Welcome to The Shortlist, where we introduce you to new artists we think you need to know.
For Taiwanese experimental electronic producer Sabiwa, making music is a form of reincarnation. About 10 years ago, she almost died after being bitten by a bug and spent several years recovering: “I was forced to rest for a couple of years, but I also had time to explore and rethink about myself, my body, and my relationship to the world,” says the Berlin-based artist. Her previous albums trace this journey, and her new record Island no.16 – Memories of Future Landscapes, is its culmination: “It’s like a series, starting from me almost losing my human form, to reincarnation and then accepting the loss and feeling free to enjoy the transformation” says Sabiwa. On Island no.16 she harmonizes the folk music of the country’s various ethnic groups with her own distorted voice, deep drones, choppy rhythms, and natural sounds. The collision of ancient and modern dissolves the concept of time as we know it: “In Buddhism, time is not a line but a circle. there is no beginning and there is no end.”
-Megan Iacobini de Fazio
Cydnee with a C
On Confessions of A Fan Girl , Cyness With A C builds a dreamworld from synthpop beats and shoulder-bouncing bass, hypnotically mixing her R&B roots with a long-running K-pop obsession. “I’m excited, because it’s nothing like I’ve ever heard from myself,” she says. “It’s a new journey. You know how people are like, ‘You can press play on it and then boom?’ It’s one of those.” The EP’s K-Pop-inspired melodies mark a clear departure from her first EP, 2017’s Gluten Free. Her old production team wanted her, “to sing about BBLs and my pussy being wet,” she says. “I was always uncomfortable doing that.” This time out, Confessions producer Jackson Renaud introduced her to drum & bass, and she introduced him to K-Pop, and together, they soared. “Letting my obsessions take hold of me was a big inspiration for this EP,” she says. Most of the songs on Confessions are freestyles. “It all comes from definitely somewhere in here,” she says, pointing to her chest. “Everything comes from me for me. If I don’t like it, I can’t listen to it.” It’s a six-song arc that never slows down, with Cydnee exploring love, loss, jealousy, and vulnerability. “Each of the records is kind of about fighting not to be alone,” she says. “But the whole album itself, even at the end, is about how you’re never really alone—whether you’re in love, have friendships, or you’re looking for somebody to talk about your trauma with.”
London-based vocalist and producer Kay Young captures a different vibe on every track of her new EP, We Meet at Last. One moment, she’s a spirited diva burning down the stage in a jazz club; in another, she’s a thoughtful MC writing rhymes over warm trip-hop beats. “I see the whole project as a play and each song as a different episode,” she says. “On ‘Oooh,’ I really felt like a lady; I felt feminine and delicate with that song. On ‘The Way You Look At Me,’ I felt like a rockstar—like I was Janis Joplin or a member of The Mamas & The Papas. ‘Tempt Me Not,’ I felt like I was back in the 1600s, like a character from Hamilton. Acting has never really been my thing, but I felt like this project was a piece, and with every song, I had to get into character—to be someone to really feel it and nail it,” she says. That process of exploring different personas and creating a sense of character allows for a unique kind of self-reflection, and it’s given Kay a newfound sense of confidence to step out from the shadows and own her voice. “Growing up being a beatmaker, I never saw any female producers, so I thought it wasn’t normal for me to do,” she says. “I hid behind that for years and never told people what I did or wouldn’t promote myself. It just got to a point where, as time went on, I thought, this is a part of me. Maybe I have to be that voice or be that woman that shows that a woman can be in this industry too. Now when I step on that stage, it’s like, ‘I’m Kay, and I’m not hiding behind anything more.’”
“It was the first time I felt lost in years,” says West Philly-based rapper Tawobi. He explains that his latest album, Black Saturday, grew out of a brief season in his life in which he started to doubt himself for the first time. Named after the story of Christ’s descent into hell before the resurrection, the album finds Tawobi using his bombastic vocal delivery and razor-sharp wit to guide listeners through a range of ecstatic highs and emotional lows. With trippy, bass-heavy beats crafted by OvrThnk—the production duo who are also members of Highest Basement Collective, Tawobi’s crew of multidisciplinary artists—Tawobi sings, shouts, and contorts his voice in a way that reflects his time in Philly’s slam poetry and punk scenes. This freewheeling delivery places him firmly in the lineage of rap’s great rapturous vocalists like Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (or a lesser-known like Mack Da Maniak). After taking listeners on a giddily chaotic trip into the dark heart of addiction, trauma, and self-doubt, these days Tawobi reports that he has begun the process of healing the wounds that inspired the music. “There are moments when I wake up every day and I gotta thank somebody. That feels really good.”