Fresh Meat: Best New Artists (July, 2021)
Featuring M'ax, Azawi, Nikita Kering and more.
Featuring M'ax, Azawi, Nikita Kering and more.
Now, more than ever since March 2020 when our entire world was turned upside down, things are starting to feel ‘normal’ again. All around the world, people are reconnecting with shared experiences that were out of reach in the past year and once again, we’re able to experience music outside, whether it’s at live shows or festivals, or on the dancefloor at parties. Amidst this readjustment, music on the continent has found it’s way beyond the shores and across the world, bringing all of this goodwill back home to the roots, where the music was made and inspired by.
At the NATIVE, we remain committed to our mission to stay on pulse with new talent across the continent and the diaspora. Whether it’s breaking in new acts such as Omah Lay and Gyakie, two Fresh Meat alum who have cruised to undeniable victory in the past year, or discovering the hard-hitting bars of lesser-known female emcees around the continent, we constantly source for the best talent the continent has to offer. In today’s world where everything requires instant attention, reaction and satisfaction, it’s easy for us as consumers to get lost in the fray, and miss out on some things that we would ordinarily like, and that’s what Fresh Meat represents: taster course for the diverse skill harnessed by Africans from Pretoria, South Africa to Toronto, Canada.
On our 17th instalment of Fresh Meat, the entire team has had their ears to ground, listening out for music from all corners of the continent. Given the sheer amount of material there is out there, it’s always the best part of our editorial month when we gather to find Fresh Meat. Arguments and agendas across the team make selection of our top artists even more difficult, however, you can rest assured that with this list, we have representedf the multifaceted and multilayered soundscape over on this side. Featuring a talented spate of rising stars from South Africa’s Bonj to Nigeria’s Mizzle, here are 8 artists you should be paying attention to right now.
Normally, we wait until an artist has more than a handful of singles in their discography before we induce them into the Fresh Meat hall of fame. But when we caught a whiff of Toronto-based rapper kZm, we knew the potential was clear and it was worth putting him on your radar. While pursuing a Business and Communication degree in Toronto, the 20-year old newcomer has also been generating buzz in his own corner of the Internet.
kZm began making music when he was 7 years old. He was a musical child right from early and so, his Nigerian parents would encourage and endorse his musical skills by paying for piano classes for him and his brother. By the time, kZm got to high school, he was already spitting harder than many of his mates, filling up the time before classes with freestyle battles and hard-hitting rhymes in the playground. “I found it easy to put words together and guys would hype me up,” he tells the NATIVE. “The desire to make music just grew over time and then when I moved to Toronto, I knew it was time.” Born Ayomide Kazeem, the Nigerian-born rapper began taking his music career seriously when he saw the reaction to his one-off freestyle. While he’s certainly serious about his music career these days, kZm is also deeply inspired by the hard work and foundation laid down by his African parents. “My dad has gone through a lot to get me to where I am so I honour him by taking up our last name,” kZm tells the NATIVE about his abbreviated moniker. Wearing his family name as a badge of honour, kZm forged an identity rooted in his Nigerian heritage and one which set him in place to build a legacy on his own terms.
A year ago, kZm barely had one single to his name across streaming platforms. In November, he released his first offering, a catchy freestyle titled “Realize”. It was a succinct but potent introduction to his rapid-fire rapping skills, but the accompanying Youtube visualiser garnered a mere 196 views at the time of its release. Views are currency in today’s and low counts could be discouraging to any newcomer but kZm only used it as ammunition to come back ten times harder. His latest freestyle “Balance” which was released two months ago is already reaping the fruits of all that diligent hard work. Since its release, the rapper has now garnered over 12K views on Youtube and a recorded 34K streams on Spotify. Clearly, he’s hit the sweet spot and listeners around the country and the diaspora are catching to his skills. On “Balance”, he talks about his larger-than-life dreams as a boy from Nigeria: “God and endurance you know that I come from a sunken place/Boy I got to do shit by myself cause I wanna run up the bills” he sings-raps. While he’s clearly offsetting deep emotions about his time on the come up, kZm is also lacing potent stories about his love for women and the finer things in life. It’s clear that he’s got a whole lot to say but he’s not going about it in the same way as many of his peers.
kZm would describe his music as Hip-Hop/Rap with a dash of Trap sensibilities but ultimately, he’s not looking to be boxed into any stringent categories. He’s dedicated himself to making music work out for him on his own terms and that’s why he’s hopeful for the future. “I still think that my sound could become something different. That’s why I don’t want to say I make only a certain type of music,” he tells the NATIVE. “I love singing and I love rapping as well so I am trying as much as possible to be versatile. I don’t want to be stuck into one particular style.” These days, the borders and boundaries of traditional genres are being pulled and stretched apart by the new vanguard of Afropop hitmakers from around the globe, and in this new cultural zeitgeist, kZm’s music fits like a missing puzzle piece. With the summer almost over, kZm has his mindset on his biggest mission yet: the release of his debut EP. Till then, he’s out in the 6 making timeless music and recording out-of-this-world music videos. Watch this space.
Record producer, singer, and songwriter, Mizzle has proven versatility and range since he started his musical journey. With an undeniably unique sound, he continues to make leaps in the industry with artistry that continues to speak for him. Born and raised in Lagos Nigeria, Mizzle gained traction earlier this year when he was discovered for his entertaining TikTok videos. On this direct-to-consumer platform, the singer would imitate artists on beats that he would produce himself, the whole country would fall about laughing at his near-accurate depictions of Afropop stars. The uniqueness of these videos successfully gave him an edge over other artists in today’s oversaturated market. Artists worth their salt these days always have a unique quality that distinguishes them from the talented crop of artists in existence today and it’s clear that Mizzle is forging his own way through harnessing his range of skills from producing to singing, directing and more.
The record producer and artist began making music over 7 years ago, but he didn’t quite get his big break until he met Sarz in 2018. He worked as Sarz’s direct assistant for a while and learnt a lot of the ropes of the music industry. In 2017, he put out his debut body of work ‘Creed’, a 6-track EP that has the artist speaking on love, affection, and romance. After this, he continued to release a steady trickle of releases including “Signs”, “Connected” and “Hands For You”. This year, he’s expanded the world around his artistry with the release of his self-produced debut album ‘In The Dark’. The 7-track release finds the singer once again ruminating on matters of love, sex, affection, intimacy and more. The enjoyable 20-minute listen has guest verses from some of Afro-pop’s biggest names; Wande Coal, Oxlade, Niniola and Sarz, and more. For his debut project, this is light years ahead of any of his peers but it’s clear that Mizzle has worked hard to get to this moment in his career. One where he’s rubbing shoulders with big-ticket names while still showing us what makes Mizzle a name to remember.
There are many standouts on the project including the Oxlade-assisted “Smile For You” which was the lead single off the tape. Here, both artists declare their love for the women in their lives they are unable to leave alone. Over the groovy piano-led beat, Oxlade sings “I go dey smile for you/Whenever you need me, I’ll be there for you” over the song’s hook, as he convinces his lover of his affections. This theme carries through on other tracks including the project’s opener “Mizzle Love” where the artist and producer remind the ladies about the love they’re missing out from him. “This my love is magical/This my love is spiritual” he sings passionately on the warm acoustic track. Mizzle certainly has all the right ingredients to make the ladies swoon with pleasure. The Wande Coal-assisted track “Angelica”, has both artists serenading a beautiful woman as they mix vocals so melodiously and complement each other so perfectly with chemistry so divine. With a voice of gold combined with such melodious production and a 10/10 pen game, Mizzle is undoubtedly one to keep an eye out for. If you’re looking for a new musical experience, look no further.
Nikita Kering’ is a star. Usually, that’s not a definitive qualification we ascribe to artists featured on Fresh Meat, but in the Kenyan singer’s case, it’s signed, sealed and delivered. At the 2019 All Africa Music Awards, Nikita performed “Tragedy,” her entry on the emPawa100 initiative meant to spotlight fast-rising artists. Her performance was rapturously received and, on the same night, she went on to win awards for Revelation of the African continent and best female artist East Africa..
If you search Nikita Kering on YouTube and scroll for a while, you’ll come across a video by a local news channel spotlighting a then 9-year old Nikita. In the video, she shows off her prodigious voice, and during the interview, she makes a statement that was quite self-assured and prescient: “Nothing will stop me from doing music.” Having already discovered her talent for singing about six years prior, and with a certainty about her future, she spent the next couple of years honing her skill-set, debuting professionally at 16-years old. “Happy with You,” her debut single is a blue-eyed ballad describing the feeling of being loved right, the sort of universal theme a young artist would use as a vehicle to make their mark on new listeners.
As established by her debut single, Nikita’s music mainly deals with romance, but it’s not only the rosy parts as evidenced by “Tragedy.” She’s stated that her music is mostly inspired by those around her and their experiences with romantic situations, and it’s to her credit that she embodies these emotions well enough for many people to resonate with her music. Released earlier this year, “Ex” is a stern statement at a love interest still teetering on the edge of certainty, a demand for reciprocity with one party’s cards on the table. It’s her biggest song yet, with the accompanying video being her first to cross over a million YouTube views.
In a minor but important snag, though, “Ex” seemingly borrows liberally from a song of the same title by American R&B singer Kiana Lede. Obviously, no piece of music is entirely original, but it’s symbolic of how closely the Kenyan singer veers closely to her seeming influences. On A Side of Me, her recent debut EP and a compilation of her singles over the last year, you can feel the spirit of singers like Adele, Emeli Sande and H.E.R on different songs. Nonetheless, the EP is impressive for its emotive writing as well as the sheer brilliance and affecting power in her voice. Nikita has admitted that she’s still finding herself as an artist, and her development will only make her an even more enthralling artist, which is exciting because she’s already an ascendant superstar.
Earlier this year, Azawi dropped a prophetic piece titled “My Year”. A spritely Afropop jam, the Ugandan singer claims this year as her own, telling her listeners that they got this year on lock too. Releasing her breakout track and official debut single, “Quinamino” just one year prior, in January last year, Azawi’s inauguration as a recording artist is a story of fate. Writing “Quinamino” in just 40 minutes, Azawi intended to sell what then became the lead single to her debut EP to a Ugandan record label, Swangz Avenue. Once the execs heard her perform it, however, they didn’t want the song. They wanted her.
When you listen to her feel-good debut EP, ‘Lo-Fit‘, the decision to sign the well-versed Ugandan songwriter and turn her into the country’s newest sensation is an obvious one. Writing songs as a hobby before realising she could make money from it, Azawi’s voice is compelling, powerful where it needs to be on up-tempo Dance hooks, such as the “Lo-Fit” hook, and soft over love-tinged verses, for example on “Repeat It”. Having written for artists including Eddie Kenzo, Nina Rose, and Vinka, Azawi first started, Azawi’s lyricism is an obvious pull in her music. It’s quite the surprise that before Swangz Avenue, she hadn’t considered a career as a recording artist. A member of a band, which she still carries along with her in music videos and on songs, Azawi spent her university years moonlighting as a waitress too, working hard in all fields, which has given her an invaluable ethic that undoubtedly elevates her craft. Since her 2020 debut, Azawi has already pushed out four music videos, dished out live performances, earned award nominations, offered up her vocals for guest appearances and her style choices for fashion brand influencing.
Describing herself as a fusion artist who refuses to be boxed or labelled in any aspect of her life, Azawi is crossing borders with her accessible, yet locally-ingrained Afropop sound. Ensuring that her prophesy comes to pass, Azawi is making this year her year.
Where most kids she grew up aspiring to traditional careers like medicine or law or engineering, M’ax was pretty sure she “wanted to be Hannah Montana” from a very young age. From working at radio to vlogging over the last few years, she took a few steps towards her ultimate aim of being an entertainer, letting the public in on her singing talent only sparingly until the last year-plus. She’d been singing for as long as she can remember and you’d find a handful of song covers if you scroll long enough into her YouTube page, but it took a personally devastating event to fully nudge her down her current artistic path.
“After my first major heartbreak where I thought I was gonna die, that’s kinda when I really got into making music and taking it seriously,” she tells The NATIVE via voice note, with a slightly animated emphasis on “die.” As tragic as they are, there’s a playful but profound quip that heartbreaks can be character-building episodes when properly channeled. It’s a silver lining belief that has produced a lot of great music and catalysed the careers of several artists, a foundation on which M’ax has seemingly laid the early blocks of her musical career.
Shortly after her manifesto-like debut single, “For You,” the South African singer dropped her first project, Based on a True Story, a succinct and immersive representation of the events of that major heartbreak. Relying heavily on emotive expression, she traces the romantic situation from its honeymoon beginnings to its doleful end, curating a linear sequence of events without underplaying the emotional complexities. Where upbeat soul-sampling intro “More Than a Crush” embodies the period of wobbly knees and vulnerable bliss, the project goes on to denote how things got progressively miserable, like on the acoustic “I’m Sorry” where M’ax apologises, negotiates and aims to pacify, and the wonderful penultimate track, “Small Talk,” is a requiem for when intimacy finally devolves into unfamiliarity. Her breathy voice trembles and wobbles ever so slightly, giving the project—and her music, generally—its gently off-kilter, lived-in appeal.
“When I make music, I’m not trying to make a song, I’m trying to make an emotion,” she says in the endearing mini-doc released shortly before the project. It’s a guiding principle she confirmed in one of her voice notes, prioritising personal honesty as the essence of her music. The statement also works in tandem for her musical choices, presenting her expressions with the apt sonic accompaniment. Where her debut project leaned into varying shades of contemporary R&B and bedroom Pop, M’ax took on groovier sounds on her follow-up EP, November’s Sizzle, including Deep House, mid-tempo Afropop and Amapiano. It’s fitting for a conceptual project that charts a night filled with lust and frivolous fun, even though there’s emotional turmoil bubbling underneath.
Earlier this month, a year after her debut project, M’ax returned with “Changing,” a single pack of a song containing the OG R&B version, a gorgeous acoustic rendition, and an Electronic remix. Framed romantically, it’s a graceful kiss-off to the past and an embrace of what the future has to offer. The song falls within the broader theme of her catalogue: love can be exhilarating and it can also be deflating, but our personal emotions are always valid as we grow forward. It’s a deeply resonant central theme, one that will leave a stronger impression as M’ax keeps bettering her craft and her listener base increases.
Msimisi is a South African singer and songwriter born and raised in the kingdom of Eswatini but his love for music has afforded him the freedom to broaden his sonic horizons. After one listen of his growing discography, the first thing you’ll notice is his deep raspy voice, which he sings with fantastic pitch control. While he began his foray into music almost a decade ago, he’s actually been interested in music since he was a young boy and singing in his church’s choir. Artists such as Cassper Nyovest, Black Coffee, 6lack, Khalid, and more inspire the music with her, and in addition, people like Chimamanda Ngozi, Kevin Hart, and Gordon Ramsay also inspire him with the way they changed the world with a revolutionised art or skill.
Msimisi began making music in 2011 when he had the opportunity to work with artists such as Soul Candi and Dj Qness on a song titled “Everything”. The catchy number went on to garner success from around his home country as it got major rotations and plays on the radio and tv stations at the time of its release. He then went on a hiatus from music for a couple of years to focus on his education and successfully obtained a degree in Industrial Engineering. A few years later, Msimisi made his return to music and since then, the sky has been the limit. He’s since gone on to produce alongside several well-known South African rappers such as Nasty C and Tellaman as well as working on a project called “Lift as you rise” with Redbull SA. His biggest hit to date is “Zumbu” featuring Sands, an earworm track that finds the rapper treading outside his comfort zone and exploring an unfamiliar sound accentuated with a rich array of melodies. This year, Msimisi has been busy expanding the world around his music. Earlier, he released his EP titled ‘Obsessions’, a 7-track R&B offering that touched on topics such as love and longing. The Hanna-assisted “Get Right” was one of the project’s highlights showing off the singer’s sweet-sounding voice and his matured pen game.
When asked what message his music conveys, he doesn’t hesitate to take a concrete standpoint as to how down-to-earth he is with his sound. “I push to convey authenticity and vulnerability through my music, as there are so many fakes out there. Honesty is key when telling my story. As the world evolves, so does my sound and music”. Tap on now before it’s too late.
For some, the lockdowns of the past year were a blessing in disguise. While it was a tough time for many of us, it also seemed to have produced some of the finest musical talents from all over the continent and the world at large. At the start of 2020, Nigerian-born US-based multi-genre artist, Moyoswrld barely had a single to her name, but before the year ran out, she’d gone on to release over three singles. She first debuted on the scene with a studio freestyle title “BOOM”, a bouncy track that gained traction on both TikTok and Instagram at the time of its release. The song ended up garnering over 300,000 streams across all platforms, a move that definitely showed her penchant for commanding attention with ease. As a Gen Z artist operating in today’s industry, Moyoswurld has stayed ahead by sticking to her own distinct style of music which allows her to fire off lines that fit perfectly within the experiences of young African Gen Z’s today.
While she allows herself a lot of creative licenses to spit off these rapid-fire verses, she never strays too far from the places and experiences that define the young adult life that many of us are now making sense of. The 21-year old rapper and singer has an unquestionable voice that draws listeners in with each world she enunciates. Drawing from elements of different genres such as Alternative, Hip-Hop, R&B, Afrobeat, and more to create a style that is entirely idiosyncratic, Moyoswurld’s music constantly meets the demand for something new, fresh and with the times. Her second official single “It’s Alright” is a more mid-tempo offering where Moyoswurld momentarily drops the melodic rap to show off her impressive singing skills. Over the breezy guitar and delectable drums, she sings ‘I’m not trying to settle down/You’re not trying to hear me out/Why you tryna stress me out?’ speaking directly to a muse who she’s currently having communication issues with. The message on “It’s Alright” is fairly still the same as her first single, but this time around, Moyoswrld melds her voice, adapting to a lighter flow that would help her convey the song’s weighty message. It’s always endearing when an artist–particularly a newcomer–is able to straddle different genres and soundscapes with ease. Despite her ability to wear many faces, Moyoswrld makes music that is beautiful and emotionally layered.
Since then, the singer and rapper has continued to show her enviable flow in a string of subsequent releases including “Kit Kat” which was officially released in October last year. Here, she returns back to the off-the-cuff rapping skills that first endeared her to listeners. “She got two twins, so I told her make it clap/Tryna get a piece of that kitty kitty kat” she quips over the song’s bouncy production as she lays down her sensual desires for a muse. With each new release, it’s like Moyoswurld reinvents herself, morphing with whichever beat she has in front of her and making melodies that are front and centre on everything she does. Her inspiringly firm sense of self ensures that she’s inserting more of that Moyoswurld charm into each of her releases so that listeners are receiving something otherworldly each time she steps to the mic. Earlier in the month, the Alternative hip-hop artist released her single, “Supersonic”, a fast-tempo tune on which the artist hypes herself up without holding back. Alongside her music, she’s also founded a collective called the Butterfly Brigade, a group of African Creatives as well as a fashion brand aiming to bridge the gap between music, fashion and progressiveness. With all these, Moyoswrld continues to prove why she deserves your time (and your ears).
At present, South Africa is home to one of the most globally resonant music genres, Amapiano, however, regardless of Amapiano’s vaunt to popularity, a number of other genres still continue to produce artists of the highest standards in the country. Rising singer, Bonj, is among a crop of musicians making alt-pop music that is a melding of all the popular sounds brewing in South Africa without bowing to strict genre constrictors. Whether softly floating over tempered house instrumentals or helming anthemic offerings, there is an unshakeable feeling of grooviness that underpins all that the Soweto-born singer does musically.
Her first steps as a musician were taken when she moved to Cape Town to study jazz at the University of Cape Town where she was the lead singer of a band called TheCITY. After moving back to Johannesburg in 2017, she began a solo career, releasing “Til The Tide” in 2018 to critical acclaim. The intervening years have been spent soaking up life experiences and perfecting her craft while working on her debut solo material resulting in her in ‘A Journal’, the seven-track extended play that she describes as “an audio diary of experiences I had, people I’d met, things I’d done, places I’d been to.”
The music lives up to its thematic premise, 2t56with snapshots of stories from her years leading up to the project but beckons for a better world. On the project opener, “Ain’t It True”, Bonj chooses to believe in the best of humanity, sing-asking: “what will it take for you to realise that we’re all the same?” Her agile voice carries the intent of her message powerfully on the DJ Zinhle-featuring “Against The Grain” where she sings about being a companion for her loved ones even through the toughest time, buoyed by a funky four-on-the-floor pattern, the opening stretch of “Against The Grain” heaves into a sunlit declaration of her affection. Near the end of A Journal, Bonj slips into the sort of brooding, experimental pop music that has risen in popularity over the last five years and she maintains the balance with assiduous songwriting on tracks like “Hangover” and “Shivers,” proving that she is attuned to diverse vibrations of music.
Featured image credits/NATIVE
Written by Ada Nwakor, Adewojumi Aderemi, Dennis Ade-Peter, Tami Makinde, Wale Oloworekende and Wonu Osikoya