Music has always been a lifeline — whether getting us through heartbreaks, arousing the butterflies induced by love, or accommodating a milestone celebration. Music has been there for us during the most memorable and challenging times. As we have moved through 2021 and think back to (or even try to forget) the events of the previous year; 2021 like any other musical year didn’t disappoint.
There was a group of musical ‘heroes’ who stuck by our sides and continued to help us move forward. Many of those artists are larger than life with a clear influence on the world; for they’ve helped heal us through a pandemic, brought back joy through memories, and expressed everything we needed them to.
It’d never have been a year of being put onto new music if it wasn’t for other factors like the continued evolution and continued embracing of digital music streaming, and platforms like Tiktok by the way which by the way have had such a humongous impact on people’s music listening habits and algorithms this year hence giving a platform for discovery of new talent and sound to blossom.
Quite a number of a new breed of artists has popped up; coming up with this list was quite tricky, as we couldn’t list them all, but could only pick you 10 of those stand outs acts, and if you weren’t should lend your ears and pay attention to; come 2022.
But first, the 10 from 2020 included Tems, Zulitums, Azawi, Dre Cali, Omah Lay, Quex, among others, who’ve gone ahead to own this year too with some incredible projects. These are the essential new and rising artists poised to who’ve made a major impact in 2021; they not only provided those moments for us during the worst year ever but also poised for breakthroughs in 2022.
Whether it’s a brand new artist just getting started or an act who leveled up and hit their stride, all 10 of these artists are worth keeping an eye on this coming year. It’s time to look forward again, and these are some of the artists you have to be watching out for:
Hailing from Ladysmith KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the flourishing Pop duo made of Ndumiso Mdletshe and Siphelele Dunywa carved their way into many music enthusiasts’ hearts thanks to their amapiano centric hit song “SummerYoMuthi”, which was released November 20th 2020 and charted in over 83 African countries, and later making them one of the acts enlisted for the 2021 MTV Africa Day Concert.
The high life duo met back then in highschool in 2010 on a school trip where both participated in a music cypher in the school bus, and later decided to do music together, and have since not looked back. The two are also best known for award winning records “Ibhanoyi” and “Love Letter“.
Raised between Accra, Atlanta & New Jersey is Ama Serwah Genfi (Amaarae) a Ghanaian-American singer, songwriter, producer, and engineer. She is regarded as the new, fresh and much-needed voice in the scene due to her signature brand of falsetto and her vocal stand towards female sexuality and experimental representation of gender.
The new breed outstanding female act’s debut EP Passion Fruit Summers launched her as one of the most vital voices in alternative pop, paving the way for her breakthrough record THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW. Featuring singles like SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY & FANCY, the genre-blending project received global recognition by the likes of The Guardian, Pitchfork, The FACE, Elle, The New Yorker, Dazed, The FADER and more.
Amaarae was named the Africa Rising Artist of January 2021 by Apple Music & for Black History Month in the US, Amaarae was also endorsed by Spotify to curate its Black to the Future playlist. This year also saw Amaarae collaborate with African R&B royalty Tiwa Savage on ‘Tales By Moonlight’, as well as most recently with the Billboard (debuted at #80 on the chart) topping songstress Kali Uchis on a remix of SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY as well as April 2021 appearance on BlaqBonez’s Bling alongside Buju with exquisite verses. The quintessential Amaarae is surely carving her way as an African princess of pop
8. Nikita Kering
Award-winning at as early as age 19 is Kenyan native Nikita Kering. She is among the few Kenyan acts to cross borders this year; asides Mbuzi Gang and Sol Generation. Nikita rose to stardom after her song addressing violence in romantic relationships, ‘Tragedy’ hit the airwaves. The track was supported by Mr Eazi’s EmPawa project.
The Brookhouse International School Business and Technology in Music graduate started her music career in 2007 under the mentorship of gospel artist, Emmy Kosgei.
Her magnum opus ‘A Side Of Me” took the whole world by storm; thanks to her breakthrough single “Ex” which is also off that EP. The track has been listened to over 1.3Million times on Spotify alone in a space of months. By the impression created by this EP, the Universal Music signee’s future in the game is more than bright.
Nikita in 2018 won the Pulse Music Video Award for Best New Artiste, in 2019 she won the AFRIMA Award For Best Female Artiste In Eastern Africa. She Also Won The Revelation Of The African Continent and was Apple Music Africa Rising Cover star in September this year.
We can’t mention 2021 breakthrough acts and not mention An-known (born Ntege Dalton). The 23 year old has stood out as one of the most promising young RnB Ugandan vocalists, thanks to songs such as Radio Call.9 and Tonelabira that have been well-received.
While speaking with The Observer, he noted that Radio Call.9, was inspired by the lockdown which saw people having been distant leaving the phone as the only way to communicate & keep in touch. On the other hand, his debut release “Doctor” was born out of the staggering relationship with his then girlfriend. The crooner is heavily inspired by A Pass, Ykee Benda, Irene Ntale and Maurice Kirya; well as internationally, it is Eminem and Sia. It has surely been a good year for him, I must say.
After a string of strong mixtapes in the past, Emeka Akumefule busted out to own 2021 thanks to his monster Amaarae-Buju assisted record “Bling”; off his Sex Over Love album in April. The LP by the 100 Crowns/ Chocolate City signee presented a range of styles but the strongest songs find the rising artist delving into the airy rap sounds proliferating online.
“Fendi (Ft. Joeboy) was another standout from the project. Bonez’s another charming feat is his carefree-ness and sense of humor and creativity exhibited not just in his records but social media posts too. Do recall, he was formerly a comedian on Tiktok and now a rapper. HE defineelty made 2021 a better year for many.
5. Ayra Starr
Mavin Record’s princess has been the true definition of showing up and owning your act or going home. The 19-year-old was debuted onto the scene with a self-titled EP in January; later followed it up with “19 & Dangerous” in August. In a space of months, she’s been able to garner multiple millions of streams, secure brand endorsement deals, and most recently become the latest face of the Equal Africa Spotify playlist. Elsewhere, Ayra has graced the face of Apple Music as Africa Fast Rising cover star.
4. Joshua Baraka
This year has been a year of many firsts “ayiteryu”! Cross over cover artist and now Haven musical artist Joshua put himself onto the scene with a pack 4track EP; – Baby Steps which gave way to fan favorites “Tewekweka” and others.
He later followed it up with “Closer”. His first EP was so very received and collected over 30,000 streams on Spotify alone.
In case you’re an ardent tiktok user, or even if you are just regular music listener, the song Love nwantiti must crossed your eyes; especially the Joeboy, Kuami Eugene remix. The record and its follow-up remixes gave CKay such a phenomenal year. Did I mention, the track currently stands as the most-streamed song on Spotify & most viewed on YouTube by an African Artist, and also earned it a slot in the book of history as the first Solo track by an African to chat on Billboard Hot 100 back then in October.
Love Nwantiti is taken off the Warner Music Group S.A signee’s “Boyfriend EP”. With just two Extended Plays “Boyfriend” & “Ckay The First” to his name and a string of smooth collaborations, the Kaduna (Nigeria) born and raised star has taken the world by storm with his melodius hooks. Can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for him.
2. Liam Voice
RnB registered besides An-known another crooner; Liam Voice also known as The Voice Boy. Born Willy Zisabusolo & signed to Cloud Africa, Liam became a fan favorite, following the release of “Omwooyo” and this saw it later go on to win as the Caller Tune of the month for the month of September from MTN; only seconded by Pia Pounds’ Tuupate.
He has also has in a short time span won a couple of accolades to his name including “Outstanding RnB Artist Of The Year And Songwriter Of The Year” at the recently concluded Janzi Awards, and HiPipo Awards.
The name Buju should not be strange to your ears by now.
Having dropped his debut EP, Buju while in an interview on Apple Music revealed that after his record deal with Burna Boy’s Rockstar Entertainment was done, born Daniel Benson, Buju decided not to renew his contract and instead go independent. As of today, we can all agree he did just the right to test the waters with both legs.
Buju is what we would refer to as a Ty $ign but the African version, cuz every beat he appears on for a feature turns out to be a number. Right from Feeling where he joins Ladipoe, to Bling, Your Body, and of most recent the track that can’t seem to release everyone;- Cold Outisde. On each record, Buju has always let his uneven flow to the smooth beats shine. His solo effort “Outside’ also didn’t leave crowds the same.
With all eyes on this musical sensation and coupled with the epic collaborations, we can expect nothing but perfection from him, in the forthcoming years.
Other breakthrough acts have included Gyakie, Olivia Rodrigo, Ladipoe, Giveon, Ric Hassani, Ruger, Mbuzi Gang, Ali Gatie, Lyta, Goodgirl LA, Focalistic, Zuchu, etc. Be sure to catch the Top 20 tracks of the year for this site, and top 50 hit playlist of the year via Spotify soon.