If you were wondering what the D.C. music scene sounds like, listening to these 14 artists is a good place to start. From emo to synth-pop to R&B and more, this playlist guides you through a diverse catalog of artists throughout the DMV area.
You probably know pop-punk artist Jack Kays from his song “MORBID MIND” which thrust him into the spotlight when the song went viral on TikTok in 2020. Since then, Kays released his debut album and even collaborated with Travis Barker on Kays’ 2021 EP “MY FAVORITE NIGHTMARE.” From his most recent EP, “CESSATION,” track “28” stands out as the most soul-bearing and personal acoustic song, showcasing his cutting lyricism. The song spins off the infamous “27 club” where Kays pleads “I’m scared I won’t see 28.” The artist has always used music as a way to express his personal struggles with addiction and alcoholism, and “28” is no exception. Check him out at jackkays.com and follow him on Instagram @jackkays.
“Farm to Table” was one of the best albums in 2022, and since the release, Bartees Strange’s musical career has taken off. From opening for Phoebe Bridgers to playing onstage with Jack Antonoff and Teagan and Sara, the D.C. artist has received more mainstream recognition for his fusion of alternative-rock and rap. Strange’s ability to fuse genres speaks to his artistry; he’s unafraid to place a disco drum and synths with an emo-rock buildup on “Wretched.” Beginning with a somber guitar and vocals, and then transforming into a grandiose chorus, “Mulholland Dr.” has be the most impressive track on “Farm to Table.” Check him out at barteesstrange.com and follow him on Instagram @bartees_strange.
“Mirage” by Alex Vaughn
Currently on tour opening for fellow D.C. native, Ari Lennox, Alex Vaughn’s soulful voice has led her to rise in ranks in the R&B scene. Having just released her sophomore album in Oct. 2022, “The Hurtbook,” Vaughn gives us soothing vocal runs on tracks like “Demon Time” and “Talkin.” “Mirage” is a captivating, moody track dedicated to dramatically falling for someone, with Vaughn expressing her lack of control because her love is so strong. “Damn near perfect / Beautiful you are, yeah / Or is it just a mirage?” Catch Vaughn live opening for Ari Lennox’s homecoming shows at The Fillmore Silver Spring on March 25 and 26 and at The Howard Theatre on March 28 and March 29. Check her out alexvaughnofficial.com and follow her on Instagram @alexvaughn.
“good time” by Eli Derby
Hailing from PG County, Eli Derby draws from the early 2000s R&B scene with a unique, current spin in his production. Most recently having collaborated with 6LACK on a slow jam titled “Lately,” Derby has proved himself to be a new up and comer in the industry. Off his debut EP, “More Than Friends,” the artist’s track titled “good time” is a smooth contemporary soulful classic and a perfect soundtrack to a Valentine’s Day date night. From romantic slow jams to the lyrical frustrations about young love, the 18-year-old artist has potential, so start listening now before he’s the next big thing. Check him out at eliderby.com and follow him on Instagram @eliderbyx.
“Someday” by Mystery Friends
Maybe you’ve seen them at Comet Ping Pong or DC9, or maybe this is the first you’re hearing of local synth pop project Mystery Friends. Regardless, Abby Sevcik and Dave Mohl make an electric duo that you’ll want to listen to. Ranging from disco-rock with their song “Beck & Call” to a soft-indie rock with “Time and Place,” Sevcik and Mohl pull you in with dreamy vocals and dance-y instrumentals. Their single “Someday,” released in 2021, sounds like it belongs in a movie soundtrack, beginning with a vintage 80s synth and landing in an inviting chorus that yearns for the future. Check them out at mysteryfriendsmusic.com and follow them on Instagram @mysteryfriends.
“Your Ideal” by Cinema Hearts
If you’ve wanted the angst of Angel Olsen with delivery of a Wet Leg song in a track, “Your Ideal” by Cinema Hearts is probably what you’ve been looking for. Ex-pageant queen Caroline Weinroth satirizes her former life competing in beauty pageants, screaming “I wanna be, wanna be your ideal / My favorite woman is the one that’s not real.” Fellow D.C. artist Bartees Strange produced her debut EP, “Your Ideal,” providing alluring instrumentals. Weinroth makes a brilliant critique of the superficial expectations placed on her being both a pageant queen and woman. Check her out at cinemahearts.com and follow her on Instagram @cinema_hearts.
“Twenty Something Socialist” by The Crystal Casino Band
If you like Arctic Monkeys or The Strokes, The Crystal Casino Band should be your D.C. band of choice. Having just released their record “Maryland House” on January 27, the indie-rock quintet has entered its newest era. Of the five singles released in preparation of “Maryland House,” “Twenty Something Socialist” is their most intriguing, not only as a solid rock song, but also a relevant social commentary. Speaking to the feelings of the younger generations frustrated by the woes of modern-day politics, lead singer Pete Stevens screams, “Now the Billionaires are up in space / Sky’s no limit if you can pay.” Check them out at crystalcasinoband.com and follow them on Instagram @crystalcasinoband.
“Monday” by Tunnel
Natasha Janfaza is quintessential ’90s rock, shoegaze and punk all in one in her project “Tunnel.” In 2022, Janfaza released her debut record “Vanilla,” featuring angsty social commentaries, devastating poeticism and moody instrumentals. “Monday” is the perfect encapsulation of Janfaza’s intentions for Tunnel, not to mention it’s just a really good indie-rock with apparent D.C. punk influences. Check her out at tunnelll.bandcamp.com and follow her on Instagram @tun._.nel.
“Dream Girl” by Jeff Draco
Jeff Draco offers a softer, beachy indie sound that will make you want to sit and daydream. Released in 2021, “Dream Girl” feels like the type of song you’d want to play with your windows down on a sunny day. Draco shyly confesses his love for a summer fling, revealing his insecurities but with a nonchalant vocal delivery. His latest EP “Freezing in Hollywood,” released in 2022, is a continuation of this light and breezy vibe, especially with a more timid, longing lyricism in “Mango Kisses.” Check him out at jeffdraco.com and follow him on Instagram @jeffdraco.
“Skeddadle” by Mannywellz
Fusing rap, soul, Afro-beats and hip-hop, Nigerian-born and Maryland-based artist Mannywellz creates everything from slow ballads to exciting dance melodies. Having collaborated with fellow D.C. native Wale and Tems, another star from the Nigerian music scene, the artist has risen to some fame in recent years. “Skeddadle” serves as the ultimate introduction to Mannywellz’s artistry, inviting listeners into an engaging lively beat and lyrical deliveries. Check him out at mannywellz.com and follow him on Instagram @mannywellz.
“MOE TOWN” by Asa Weeks
Born and raised in Maryland, rapper Asa Weeks started his musical career amidst the pandemic with his debut EP “Who Knew,” featuring impressive poetry and call outs on systemic racism. The artist never fails to demonstrate his love of genre fusing in each song’s production along with his thought provoking lyricism. Asa Weeks uses everything from jazzy guitar and saxophone to downtempo lo fi beats in his backtracking of his discography. On his latest release, “MOE TOWN,” the rapper plays with his flow over top a low tone beat, with his song-writing skills on full display. Follow him on Instagram @asa.t.weeks.
“Receipt” by MLLN
On MLLN’s debut album “MLLN & Friends” released last year, you can’t help but hear influences from Jacob Collier to Anderson Paak. Crafting a fusion of neo-soul, jazz and contemporary R&B in his songs, MLLN takes a chilled and easygoing approach to his musicianship. Intriguing instrumentals are significant in his production, especially with groovy baselines in his track “Receipt.” Catch MLLN live opening for Upstate at Pearl Street Warehouse on April 14. Follow him on Instagram @mlln_official.
“Italo Love” by Bottled Up
Bottled Up’s frontman Nikhil Rao has made a name for himself in the D.C. music scene, especially known for starting the record label and post-production studio House of Joy. Bottled Up has made a name for itself too, with their most recent critically acclaimed record “Grand Bizarre,” featuring elements of funk-pop, post-punk and new-wave. “Italo Love” feels like an earworm in the best way possible, with its imaginative repetitive chorus as the most engaging part of the track. Check them out at bottledup.bandcamp.com and follow them on Instagram @bottled_up.exe.
“Game Over” by Synae
After releasing their EP “Wild World,” Synae proved their skills as a singer-songwriter, but most importantly as a producer. By employing digital, computer-like keyboarding emblematic of video game music and then fusing that with R&B and hip-hop, Synae demonstrated their innovative spirit. Their song titled “Game Over” is no exception with introspective lyricism and an addicting beat. Check them out at synaemusic.com and follow them on Instagram @iamsynae.
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