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Getting to Know Polo G, Lil Tjay, 24kGoldn, and Calboy

We take a look back at four of 2019’s breakout acts.

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2019 was the year of breakouts. Drake and Kendrick were no longer dominating the charts and instead we had acts like Lil Baby, Megan The Stallion, and Blueface finding success with their fresh perspectives, styles, and sounds. And while we did hear from superstars like J.Cole, it was alongside show-stealers like Earthgang, Guapdad 4000, and Ari Lennox on Revenge Of The Dreamers III

It was a year full of new faces, but four standout acts might have slipped under your radar: Lil Tjay, Polo G, Calboy, and 24kGoldn. These artists each explored trap music in their own distinctive ways, pairing fresh melodies and bars with detailed stories of their often turbulent personal lives. They represent their respective cities but all have the same end goal in mind—to perfect their craft. And while they might seem like sleeper picks, the buzz they’re generating means they’re bound to become playlist staples in the new decade. 

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01. 24kGoldn

At 19-years-old, 24kGoldn has already had a billboard-charting single and released his first full-length project, so it’s safe to say he’s gearing up for a big 2020. He first caught our attention with ‘Ballin Like Shareef’, an ode to Basketball player Shareef O’Neal that features a thumping beat courtesy of Black Mayo. He spits and sings like a combination of Playboi Carti and Young Thug, but his distinctive drawl makes his sound entirely his own. 

At the start of the year 24kGoldn released ‘Valentino’, a rap-sung anthem that provided the soundtrack for an array of TikTok videos, propelling it to number 96 on the Billboard Hot 100. While the track had similarities to ‘Ballin Like Shareef’, 24kGoldn quickly made it known that he’s no one-trick pony, releasing his debut EP Dropped Outta College shortly after. On the project, 24KGoldn doesn’t restrict himself to one genre—there’s ‘The Gram’, a trap ballad featuring Fetty Wap, and the Weezer-esque beach rock of ‘City Of Angels’. The title alludes to the San Francisco artist dropping out of USC to pursue his music career, and while he may not graduate anytime soon, he heads into the new year as a freshman to look out for.

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02. Polo G

He might be a new name in the music industry, but Polo G is an old soul. Polo G has been in and out of jail from a young age, and his music explores the triumphs and tribulations of his tumultuous life. He hails from Chicago and is the obvious heir to the drill sound that originated with acts like Chief Keef and Lil Durk, but Polo’s brutal honesty and emotional delivery differentiates him from other acts in the genre—he takes the style to the next level.

Polo G’s breakout single ‘Pop Out’ with Lil Tjay is a soulfully sung ode to finding success in the game. Lyrics like, “And every single dollar in these bands got a blue face,” practically gleam with pride. Polo’s celebratory bars clearly resonated—the track peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 this year.

Earlier this year, Polo G dropped his debut album Die a Legend, rapping and singing through the strife of gang life and personal trauma. Songs like ‘Battle Cry’ explore themes like addiction, as he croons ‘It’s like I been poppin’ X ever since I tried a pill / Shit got me through some hard times / I lost my mind for real.” Speaking to Genius about the lyrics, Polo says, “I used to look out for a lot of different things to find happiness in but I just had to find it within myself. That was like the main thing. Just depression.” It’s this combination of raw talent and total transparency that makes him an artist to look out for in 2020.

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03. Lil Tjay

Before featuring on Polo G’s ‘Pop Up’, Lil Tjay was posted up in the Bronx releasing tracks on SoundCloud, and at the age of 18, his hard work has already started to pay off. 

His breakout track comes in the form of ‘Brothers’, a track that explores life on the street and incarceration. His soft autotuned melodies disguise the pain behind his bars when he spits, “Bodies drop all the time / I don’t feel nothing / Swear to God y’all gon’ make me go kill something.” 

Lil Tjay’s aptitude for songwriting is on display in his debut project True 2 Myself. Featuring songs from his SoundCloud days and new songs with acts like Lil Baby, remixes of ‘Brothers’ with Lil Durk, and ‘Leaked’ with Lil Wayne, the album shows Tjay’s ability to articulate his feelings through melody over a full-length duration, with sombre standouts like ‘F.N’ showing new sides to his lyricism. Speaking to Complex about the album, Tjay says, “It’s me trying to get to my next level of success, so I just need to be true to who I am and focus on that main goal.” With wisdom like this at such a young age, success seems inevitable.

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04. Calboy

Calboy’s name was created by combining his government name, Calvin, with Cowboy, the name of a character from the cult ’70s movie The Warriors. This portmanteau sums up his music—tough, fast, and undeniably his own. Calboy rose to prominence towards the end of 2018 with his single ‘Envy Me’. His melodic delivery often garners comparisons to other Chicago natives like Lil Durk, but he individualised his sound in 2019 with his EP Wildboy. The project featured the likes of Young Thug, Polo G, and Meek Mill, and the latter signed him to his record label, Dreamchasers.

‘Envy Me’ is similar to Polo G’s ‘Battle Cry’ subject matter wise—it explores street life and drug addiction—but it never glorifies it. Lyrics like, “I was fighting some demons / In the field / Bitch I’m deep in,” cut no corners in articulating the struggles he’s facing. Speaking to Genius about the track, he was nothing but transparent about the story behind the song. “I was getting extremely high bro, at one point in time,” he says. “I cut off a lot of stuff I usually do and up here wasn’t all the way screwed in. So, that’s where that line comes from.” We’ve got no doubt that Calboy’s wisdom and creativity will take him places in 2020.