30 Criminally Good Artists We Couldn’t Stop Obsessing Over In 2013

Joey BadassJoey Bada$$: There’s a reason why we called Brooklyn emcee Joey Bada$$ an MTV Artist to Watch this year. Dude has the goods, charisma, and Wu-Tang Clan-influenced hip-hop hooks to ride the ’90s nostalgia wave into 2014. With only a handful of official releases to date, this year’s Summer Knights mixtape held fans over, with the breezy, jazz-inflected flow of “Hillary $wank” and the island-hopping reggae of “My Yout” with production from the likes of The Alchemist, MF Doom, and Statik Selektah. All of that, plus a handful of high-profile support slots for Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky have set the stage for the long-expected breakout with next year’s debut full-length, B4.Da.$$. –Luke O’Neil

MatthewEWhiteMatthew E. White: This Richmond, Va., indie singer/songwriter looks mighty nice in an all-white tux, but that’s not all he’s bringing to the table. The Southern lad has been turning heads at Pitchfork, Consequence Of Sound, NME, and other tastemaker outlets since his 2012 debut, Big Inner, which features a nice combo of folk, jazz, soul, and gospel tunes lightly dusted in pop (think Cat Stevens meets Bon Iver meets Randy Newman). Nowadays, White’s just finished touring the U.S. (don’t fret if you missed him — Matt’s got a few more shows next April), and releasing a brand-new video for “Human Style.” –RB

Mikky Ekkomikky ekko: Chances are you’ve already heard of urban-pop performer Mikky Ekko. In addition to releasing his own singles (“Pull Me Down,” “We Must Be Killers,” “Kids,”) the singer, songwriter, and producer achieved the most recognition this year from his guest spot on Rihanna‘s “Stay,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. And if you watched the 2013 Grammys, then you DEFINITELY know Mikky — the singer performed “Stay” together with Rihanna, marking his first time on the Grammys stage. Nowadays, in addition to earning songwriting credits on “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” soundtrack, Ekko’s working on his debut record with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Clams Casino. –RB

Le1fLe1f: Khalif Diouf, the New York City producer and rapper who goes by the name of “Le1f,” has been steadily climbing to the next level ever since his days producing tracks for Das Racist. Unfortunately, his biggest news story this year came when he accused Macklemore of ripping off his 2012 booty-bounce track “Wut.” No comment there, but with beats like the ones we heard on this year’s Fly Zone and Tree House EPs, you can’t exactly blame anyone for coveting them. Le1f’s shown he can get sensual, danceable, and fun on tracks like “Soda” (not to mention exhibit an uncanny fashion sense), he’s collaborated with everyone from Junglepussy to The Drum to Spank Rock to Kitty, and has a second EP, Hey, in the works for 2014. –LO

Lord HuronLord Huron: This Los Angeles five-piece has quite a taste for lushly instrumented, earnest folk explosions, which come featured prominently on their 2012 LP, Lonesome Dreams. Songs like “End of the Earth” hit the sweet spot of reserved yearning, multipart harmonies, and acoustic bounce, which should’ve made Lord Huron a top contender in the Mumford vacuum. Plus, high-profile gigs at Coachella, SXSW, and on “The Tonight Show” this year certainly didn’t hurt their rise. But as frontman Ben Schneider, who named the band after his hometown of Michigan’s Lake Huron, probably understands, sometimes big things take a while to form. –LO

LuciusLucius: When you start getting written up in every outlet from the New York Times to NPR, you know you’re doing something right. Even acclaimed economist Paul Krugman is a big fan of Brooklyn indie-pop pioneers Lucius, who sonically embody a Tegan and Sara-meets-Shawn Colvin-meets-Fleetwood Mac-meets-Neko Case vibe, a sound that’s especially vibrant in their irresistible debut album, Wildewoman. Led by cofounders and lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Lucius’ Wildewoman showcases the girls’ lush harmonies before diving into a series of echoing synths, male backup vocals, rhythmic guitar strums, and bittersweet words. Watch Lucius perform a live rendition of “Go Home,” and look out for the band on tour in early 2014 — they’ll be all over the U.S. through February. –RB