Meet Dounia, Sebastian Mikael, and TOBi.

Welcome to Ones to Watch, a new quarterly series where we highlight brilliant individuals making their way in the music industry. From artists to producers, A&Rs, DJs, managers, etc., they’re all talents you should keep your eye on. Pretty soon you’ll be seeing their names *everywhere.*

Listening to Queens native Dounia’s dreamy vocals will send you into a meditative state. The singer, who began her career modeling, has released three EPs since 2017: Intro To, The Avant-Garden, and Not Good for the Ego. The former was released independently before she signed on to Empire Distribution, and one month ago, on July 17th, she released her debut album, The Scandal. “I call it eclectic or alternative R&B, or I would describe it as pop-driven hip-hop,” Dounia tells us of her sound. “I think it’s my own [way of taking a] stab at a genre—it’s very unique.” Kehlani and Moroccon Doll have both been featured on her tracks, fitting collaborators for Dounia’s songs, which are filled with lyrics about self-empowerment. Once you finish reading this, we suggest you add her albums to your current playlist rotation.

SHE CREDITS THE 2000’S POP SCENE FOR INSPIRATION IN HIGH SCHOOL:

“I was mostly listening to Eminem and Taylor Swift, those were my two top artists [that] showed me that I love songwriting. I like listening to music and getting a perspective of what’s going on in somebody’s life. That’s a philosophy I carried out in my own artistry. I also really liked the whole pop scope—it was very fortunate for me to grow up in the 2000s pop scheme. Katy Perry, Britney Spears—everybody was super creative. I was also a nerd, so I really liked books and was writing a lot.”

POETRY AND SONGWRITING WERE ALWAYS HOBBIES:

“I think they both happened simultaneously, but I remember taking [poetry] more seriously. I was published when I was 12 [years old] in this poetry book, and I would do short stories in my middle school. I learned to play guitar when I was 12, and then that’s when I got into songwriting.”

INTRO TO VS. THE AVANT-GARDEN:

Intro To was a perfect name because it really felt like an introduction to me. I knew that I wanted it to be a very narrative project, where somebody could listen to it and get a strong sense of who I am [and] what I could offer lyrically. With Avant-Garden, I wanted to exemplify my dynamic musical range, and I experimented a lot more. I was able to actually enter studio sessions with producers and hear beats that I never would have thought about venturing into. Avant-Garden is a lot more risqué sonically and lifestyle-wise because I was partying a bunch, was entering into being an artist, and spending time in Los Angeles.”

WHAT SHE HOPES LISTENERS TAKE AWAY FROM HER MUSIC:

“Self-empowerment is always [something] that I’d like them to take away from it. I want people to feel more comfortable being themselves and [know] that it might be something people take for granted. Music can act as meditation, so I want it to be a vehicle for people to calm down, unwind, and vibe out. Those are my two things: self-empowerment and peace.”

SELF-EMPOWERMENT WAS INSTILLED IN HER FROM A YOUNG AGE:

“My mom is a really amazing role model; she’s a feisty woman. She’s very kind, very generous, and she’s also very cautious of how she gets treated. She makes sure she’s in environments that empower her, and she’s always giving me the message that you set your values based on how you treat yourself. I discovered Oprah pretty early on, and Oprah’s a pretty prominent figure for me.”

SOME OF THE MOST SURREAL MOMENTS OF HER CAREER THUS FAR:

“Honestly, it’s the little things, like when somebody that I’ve listened to my whole entire life will like a picture on Instagram casually. Like Banks, I love Banks so much. I’ve always loved her music, [and] she randomly DM’d me the other day and complimented me. It’s crazy! Or when I’m taking the time to look at my Spotify page and realize that the numbers are things that I dreamed of—getting millions of streams is insane, you know? I have those little moments every day, I really do. I’m very grateful for all of this.”

Fresh off a few summer tour dates with Lion Babe, soul musician Sebastian Mikael has his head down working on his next project. Mikael won us over with his last two EPs, I C U U C Me Pt. I and I C U U C Me Pt. II, released over the course of a year, both filled with songs that you’ll want to have on repeat. It’s as feel-good as feel-good music can get.

You may recognize Mikael’s name from his 2014 hit “Last Night” featuring Wale, or maybe you saw him in the recent Pyer Moss campaign. A man of many talents, Mikael has always been drawn to creativity, first dabbling in painting before he learned how to play guitar and became interested in fashion.

HE GREW UP IN A MUSICAL HOUSEHOLD:

“I was listening to everything that [my] parents played. Both my parents would play something and then explain to me who it was. They were like, ‘Oh, this is the best singer,’ or whatever, and I would believe it because my parents told me, and it would make me want to listen. That was my first taste [of] music, and then I expanded into different styles. My older cousin put me onto rap, and it expanded from there to house music and different genres.”

AND FELL IN LOVE WITH PAINTING BEFORE HE DID MUSIC:

“Painting was my first love, artistically. Creating or wanting to actually explore music [happened] when I started playing guitar. I was about 12 [years old], and I tried to imitate a lot of things that I was hearing. It was a lot of metal, like Slash and Jimmy Page.”

HIS THOUGHTS ON GROWING UP BETWEEN SEWDEN, L.A., AND BOSTON, AND HOW THAT SHAPED HIM:

“It definitely molded my life. I don’t know if it shaped my sound or not—I think it just made me different, period. As an artist, I use that to my advantage, but when I was young, it was more of a curse, or it was something that was working against me. Sweden was my youth, and I was skateboarding, I was playing guitar, I was doing a lot of different things that I don’t do today. Then growing up and learning what I wanted to do in life, that was the part that built the art. I look at those almost as two different lives, that’s how it feels to me.”

ON IF HE GETS NERVOUS TO PUT MUSIC OUT:

“Recording is therapeutic. Putting it out is scary because you feel naked, you feel like you’re exposing yourself. Music is personal, it’s always going to feel like that. I always believe that it’s bigger than me, and I know there’s going to be people that are going to hear it and relate to it—I always want to think of it like that. But when I put [music out], I’m not trying to revisit it or even look at it. I just want to put it out there and that’s that.”

MUSIC LED HIM TO FALL IN LOVE WITH FASHION:

“I started getting more into fashion when I started making music. It definitely inspires me. I draw a lot of inspiration from style and colors, fashion in general, and a lot of that inspiration [goes] into the music. Wearing something dope can affect the outcome of something. You go to the studio fly [and] it’s going to project into your music.”

HIS CURRENT FAVORITE BRANDS:

“I love Telfar, I love Noir—man, there’s a bunch of brands. Also, Pyer Moss, Kerby [Jean-Raymond] is my boy. They’ve shown a lot of love, and my video ‘Acid Part II’ featured a whole collection from them.”

WHAT HE WANTS TO BE REMEMBERED BY:

“I can’t really specify on what exactly I want to be remembered by. I want to leave a positive legacy. Fearlessness. Being fearless and standing up for what’s right.”

 

Styled by Ron Burton.

Toronto and its surrounding cities breed remarkable musical talent, and R&B singer and rapper TOBi is no exception. Hot on the heels—er, sneakers—of the release of his debut album, Still, the singer released his first-ever live album, Still: Live n Toronto, just last Friday. Yet even though TOBi seems to be working around the clock, the singer was kind enough to give us an afternoon of his so we could hang in Toronto. He seemed at ease with how his year had been going as as we explored Chinatown midday (despite it being roughly 35 C/95 F), and while we walked, he explained that poetry is what led him to songwriting. He participated in poetry slams throughout undergrad, which led him to foray into rap battles, and all of that brought him to a promising career in music.

HIS FIRST MEMORIES WITH MUSIC:

“Being surrounded by different [genres]. My family’s very genre-agnostic, it was whatever could make you move. Pop music, R&B, gospel. There was a lot of African music as well, a lot of West African and Central African music.”

THE ARTISTS HE WAS DRAWN TO GROWING UP:

“The soul artists for sure, you know, Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White. But I was also listening to a lot of rap music. My cousin put me onto a lot of East Coast rappers like DMX, [and then] Jay-Z, and Southern rappers like Outkast, Goodie Mob.”

POETRY CAME NATURALLY TO HIM:

“I’d always been doing it for myself, writing poems as a kid, but I didn’t really start absorbing other poets until high school and during my undergrad, when I started doing spoken-word poetry slams. That’s when I really started diving into the work of other poets.”

BATTLE RAPPING CAME SHORTLY AFTER:

“That was just a release to sharpen your pen. You know, the composition—I love that. I thrive off the energy from writing in that perspective. There are no rules, no limitations, you just go in there and do what you have to do. You don’t know what the other person is coming with [laughs], you don’t know which part of your personality or identity they’re going to go after, so of course it’s nerve-racking, but I think it’s cool. As long as you establish that this is what we’re doing it for, that it’s medium and it doesn’t have to be anything crazy afterwards. You should shake hands and be gone. That’s the most important thing.”

HIS ALBUM ARTWORK SHOWED HIM PLAYING CHESS WITH HIS YOUNGER SELF:

“That was an idea that came up when I was speaking to the creative director. His name is Josef Adamu. He was somebody that I was looking to for so long because I knew he would be able to take the ideas in my mind and showcase them visually. It depends how you look at the image, but essentially there’s learning going on, there are changes in perspective, there’s me in the present form and then there’s a younger version, which, coming from two different places, two different vantage points, but still experiencing the same thing. As much as this is a project for the world to enjoy, it’s a project for myself, for my younger self, and I think that was perfectly put into the visuals by Joseph and Jeremy. Jeremy [Rodney-Hall] was the photographer.”

HIS CURRENT PLAYLIST:

“Damn, my playlist right now is different, for real. Let me see. I listen to a lot of Canadian artists, too. This Ed Sheeran project [No.6 Collaborations Project] is pretty dope, I really love the Dreamville Project [Revenge of the Dreamers 3]. What J. Cole is doing over there is so inspiring—it’s phenomenal. Of course, Frank Ocean. Frank, Tyler The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, I really tap into their energies. Daniel Caesar. Man, there’s a lot. Do you know Noname Gypsy? She’s one of my favorite artists right now. And I also listen to these beats [laughs], I’m working on music every day. I listen to rappers too, you know, like rap rap.”

THE EOMJI THAT BEST DESCRIBES HIM:

“Haaaaa, the crown.”

 

Styled by Almost Guilty.

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