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21 FOR ‘21

OUR BEST TRACKS OF 2021

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If there’s anything 2021 has taught us, it’s that music is as vital as ever. Among the uncertainty, turmoil and upheaval, artists and creators have continued to make inspiring, vital and much needed work that has given all of us hope. As an extension of the True Music playlist, we’ve travelled around the globe and got the top music recommendations for 2021 from our most trusted contributors and confidantes.

Representing South Africa we have Rofhiwa Maneta, a freelance arts and culture journalist from Cape Town. John Hill is lead music curator at Ghanaian music magazine Harmattan Rain and a playlist curator for Apple Music focusing on African music. Tayo Iku is a London tastemaker DJ and selector with her own show on Black Britain’s new radio station and True Music Fund collective No Signal. Eduardo Pérez Waasdorp is a director at DJ Mag Spain, and an expert on all things Spanish techno. Last but not least, Ana Laura Pádua writes for Monkeybuzz and is across everything happening in Brazil. Safe to say we’re in good company here. Without further ado, these are the 21 tracks of 2021 that you simply cannot sleep on.

Rofhiwa Maneta’s Selects

 

Marcus Harvey – You Wouldn’t Understand

Johannesburg-based DJ and producer Jazzuelle has always been South African deep house’s quiet savant. His blend of atmospheric melodies and haunting chords make a welcome return on Apollo. The song, taken from his album Muse, sounds like the soundtrack to the end of the night, when the streets are drained of colour and the last few bodies start evacuating the dancefloor. Apollo also features Tebza De Soul, an up-and-coming but highly regarded deep house artist known for his enchanting piano melodies.

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Jazzuelle – Apollo

Johannesburg-based DJ and producer Jazzuelle has always been South African deep house’s quiet savant. His blend of atmospheric melodies and haunting chords make a welcome return on Apollo. The song, taken from his album Muse, sounds like the soundtrack to the end of the night, when the streets are drained of colour and the last few bodies start evacuating the dancefloor. Apollo also features Tebza De Soul, an up-and-coming but highly regarded deep house artist known for his enchanting piano melodies.

YouTube

 

Stiff Pap – Tuff Time$ Never Last

If you were to blend the seemingly disparate genres of gqom, drone music, electronica and kwaito, you would have created a genre that captures the spirit of Johannesburg-based duo Stiff Pap. The “future-kwaito” duo’s mid-year release Tuff Time$ Never Last sees them push their penchant for genre blending to new heights. A mix of drone, kwaito and post-hip hop, the song is about migrant labour, institutional oppression and the disillusionment that comes with being a young black man coming to terms with the fact that Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation” is an illusion.

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Pabi Cooper – Isphithiphithi

Pabi Cooper’s Isphithiphithi came screaming onto South African dancefloors in August 2021 and has been a permanent fixture ever since. Here, Cooper teams up with Busta 929 (one of amapiano’s most sought-after producers) as well as Reece Madlisa and Joocy. Featuring the rubbery log drums, crescendoing piano keys, thumping kicks and short, sharp bass stabs that have come to typify amapiano, the song is a tale of throwing caution to the wind and falling in love despite what sanity might say.

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Moonchild Sannelly – Yebo Teacher

Earlier this year, Moonchild Sannelly released a two-track offering called Yebo Teacher. The title track is everything her “future ghetto punk” music has always been: sensual, future-sounding and impossible to pigeonhole. Here, the artist borrows the log drums of amapiano to give her fans an uplifting (but never corny) message on hard work and overcoming the odds. She likens life to a classroom and setbacks to different sets of assignments everyone receives along the way, but the message never feels contrived. The thumping bass and scattered broken beat breathes life into the message and has ensured the song was, and still is, a hit.

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John Hill’s Selects


Lojay & Sarz – LV N ATTN feat. Wizkid

Lojay is an Afro-fusion artist from Nigeria with a distinctive voice. He is one of the fastest-rising musicians in an industry flooded with similar sounds, providing a refreshing and original edge to the African music market. Despite being relatively new to the scene, his music is a perfect blend of enticing melodies. He has nailed the art of communicating true, everyday experiences through memorable lyrics and concepts that resonate with listeners. Lojay’s debut project was created by legendary Nigerian producer Sarz (Drake, Beyoncé, Wizkid) and, according to the singer, the project grew from a single song collaboration into a five-track EP, including a verse from multiple award-winning Starboy, Wizkid on the title track LV N ATTN. The project also earned Lojay his first smash single Monalisa, which is currently the song of the summer.

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Moliy – Ghana Bop

Moliy’s distinct Afro-fusion style boldly initiated a defining stage in her career following the release of her debut project, Wondergirl. Moliy then wrote and performed the hook and first verse of Amaarae’s global mega song Sad Girlz Luv Money, making her one of only three African women and three Ghanaian singers in history to debut on the Billboard Hot 100. The vocalist describes herself as someone who embraces all musical genres. She used the worldwide digital space to expose her creative flexibility and voice through controversial freestyles on social media, alongside collaborations with established artists like M.anifest and Vic Mensa. Ghana Bop from her debut EP has also effectively crossed the borders of Ghana and gained airplay in Gambia, Kenya, and Nigeria. With African music on the rise, expect to see and hear Moliy on stages and platforms worldwide.

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Fave – Baby Riddim

Fave is one of the few talented artists who has harnessed the power of social media. She rose to prominence after a verse on a free beat produced by Jinmi Abduls went viral on social media, most notably on Twitter. The viral freestyle, which addressed issues with modern romantic relationships, became an instant hit before it even dropped on streaming platforms. It was circulated by industry insiders and influencers until multiple award-winning superstar Mr Eazi took notice and signed her up to his emPawa artist initiative. Fave has built a reputation as a storyteller who connects with her audience’s emotions and experiences. Her most recent release Baby Riddim is just the spark this incredible performer needed to set her career alight. The production, the storyline and the vocal delivery are distinct, solidifying her as a talent that is here to stay.

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Blxckie – David

In October 2020, South African hip-hop artist Blxckie burst onto the scene with his track Big Time Sh’lappa featuring Lucasraps, immediately drawing attention and developing his diehard fanbase. Though he was confined to Johannesburg during the original 21-day lockdown when coronavirus struck South Africa in March 2020, he wasted no time and made use of his proximity to other rising artists like Lucasraps, resulting in daily SoundCloud drops from the pairing and their frequent collaborator, Dr Peppa. Since opting to focus exclusively on his music career, the 21-year-old Durban native has had an extraordinary run. Releasing his debut album, B4Now, Blxckie is part of a new wave of digitally-savvy young South African musicians who have enjoyed meteoric ascents in recent months, resulting in cult fanbases. He has brought an intensity and level of excitement to South African hip-hop that both casual listeners and attentive fans may argue has recently been lacking.

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Jeune Lio – Test Me feat. Chrystel & Yung D3mz

Born in Cameroon and raised in France, Jeune Lio is an experimental DJ that plays everything from hip-hop to Afrobeats through to Afro-house and dancehall. Also a music producer and a creative director in the music industry, he has collaborated with several artists including Diane Dddd, Chrystel and Ozaki. A Night In Cocody (ANIC) is his debut project and it feels like an actual excursion to Cocody, a suburb of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. The eight-track release, curated and A&R’d by Jeune Lio, is a sound cocktail that follows lovers of a good time throughout the evening. On Test Me, Lio collaborates with Ghanaian producer-turned-popstar Yung D3mz and singer Chrystel, resulting in a song that has the entire sub-region dancing.

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Eduardo Pérez Waasdorp’s Selects


Bizarrap & Ptazeta – BZRP Music Sessions #45

This hip-hop/trap track combines the super talented Argentinian beatmaker Bizarrap and equally explosive Spanish MC Ptazeta, two of the biggest phenomena on the Spanish trap scene right now. Bizarrap is known for his masterful approach to producing some of the biggest artists on the scene (Nicky Nicole, Anuel AA, Nicky Jam), and his chemistry with Ptazeta is unbelievable here. Infectious beats teamed with sexy, strong bars make this one of the most streamed songs of the year (30 million and counting), confirming not just Bizarrap’s versatility, but the amazing moment Ptazeta is having as one of the fastest rising MCs in Spanish-speaking countries.

YouTube

 

Marzian & Black Flamingo Disco Driver – Arp Battery

Arriving via the production duo of Argentinian artist Marzian and the Spanish-Chilean Black Flamingo Disco Driver, Arp Battery is a unclassifiable track that mixes electro, techno, dark disco and electronica to deliver one of the best underground bangers of the year. It’s a slow burner that develops into a dark banger with hypnotic synth lines, acid touches and atmospherics transporting the listener to the sweatiest, horniest Berlin basement. This debut EP from Black Flamingo Disco Driver and Marzian also comes with another original and four remixes from some of the biggest underground talents in Europe such as Freudenthal, Adrian Marth, Random Atlas, Acid Dream and Disco Mortale. One to have on your playlist and in your vinyl collection.

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Raxon – Phantom Report

The Barcelona-based Egyptian artist Raxon is without doubt one of the biggest breakthrough names of this year in the techno scene. His debut album for the iconic Kompakt label is perfection. It’s difficult for any musician or producer to achieve a sound they can truly call their own, but Raxon has managed to make the crowd and critics agree on the merits of his Sound Of Mind album. In particular El Multiverse exceeds all expectations, but we’re talking about another standout track on the album, Phantom Report. This track develops as a slow-paced techno banger with heavy drums, sensual vocal distortions, dystopian, engaging soundscapes and hypnotic synth stabs, making it one of the most complex and beautiful tracks on the album.

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Nathy Peluso – Mafiosa

2021 has been Nathy Peluso’s year. The Spain-based, Argentinian multifaceted artist has just blown up the charts with every single one of her releases, venturing into styles that have challenged her own path in music. This track is the perfect example of that transformative journey. Mafiosa is an empowering hymn that broke records minutes after its release. Peluso departs from the usual genre she is associated with and gets fully into salsa and Latin music, via a track that strongly and explicitly speaks about female empowerment in the funniest and most danceable way. Pure Nathy Peluso.

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Ana Laura Pádua’s Selects

Marina Sena – Por Supuesto

Known as a member of the groups Outra Banda da Lua and Rosa Neon, Marina Sena finally decided that it’s her time to thrive alone on stage and in the studio. Creator of a work that combines MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), pop, funk, samba, dancehall and reggae, the Minas Gerais born artist, accompanied by producer Iuri Rio Branco, delivered ten songs that talk about universal feelings and loves. The album De Primeira, released in August 2021, instantly became an organic hit in Brazil, but one track Por Supuesto stands out for its resounding success. There were more than 711,000 streams on November 19 alone, keeping the track in Spotify’s Top 15. More than just a revelation of the year, Marina Sena is now an established artist.

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FBC & VHOOR – Se Tá Solteira feat. Mac Júlia

Minas Gerais rapper FBC teamed up with beatmaker VHOOR to create one of the most contagious albums of the year. This is BAILE, which arrived on streaming platforms in November. Comprising ten tracks, the record is inspired by Miami bass, a hip-hop subgenre that served as a catalyst for funk carioca in the 1980s and 1990s, when it became a soundtrack for dance, entertainment, social organization and the resistance of Black people in the Brazilian suburbs. Se Tá Solteira is an immediate, irresistible hit that spread like wildfire on socials. For example on TikTok, the song has almost 50 million plays, featuring countless dance routines on the app. Coming straight out of the city of Belo Horizonte, FBC now has the world at his feet.

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João Gomes – Meu Pedaço de Pecado

João Gomes is one of the biggest revelations of Forró (the most popular genre of music and dance in Brazil’s Northeast) and expands his sound to Vaquejada and, especially, the Piseiro. With a unique voice and undeniable talent, the 19-year-old has already smashed the Brazilian market and is one of the biggest names in the new school of the genre. His success further proves the power of social media, which is reflected on streaming platforms. With the song Meu Pedaço de Pecado, the Pernambuco singer/composer from Pernambuco is TikTok famous and a phenomenon on Spotify Brasil, clocking up more than 152 million plays. His first album, Eu Tenho a Senha, has 10 tracks that went beyond Brazilian borders, demonstrated by João Gomes taking the 37th spot on Spotify’s Top 40 global ranking. Expect to hear lots more from João Gomes.

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Pabllo Vittar – Triste com T

After turning heads on the international scene with the trilingual album 111, being considered the most popular drag queen in the world by Forbes magazine and participating in Lady Gaga’s remix album Dawn of Chromatica, Pabllo Vittar delivers Batidão Tropical, an album that she considers “totally Brazilian”. Born in São Luís, Maranhão, the singer went back to her roots, inspired by her childhood experiences and a lot of Forró bands. The single Triste com T already has more than 20 million plays on Spotify. More than a musical success, Pabllo Vittar is synonymous with LGBTQIA+ resistance for all Brazilians.

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Tasha & Tracie – Lui Lui feat. Onnika & Febem

Female self-esteem, celebration of freedom, empowerment and sex are all equal parts of the engaging lyrical universe of twins Tasha & Tracie. Eagerly awaited, the Diretoria EP is faithful to rap’s intensity, but cleverly adds references from funk, trap, RnB and Brime (Brazilian grime). Since its arrival in August 2021, the São Paulo sisters have dominated streaming charts. The track Lui Lui, featuring guest appearances by Febem and Onnika plus on-point production from Mu540, has over 600,000 plays on Spotify. With heaps of talent and personality, Tasha & Tracie are the hottest names in Brazilian rap right now. Get familiar with the twins who are just getting started.

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Tayo Iku’s Selects

Dave – Lazarus feat. Boj

South London native Dave released his third album We’re All Alone in This Together this year, and what an outstanding body of work it was. The seventh track on the album Lazarus features Nigerian singer Boj on the hook, giving the song a vibey Afro-rap feel. This is an experimental sound for the 23-year-old rapper, but the risk paid off as this song had everyone singing along bar for bar in the clubs this summer. Dave is set to go on tour next year and we can’t wait to hear his sound develop.

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Fireboy DML – Peru

Future star Fireboy came onto the Afrobeats scene back in 2019 and has been giving us consistent heaters ever since then. His latest offering Peru is definitely a strong contender for the biggest track to come out of Africa this year, so watch out for Fireboy in 2022.

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