Photo: Derek Wood
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye began his career in 2010, anonymously uploading a series of songs on Youtube, and since then has achieved a recognizable level of worldwide superstardom as The Weeknd. From collaborating and performing with living legends Daft Punk to recently being announced as one of the headlining acts of Coachella 2018, The Weeknd has firmly rooted himself amongst the highest levels of popular and respected music.
And what can be said to be responsible for The Weeknd's rise to a rarely seen level of infamy? Some would say it was the enigmatic nature in which he first introduced himself as an artist, or perhaps it was the way he brought a new electronic and emotive flair to R&B, or maybe it was simply his consistent ethos of sensual inventiveness that he brought to every track he laid his hands on. Whatever aspect of The Weeknd's talent pool it may have been, we present to you six acts that contain an essence of what made and makes The Weeknd such a worldwide sensation, six acts ready and poised to achieve a similar level of lasting stardom. These are six Ones To Know if you're a fan of The Weeknd.
One of the most interesting facets of The Weeknd's catalog is the way in which he builds his voice around foggy, forlorn echoes through inventive production techniques. If there was another artist who possessed a unique talent for building his voice around familiar yet eerie production styles, it would have to be A.CHAL. The project of Peruvian-born artist Alejandro Chal exists in the space between chillwave, pop, hip-hop, and R&B. Through utilizing recognizable aspects of these production techniques in unfamiliar ways coupled with a striking lyricism that embraces his Peruvian roots, A.CHAL creates numbers that place him at the cutting edge of genre-fusion. And people have not taken a blind eye to the rising talent. A.CHAL has been blowing up the airwaves of music's top purveyors, from a feature on Zane Lowe's Beats1 to support on Drake's OVO Sound Radio, as well as having his single "Vibe W/U" first being publicized by A$AP Rocky. If the industry's leading tastemakers and hip-hop game-changers are touting A.CHAL as a revolutionary new voice in hip-hop, who are we to disagree?
The Weeknd was very much a superstar after his sophomore album, Beauty Behind the Madness, but where does a well-defined superstar go from there? For The Weeknd, the answer was to link up with producing legends Daft Punk, and for rising star Jorja Smith, the answer was to link up with leading grime producer Preditah and rapper Drake. The 19-year-old English artist has been writing music since the age of 11, and it very much sounds like it. Transforming the economic and political issues surrounding her upbringing into beautiful, soulful R&B, Smith has rightfully earned comparisons to Amy Winehouse and Ms. Lauryn Hill. Continuing on in this fashion would have been more than enough to likely land Smith in the hallowed traditions of soul and R&B geniuses before her, but Smith is an artist who time and time again defies expectations. She earned two coveted features on Drake's More Life album, including a song named "Jorja Interlude." "On My Mind," the brainchild of Smith's collaboration with producer Preditah, brought forth a previously unseen Smith, one poised not to only make a lasting impression on soul and R&B but pop and dance music as well.
Atlanta has a historic tradition of delivering some of the best in the likes of hip-hop. Whether it be Outkast, Ludacris, or TLC, ATL has served as a breeding ground for the best of the best when it comes to hip-hop, and 6LACK is living proof that Atlanta still has plenty left to give. Ricardo Valentine, the visionary artist behind 6LACK, is an artist who shares the same sense of desire for creative freedom that The Weeknd originally sparked in the world with his series of anonymously released Youtube videos. Originally signed to an unfortunate record deal in 2011, it would be years until the world would get to hear the true, unrestrained 6LACK. In 6LACK's words, "They wanted me to just be a hit song and I wanted to show them I was more than that." And show the world he would. In 2016, 6LACK would release the delightfully low-tempo and alluring back-to-back hits "Ex Calling" and "PRBLMS" on his aptly titled debut album, FREE 6LACK, which would start him on his path as one of hip-hop's newest and most sought after voices.
The Weeknd and THEY. both champion new takes on the timeless genre of R&B. However, while The Weeknd has traditionally taken an electronic-infused, pop-minded approach to the genre, THEY. have taken an indie-rock, Kurt Cobain inspired sledgehammer to the game. An emblematic feature of a THEY. production is one bursting at the seams with high-octane levels of energy, such as on the guitar-laden "Motley Crew" or the bass-heavy collaboration with ZHU and Skrillex "Working For It." It's no surprise then that Dante Jones and Drew Love, the Los Angeles duo behind THEY., list R&B landmarks New Edition and Babyface right alongside rock trendsetters Taking Back Sunday and the aforementioned Kurt Cobain as a few of their inspirations. And while this fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and rock feels undeniably novel, THEY. are a duo consistently transforming the well-known into novel creations. A standout track, "Dante's Creek," reimagines the titular Dawson's Creek theme into a slow-burning indie rock, R&B number that hits all the right notes and cements THEY. as future trendsetters in the world of R&B.
The U.K.'s flair and passion for combining traditional pop music with irresistibly tantalizing dance floor-ready production have always been one of its cornerstones, and no rising star exemplifies this phenomenon more than Raye. The 18-year-old South Londoner, now signed to Polydor Records, first caught the public's eye with her self-funded Welcome To Winter EP, which racked up millions of plays upon its release. And while Raye surely succeeds at crafting replay-ready hits, her attention to detail expands beyond striking production and catchy hooks. Songs like "Sober" and the acoustic rendition of "The Line" showcase Raye's range and expertise as a singer and artist at the most fundamental of levels. So, with features and collaborations from the likes of fellow U.K. stars, Charli XCX and Stormzy, and Raye's outstanding sense of musical fluidity, it is only a matter of time until Raye is topping festival bills worldwide.
Chances are if you have been within the passing radius of a radio in the last year and a half, then you have heard The Weeknd's disco-funk hit "Can't Feel My Face." The radio hit very well may be a cleverly disguised nod to illicit drug use, and while pop stars are no strangers to portraying drug usage in their lyricism, very few do so as brazenly and introspectively as blackbear. Matthew Tyler Musto, the mastermind behind blackbear, originally found fame writing, collaborating and producing for some of the largest names in music, from Justin Bieber, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Childish Gambino, to even James Blake. Boasting one of the most robust resumes in the music industry, it was only a matter of time until Musto ventured off on his own to make a name for himself. blackbear's music is in and of itself is a libation that celebrates the late-night Hollywood parties it portrays, illuminated against a backdrop of drug-suppressed heartbreak. By not shying away from the often sung about yet often unseen realities of Hollywood's nightlife, blackbear's music resounds out as something undeniably honest and unforgettable. blackbear took that honest sound on the road last summer on his Digital DrugTour presented by Ones To Watch, and is sure to continue growing in the years to come.