10 Oakland-Based Acts to Keep an Eye On
Written by Reina Shinohara
With standouts like Kehlani, Kamaiyah, and Keyshia Cole, the Bay Area (and Oakland in particular) is overflowing with musically talented womxn. Vallejo’s very own H.E.R. won not one but two Grammys this year for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album. But it’s not just the big name artists that make the Oakland musical landscape so special, there are so many unique artists that are worth your support, and here are 10 of them that we recommend keeping an eye on in 2019.
Charmaine Davis is an Oakland-based rap artist, mother, boss goddess, and champion like Serena. She’s also a co-founder of the production agency The House of Malico, which collaborates with brands and artists to build creative productions and inclusive programming. She puts on captivating and empowering live shows throughout the Bay Area and beyond, and her music resonates deep in our hearts. We can’t wait to hear what she puts out next. You can listen to Flavor of Green, the latest from Queens D. Light, here.
Bells Atlas is one of the most interesting acts making waves in the Oakland music scene. The band makes music that’s hard to pinpoint; it’s equal parts soulful R&B, psychedelic jazz, and dreamy pop. Bells Atlas just put out an EP last fall, and recently performed at the opening of Bandcamp's New Oakland Venue, Record Shop and Office. We’re already itching to hear more. Check out the SALT AND SOAP EP here and stay up to date with their new releases here.
ASTU is an Oakland-based darling with a story to tell. Her 2018 EP Patterns features spoken intros that give listeners an intimate glimpse into the singer’s personal & love life. She’s an artist that refuses to be boxed into one genre, with tracks incorporating elements of R&B, soul, synth-pop, and New Wave, among many other styles of music. We love everything ASTU has put out so far, and we can’t wait to see what 2019 holds for her steadily rising career. Stay up to date with ASTU’s releases here.
You might know Lara as FOOZOOL, a DJ and one of the founders of Club Chai: a record label, event series, radio show, and curatorial project based in Oakland. Sarkissian released her debut EP Disruption last year, and it’s a dark, ethereal celebration of Armenian culture and intersectional existence. Both with Club Chai and independently, Sarkissian is one of the most exciting acts carving out a place for marginalized voices in electronic music. With the 3 year anniversary of Club Chai among us, we’re excited to hear what she is cooking up for 2019. In the meantime you can listen to Disruption here and her other releases here.
Chrystia Cabral makes music under the name Spellling, which feels appropriate for the other-worldly and enchanting music she produces. A critical darling in the Oakland community, she’s a cosmic force in her own right, making soulful electronic music with mesmerizing and almost celestial vocals weaving in and out of swirling synths and hard drum beats. She just released her new album, Mazy Fly and it’s the dark, cosmic, synth-filled masterpiece she promised. We’re already waiting in anticipation of what this witchy wonder will release next. Listen to Mazy Fly here and stay up to date with Spellling’s releases here.
It’s hard to define exactly what kind of music Rose Droll makes. Every song is different from the one before, with elements of spoken word, folky acoustics, and bedroom pop. A prominent figure throughout Oakland’s indie music scene, she’s a talented multi-instrumentalist who played every single instrument on her self-recorded release. Rose Droll released her debut album, Your Dog, last year to critical acclaim, but you can still find her playing the keys in friends’ bands or quietly attending shows throughout the Bay Area. You can listen to Your Dog here and keep up with Rose’s newest releases here.
Emily McLean has this voice that sounds as breezy and cool as a windy day in autumn. Along with Queens D. Light, Mclean is a member of the Oakland collaborative production agency The House of Malico. She makes soulful tunes that are upbeat and forward thinking, with a beautiful organic vibe that feels like her hair is constantly swaying in a gentle breeze. Her soft and smooth vocals perfectly mesh with the mellow synths and beats she uses in her projects. Listen to Emily’s releases here and stay up with her new tracks here.
In 2018, Oakland native AroMa blessed us with Zoombug, a “radically queer” visual album. In 2019, they’re promising MoonBaby, an original musical film about “the surreal world that exists within each of us—our perceptions and subconscious thoughts, our fears and the ways in which we cope with them.” Zoombug was AroMa’s first foray into creating their own musical score, and it’s clear they are just getting started with their creative and musical vision. We’re waiting in anticipation to see what MoonBaby is all about, and if you are too, check out the film’s site to see how you can help support the production of the film. Stay up to date with Moon Baby related updates here.
Wizard Apprentice, also known as U.R.L.G.R.L. on YouTube, is a music producer, video artist, and self-branded “(e)motion graphics artist”. Existing in the unique in-between as an introverted exhibitionist, the loosely Oakland-based artist creates experimental electronic music that is brutally honest and in some ways confessional, using her digital identity as a space to open herself up completely. In the era of social media where people are anxious about presenting the best version of themselves, it’s radical to see someone using digital means for the opposite effect. We are so keen to see what work she’ll be putting out in 2019. Listen to Wizard Apprentice’s releases here and stay up to date with her new work here.
Last but not least is Rayana Jay. Fresh off an amazing 2018, we’re more than sure that Rayana’s 2019 is going to be even better. With a voice as smooth and spreadable as butter and a lyrical mind that’s wise beyond her years, the Richmond native is rapidly on the rise, and we don’t think she plans on stopping anytime soon. Rayana, we know you’re crafting this album with a lot of love and care, but like, give us new music already (not that we’re not grateful for the newly released singles, because we are). If you can’t tell, we’re more than excited to hear her upcoming album. Until then, catch her at a local Oakland venue near you, and listen to her EPs and recent singles here.
Red Corvette, born Carmena Woodward, is a DJ, co-founder of Women Sound Off, and an all-around queen. She is not only Rayana Jay’s official tour DJ, but an event planner and experienced curator for HellaJawns, an Oakland-based creative agency creating experiences to empower and uplift women. She champions inclusivity for womxn in the music industry, and promotes that message in every project that she touches. Red lives in Oakland and reps Bay Area slaps alongside a mix of hip-hop, R&B, soul, experimental trap, and electronic tracks when she spins, and is guaranteed to have everyone dancing. Make sure to check her out at her next gig and keep up with her mixes here.