2020 was simultaneously a year to forget and remember. Numerous obstacles served as challenges for a rapidly flourishing music scene in Denver and beyond. The glaring absence of live performance proved difficult for artists whose primary goal was to showcase their talents. These roadblocks, however, birthed a number of sonic ideas, solo and collaborative experimentation, musical trial and error as well as a deluge of fresh faces. After a few bumps in the road and a collection of songs, EPs or albums in their back pocket, these artists established — or reestablished — themselves, etching their sound into the fabric of Colorado’s many-faced music community. These are 19 of Denver’s hottest artists — a lineup of creators that have their sights set firmly on the tunnel’s end of next year. Here is our list of Denver musicians to watch in 2021.
There aren’t many Colorado artists whose music engages listeners as strongly as Paul Whitacre. 2020 was a big year for his venture into solo compositions. lost in translation, an EP born from quarantine sees Whitacre’s echoing voice burrow between warm, comfortable strings and sampled voice recordings (see “gettysburg”). With Whitacre, his former band on indefinite hiatus, he’ll look to hold momentum in 2021 with further solo exploration, and we can’t wait
The Grand Alliance
Who doesn’t love a musical trio? Grand Alliance is Denver’s version of an R&B supergroup — Crl Crrll, Sur Ellz and Kayla Marque aim to combine heads this coming year. All three musicians possess an immeasurable power in their vocals and masterful ability in production and intention. Grand Alliance is sure to be a collaboration worth keeping an eye on.
Drum N’ Bass and footwerk in Denver? Who would have thought? Jeremy Howard aka Sinistarr comes to Denver by way of Detroit, and in that transition comes packed with the underground sounds that make Detroit an electronic music haven. Denver has long needed to break free of it’s of jam-tronica and dubstep mold, and Howard may just be the one to take us there. With support from the likes of Movement Music Festival and no shortage of international touring dates under his belt, Sinistarr is more than a breath of fresh air, he is a motivator for this music scene.
Singer/songwriter and producer, Sarah Pumpian aka ZEMBU continuously ensnares listeners in her intoxicating output. The emotional apex of which teems through time and time again amid layers of guitars and sparse percussion. As an artist, Pumpian puts intention in plain view, letting her music enchant as much as enrapture in a realm all of her own creation. If 2020 was a glimpse at what she’s capable of, ZEMBU will be a house-hold name sooner than we think, so it’s a good thing her namesake rolls off the tongue.
Isadora Eden returned to form in 2020 following 2018’s Quick to Burn EP with “Anhedonia,” a record that not only confirms her natural songwriting ability but elevates it. She’s slated to release her upcoming project, Ghost, on January 15th, 2021 — a collection of songs that will certainly have listeners hypnotized as she sings into the void.
YaSi is certainly not a newcomer to Denver’s music scene, but if you’ve been bumping her from the start, you can tell the stakes have never been greater. With a bona fide breakout year in 2019, that saw the R&B singer coming into her own with a slew of successful singles and tour with iyla earlier this year, other than that, YaSi has laid relatively quiet in 2020. However, as history has shown us, especially in music circles, is that more often than not, greatness is crafted behind closed doors, and in YaSi’s case, we haven’t stopped knocking.
On December 22nd, Duke Justice nestled himself firmly back into the Denver airwaves with “The Turn.” It’s a percussive, righteous explosion in which Justice exclaims “Praise…I don’t need it but I can’t escape the feeling that I’m giving and I ain’t receiving.” If Duke Justice’s musical progress is any indication of things to come, he’ll get his fair share of praise in the coming year.
We can’t be the only ones lapping up the bad bitch energy of Nay Renee. Denver’s music scene is bursting with rappers, but few have as unique a drawl and a persona as Nay Renee. With a voice that shapeshifts around the productions she bodies with her nimble flow, to the sheer charisma oozing from each bar, Renee sounds like at any given moment she could ascend to stardom. Once that happens, we’re happy to tell you we told you so.
This Colorado outfit’s two 2020 singles — groove-heavy “Independently” and the more recent, key and drum-driven “Fancy Limousine” are a surefire sign of things to come — grooves, happy thoughts and imminent success. Keep a close ear on Fresh Fruit! in 2021.
Neoma, the young indie-rock star by way of Ecuador has been on our minds for a while. Prior to the pandemic, she was slated for big appearances at SXSW and Treefort Music Festival, but when those events were put on indefinite hold, Neoma refused to halt her momentum. Releasing an abundance of collaborations throughout 2020 showing just how versatile of an artist she is, she managed to live in our collective minds rent-free. With an eventual return to normal in the cards for 2021, we’re keeping an eye on Neoma to see what tricks she has up her sleeves in the real world.
The Patient Zeros
The Patient Zeros’ first official release since 2017 came a day before Halloween. “Summer’s Over,” a sprawling triumph of alternative rock, made one thing perfectly clear — The Patient Zeros are ready to continue on their ascent in the Denver music scene with fresh, hard-hitting methods of musical creation. 2021 is a shining beacon of opportunity for the Colorado ensemble to make good on the promise they showed when they debuted three years ago.
Holdfast. is a gripping rock band out of Fort Collins. Dropping out of school midway through the pandemic to focus on music, the work has clearly paid off with the release of “Walls” and “Drive,” two singles from their forthcoming album. A band that is comprised of brothers Tommy and Mikey Maddocks, and their cousin Charlie, Holdfast. is a family affair through and through, and it shows in how tight they play. With two albums prepped for 2021, the band show no signs of slowing down, rather, it’s pedal to the metal for these Northern Colorado favorites.
When we spoke to Amone Gragg a few months ago, the Boulder MC made it abundantly clear that a series of solo and collaborative projects were on the way. In the months since, he’s released “Self Doubt” and “Dangerous,” the latter of which is his introduction to a glitchier, fast-paced cadence and delivery. Gragg is as versatile as any Colorado rapper — he’ll shoot to expand on his arsenal of styles in 2021.
It’s rare that a young artist fully realizes their approach to music so early on. This is precisely what Dafna has done — she’s carved out a niche as one of Boulder’s most popular new singer/songwriters. I Love You is a passionate letter to an interest of days past, but her listeners have their sights set firmly on the foreseeable future — one that could show brilliant results.
This Fort Collins duo may as well have created their own blueprint on how to enter a respective music scene with a bang. Roseville’s self-titled debut has all the makings of a music club mainstay — loud, sparse percussion and gritty riffs occupy a majority of Roseville (see “Lucky Cigarette”). To say the coming year is an exciting one for Roseville is nothing short of an understatement.
Joseph Lamar is truly an artist’s artist. Releasing one of the best records of 2020 — one that was transcendent in its message and in the way it conveyed it, Sin. Act 1, was nothing short of brilliance in motion. While not a conventional release, it displayed Lamar’s commitment to a vision, a quality that is hard to come by. Whether or not we get a part 2 is yet to be determined but as Sin. Act 1 continues to gain traction, it’ll be hard to keep Joseph Lamar our best-kept secret for long.
What musical avenue does Keelan McDorman not have his sticks in? This diverse percussionist made an imprint on the local scenes with music from Openness, Indica Cinema, Cereza and Sunny Sideways, and has his scope locked in for a monster 2021. Labeling McDorman as “all over the place” is a thorough compliment, and the endless possibilities that a new year brings have fans and listeners across each of his mediums giddy with excitement.
How an artist like N3PTUNE exists in Denver is beyond us, but the mere existence of someone so provocatively boundary-pushing in the many aspects of their artistic identity makes Denver’s music scene all the more rich and exciting. With a style that volleys between Rico Nasty, Lady Gaga and Jadakiss, N3PTUNE is a musical anomaly that refuses any labels, s he confidently strides a thin line between the avant-garde and the mainstream. With his box-braids swinging and signature knee-high boots, N3PTUNE will undoubtedly be stomping on the neck of 2021, and we’re here for it.
Cole Scheifele’s music comes from a sacred place — a place where brutal honesty and raw emotion meet. A folk singer/songwriter by trade, Scheifele’s craft is always placed on a pedestal that’s impossible to ignore. Look no further than his most recent release with Joel Ansett, “Thinking of Me,” and his attention to the lyricism and melody that see both men’s voices beautifully intertwined. We’re not the only ones who have taken notice, “Thinking of Me” as well as his forthcoming album is being produced by The Fray’s Ben Wysocki. In a city with an abundance of folk singers, Scheifele rises to the top on talent alone, and just like Wysocki, we can’t wait to see what happens. His newest single, “All the While” arrives on January 14, 2021.
Check out the playlist of the 2021 musicians to watch below: