Written by Jesse Kinos-Goodin and Del Cowie
Toronto already has a deep and distinguished musical history, but thanks to artists like Drake and the Weeknd, Toronto is arguably one of the most visible musical cities on the planet right now. That said, there's plenty more music where that Toronto sound came from.
Ranging from pop, R&B, hip-hop and folk to roots rock, Toronto is host to top-tier music from every conceivable genre. The list of up-and-coming 10 artists below is proof positive of that statement.
Editor's note: Some songs contain explicit language.
“I’m just a young Leonardo in the making,” sings TOBi, a 23-year-old Toronto-based artist making waves for his melodic mix of smooth, soulful rapping and singing. The Nigerian-born singer, who moved to Canada when he was eight, released a well-received mixtape, FYi, last year, which worked to differentiate himself from the pack by not conforming to the well-established parameters of the “Toronto sound.” Sonically, TOBi is more in the wheelhouse of artists like Childish Gambino or Chance the Rapper, the latter of whom he recently opened for at his Toronto show.
Torero is a six-piece band that combines the best of indie rock with roots rock, an Alvvays meets Cowboy Junkies for the Queen Street West crowd. Twangy guitar, harmonica and male-female harmonies accentuate their cinematic arrangements and vivid storytelling, with frontwoman Eleanor Bull adding a sense of gravitas with her evocative delivery. Torero has a string of dates across Ontario this summer, so be sure to check them out.
Vacay is the solo project from actor/singer-songwriter Levi Randall, who also stars on the Netflix series Lost & Found Music Studios. His debut EP, Howlin’ Wind, was released in May off the strength of his single “Moving You,” which recently reached a million plays on Spotify. Randall’s arrangements lean towards atmospheric acoustic guitar and strings accentuated by punches of percussion, with his affecting falsetto doing most of the work — whether he’s performing original songs, classic country or stripping down Michael Jackson ballads.
Toronto singer Ebhoni started making music when she was just 10 years old. Last year, at 16, she started gaining attention for “Bye Baby,” the ultimate pop break-up song for the social-media age. “Now you're watching my mentions/ not to mention, it's four in the morning,” she sings. In April of this year, Ebhoni — full name Ebhoni Cato-O'Garro — released her debut EP, Mood Ring, an eight-song collection of heart-on-sleeve lyrics over warbling synths and heavy bass. “We can’t keep killing roses over what we got/ thinking do you love me, or do you love me not,” she sings on “Killing Roses.” As on the rest of the album, the overall theme is very much teenage romance (the source of all great pop music, really), but Ebhoni has a mature way of twisting language and metaphors for a sophisticated listen.
Toronto rapper Sean Leon released his first mixtape back in 2013, followed up by a string of acclaimed projects. In 2015, Hip Hop Canada called Leon “one of the hottest artists coming out of Canada right now” after the release of his Kobe Bryant-inspired single “81.”
But earlier this year, Leon released his most ambitious project yet, I Think You’ve Gone Mad (or the Sins of the Father). On it, Leon deals with becoming a father, pays homage to his late friend Redway (“Redway’s Song,” which also features the rapper, who died in 2015), and seeing his brother incarcerated (the Daniel Caesar-featuring “Matthew in the Middle”). It’s an adventurous, sonically diverse album that showcases Leon playing with different styles and vocal effects, featuring production from the likes of Wondagurl and Jordan Evans (Majid Jordan), putting him firmly in line for being the next big rapper to break out of Toronto.
Toronto quartet Unbuttoned has been developing its infectious brand of alternative pop for the past few years. Led by Royal Conservatory-trained multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Casey MQ — who often sings in tandem with soulful singer Kamilah Apong — additional foundational musical heft is provided by Miles Gibbons and Alexei Orichin.There's a musical inquisitiveness to Unbuttoned’s music that rarely stays in one lane, but is always marked by a meticulous and intricate approach to arrangement and production. Having just released the single "Bedroom Fall," the group will release its latest album, Liquid, in August.
Allie’s blend of nocturnal soul has been fastidiously honed over the past few years on her Strange Creature and Moonlust EP releases. Onstage and in the studio, Allie's increasingly laid-back confidence and assurance is palpable, whether coolly navigating kinetic offbeat concoctions or comparatively straight-ahead R&B jams. The fruition of several years of cultivating her inimitable approach to her art, Allie's upcoming album Nightshade radiates with an undeniable Afrofuturistic sheen.
Nefe has one of those voices that immediately makes you stop what you're doing. Fresh off of releasing her Mama EP — which was produced by Timber Timbre's Taylor Kirk earlier this year — and an impressive set at Field Trip, Nefe's voice is undeniably attuned to her emotional range, whether conveying joy or anguish. The singer first came to the fore at the 2014 Honey Jam (where Nelly Furtado was discovered), impressing at the female artist music showcase and signing to Universal Music Canada shortly afterwards. Nefe's name is sure to be known by many more music fans in the future.
Reyez dropped her minimalist acoustic guitar-accompanied debut single, "Figures," late last year, and since then she has been firmly on a direct path to blowing up. Through subsequent singles "Shutter Island" and "Gatekeeper," Reyez’s unapologetically raw voice and artistry is finally gaining widespread attention for the budding artistry she's been showing on Toronto stages in recent years, whether armed with a guitar or just a mic. With Reyez's Kiddo EP just making the Polaris Prize long list earlier this month, plus a sold-out homecoming gig on the horizon after touring the U.S., Reyez is the latest alumna of Toronto's the Remix Project who's poised to make her mark on the world.
M.I. Blue's voice sounds like it comes from a bygone era. On Clairmont the Second's Quest for Milk and Honey mixtape, M.I. Blue delivers an arresting vocal turn on album standout "Temporary." And if you caught The Strombo Show's tribute to the Tragically Hip you might have heard her staggeringly beautiful take on the revered Kingston, Ont., band's song "Poets." Steeped in the intangible aura of past blues and jazz greats on tracks like her recent "Silver Kettles," M.I. Blue seems to effortlessly excel at whatever she tries her hand at.
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