Is music in the Washington, D.C., region getting better every year? Or is it that now we can finally explore the range of talent once hidden away in local basements and bedrooms?
Before the age of Soundcloud and Bandcamp, Maryland R&B artists like April + VISTA, LeXuS and Reece may not have found thousands of listeners. The rapid, distressed rhymes of K.A.A.N., a brickmason in Columbia, might have evaporated as quickly as they skittered from his mouth. Protester and Red Death may never have fueled a mosh pit outside of D.C., and wicked but humble local ensembles like More Humans might count only their parents as fans.
We’re lucky that these artists can be heard now. But they still deserve more ears. That’s why Bandwidth.fm spent days upon days devising this year’s playlist of our favorite new local music. (Want to jump right to it? Scroll down.)
To compile this year’s list, we hit up our contributors — experts in the region’s hip-hop, R&B, jazz, rock, punk, electronic music, metal and more — and asked them to rank their picks, like we did last year. Then we threw out the rankings. Why? We couldn’t measure these songs by any one standard. They are — much like D.C.’s musical communities — all over the map.
For example: In a competition between metal veterans King Giant and young street rapper Topdolla Sweizy, could anyone agree on a victor? Could art rockers Beauty Pill go in the same pot as trombonist Reginald Cyntje? Does Kali Uchis vs. The Max Levine Ensemble make any sense? You see what we mean.
Ultimately we decided on 50 local songs we dig for all kinds of reasons. We had few rules, other than geography (from this area) and release year (2015). We omitted local natives who have built solid careers outside of D.C., like Kelela, Logic, Wale and Oddisee. We didn’t venture far beyond the beltway, which means we didn’t pick any of our favorite artists out of Baltimore, Richmond, Norfolk or Ellicott City, among other locales. And you might find that we overlooked several genres — not out of disdain, but because we didn’t follow them closely enough to intelligently size them up. (Sorry, classical-music lovers!)
But even with those restrictions, we had a rough time paring down our list to 50 songs, which is a testament to the range of ingenuity and talent found here. So think of this playlist not just as fodder for your earbuds, but also as an audio tour of D.C.’s rich and constantly evolving musical culture. — Ally Schweitzer, editor, Bandwidth.fm
Warning: Many of these songs contain explicit lyrics.
This list was compiled with help from Teta Alim, Christopher Buresh, Angela Byrd, David Combs, Lars Gotrich, Steve Kiviat, Ron Knox, Catherine Lewis, Ryan Little, Keith Mathias, Marcus J. Moore, Nicole “DJ Heat” Mosley, Megan Pauly, Jesse Rubin, Alex Schelldorf, Ally Schweitzer, Courtney Sexton, Farrah Skeiky, Johnthan Speed, Joe Warminsky, Michael J. West, Justyn Withay, Briana Younger and Alan Zilberman.