The Best Music & Visual Projects by Women & Non-Binary Folks of 2020

Disclaimer that these are just my opinions. I'm a visual artist with a passion for music particularly by women and non-binary  in hip hop, pop, and R&B. These six women and non-binary artists have been my favorite to watch throughout the year.  - Tara

070 Shake

I first started listening to 070 Shake after Honey came up on my Spotify Discover Weekly at the end of 2018. It was the first song of my 2019 playlist “here we are” that I made to share the music I was listening to with a boy I thought I loved. I made this animation of 070 Shake when I was just starting to work as an artist. Modus Vivendi was a project special to my 2020 as I got to share it with a now very good friend of mine as we cemented our friendship. 

Needless to say, I have strong feelings about 070 Shake, but rightfully so. Her honeyed genre bending pop and casual swagger are a formidable combination. In the middle of March, in a release prescient to the circumstances of the pandemic, her team released her live set at Webster Hall on Youtube. It slaps. My jaw literally dropped open at the end of Don’t Break The Silence / Come Around. Here’s a full playlist of the entire set.

Amaarae

Amaarae grew up between Atlanta and Accra. She was an Apple Music Beats 1 featured artists in 2018. She is a Ghanian icon known for her sharp style and innovative sound. Read her poignant 2019 Op-Ed - 3 Moments That Defined My Journey As a Young Woman In Search of Herself & Her Purpose. Listen to her project, The Angel You Don’t Know, released on her independent label Golden Child Entertainment.

I’m so glad FANCY exists as a song. It makes me feel SO good. Amaarae’s very skilled copywriter states, “accentuated drum patterns that swing hard with a trap twist reveal the other side to Amaarae: A boundless love for Southern bounce. Fancy hangs on a loose string; it meanders between sing-songy rap, shoegazing emo, and straight ahead trap – if these three forms hung out at a high-end fashion joint uptown they'd be the gnarliest kids in the building. Fancy is a certified banger -It's rich and flavorful style, a testament to Amaarae's outstanding abilities as a songwriter.”

The music video for JUMPING SHIP is very cool, queer, abd hot and you should watch it. It’s “a Baille Funk-sampling RnB cut that harkens back to the late 90s/early 2000s era when the sound of UK Garage commanded the utmost respect among soundsystem and club culture aficionados…” “...about leaving a current lover in pursuit of a new love interest. It's taboo subject matter which nonetheless applies uniformly, and gets practiced, across different sectors of our society. Driven by a thumping two-step beat and cushioned in a tingling guitar loop, the song is a statement of intent and a decision to abandon love rolled into one thick, sweaty toast-up of pop mastery.”

 

“I like it a lot,” said D, my housemate, who has great taste in music. Shoutout to Xhjyl for putting me on.

LOUS AND THE YAKUZA

Marie-Pierra Kakoma,  performing as Lous and the Yakuza, is a Congolese-Belgian artist. Her sound includes trap, R&B, and pop. I heard "Tout est Gore" at the end of 2019 and was immediately hooked. Her silky sound is matched by her dynamic visuals, often featuring elaborate choreography and gorgeous dancers.

Lous Plurielle is a series released in December of this year that gives an in depth look into Kakoma's background, process, and inspiration. Watch her music video and live performance for Amigo below.

DUA SALEH

My friend goes through phases of listening to music on repeat. I first heard Warm Pants by Dua Saleh during one of these bouts. The use of inversion and snow in their music video was very cool and worth the repeat. Saleh is a Sudanese-American singer songwriter based in Minnesota. They've continued releasing throughout the year, dropping Rosetta June 11th. According to the press release: "a name inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneering black artist who became known as the Godmother of rock and roll. Like Dua, Sister Rosetta Tharpe wasn't afraid of violating taboos or religious dogma." These two music videos couldn't be more different - "Umbrellar" was shot on location at Franconia Sculpture Parkone and "hellbound" is a remix of the anime Devilman's Crybaby.

They also released "body cast," saying, "This is a song I made with Psymun last year and intended to save it for a project in the future but I can’t wait that long with what is happening in my city of Minneapolis. This song is about police brutality and injustice. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Women for Political Change who are mobilizing their efforts for real change. All of the names listed in the cover art were unarmed black people killed by police in recent years." You can purchase this song on Bandcamp

AROMA

I first saw AroMa perform at a basement show at Omni Commons in 2019.  Their performance was so moving that I cried. They are well known in Oakland for directing music videos, throwing community events, and stand out performances, but they are still finding their footing in the music videos. Their single, Brown Eyes, dropped December 12th as part of a two-track project, Pastures. This is their self-produced, soul-train inspired music video.

They are a visionary director, taking a quarantine induced pause from their musical film, MoonBaby, to focus on music. I look forward to seeing more of their work in 2021, as they develop their sound and release more music and accompanying visuals. This is a rough quarantine video thhey put together, a glimpse of their lyricism and genre-bending work to come.

RIMON

Released August 7th, 2020, this nearly 17 minute short film paints is a cinematic achievement with standouts in costume design and cinematography and production honestly. Standout all around. This video was my first encounter with Rimon and it definitely won me over.

According to the Youtube description:

'What They Called Me' is the visual counterpart to RIMONs sophomore EP 'I Shine, U Shine'. Her debut short film tells the story of RIMON on a journey of self-discovery, struggling with finding and accepting her own path in life. Navigating through tumultuous relationships, consistently losing herself by adapting in the most extreme ways - battling unspoken childhood traumas in the process. A masterclass in self-acceptance; showcasing the value of claiming your own identity.

That's all! What a doozy of a year! Happy New Year! Send me your recommendations!