Playlists have become like the summer festival circuit. Every playlist boasts the same handful of artists, just like every festival boasts a similarly unchanging lineup.
Many streaming platforms’ “new artists” playlists have become fairly ubiquitous, even though there really is no loss for new music. But that’s the point of Under 1,000 Followers: To bring you fresh music by rappers and singers who are flying under the radar but are worth checking out.
This time around, we’ve dug up four artists from four key North American cities that are brimming with talent: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. While these markets certainly aren't new to the scene, they're all churning out so much musical talent that it can be difficult to filter the good from the bad. But I do the work so you don’t have to.
Jay Wood (@jaywoodsole) — 148 Followers
Wood comes through heavily squaded up; the project features a handful of artists from his eight-person Windy City collective Freesole, including singer Oliv Blu, producer Moses Mode (f.k.a. Beatzbylee), and rapper Leo Mantra.
On Wood’s latest track, “Right Now,” he trades some of Self Doubt’s more tender melodies for harder-hitting production. Supported by fellow Chicago emcees Femdot and Chulo—the latter a Freesole comrade—the trio rides along a whirring, bass-heavy TEK.LUN beat, intent on aiming to impress. Wood appears boastful of his swag, while Chulo keenly dismantles his naysayers, and Fem lavishes in his knack for wordplay. Even though they’re living in the moment on “Right Now,” all three rappers confirm that their skills are anything but fleeting.
nöel (@n_el) — 352 Followers
Although New York crooner nöel has a propensity for sounding like The Weeknd—you can hear the influence in “prologue” from his 2017 project faith, as well as loosie “bentley dreams”—he’s more recently deviated from the alt-R&B lane, intuiting more pop and electronic aesthetics on his song “stay close.”
Spending the first minute of the song echoing the same sentiment, ”Stay close / stay close to me / dance slow / dance slow for me,” that repetition, coupled with nöel’s emotionally-charged falsetto, is immediately alluring.
The opening is his mantra, and the rest of the track is a reminder, exhibiting the push and pull between his idealistic and pragmatic sides: Despite hoping to keep the person whom he’s lusting after close, he knows that the relationship is over.
Hardaway Smith (@hardaway-smith) — 779 Followers
Hardaway Smith is proof the phrase “practice makes perfect” isn't a cliché. Over the course of his brief career, Smith has released over 50 tracks, including his 2017 tape Street Gentleman 2: Above The Madness, which finds the Los Angeles emcee coming into his own within darker beat selections and sobering raps.
Indeed, his recent cut “First 48” is squarely within those parameters. Over a hazy, intoxicating beat by producer T.Reg, Smith delivers a snappy set of three verses, centered on the gritty realities of his home, the subtlety of the beat’s maracas breaking up his rough narrative.
As Wood, Chulo and Femdot focus on the ephemeral in “Right Now,” Hardaway Smith does the opposite with “First 48.” As Smith flaunts his strengths—what you sometimes have to do when times are hard, just to keep yourself going—what he ultimately sees among those truths is that no one else sincerely has your back but yourself.
DESIIRE (@desiirenow) — 317 Followers
In the past, Toronto singer DESIIRE has preferred impassioned ballads, such as “Motions” or “Natural Feels,” but his latest cut, "No Feelings," is a taste of something different. Upbeat and bright, the song is damn near the millennial anthem: You’re seeing someone regularly and you don’t want to commit to them, but you want them to be happy too. Someone’s bound to catch feelings.
The song’s sonically playful tone doesn’t immediately set you up for DESIIRE’s cut-and-dry attitude. He begins the track with an unwavering mindset, the line ”Don’t get in your feelings” becoming a warning. Still, he reminisces on the fun they have together, and through feature rapper Jordan Jones’ verse, we see that he regrets his actions when he finally considers how the other person feels.
"No Feelings" displays the conflicting nature of modern relationships; we want to be unattached, yet still, somehow, remain connected to someone.