Sometimes, all your favorite music needs is a little color. At least that’s how the folks at Germany-based YouTube channel COLORS see it.
The idea around the rapidly growing channel seems simple enough: get an artist to perform a song of their choice in front of little more than a microphone and four solid-colored walls. That was all it took to give GoldLink’s loose single “Rough Soul” new life when I first stumbled across the video in November 2016. I was taken aback by how simple yet effective the setup was, like MTV’s Unplugged or NPR’s Tiny Desk, with the only remaining layers of separation between artist and listener being stripped away. Even Big Tigger was a conduit on Rap City.
The history of COLORS stretches as far back as February 2016, when a live session with artist Emilio Mercuri was uploaded to the channel. The first rapper featured, named Juju Rodgers, debuted on COLORS four days later. KidSoul, the first artist to crack a million views on the channel—rapper or otherwise—debuted just under a month later. Driven by a sense of discovery instead of merely chasing trends, the channel began to grow and attract artists from across the musical spectrum to the point that performances by Jay Rock and Tom Misch, Cleo Sol and JPEGMAFIA, and H.E.R. and Gunna can all stand side-by-side.
COLORS truly is, as Yoh put it during his conversation with DJBooth managing editor Donna-Claire Chesman, “what I wish RapCaviar on Spotify was.” Their website doesn’t say “All COLORS, no genres” for nothing.
In celebration of the channel’s rapidly approaching third birthday, we’ve compiled a list of artists who we'd love to see grace the COLORS booth, in no particular order. Feel free to yell at us when you’re done reading.
Toro y Moi
Song: “New House”
Toro y Moi works with sounds that are both playful and unnerving, sometimes all at once. His latest album, Outer Peace, is no exception: 10 tracks that form a rope out of the melancholy and the humorous in an attempt to pull the artist known as Chaz Bear out of his own head. Standout track “New House” twinkles with electric pulses and heavy keys, adding a bounce to a chorus that could double as a housing loan application for anyone under the age of 26: “I want a brand new house / Something I cannot buy / Something I can’t afford.”
There’s something entrancing about the song’s arrangement and Bear’s Auto-Tuned vocals floating over the verses that demands a recreation on the COLORS stage. Over a fuschia backdrop reminiscent of the Outer Peace album cover, the analog cold and digital warmth of the song would make an isolated place feel less lonely; after a long shower, of course.
Song: "Chewing Gum"
Color: Royal Purple
Dev Hynes is a generational talent in front of the mic and behind the boards. Last year’s Negro Swan was a bold personal statement in a career full of them; any of that album’s songs would look and sound amazing in a COLORS video. But it’s “Chewing Gum,” with its steady thump and mix of samples, that would make the most impactful mark. Especially for a show based around atmosphere and mood above all, Hynes’ soft vocals and heavy instrumentation would speak volumes against a stark royal purple backdrop.
Color: Smoldering Red
I never realized just how much Compton MC Boogie favored beats made with live instruments until I revisited his 2016 mixtape Thirst 48 pt. 2. He carries that love over to the extreme on his newly-released proper debut, Everythings For Sale, with beats that rise and fall on somber guitar strings and piano keys. “Skydive” is the synthesis of Boogie’s musical preferences and his abilities as a singer and a rapper, further emboldened by his story of attempting to keep a relationship together, no matter the hardship (“May this storm pass us never / And we redefine gravity and let this fall last forever”).
The song is passion incarnate, powered by silky guitar runs and booming drums. Any song that creates steam in your headphones can only be performed in front of a smoldering red backdrop.
Megan Thee Stallion
Song: "Cognac Queen"
Megan Thee Stallion doesn’t care what you have to offer; she’s here to take what’s hers. The so-called H-Town Hottie has been building a steady buzz in Texas over the past few years, culminating in the release of her 2018 mixtape Tina Snow, a bold and brash project that would even make her idol Pimp C blush. Press play on any one of the live videos of fans rapping her hit “Big Ol’ Freak” and you’ll see what I mean.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for Megan to bring the same intensity and sharp wordplay that artists like Rico Nasty and JPEGMAFIA brought to their COLORS performances. Even a song as luscious as “Cognac Queen” is willing to get down and dirty with it: “Fresh off the plane I’m imported / I’m fucking a baller, we courted / Making it clap, he record it / He keep on making them noises.” This is classic rap balling over midnight hour R&B, and a turquoise backdrop—partly inspired by this photo shoot—would give it the pop it deserves.
Song: "a lot"
i am > i was is undoubtedly a mark of growth for 21 Savage. It’s almost as if the people praising the lyrics on a song like “a lot” couldn’t be bothered to listen to 21 talk about much of the same stuff on a song like “Nothin’ New” because it wasn’t over a soul sample or featuring J. Cole. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Posturing aside, “a lot” truly is an excellent addition to Savage’s catalog—one that the COLORS signal could really boost. 21 standing in front of the mic and a light grey backdrop reflecting on his life would only amplify the feelings made public from the song’s official music video from last week. Free our brother from his ICE imprisonment and get him in the booth.
Thundercat has etched out a space for himself as a golden god in the world of bassists over the course of the last decade. His sprawling 2016 album Drunk, in particular, is packed to the brim with grooves as deep as his anxieties and his fascination with cats. Why it’s taken this long for Thundercat and his brightly colored bass to grace the COLORS stage is surprising to me.
Plenty of artists before him have brought a playful goofiness to their episodes that made songs even more exciting, and I can’t think of a better song in Thundercat’s catalog to test out this theory than “Tokyo.” Trips to Japanese DVD stores and the life-size Gundam statue over his groovy bass would be an experience that even the super serious Goku couldn’t turn down. Unless he actually decides to wear his Goku snap bracelet.
Song: "Look What U Started"
Hive Mind saw the individual parts of The Internet come together to form a whole more beautiful and lovelorn than the sum of its parts. No matter the tone or timber of any of the group’s songs, there’s always an undeniable sense of fun emanating from their live band setup that COLORS would only amplify. Seeing a stark kiss-off like “Look What U Started” build from Patrick Smith’s bass and Christopher A. Smith’s drums to Steve Lacey’s guitar and Syd’s vocals would be overwhelming in the best possible way. Against a rich plum backdrop, it would be a recipe for internet gold.
Song: "Would You?"
Whether penned for others or for himself, Pink Sweat$' musical fingerprints have a personal aura that can’t be denied. The sweet strums of “Would You,” from his debut EP Volume 1, found their way into my headphones earlier this year, and you can cut the lovesick soul with a knife: “I don’t need love from no one if I can’t have it all,” he declares on the song before he belts the song’s chorus.
The stripped back production and powerful leading vocals are practically tailor-made for a space like COLORS, especially after Daniel Caesar’s rendition of “Best Part” went viral last year. Where Pink Sweat$ goes, adoration for craft is sure to follow.
Color: Navy Blue
Thebe Kgositsile—the performer known as Earl Sweatshirt—wants to be his own man. His mercurial 2018 project Some Rap Songs was a deeply personal effort that played on the borders of guilt, pity, and self-acceptance through divisive lo-fi beats that made one hell of s short film soundtrack. That description doesn’t exactly smack of COLORS material on the surface, but an album this bare deserves the shine regardless.
Thebe performing the swanky “Ontheway!” in front of a cool navy blue backdrop is a recipe for intimate success. It might go down as the shortest COLORS performance in history (the song is barely over a minute long), but the fruits of that labor would be too sweet to ignore. Bonus points if he can get backing from Standing On The Corner for a quick shot of improv jazz.
Song: "Montego Bae"
Color: Sand Yellow
Noname is one of the best rappers on the planet at the moment, a true mystic with the words. It was refreshing to hear her be playful with those words on a song like “Montego Bae” from 2018’s Room 25. The song is a brief fantasy of tropical love sandwiched in the middle of an album of declarations of autonomy and digs at Morgan Freeman. Phoelix’s production matches this vibe with a breezy beat that would sound right at home anywhere with sand between toes.
The spontaneous love and fun embedded within the record has COLORS written all over it. Imagine Noname sashaying back and forth in front of a sand yellow backdrop, Phoelix and band in tow, as she sings and raps about her man-eating spicy curry and having all kinds of fun in some new Adidas. A COLORS performance in front of a mic wouldn’t do anything to ruin this perfect atmosphere for two.