The 15 Best Breakout Acts of Summer 2015

By: Jon Tanners
Image via FilmMagic/Getty Images
FilmMagic/Getty Images
  TAGS:   Article, Exclusive

While 2015 has already seen its fair share of excellent, high-profile releases, it also furthers 2014’s open playing field—the sense that talented, unique up-and-comers are in as good of a position as ever to get noticed and make impacts both commercial and critical. The summer of 2015 seems primed for the sprouting of a few seeds planted in 2014 as well as the fast emergence of a few artists whose first steps quickly stirred conversation. Some of these artists are already climbing their way up festival bills, others are heading out on tour, and those not yet hitting stages are sure to expose live audiences to their music in short order. Here are 15 breakout acts you should keep an eye on this summer.

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D.R.A.M.

If you haven’t heard Virginia rapper/singer D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” yet, prepare for it to become ubiquitous in a way that will either have you dancing all summer or running away from every radio in sight. Immediately catchy and utterly gleeful, “Cha Cha” is the sort of song that creeps up on you. Even if you hate it at first listen, it burrows into your brain and pops up later. D.R.A.M.’s talent runs deeper than a single song, with recent releases like “Excessive” and “SuperLit” pointing to his range as a vocalist and a rapper.

Boogie

Though Compton rapper Boogie first popped up online last year with his solid debut project Thirst48, it wasn’t until recent single “Oh My” that his talents clicked into place with the perfect record to pry him out of the Internet echo chamber. “Oh My” pits Boogie’s infectious, melodic rapping and observational honesty against Jahlil Beats’ regal production. It’s a winning combination that should carry the California rapper well beyond the summer.

Years & Years

If Disclosure and Clean Bandit laid the foundation for pop and house to fuse and storm the charts, Years & Years seem intent to build a skyscraper atop it. With a soulful blend of lovelorn lyrics and danceable beats, standouts like “Take Shelter,” “King,” and “Desire” feel like future anthems designed to put the trio squarely on the Coachella stage as the sun sets over the desert.

Years & Years will be playing at a number of festivals this summer, including Splendour in the Grass (7/24-7/26), Melt! (7/17-7/19), Longitude (7/17-7/19), Latitude (7/16-7/19), and HARD Summer (8/1-8/2).

Phoebe Ryan

While the pop music landscape might still be dominated by titans maintaining their grip from the past decade, changing public tastes and perspectives within the industry itself have led to a shifting tide in Top 40. Enchanting L.A.-based singer Phoebe Ryan fits perfectly into the evolving pop paradigm, combining a touch of darkness, a bit of approachable sensuality, and a casual ferociousness with a sense of memorable melody and hook writing (listen to new single “Homie” for all of the above). Her on-stage charm at Bonnaroo in June hints that a longer festival run could be in order come next summer.

Cousin Stizz

If you’re looking for catchy street rap to fill your playlists this summer, the only mixtape you might need is Boston emcee Cousin Stizz’s Suffolk County. Between the Drake-approved “Shoutout,” the immediately memorable “No Bells,” and the attitude booster “Fresh Prince,” Stizz makes the sort of music that forces you to act like you have more money in your bank account than you do.

Pell

New Orleans’ Pell has been building a dedicated fanbase and honing his craft over the better part of the last three years. Last year’s Floating While Dreaming marked a benchmark for Pell in terms of both polish and content, an effort topped only by “Got It Like That,” his recent collaboration with G-Eazy that showcases progress in his rapping, singing, and technique. “Got It Like That” is an excellent indicator of Pell’s potential in motion, a small victory lap for an artist rapidly figuring it out as he goes.

Pell will be playing Leeds Festival (8/28-8/30) this summer.

ROMANS

Few artists can aim for the arena without succumbing to unforgivable cheesiness or, at very least, a bit of wider public pandering. Naughty Boy collaborator ROMANS showcase an ability for big screen pop without emotional dilution or sonic blandness on debut solo single “Uh Huh”—a crossroads of influences that recalls Prince and peak George Michael without falling so deeply into anyone else’s wheelhouse that it fails to be identifiable as ROMANS’ property.

Post Malone

In 2015, it’s easy to try and write rappers like Post Malone off. On the heels of “White Iverson,” you wouldn’t be blamed for doubting Malone’s talent and perspective. Subsequent releases “Tear$” and early, melancholic highlight “Too Young” expanded the emotional depth of Malone’s formula, widening the platform for a moment that caused a cross-section of doubters to question their hate: a video of a guitar-playing Malone turning in an excellent Bob Dylan cover and displaying his vocal and instrumental chops. This is an artist with far more than meets the eye.

Post Malone will playing Riot Fest (8/28-8/30) this summer.

Chaz French

Washington, D.C.’s Chaz French might be the East Coast’s one man answer to T.D.E., a ball of energy capable of wrapping street savvy, personal travails and party-ready raps in his high-octane rhymes. His casual gift for melody places him close to hip-hop’s current reigning crop, the crowning tool in an otherwise packed skill set that gives French the feeling of an artist capable of seizing the spotlight without too much warning. His debut project Happy Belated is an accomplished (if occasionally inconsistent) body of work, a snapshot of his talents that lays the groundwork of French’s story while leaving ample room for his audience to grow with him.

Chaz French will be playing Hopscotch Festival (9/10-9/12) this summer.

Nao

With a voice reminiscent of AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis and a sense of production that points to a tasteful love for the more vibrant side of ’90s R&B, London singer Nao has spent the first half of 2015 enchanting those paying attention with her sultry vocals. Songs like “Firefly,” her collaboration with emerging producer Mura Masa, highlight her alluring voice while pointing to her potential as a songwriter capable of captivity in the realm of danceable pop.

Nao will be playing a number of festivals this summer, including Dimensions (8/26-8/30) and Latitude (7/16-7/19).

POWERS

Some songs feel big. It’s a silly descriptor that avoids specificity in the place of gut impression, but one that occasionally nails a song’s winning quality in place of a more detailed attempt to capture what makes music special or memorable. L.A.-based duo POWERS’ “Beat of My Drum” banks on a retro-leaning groove and immediate chorus for something infectious, a light-hearted energy built on excellent production and abstract inspiration.

Gallant

Gallant’s 2014 output saw the L.A.-based singer exploring a murky, seductive take on R&B that often obscured his words in favor of texture. Recent singles and easy standouts “Open Up” and “Talking In Your Sleep” peel back the curtain, keeping sensuality intact while putting Gallant’s show-stopping falsetto in full focus.
Gallant will be playing at the Northern Nights Festival (7/17-7/19) this summer.

Sam Dew

If you’re familiar with Sam Dew’s name from his appearance on Wale’s 2013 album The Gifted, forget what you think you know about him—and don’t place him within the damning limitations of alternative R&B. Though his debut EP Damn Sue certainly digs into R&B both modern and old-fashioned (particularly on closing stunner “Victor,” a song that feels like it could have been written in 1964, but is just as affecting in 2015), Dew defies easy classification, a big voice with interesting ideas to share.

Sam Dew will be playing Afro Punk Festival (8/21-8/23) this summer.

Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara’s “Here” is an anthem for the edges—the narrative of the wallflower, the loner, the silent observer unenthused by the party set to music. It seems an unlikely rallying call for an R&B singer, but it’s one that makes great sense for a disenfranchised, suspicious generation. “Here” is summer’s most unusual unifier.

Bryson Tiller

While Ty Dolla $ign might still be the ruler of rap-infused R&B, the kingdom remains entirely up for grabs. Louisville, KY’s Bryson Tiller picks immaculate beats to match his effortless marriage of singing and rap cadences. Perhaps not as distinctive as Ty or as jagged and dark as PartyNextDoor, Tiller delivers a sensual brand of modern R&B that feels primed for crossover success.