Now Playing is a blog highlighting three different emerging or lesser known artists each week that have released exciting new music in 2020. Each week will follow a specific theme varying from genre specific themes to artist characteristics. With every artist, I include a short review of their latest release, similar artists (denoted with RIYL, recommended if you like), genres they may fall under and a couple of songs you should listen to!

In this episode of Now Playing we are showcasing BIPOC R&B artists. 

Dua Saleh

Location: Sudan

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 363K

Latest Release: “ROSETTA”, June 12

RIYL: Kari Faux, Tommy Genesis, Tora

Genre: Alternative R&B, Experimental, Rap

Dua Saleh is a Sudanese-American poet and musician known for their experimental take on R&B. They began writing and performing poetry at an early age, which gradually evolved into writing music as a way for them to produce a stronger emotional response when performing. Their most recent EP, “ROSETTA,” is a sharp, tumultuous rap and experimental R&B piece inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the often overlooked gospel artist and guitarist considered the Godmother of rock and roll. Produced by Psymun, “ROSETTA” features synths, distorted guitars, drums and additional hypnotic vocals with chillingly chaotic style. “ROSETTA” talks about Saleh’s experiences with queer culture while growing up Muslim. Saleh has such a unique sound that often sounds more like spoken word than rap as they tackle politically relevant topics such as police brutality in “body cast.” I recommend Saleh to anyone looking to stray away from the often misogynistic tone of modern rap music.

Best Songs: “body cast”, “umbrellar”, “mOth”

Serena Isioma

Location: Chicago, IL

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 201K

Latest Release: “King”, October 7

RIYL: Remi Wolf, Kali Uchis, UMI

Genre: Alternative R&B, Hip-Hop, Pop

Serena Isioma is a 19-year-old Nigerian-American musician based out of Chicago. Her debut EP, “Sensitive,” is groovy and playful with obvious R&B and pop influences with nuances of rock and funk. In the title track, she calls out men for being emotionally fragile with so much attitude and confidence that you can’t help but feel empowered while listening. “Sensitive” is the perfect introduction to the piece as the first half of the song is upbeat and bold whereas the second half slows down to show deep and pensive instrumentals, much like the EP itself. Last Friday, she released the single “King” which leads with a heavy bassline and edgy vocals whilst continuing that funky R&B seen in the debut, making it a perfect follow up. Overall, Serena Isioma is a lively and powerful artist, and she is my go-to when looking for a good song to boost my confidence.

Best Songs: “Sensitive”, “King”, “Do I Make You Nervous?”

Arlo Parks

Location: United Kingdom

Spotify Monthly Listeners: 2.1M

Latest Release: “Hurt”, August 18

RIYL: Biig Piig, Orion Sun, FKA Twigs

Genre: Bedroom Pop, Indie Rock, R&B

Similarly to Dua Saleh, Arlo Parks was originally a poet but later evolved into a musician. Her style is more indie pop inspired with subtle R&B influences. Her latest release, “Hurt,” is an uplifting indie rock track with smooth, rich vocals intended to help the listeners heal from emotional suffering. The main message of the song is that pain is temporary, shown best in the chorus, “I know you can’t let go of anything at the moment/Just know that it won’t hurt so much forever.” While “Hurt” is an uptempo song about strength, “Cola” is a more of a melodic breakup song with notes of R&B and jazz. She describes her writing as emotional and confessional, which is obvious in both “Cola” and “Hurt.” Parks has been recognized as a breakthrough act by BBC and I expect the same in the U.S. following the upcoming release of her debut album.

Best Songs: “Hurt”, “Cola”, “Eugene”

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