Thanks to the fact that 2016 being a leap year, you’ve got 29 days and nights at your disposal during the month of February. And every single one has a great concert going on.
There’s the quartet of shows happening up at the Coors Light Birds Nest in Scottsdale in connection with the Waste Management Phoenix Open (including gigs by Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts), performances by such influential artists as Smokey Robinson and Leo Leo Kottke, and the ginormous EDM event known as the Crush Music Festival.
Over the next 29 nights, you can also hang out with hip-hop superstars from the past (Naughty By Nature) and present (Fetty Wap, Tyga), check out the latest project from garage-rock weirdo Ty Segall, or indulge in the artistry of such singer-songwriting greats as Ani DiFranco and Stephen Kellogg.
There are even more “can’t miss” show happening around the Valley in February, which you can find via our expansive online concert calendar or our monthly list of concert picks.
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There's a reason the somewhat vague term "Americana" fits for a wide expanse of sounds and region-specific musical traditions. As expansive and eclectic as the country itself, Americana isn't a genre but a collection of shared sounds and ideas from coast to coast, from then till now. Singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg set out to explore just how much place influences sound on his new album, the ambitious four-part South, West, North, East (scheduled for a February 12 release). Kellogg, who released six studio albums and live records in his decade fronting the Sixers, branched out on his own in 2012.
After 2013's Blunderstone Rookery, he conceived the all-over-the-map project, hitting the open highway in search of the right sounds. Kellogg recorded each five-song section of South, West, North, East in a different place, with different musicians and co-producers. South (recorded in Nashville and Atlanta) brings energetic Southern rock; West (recorded on a farm in Boulder, Colorado) features cowboy ballads and spacious production; North (recorded in a cabin in Woodstock, New York) steps toward the indie rock sound; East (recorded in Washington, D.C.) embraces the singer-songwriter tradition. In all, it's a collection that displays patience, versatility, wanderlust, and a keen understanding of the immense musical possibilities that exist under the Americana banner. ERIC SWEDLUND
The Neighbourhood is that band. They're the Americans who spell their name the British way and they insist on every photo or video taken of them to be in black and white. Here's the thing though: they actually have legit reasons for their approach. They treat the band as an overall project, both visually and musically and the spelling of their name? Simple. Someone else already had the name in Yankee English so their U.K. manager suggested the change. They are also clever enough to craft a brand of pop rock that attracts both the ever-fertile teenage market and the adults paying for their records and shows.
The Southern California five-piece are famous, or perhaps infamous, for their monochromatic appearances in the media — from magazine articles to late night television (their gig on the David Letterman show a few years back serving as the perfect example) are all constructed in a very calculated and colorful way (so to speak.) Starting with “Sweater Weather,” THE Neighbourhood have built a strong following of fans over the last few years with their blend of atmospheric and angst-ridden, R&B tinged sound. ANGEL MELENDEZ
For those not in the know, golf has a reputation that's as exciting as doing taxes or listening to the Eagles. But there are few places where gala meets the green with as much party spirit as the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the TPC of Scottsdale. The famous 16th hole features arena seating for about 3,400 people, and it once got so raucous that Tiger Woods refused to play the tournament for more than a decade. In addition, there's the Coors Light Birds Nest, a $100-a-ticket concert experience for golf lovers. This year's entertainers include Rascal Flatts, playing on Wednesday, February 3; Dierks Bentley on Thursday, February 4; Robin Thicke on Friday, February 5, and EDM superstar Tiësto wrapping things up on Saturday, February 6. DAVID ACCOMAZZO
Some might say that 34 seems a bit "past one's prime" to have started a singing career. For Al Jarreau, that's never seemed to matter. Having been the only vocalist in history to garner Grammy Awards across three different genre categories (jazz, pop and R&B), and with 21 albums, seven Grammys, and a career spanning over 35 years, the humble Jazz singer has brought light, romance, and above all an abundance of wholesome vocal talent to every song he has touched. Jarreau has interlaced jazz with pop in a way that has never successfully been done before. His popularity grew in the mid-'60s and didn't seem to lose steam until slowing down in the mid-'90s, at which point he received his own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The now 75-years-old jazz singer has seen some of the greatest success an artist can obtain in their career. His familiar favorite singles such as "We're In This Love Together" and "After All" and "Moonlighting" have been coined timeless classics. Very few compare to Al Jarreau, and his rich vocal tones and romantic writing style are as unique as his spirited personality. Music fan can witness this vivacious attitude and a youthful tone in person when Jarreau performs at the Highlands Church as a part of the annual Arizona Musicfest. CINDAL LEE HEART
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Saturday, February 6 - Crescent Ballroom
Actions speak louder than words, but does anything speak louder than music? Take it from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band once detained and questioned by the FBI for alleged terrorist ties simply for possessing "anti-government" material in its tour van. Godspeed is a progressive hybrid of post-rock and drone-y ambience — meaning most of the tunes, minus the odd voice sample, are instrumental. Yet the Montreal collective has a knack for terse political statements.
Not only did Yanqui U.X.O. include a map linking record companies to the military-industrial complex, the back cover of Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada included instructions for building Molotov cocktails. But in the end, guitarist Efrim Menuck insists it's "just punk rock," as he told the Rumpus, adding, "They're really simple songs in that way. But the starting point of every tune is that everything is fucked." While the rest of the world burns, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is the orchestra playing on the Titanic. TROY FARAH
Kennedy Jones infuses his music with every energy booster that exists in dance music. He samples hip-hop, falls into trap beats, and hits on a progressive house drop before spiraling right back into a light melody or heavily independent bass line. The next moment, he’s throwing in a unexpected vocal clip from songs like “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior or Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Every set, Jones proves that he’ll play what he likes, no matter what it is. But don’t worry. Part of his charm is making it work, even if it’s mariachi leading to a house-y interlude. The weirdest part? You’ll find yourself loving every second of it. SARAH PURKRABEK
In 1991, a naughty little rap tune crept onto pop radio and into the national consciousness. It asked one very important question: You down with O.P.P.? In the ensuing 25 years, fans of Naughty by Nature have answered in a number of ways, the most common being to throw hands in the air while waving them without a care. Though the true meaning of "O.P.P." turned out to be a crude way of saying, "other people's genitalia," it was a hit nonetheless. And Naughty by Nature followed it up with songs like "Hip Hop Hooray" and "Feel Me Flow." Those tracks are now quintessential '90s party starters that'll get even the snobbiest millennials moving.
What hasn't been so harmonious, though, are the relationships among the members of the veteran group, specifically between Vin Rock and the band's outspoken frontman, Treach. For example, in May 2013, Treach lashed out at Vin and admonished him for attempting to be bigger than the whole after revealing that the pair hadn't spoken in two years and that the rift grew out of an altercation in which Treach accused Vin of sucker-punching him. That led to Vin's eventual firing from Naughty by Nature and the end of not only a longtime partnership but also a friendship that stretched back three decades. However, when the New Jersey natives take the stage at Crescent Ballroom on February 10, the original trio of Treach, Vin Rock, and DJ Kay Gee will indeed join forces once again. It's a shocking return considering the venomous nature of their breakup only a few years ago. ANGEL MELENDEZ
Few bands captured the mid-'00s MTV rock essence quite like Hawthorne Heights. At its core, the band was relatable in ways that made its Total Request Live contingency ball their fists in angst and A&R heads smile greedily. Hawthorn Heights captured the Fall Out Boy crowd without the twee and the My Chemical Romance crowd without the theatrics. Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, where the band still resides, Hawthorne Heights also appealed to the restless suburban set and became the poster children for Hot Topic shoppers around the country, whether the band liked it or not.
Regardless of your take on that much, much maligned term "screamo" (for which Hawthorne Heights also became the unwilling poster children), there's no denying the band's early brilliance in their instrumental approach. With the original lineup including three guitarists, there was less layering and more interplay, lending weight to an attack that was much more than just the palm-muted downpicking of their contemporaries. The 2014 acoustic rerelease of The Silence In Black and White, the decade-old record still stands strong when stripped down. If not for the millennial nostalgia alone, JT Woodruff and company have always been apt songwriters — even if their aesthetic dated them, the discontent that fueled the band's songs is ageless. K.C. LIBMAN
We sincerely hope you've got loads of disposable income stocked up, because — like it or not — the music festival season is upon us. Over the next three months or so, an exhaustive number of indoor and outdoor mega-concerts and big-ticket music events are scheduled to take place both in and around Arizona, as well as across the southwest, and will bring a slew of high-profile performers into our midst. And one of the events that will kick off the hullabaloo is the annual Crush Music Festival on Saturday out at Rawhide in Chandler.
Just like any of the major EDM events to take place at the venue (including both Mad Decent Block Parties at the two-night Decadence throwdown), the festival will fill the western theme park with the high-energy sounds of electronic dance music and a throng of colorfully dressed rage fiends and dance-happy thrill-seekers. And if the last two Crush events, which were attended by hundreds of party monsters and EDM fans getting down to big-name DJs and producers, are any indication of the event's popularity, the 2016 version should be just as packed with sights, sounds, and superstars. This year's lineup is just as huge and includes such bigwigs as Billy Kenny, Borgeous, Jauz, Keys N Krates, Netsky, Peking Duk, Seven Lions, and Wax Motif. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Smokey Robinson - Saturday, February 13, and Sunday, February 14 - Wild Horse Pass
Smokey Robinson would be considered a legend if only for the dozens of memorable songs he’s written or co-written as leader of The Miracles and in his long solo career. His personal hit parade ranges from such Miracles singles as “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Going to a Go-Go” and “The Tracks of My Tears” to solo gems like “Cruisin’” and “Being With You.” Of course, Robinson is far more than a songwriter, and he usually recorded the definitive versions of these oft-covered tunes by stirring up grand romantic emotions with his soulfully smooth tenor vocals. He’s joined by a small galaxy of guest stars (John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Steven Tyler, Elton John) on his most recent album, 2014’s Smokey & Friends, but there’s nothing like hearing the master sing by himself. FALLING JAMES
Nerdcore, my ass — if you want to hear someone rap about comic books or science fiction or anime, you can pick up an album by MF DOOM or Del the Funky Homosapien instead of glomming onto some kid who's too caught up in geek culture to learn how to flow. mc chris (remember all lower-case when you spell the man's name) is a notable exception: despite being a pioneer of the nerdcore scene, he's expressed numerous reservations about being lumped in with the more one-movement in his wake. And while his uber-nasal high-pitched voice (as heard on classic episodes of [adult swim] series Sealab 2020 and Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and enthusiasm for all things dork have made him a star amongst the Internet People set, all his Star Wars and D&D references are spit with a lyrical agility and a sharp-tongued sense of humor that set him miles above his peers. NATE PATRIN
When we hear the name Hoodie Allen we envision a cross between Big Baby Jesus, a.k.a. Dirt McGirt, or Wu Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Larry David. Sounds too soft for you? Well, in the absence of an MC that dares to pair gangsta ribaldry with Hasidic orthodoxy, we'll make do with this guy. Good ol' Hoodie (his mama named him Steven Markowitz) is like if Asher Roth didn't drop out after a semester and a half of binge drinking - and brief addiction to green tea caffeine pills - got good grades, joined a fraternity, and started three fucking honor societies. Ultimately, the MC's true persona may more closely align with the latter half of his namesake, having sampled Death Cab For Cutie and Marina & the Diamonds, alongside other user-friendly indie rock. Y'know, the kind of stuff Alvy Singer would have on his iPod if he actually existed. MATT PREIRA
In Robert DeLong’s music video for “Don’t Wait Up,” the Los Angeles-based electronic musician was filmed in Joshua Tree with his arsenal of gear that includes keyboards, guitars, drums, MIDI controllers, video game controllers, joysticks, a gaming steering wheel, Wii remotes and gamepads. While the video shows how much the guy can do by himself, the video ties into the artwork for his latest full-length, In the Cards. The photos for the album were shot mostly in Mohave Desert, and DeLong says the video was shot in Joshua Tree to keep with the aesthetic of the album design. While there’s desert imagery, there’s also tarot iconography, as DeLong says In the Cards is based around the idea of dealing with fate.
“I think the album has a pretty strong and consistent thematic arc and connection to the whole tarot thing,” he says. DeLong says In the Cards is kind of progression from his last full-length, 2013’s Just Movement. “The other album has a lot of rave-y elements,” DeLong says. “This is less of those but still very dance-y. Each song is kind of its own self-contained thing. I’ve tried a lot of different things songwriter-wise. It kind of goes through a lot of different styles. I have some songs that are like R&B slow jams all the way to house music to kind of crazy punk drum and bass stuff. So it’s kind of all over the place.” JON SOLOMON
Dr. Dog draws its roots back to the time that Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken started writing songs together when they were growing up in Newark, Delaware. Dr. Dog was a side project of Leaman and McMicken's main band, Raccoon. But it soon became much more than a diversion, growing to a five-piece and recording a 2001 debut, The Psychedelic Swamp. The group became known for its richly diverse sound, which incorporates aspects of Americana and psychedelia. Since then, Dr. Dog has added a sixth member and developed a sound that is consistently arresting, partly because its songwriting is never rote but always richly varied, whether its on the group's 2012 album, Be the Void or their latest full-length offering, 2013’s B-Room. TOM MURPHY
Rickie Lee Jones has made a point not to repeat herself. While commercial success came quickly thanks to her eponymous debut; its attendant hit single, "Chuck E's in Love"; and Pirates, her highly praised sophomore set, the tangled trajectory she pursued thereafter gave way to critical drubbing and the scorn of those who found themselves unable to effectively pigeonhole her sound. “I’ve have this habit of when I go in a certain direction, I make a sudden left turn,” Jones says. She learned the hard way that the public (and the critics too, of course) can be fickle.
The reaction she's garnered for her latest album, The Other Side of Desire, has been a bit more positive. With it, Jones returns to the more accessible sound that characterized her earliest outings. It's her first new album of original material in a decade, and in summing up the observations and experience gained over the course of her 35-year career, it does so with a renewed sense of melody, as well as weary reflection born of both acceptance and desire. LEE ZIMMERMAN
A garage-rock prodigy and infinitely entertaining musician, Ty Segall is one of the L.A. music scene’s most playful characters that many have come to admire — and remained curious about — for the better part of the last decade. Segall released his self-titled debut album on lo-fi mastermind John Dwyer's Castle Face Records when he was a 20-year-old college kid. Now 28, he manages to walk the line between approachable local hero and one of the L.A.’s few bona fide rock stars, though he would be the last to admit it.
Segall churns out tracks like a factory, through an ever-expanding list of touring bands, one-off projects and unexpected collaborations — such as Broken Bat, a punk trio formed with Redd Kross' Steven McDonald and The Melvins' Dale Crover, and the Stooges-esque GØGGS, featuring Ex-Cult's Chris Shaw. He also adds constantly to his already impressive résumé as a producer, working with everyone from White Fence's Tim Presley to his own hard-rock trio Fuzz, usually in his famously cramped home studio, which currently occupies a tiny, converted laundry room. His newest backing band, The Muggers, is made up of his closest friends and collaborators and is touring behind his latest album, the recently released Emotional Mugger. ARTEMIS THOMAS-HANSARD
Ringo Deathstarr are fucking sick of the word "shoegaze." Even before they’ve played a single note at gigs, Elliott Frazier — singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Austin band – has been known to ask the audience to "look at my shoes, because that's what the paper said." Deathstarr seems hellbent on separating themselves from this suffocating shoegaze tag. While it would be easy (and overdone) to draw a line between the band and My Bloody Valentine — both bands feature effect-laden female vocals, droning tones and a fair share of tap dancing on pedalboards — Deathstarr taps into new angles on their two most recent albums, 2012’s Mauve and last year’s Pure Mood.
And their performances — which include Frazier alternating between monstrous guitar tones and playing pared-down chords while reverting to a more punk-based song format and then whiplashing back into a face-meltingly heavy guitar interlude loaded with effects — emphasize they aren't a one-trick pony. Such changes may seem chaotic, but the Ringo Deathstarr makes it sound seamless. This daunting progression serves as a clear indicator of a band that thirsts for diversity in its song style. And Deathstarr commands this ambition with vigor. MATT WOOD
It's tremendously cheering to see that people actually dance during Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra shows — unadulterated, mildly erotic, not at all ironic salsa dancing — even though the ensemble’s repertoire of Black Keys, Yeasayer, Japanther, TV on the Radio, and the like usually inspires nothing of the sort. (It's hard to picture what ironic salsa dancing would even look like.) While the notion of straight Latin big-band covers of indie-rock songs may seem funny, bandleader/arranger/timbales expert Gianni Mano insists this isn’t a joke. The WSO is decked out with a full percussion detail, a four-man horn section, upright bass, electric piano, and the bombastic lead vocals of Argentinian frontwoman Solange Prat, who makes this all sound incredibly natural whether the tune in question is "L.E.S. Artistes" or "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." It's almost disturbing how well Yeasayer's "Ambling Alp" translates.
Mano, a "typical white suburban kid" who grew up riffing along to Rush, got the idea for this while listening to NPR and marveling at the songwriting chops of Animal Collective's "My Girls" — it takes him between a week and a month to pull off a full-song transformation. Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running," he explains, took a while because it initially came out too happy-sounding — he needed to darken it up. That tune, improbably, is the highlight, anthemic in a bizarre but somehow entirely believable way, Prat bellowing "When it's coming!" over and over and over as the horns rage on. If only everything that shouldn't really work worked this well. ROB HARVILLA
With so many bands using the musical equivalent of Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine, San Diego-based quartet The Donkeys are hardly alone in terms of looking to the past for direct inspiration. Often enough, Americana and country are where punk rockers end up when their anger peters out. These four may not have gone that route directly, but their psychedelically tinged pop songs tend to recall the free-flowing aesthetic and mellow vibes of such country-rock heroes of yesteryear as the Flying Burrito Brothers while still forgoing the more washed-out sound of that band's immediate followers. With Radiation City and Deep Sea Diver. TOM MURPHY
MarchFourth! puts on one of the best live shows around. Think of it as Sgt. Pepper's meets Cirque du Soleil and Gogol Bordello playing at a New Orleans Mardi Gras party. "Our sound is really all over the map," says leader John Averill. "We started off playing with a lot of NOLA [New Orleans], samba, Afrobeat, jazz, and Eastern European Gypsy brass elements, but over the past [several] years, we added guitar, and now our music has a lot more funk and rock going on." But there's an element of ska and punk, compliments of trumpet player Katie Presley, the ska queen from Warsaw Poland Brothers. And the musical layers keep on building.
Since its first show in 2003, the band's core aesthetic is DIY, and you can see it in the costumes the members design and sew, from the mismatched marching band uniforms to the vaudevillian dance outfits to the percussion corps harnesses made out of bicycle parts. There are also feathered conductor hats, bright spandex pants, hula hoops, and animal-print vests. After 13 years, it's amazing that the large act has survived for so long. Then again, the countless cultures that influence the band musically have also permeated that character: equal parts "live life to the fullest" and "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." LAUREN WISE
Say what you want about pop country, but there is plenty of good music that has been created under this banner. Glen Campbell and Conway Twitty probably wouldn't be such legends without their impressive crossover successes. In the 1990s and 2000s, though, the pendulum swung too far in one direction, and it seemed almost as if the music industry was trying to scrub away all the country in this music, shining it up and making it palatable for the masses. Lee Ann Womack is that era's glaring exception.
Even as she was persuaded by record execs to "tone down the country" on "I Hope You Dance," the song that made her an international star, she refused. Hailing from East Texas — Jacksonville, to be exact — Womack has always fiercely stayed true to her twangy timbre and authentic sound, both of which are beautifully showcased during her performances. AMY MCCARTHY
Gregory Porter was born into a black family with an absentee father, in a mostly white neighborhood in Bakersfield. As a boy, he endured a burning cross on his lawn and bottles of urine hurled through his windows. He sang only in church, until he honored his mother’s last wish for him on her deathbed and began his vocal career at age 40. In the ensuing years, Porter won a Grammy and international fame, including bringing the house down at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He’s a jazz singer but, as in the manner of Al Jarreau, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Lou Rawls and George Benson, his soul roots are gloriously self-evident. Blue Note Records has its new champion, one who sounds classic and current at the same time. GARY FUKUSHIMA
When Lake Street Dive comes to town later this month, they’ll transform the Crescent Ballroom into their own smoky roadhouse. The Boston band stirs up retro soul, with lead singer Rachael Price belting things out with R&B force and a jazzy grace. "I could have been a painter or president," Price declares on the title track of their second album, Bad Self Portraits. "I'm taking night classes … I'm painting bad self-portraits of a lonely woman." In reality, her "bad" self-portraits are supremely engaging, as the rest of the group pushes her through pop interludes such as "Rabid Animal" and the comparatively heavy rock-soul of "Bobby Tanqueray." Even when Price feels "Used Up," she dusts herself off and gets back up with fervent determination, her heart — and sweetly assured vocals — seemingly as pure as ever. FALLING JAMES
Is Carly Rae Jepsen pop’s best kept secret? Despite the astronomical success of her 2012 single, the inescapable “Call Me Maybe,” the Canadian singer is more of a cult figure than enormous pop star. Her third album, Emotion, released last year, was greeted with a storm of critical accolades but a comparatively less stellar Billboard chart performance. But what Jepsen lacks in a schtick for fans to rest their hat on, she makes up for with a catalogue of music that rings almost painfully true about love, whether she’s singing about its euphoric beginnings or its dismal finale.
But what makes Jepsen so beloved by her fans is there’s no wall between her and her listeners. An artist like Taylor Swift fabricates a sense of closeness to her audience, pantomiming friendship and relatability when there is, in reality, no way to truly access her. When Jepsen speaks to the crowds at her concerts, she isn’t just spilling canned anecdotes for the sake of segue: She talks to them like her friends, lamenting how irritating you become when you’re constantly complaining about romantic foibles before performing “Boy Problems” or detailing her and her friends’ decade-ago attempts at “dressing older” to get into clubs to lead into “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance.” Her realness is both her most valuable form of currency and precisely why she can navigate pop music without needing that currency at all. CLAIRE LOBENFELD
Formed in 1988 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Anti-Flag has never minced words in its denouncement of war, generally, the imperial ambitions of its home country, specifically, and the usual social ills that are perpetually neglected by the power elite of the United States. But Anti-Flag delivers that message with an upbeat tunefulness that doesn't sugarcoat the message, so much as make it accessible. It could be claimed the band can get polemical and that that undermines its impact, but there's no doubt these guys, by the sheer momentum of their longevity and ability to write good songs to go along with the lyrics, have changed the thinking of at least one section of America's youth, and that has to count for something. TOM MURPHY
For girls of a certain age, Ani DiFranco is a feminist icon. Her angry feminist aesthetic has formed the backbone of many a rebellious teenage girl, and she hasn't slowed or mellowed almost 20 years later. DiFranco's anger, which is decidedly still well placed considering our current political climate, is perhaps her defining feature, one that is best displayed onstage. Those needing an outlet for their feminist rage will find comfort in DiFranco's angsty, folky tunes. Perhaps more notably, though, DiFranco's accomplishments as an instrumentalist and musician are woefully underappreciated. If you make it out to Mesa Arts Center on February 24, you'll see exactly what we're talking about. AMY MCCARTHY
Take two Swedish electronic music producers and pair them with an American singer-songwriter and you get Grizfolk, whose sound evokes dreamy notions of the epic West that sound as if they're coming from both the past and the future. Hailing from such varied backgrounds, the members of Grizfolk have formed a unique and rightly groovy sound of danceable beats that still manage to emote lyrically vivid stories. Singer-guitarist Adam Roth fronts the band, belting out his earnest vocals over the melodies. The sound becomes fully structured with the addition of a live drummer. Check their single "The Struggle" for evidence, or just come see for yourself when they swing through Valley Bar later this month. TONY DUSHANE
To fully understand Fetty Wap you have to fully understand how quickly he rose to fame. In 2004, he was just a guy named Willie Maxwell with one child and another on the way. Another artist looking for a niche in the increasingly competitive New York rap scene. His song “Trap Queen” had been out for a little less than a month. Nobody outside of small sects in Paterson and on the East Coast believed it would be a massive smash single. At best, it was Fetty Wap experimenting with singing on a song with a bit of a Haitian drawl.
About 12 months later, “Trap Queen” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The video has been seen more than 80 million times on YouTube. It has come to a point where Fetty Wap is in demand. As in, Fetty Wap being at the MTV Movie Awards is a news story and he’s being compared to Future as one of the greatest love singers we’ve ever been blessed with. Now, we can't joke about what the hell a Fetty Wap is. He’s intriguing on a human level because he lost his eye via glaucoma, has the power to grow dreadlocks in mere months and has had his entire career transformed by the power of “Trap Queen." BRANDON CALDWELL
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Over the past year or so, Tyga has made more headlines for his behavior off-stage than on it. The 26-year-old rapper has had what would best be described as a rocky relationship with Kylie Jenner and the gossip swirling around the couple has been quite thick. Despite all the hullabaloo in regards to his personal life, what can’t be denied is that the “Rack City” rapper has had one of the more colorful journeys in rap over the past few years. His fourth album, The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty, saw him leave label Cash Money to release it independently. The album was executive produced by pal Kanye West and is straightforward rap, at least compared to his earlier commercial material. With a career that’s as interesting as his personal life, don’t be surprised if Tyga is energized by the chance to put aside all the tabloids and focus on playing music. DANIEL KOHN
Leo Kottke is a legendary and beloved master of finger picking guitar and a gifted raconteur. He got his start with John Fahey's Takoma Records in the late '60s and has been releasing noteworthy albums of some of the most inventive and interesting acoustic music ever recorded. Whether playing intricate folk leads or jazz inflected blues, Kottke is ever the master craftsman with a creative imagination to match. A longtime regular guest on A Prairie Home Companion, Kottke, a resident of the Twin Cities, was also awarded an honorary PhD in Music Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 2008. Several years back, he overcame physically debilitating damage to his hearing and tendons that nearly ended his career by switching up his playing style, and he continues strong to this day. TOM MURPHY