producer!” he continues. “I do tell them what type of flex I’m on and let them catch the vibe: if I’m on a smooth rap ting then I let them know that’s what I’m feeling; those garage tunes I did, they were recorded like 2 years ago. I wasn’t jumping on a trend, I just happened to be ahead of the curve.”

With a commitment to keep doing things the Capo Lee way, what can we expect from the Sekky spitter in 2020? “I want to expand ‘Why Not’,” he explains. “I want to continue to get bare artists and bare producers together in one room and see what happens, but I also want to take ‘Why Not’ to other cities and see what they’re saying outside London. I’m also lining up a big collaborative EP, with 6 tracks that go hard, ahead of what I hope will be the first of many headline shows.” REISS DE BRUIN

Want more? Check out our labels to watch in 2020