On The Rise: 2018


It’s usually around this time of the year that XXL drop their Freshman list – a collection of artists that they’re tipping to blow. It used to be a revered and cherished spot but over the past few years, their selections have drawn mixed response and criticism and with rumoured lists for 2018 floating around the Twittersphere, we wanted to step in and offer our own alternative perspective.

It’s not been easy – we’ve argued amongst ourselves, re-written the list on countless occasions, crossed a variety of genres and continents but have narrowed it down to a final line-up. Some are already more established than others. Some you may not be familiar with. Don’t think we’ve forgotten our roots either. We’re putting together a fresh list of who we’re watching out for from the homegrown Hip Hop scene.

In the meantime, we’ve lined up 10 artists that we feel are going to have a massive 2018 on their own respective levels and are worth taking some time to check out. So take a look, have a listen and let us know your thoughts…


Ocean Wisdom

For the purists, Ocean Wisdom isn’t a new name. He’s been the High Focus poster boy for the last couple of years and that initial buzz and expectation we all had for Chaos 93 was met and then all of a sudden, he went to ground. Enter the follow up, Wizville. With the first couple of singles getting spins on the likes of 1Xtra and features with Complex, the buzz has re-emerged on a much bigger platform. Then he goes and tells us he’s only gone and got the likes of Dizzee and bloody Method Man on guest spots and social media errupts. With the latest track Don carrying a slightly more ‘accessible’ energy to it (eyes peeled for SoccerAM!), we reckon that 2018 is the year that Ocean Wisdom sees his stock grow significantly. It can’t be much longer before the major-labels are banging on the door…

Jorja Smith

Some might consider this one to be the safest bet given her recent selection as this year’s recipient for the BRITS Critic’s Choice award but we can’t ignore the fact that Jorja Smith is stupidly gifted She’s been bubbling away for a while now, complimenting her Project 11 EP with a host of cameos, most notably last year on Drake’s More Life ‘playlist’ – love or hate him, he knows how to grow an artist’s audience! She followed that up with the infectious, Preditah-produced summer smash On My Mind – blessing many a mainstream playlist along the way. Teaming up with Stormzy on her latest single Lay Me Down, she’s further cementing her foundations of intent and we’re impatiently waiting to see if a full-length project lands this year.


Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot made waves after seminal releases of albums that caught the ear of the musical public. Once Shallow Graves For Toys was released in 2013, their trajectory was to be defined. Eventually, this led to a signing to Dreamville and the release of their Rags and Robots EPs respectively. With their new album on the horizon, we’re tipping 2018 to be the year they establish themselves firmly amongst the new generation. And to think: all of this came to be after a choice field trip during their 9th grade year.


After penning her first song at just 8 years of age, signing to Atlantic at 13 and releasing three projects; Mahalia spent the best part of the 6 years developing and finding her sound. With clear influences from the likes of Erykah Badu, India Arie and sprinklings of boombap; we’re hooked. Fast-forward to earlier last year and the soulful Sober grabbed the attention of tastemakers across the country and sparked a thirst for more Mahalia. With a UK tour already underway this year, alongside a huge collaboration with Little Simz, anticipation has never been higher. No questions asked, this is going to be her year.


The Sacramento native’s Real Person caught us by surprise back in October and has been in constant rotation ever since. His laid back yet sharp-witted delivery has swiftly made him a firm favourite at Wordplay HQ – “the block is hot, I call it Lil’ Wayne/ ‘cause nowadays, it just ain’t the same”. He’s since dropped videos for the standout 4 Willem and Bank Robber, been given the remix treatment by Big K.R.I.T and absolutely bodied a LA Leakers freestyle spot. Having dropped several projects over the past few years and with a buzz steadily rising, we’re expecting heads to take much more notice of Caleborate this year.


It’s not what you’d usually expect us to be keeping an eye on but Fredo’s someone we’ve been watching out for on the sly. After dropping a series of singles, last year saw him release his well-received debut Get Rich Or Get Recalled. The last few months have seen him grace us with a host of new material and with the video for recent single Rappin’ & Trappin’ hitting a million views in just 5 days, followed by his latest project Tables Turn reaching number 5 on the UK iTunes album chart in it’s first week; it’s clear to see that numbers don’t lie. Newest single Playin’ For Keeps is just shy of the million views mark and if his momentum maintains as everyone expects, this year’s going to be a huge for the West Londoner.

Ari Lennox

Ari’s not in this musical game to be taken lightly. In fact, she is working to be legendary. Inspired by sirens of song like Ella Fitzgerald and Minnie Riperton (amongst others), the D.C. native wants her openness and honesty to reign supreme. With songs like “GOAT” on her resume, she is equally equipped to show the world what true open femininity clashing against the patriarchy of society looks and sounds like.

Ill Camille

The lyrical goddess of Compton-Inland Empire-LA roots is no slouch. Nor is she going to rely on anything but her ability to craft word-worlds to shine. Before she picked up the mic officially, she was a marketing intern. That led with a meeting with Mykestro of Skills Still Appeal and the rest is underground history. Yet, with her Heirloom album, Ill Camille is showing that she should not be ignored. And we agree: she should be supported fully.

KOTA The Friend

KOTA first hit our radar when we were sent his brilliant Paloma Beach album last year. An introspective listen throughout, it was his honesty that really stood out to us as he discussed struggles with self-belief and mental health. The chilled-out soundscape also made for the perfect summer listen. He’s recently been gracing a host of other artist’s beats for his Lyrics To Go video series and with his new EP Anything recently dropping, we’re looking forward to seeing what this year has in store for the Brooklyn boy.


Sir Darryl Farris started his musical career as an engineer for Tyrese. From there, he crafted his songwriting skills and became employed by the likes of Anita Baker, Jill Scott, Ginuwine and Stevie Wonder. After following up his debut album Seven Sundayswith the acclaimed Her & Her Too EPs, he’s joined the ever impressive TDE roster. His second full length album, the first on Top Dawg, is a beautiful piece of work. November is that album that any R&B lover can vibe out to – soulful, sultry and smooth as… He’s certainly got our attention and deserves yours too.

Special Mention: Westside Gunn & Conway

Now hear us out. We know the Griselda guys aren’t new to the scene – in fact, far from it. Their unrivalled DIY-mentality has seen their clothing range and limited edition vinyl drops sell out in minutes. Their relentless work-rate has churned out project after project and swiftly transformed them into a host of your favourite rapper’s favourite rappers, as well as garnering a cult underground following. After signing to Shady Records midway through last year, we’re holding out for 2018 to be the year that they gain the higher recognition they deserve.

Mike PattemoreComment