Everything you need to know about 1Xtra's Hot For 2019
By Al Horner
2019 is shaping up to be another huge year for new music, with a whole host of upcoming artists breaking through, from the UK to the US, Jamaica and beyond.
Here are 15 acts that 1Xtra thinks will own things over the year ahead - and everything you need to know about them.
Alicai Harley's gleaming but beat-heavy, dancehall-infused pop owes much to her dual upbringing: she was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in London. 1Xtra's own MistaJam and Sian Anderson have been champions of her infectious early singles Naah Done and Killa, as well as breakout track Gold.
Her sleek and slinky recent song Proper Paper continues to show her huge promise. It’s easy to understand why: with choruses like this, 2019 could be Alicai’s for the taking.
Thing to know: Alicai's video for Gold include a lot of carats - including a gold rose, gold stilettos and even a golden pineapple.
Must-hear track: Proper Paper
The success of Ambush, despite his name, hasn't come completely by surprise. He's been putting in hard graft since 2012, when he guested on General Gheezy's I Need That, and the Camden MC has been honing his flows for the seven years since.
It’s work that’s paying off too, with his rapidfire rhymes earning him a Skepta and Chip co-sign in 2018, appearing on a remix of his street anthem Jumpy. You will be seeing a lot more of Ambush in 2019.
Thing to know: He’s a snappy dresser, turning up to one interview in a pair of birkenstocks.
Must-hear track: Jumpy
If Amber Mark’s inventive RnB is hard to pin down, it might be for a good reason. Over the past 24 years, so far she's lived in Miami, New York, Berlin and Darjeeling. Tracks like Lose My Cool and Can You Hear Me pack a little flavour from all these far-reaching places, giving her soulful sound a unique global edge.
Her music takes an autobiographical angle too, with the piano-driven Regret written as Amber processed losing her mother in 2013. Wherever she takes her stirring, stripped-back sound next, having further wowed on 2018’s Conexao EP, expect it to move you.
Thing to know: Part of Amber's youth was spent living in an Indian monastery.
Must-hear track: Put You On
"Whippin’ up the riddim with a bottle in my hand," spits Aitch on his 2018 single Trust Me, a lyric that sums up the entire M.O of this young Manchester MC. Scattergun rhymes, delivered over stark, icy beats, with a side serving of dark humour.
At just 18, he’s accomplished beyond his years on the mic, as his freestyle drops and bulldozer anthems like Straight Rhymez (on which he boasts about his lyrical superiority between references to taking dates to burger chain Five Guys) prove. Need a new no-nonsense UK rap hero in 2019? Look no further than Aitch.
Thing to know: Kanye protege and fashion man-of-the-moment Virgil Abloh has proclaimed Aitch to be "the future". Who are we to argue with that?
Must-hear track: Straight Rhymez
D Block Europe
South Londoners Young Adz and Dirtbike LB have the kind of chemistry you can't fake - forged in school and honed over years of friendship. D Block Europe is their collective's name, and they concentrate on ethos rather than one genre or sound. Favourite Girl throws in some video game-like sounds, while their Yxng Bane collab Cocktail veers into stripped-back Afrobeats.
They're inspired by legendary New York rap crew The Lox (AKA D-Block) and have even gained the attention of their heroes, with Young Adz touring with Jadakiss a few years back. Forget just this continent – the world awaits D Block Europe.
Thing to know: Young Adz started young, and was just 13 when he made his first mixtape, Da Prodify.
Must-hear track: Gucci Mane
There’s soulful, then there’s Daniel Caesar, the Canadian RnB star whose debut album Freudian was one of 2017’s most spellbinding releases. It put him on the brink of stardom, racking up over 250 million streams, critical acclaim (his UK tour was the 2018 highlight for 1Xtra's Jamz Supernova) and set him on a path to collab with artists like Chance The Rapper.
Caesar's voice both soothes and soars and, with a new album coming, 2019 seems primed for him to announce himself as a fully-fledged neo-soul superstar.
Thing to know: The hint of gospel on songs like Best Part might be because he learned to sing belting out hymns with his family at church.
Must-hear track: Neu Roses (Trangressor's Song)
South-East Londoner DigDat is a massive talent. He's helping to shape one of the most urgent sounding UK music movements in recent memory as it continues to blow up, and his witty wordplay is singling him out as one of drill's crossover stars-in-waiting.
He's already on his way too - the Krept & Konan-starring remix of his track Air Force broke into the UK Top 20 in 2018. Expect his 2019 to be on a whole new level.
Thing to know: The Lewisham rapper's freestyle for 1Xtra's Kenny Allstar, which saw him feature alongside Unknown T, has been viewed over 1.5 million times on YouTube.
Must-hear track: Sales and Joints
From Hackney, the singer and pianist (she began playing aged four) has a stripped-back style that lets her luscious vocals sit centre stage on soulful slices of heart-wrenching pop like You and Breathing. 2018 saw her drop her first EP, the sublime First Signs of Me. You're about to witness even more signs of Hamzaa's greatness in 2019.
Thing to know: Music isn’t the 20-year-old's only talent – she’s also gifted at theatre, and has performed in everything from productions of Macbeth to a musical based on the 2011 London riots.
Must-hear track: You
Just like the caffeinated beverage drink she’s named after, Koffee’s brand of dancehall-inspired rap-pop hits you with a jolt. The 18-year-old Jamaican is inspired by reggae icons Protoje and Super Cat and her sound has a sleeker, more electronic feel, pitting Anti-era Rihanna-ish melodies against a smoky dub backdrop, packed with echoing vocals and skittering beats.
She’s already toured with Chronixx and signed to Columbia so don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more from her in 2019.
Thing to know: Koffee is already brushing shoulders with music's A-list. Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire produced her stunning new single Toast.
Must-hear track: Ragamuffin
House, rap, drill, electronica: nothing’s out of bounds when Lille, France-born, London-based Angolan MC Octavian steps in the studio. His envelope-pushing genre-hopping sound earned him plenty of attention in 2018, not least from Drake, who began the year quoting a line from his jubilant single Party Here on Instagram in January.
Signed to the trusty Black Butter imprint (home to French Montana, J Hus and more), his Spaceman mixtape earmarked his reputation as a genre-mashing one-to-watch whose skills on the mic are met by a captivating eclecticism.
Thing to know: Octavian briefly studied at London’s famous Brit School – the music academy that launched the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adele - but dropped out. He recalls of his time there: "There were literally people doing backflips and singing harmonies in the corridors... it was not my type of thing."
Must-hear track: Lightning
Roddy Ricch is the latest addition to Compton's rich rap heritage. His London on da Track-produced Die Young came seemingly out of nowhere in July 2018, firing Ricch to viral glory thanks in no little part to the song’s relatable message and melodic might.
18 million video views, a Marshmello collab and a guest spot on Meek Mill's album later, all eyes are on the 20-year-old in 2019. Expect to hear a lot more of his flawless, slick flow over the next 12 months.
Thing to know: Ricch met fellow Compton native Kendrick when he was younger. "He’s not really the flashy type. You’d never know if he had a dollar or a million dollars," Roddy says of the local hero.
Must-hear track: Die Young
"Dancehall trap" is how Jamaican rising hero Rygin King describes his energetic sound: a fusion of flavours from the local music scene he grew up surrounded by.
The track Tuff finds the 23-year-old giving a slowed-tempo spin on the emotive chords reminiscent of Stefflon Don’s Hurtin’ Me, while 3ZN is a smoke cloud of synth and reggaeton grooves. Whatever you want to call it, it’s undeniably catchy.
Thing to know: Rygin wants to help expose overseas audience to Jamaican dancehall culture. "It means a lot to me that my dancehall trap music is relatable, and with the amount of Jamaicans living overseas it helps to spread it further, so big up to the diaspora," he says.
Must-hear track: How Mi Grow
There was nothing slow about Slowthai's ascent to fame in 2018. Dubbing himself the "Brexit Bandit", the Northampton upcomer's explosive opinions on the British political landscape are a staple of both his music and his interviews.
He's put his hometown on the UK rap map this year, blending working class fury, coruscating grime influence and a punk spirit on hard-hitting songs like North Nights and the punishing T N Biscuits. After racked up collaborations with Mount Kimbie, Mura Masa and punk duo Slaves, maybe there'll be some more surprising team-ups coming up in 2019.
Thing to know: One of Slowthai's earliest songs started as a bit of a laugh. "Jiggle was made as a joke," he explains. "But then I was on the road to glory."
Must-hear track: Ladies
Tiana Major9's musical touchstones are a true melting pot: jazz, hip hop, RnB, gospel, garage and more. It's neo-soul that dominates her sound though, and her music is powerful, passionate, full of live instrumentation and with soaring vocal harmonies.
Try the Fugees-esque Levee (Let It Break), with its orchestral strings and smooth piano, and try not to be bowled over.
Must-hear track: Mr Mysterious
Homerton star Unknown T has spearheaded the drill scene in 2018. His brusque raps over quaking sub-bass took the genre to new places, both sonically and in terms of mainstream visibility (his track Homerton B recently made the playlist on Radio 1).
He's promised more music in 2019, plus much soul-searching - aiming to "represent the pain" in his community through his music. The next 12 months promise big things and the enormous success of Homerton B may just be the beginning for Unknown T.
Thing to know: When Louis Theroux likes your stuff, you know you’re doing something right.
Must-hear track: Homerton B