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Awkwafina, Nili Brosh, Kelela: 9 Women To Watch
Who runs the world? You guessed it — the future is female.
Whether they're the firsts, the most innovative or the unsung heroes, like those featured in our Take Note. Women In Music series, women continue to push the envelope in music even in the face of steep hurdles.
During Women's History Month we are recognizing the women who have shown and continue to prove that the male-dominated industry deserves to be shaken up, starting with the women who are staking their claim early in their careers. From leading the pack in male-dominated bands to mining their craft or spitting killer rhymes, the nine women on this list are next on the horizon to take over and shake up the future of the music industry. In other words, these are ones to watch.
As the only woman in the Joe Jonas-fronted DNCE, JinJoo Lee is the female guitarist other pop-rock bands could only hope for. The South Korean native lives by her own rules and completely dismisses society's standards of beauty and style. And her love for '80s and '90s music has ignited the rock star within.
At age 12 Lee taught herself how to play the guitar and later moved to Los Angeles at 19 to pursue a career. She has been able to work with the likes of Selena Gomez, Charlie XCX, Jordin Sparks, and Cee-Lo Green. In 2016 DNCE won Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards on the heels of their hit "Cake By The Ocean" topping Billboard's Adult Pop Songs chart.
Lee's a vibrant woman who can stand confidently among men traveling the world, and she knows what she's worth. When talking about DNCE's collaboration with Nicki Minaj, "Kissing Strangers," Lee lays it down: "In hip-hop and rap, she's killing it as a female. Not just [as] a female, she's killing it, period. That's something that I'm doing too."
Nili Brosh's fame came soon after she uploaded her viral video "Guthrie Govan solo played by 18 year old girl" to YouTube. Since then the Israeli-born guitarist has amassed millions of views and a sizable fan base.
In 2010 she released her debut instrumental album, Through The Looking Glass, which featured her trading licks with legendary guitar player Andy Timmons. Within the same year, Brosh joined the progressive metal band Seven The Hardway alongside another shredder, Tony MacAlpine. The world-renowned guitarist has gone on to perform with Stuart Hamm, the Iron Maidens, Govan's the Aristocrats, and Joey Molland, a. She's also a fixture on the Las Vegas music scene as a performer for the popular "Michael Jackson One" show by Cirque du Soleil.
Brosh is now the leading lady of her own self-titled band where she tours regularly across national and international borders. The shred master is proof that online sensations can thrive, you just have to be present beyond the camera.
Known as the "Darkwave Duchess," Abra is the Atlanta-based gem R&B has been missing. Injecting her sensual, royalty-like style into the genre, Abra brings the rawness of Queens to mesh with her new Southern roots. She released her first EP, BLQ Velvet, in 2015 after signing to rapper Father's label, Awful Records.
Abra does it all. From singing, songwriting to producing, her music is a true representation of what she has experienced and serves as a positive example for other young black girls, an honor she wears with pride.
Releasing her second EP, Princess, in 2015, the buzz around her has continued to increase. Her viral single "Fruit" featured on her debut LP, 2015's Rose, is a shining example of her idiosyncratic reimagining of '80s pop and '90s R&B and her knack for delivering smooth melodies with plenty of color.
A lady of the London underground, Cooly G is one of the Hyperdub label's originators. As a pioneer of the U.K. funky genre, Cooly's lushly produced tracks demonstrate the genre's sultry, yet playful blend of everything from soulful house to grime and U.K. garage. That's not the only thing that makes this Londoner one to watch — as a thriving DJ, her ability to get people on their feet as is another talent she possesses.
Releasing Wait Til' Night in 2014, the multihyphenate defined Hyperdub with a few seductive lyrics. Her cleverly titled 2016 EP, Get It Pt. 1, offered a potent mix of R&B and grime, but it's her latest EP, 2017's Magnetic, that has offered the latest view into her world.
"From day one, every single track has a story," Cooly G told The Fader. "It makes me feel better to make a track about it. Whether anyone in the world knows about it or not, I don't really care. I make the music because that's what I do."
As a teen, Eva Hendricks knew exactly where she belonged — onstage with a mic in hand. And at 15, she — along with her bandmate, guitarist Spencer Fox — made it happen in cultivating the four-piece NYC power pop band Charly Bliss. Hendricks is the band's frontwoman whose voice and guitar have led Spencer, brother Sam Hendricks (drums), and Dan Shure (bass) to quite a few victories since their three-song EP debuted in 2014.
Hendricks' powerful way of thinking allows her to confront her fears one song at a time. She uses her lyrics to address hard-hitting topics such as mental health in a way that's both funny and educational. Graduating from Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU, the singer made it a mission to share these thoughts with the people who meant most to her.
In 2017 Charly Bliss delivered their debut album, Guppy. Hendricks' writing skills played a major part in the album's cultivation, mining her lyrical inspiration and musical influences such as Adam Schlesinger, Paramore and Fall Out Boy.
"A lot of the record is about emotional vulnerability," Hendricks told The Fader. "My whole life, people have been like, 'She's so outgoing. So happy!' And it's not like I'm not. I'm either flipping out happy, off the walls and stoked, or miserable, freaking out, super neurotic, and anxious. The record sounds like that, like me careening between those extremes in my personality."
Kelela's 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me, is what led her to nab the attention of her mentor, Saint Records founder Solange. The singer/songwriter uses her experiences and love for Solange and spirit-animal Björk to infuse her futurist sounds into R&B. In 2015 Kelela delivered her Hallucinogen EP and returned in 2017 to drop her debut studio album, Take Me Apart.
Kelela is a second-generation Ethiopian-American musician who is open about her sexuality and doesn't hold back when it comes to discussing love. Take Me Apart is a musical journal that documents the singer's emotional and mental state following the heartbreak of a relationship gone bad. Not only does she stand up for love and self-worth, she crusades for equality and justice. The singer has spoken out on numerous occasions about the injustice of African-Americans in society and especially within music.
"I wanna have a convention or something, of radical black women in the arts and how we interface with … companies especially — the ones asking us to give them credibility," Kelela told Noisey. "How do we create our own organization that's going to negotiate from a different place?"
Kelela isn't looking to fit in. With wisdom and forward thinking, she is showing the industry how to level up while remaining humble and true to your craft.
This sharp-tongued English rapper hails from Croydon, London. Living life as a 20-something should, Nadia Rose's impactful punchlines — including "Them b****hes say they're bad but I'm from where the f***ing devil is — have shaken up the British rap and grime scene.
It's safe to say that bars run in Rose's family; she is the cousin of fellow grime artist Stormzy. Since signing to Sony/Relentless Records, Rose released her debut EP, Highly Flammable, in January 2017. From "Tight Up" featuring Red Rat to "Puddycat," the EP features nine combustible tracks that show off the femcee's talent.
In 2017 Rose — at just 23 years old — won her first MOBO Award for her "Skwod" video. She has since gone on to to placing fifth on the BBC's Sound of 2017 shortlist. Now a "Big Woman," Rose is ready to fire up 2018.
With her hit single "Hurtin' Me" featuring French Montana climbing the charts and sparking the attention of industry heavy-hitters, Stefflon Don is preparing herself for a successful career.
The British/Jamaican MC received U.S. recognition after being featured on Jeremih's 2016 single "London," for which she wrote and sung the hook. Flipping songs with artful remixes by popular artists like Rae Sremmurd and Rihanna (her "Work" remix is worth repeating), she definitely knows how to add her rich West Indian vibes to any track.
The Sony/Quality Control signee has used the inspiration of other female emcees like Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown to achieve great milestones at the beginning of her career. In 2017 Don was featured on Jax Jones and Demi Lovato's collaboration, "Instruction. " Her 2018 debut EP, Hurtin' Me, holds features from Sean Paul, Popcaan, Sizzla, and Skepta.
You might have seen Awkwafina in the trailer for the highly anticipated Ocean's 8, but she's much more than just a pretty face on the silver screen. Awkwafina is one fierce and fiery woman who isn't afraid to talk about her sexuality and favorite body parts. Her debut single, "My Vag," went viral in 2013, but it was her "Green Tea" video featuring comedian Margaret Cho that landed her a role in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
Born Nora Lum, the Chinese-American is a true comedian who leverages humor to make all of her projects snappy and fun to enjoy. In 2014 she released her debut album, Yellow Ranger, and later wrote a travel book, Awkwafina's NYC, in which she gave tourists a how-to guide on navigating the Big Apple.
Her résumé doesn't stop there. She was featured in the 2016 documentary Bad Rap and she appeared in a few of MTV's "Girl Code" episodes. Following Ocean's 8, Awkwafina is set to appear in the Kevin Kwan-adapted novel Crazy Rich Asians. This woman's hustle is serious — no matter the platform.
"The people I idolize tend to be flawed and kind of hate themselves a little bit, and they're different and made a career being themselves," she told W Magazine. "That's the kind of person that I like."
(Malikka McDuffie is an entertainment journalist and freelance social media manager residing in sunny L.A. Stay connected with her @malikkamichelle on Twitter and Instagram.)