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Poised to Pop: 10 MN Music Acts Ready to Make Noise in 2024

From newbies to established artists leveling up, here are 10 acts to keep an ear on in the upcoming year.

All photos in this story provided

The 10 bands, rappers, and singers I spoke to for this feature have one big thing in common: I spoke to them for this feature. Other than that, they’re pretty damn different, and I don’t just mean stylistically. Some have been part of the Twin Cities scene for years. Others have just moved in from out of town. But all of them will be making moves in 2024.

So what is Poised to Pop? This isn’t a list of “best new bands,” really, or an attempt at a comprehensive overview of where Twin Cities music is these days. Think of it as a tip sheet to prep you for the year to come, a place to start if you haven’t paid much attention to local music lately, or just a chance to catch up with some folks who are making some of the more exciting music around here these days.

Bigg Kiaa

Who is she?

In her own words: “I’m Nakia. I’m a gay Black woman from Minnesota.”

What does she sound like?

What doesn’t she sound like? Kiaa dropped 10 singles in 2023, and each has its own style, from the heavy guitar funk of “Party” to the bassy and stripped down “Wannabe.” Her vocals are sometimes raw and intense, sometimes inventively worked over with Auto-Tune. 

Where did she come from?

“I could have been a child star,” Kiaa says. As Nakia Marie, she began performing at the age of six, with her father acting as both her producer and her manager. She debuted at The Capri Theater in north Minneapolis, was in heavy rotation on KMOJ, and became the youngest person to play the First Avenue Mainroom stage in 2012. Before she turned nine, there was talk of a Nickelodeon movie. But once her father went to prison, the girl lost interest in potential stardom. Adults argued over the next step in her career, and it was too much for her. “I was at the library and I went into a bathroom stall,” she recalls. “I cried. When my mom came in, I told her, ‘I quit music.’” 

What has she done?

Bigg Kiaa was reborn in her senior year of high school. As she puts it, “I was becoming my own person, in terms of sexuality and identity. I was dressing a little more masculine.” She knew she had something when she heard a girl at her school who she didn’t know rapping her lyrics; “Chasing the Bag” became a local hit among her Fridley High classmates. “This was me doing it for me,” Kiaa says of that track. By 2020 she’d released an EP; two years later came the tape MARIANNA. She has headlined the Minneapolis Pride Festival twice and opened for Lizzo at the Xcel in 2022.

What will she do next?

Kiaa plans to drop a mixtape in May called BPD, named for the disorder she was diagnosed with last year. “I see a lot of its effects in my lyrics and my music and my performance,” she says of her borderline personality disorder. As for the new material: “A lot of people see me just as ‘Turn up! Turn up!’ but I want to show my relatable side too.” An “invite-only intimate release party” is in the works, along with fundraisers for various mental health orgs.

Where should you start?

With its rippling textures and electro-fluttering vocals, “Under the Rug” bounds along the pop-punk edge of hyperpop; when a backbeat kicks in, the effect is almost like an earnest 100 gecs.

Buio Omega

Who are they?

Greer (singer), Nikki Derella (guitar), Matt Jones (guitar), Midge (bass), Josh Olson (drums).

What do they sound like?

Heavy, fast, unpretentious, and catchy, the band is a mix of their influences. “I love classic heavy metal and ’80s black metal, Judas Priest and GIrl School,” Greer explains, while the rest of the band has all sorts of roots in addition to hard rock. “They all love pop-punk and disco.”

Where do they come from?

“You dress like you should be in a band,” someone told Greer at a house show in 2022; Jones overheard and asked her, “Do you want to be in a band?” Soon the four members of what would become Buio Omega (named for a particularly nasty late-’70s Italian horror flick) started writing together. “Matt or Nicki have a riff or some songs, and I’ll just yell random things and we’ll record,” she says. “We’ll have an idea like ‘This is gonna be about crashing a car’ or ‘This one’s gonna be horny, and this one’s gonna be about partying’ or ‘Let’s write some tough guy songs—I wanna be Tom G. Warrior.’” 

What have they done?

“We booked our first show before we had any songs,” Greer says. “It was my first time being on stage with anyone paying attention, but I realize that If you just go crazy, you give everyone else the permission to go crazy.” They released “I Wanna Crash My Car (On Purpose)” (the song “about crashing a car” mentioned above) in 2023, and then came an EP, Take a Look, later that year. 

What will they do next?

Buio Omega just released a new EP, Diva Moment. “It’s like the first EP but we went into a real studio this time,” says Greer, who’s also involved in “fun little merch things. I just got some fuzzy pink car dice. We’ve got bumper stickers. I make almost all of the merch.”

Where should you start?

“Diva Moment,” the title track from their new album. And yes, that is a chainsaw that you hear.

Fend

Who are they?

Josie Villano (guitar), Abe Anderson (drums), John O’Brien (guitar), Kate Malanaphy (bass).

What do they sound like?

“I really love emo, but I’m hesitant to call our band emo,” Villano says. OK, how about: earnest, sometimes exasperated, and, well emotional rock with tunes a-plenty.

Where did they come from?

“We’re pretty new,” Villano says of Fend, who formed in February 2022. But the band members were hardly strangers: Villano and O’Brien are in Early Eyes, and Villano plays in Malanaphy’s backing group. “We’d all just been playing in each others’ bands,” they say. “And I had been writing songs that didn’t fit in with anything else I was doing and I wanted to bring them to life. We reached out to Abe to record our stuff, it was a natural transition to him playing with us.”  

What have they done?

“Our first show was a hardcore music festival in Fargo,” Villano says, and it went well even if Fend didn’t quite fit in stylistically. Since then the band has played more appropriate venues: Pilllar Forum, Green Room, Mortimer’s, and plenty of DIY spaces. It’s been an adjustment for Villano. “This is my first time being the songwriter in a band, it was nerve-wracking those first few shows—I was shaking a little bit.” Fend also released two EPs in 2023.

What will they do next?

There’s a new album in the works, which will offer a slight change of sound. “Half of it is super-soft songs, the rest loud guitar music, more in the vein of Wilco or Bully,” Villano says, while noting that being in different bands with the same musicians has increased each player’s versatility. “It’s really strengthened our collaborative skills.”

Where should you start?

The pop-punky “Valley Scare,” from True Sequel, in which Villano tries to get over a heartbreak by shelling out “60 bucks to feel something that’s close enough to dying.”

Keep for Cheap

Who are they?

The singing and songwriting duo of Autumn Vagle and Kate Malanaphy (them again!), along with guitarists Ted Tiedemann and Bert Northrup and drummer Grace Berg. (The latter three also form the very un-Keep-for-Cheap-like sludge-rock band Baumgartner.)

What do they sound like?

The band has settled on the self-coined genre “prairie rock.” “It’s like indie rock with country twang,” Vagle explains. “On our new music, we’re definitely leaning into the meandering side of that.”

Where did they come from?

St. Paul’s Hamline University. At least that’s where 4/5ths of the band (everyone but Williams) met. Vagle and Malanphy learned to appreciate the way their voices blended in the choir. 

What have they done?

The band formed in 2018 and released an EP the following year, but according to Vagle, “during Covid is when we got our act together.” In 2022 they put out an album, Bundle, and have toured both coasts along with the Midwest. Last fall came the wistful single “Lakehouse,” as well as a video, offering a hint of what’s to come.

What will they do next?

Expect to hear a few new songs before this summer’s release of the band’s newest album, recorded at Minnehaha Sound with Abe Anderson (him again!). “The last album had more of a poppy production, but we went full rock and roll with Abe at the helm,” Vagle says. “But there’s still plenty of that classic Keep for Cheap yearning.”

“I live in my memories—that’s just my style,” Vagle says, adding that nostalgia just comes naturally to her. “I was raised up in northern Minnesota, so a lot of my songs are about that. They tore down my high school, Virginia High School, and a lot of the new album is about reckoning with losing that physical connection to your childhood.”

Where should you start?

“Lakehouse,” the band’s latest single, which will appear on the new album, is inspired by one of the big recent changes in Vagle’s life: “My parents moved from our childhood home this year.”

Lerado Khalil

Who is he?

A 24-year-old St. Paul rapper with a spacey, avant-garde flow.

What does he sound like?

“I’d say ‘experimental’ in a sense, but definitely hip hop,” according to Khalil. “Kind of introspective a lot of the time. One of the constants is hard-hitting 808s. Upbeat and bass-heavy and somewhat distorted.”

Where did he come from?

Born in Houston, Khalil moved to St. Paul with his family when he was in seventh grade. “I’d only seen snow one time in my life before I got to Minnesota,“ he says. “I would write songs in my Google docs at school. Then I got a laptop for class and I purchased a mic off Amazon.” The fledgling rhymer reports he wasn’t too confident yet about his skills though. “I didn’t want my parents to hear me, so I made my music before they got home at six.”

What has he done?

By high school, Khalil was in a groove, rapping over SoundCloud beats and releasing singles “basically every week—I started pushing them to people at my school.” Most of these are still online, and you can trace his artistic evolution from 2017 or so through last December’s Dog Days. Along the way, Khalil has teamed up with a set of prominent underground producers, particularly Maryland beatmaker Osyris Israel.

What will he do next?

“I’m recording a lot and trying to do a small release in the next couple months,” Khalil says. He also plans to release videos for the Dog Days tracks “White Lie” and “Underestimated,” and he’d like to focus on doing more video and film work in general. (He’s been shooting films on Super 8.) 

Where should you start?

I like Khalil best at his noisiest and his funniest, and on “Whatsapp” from Dog Days he lifts some lines from Kreayshawn over a beat that dares you to make sense of it.

Loser Magnet

Who are they?

Najua Saad (vocals/guitar), Joe Marxen (lead guitar), Maddie Thies (bass),

Ed Draper (drums)

What do they sound like?

Indie rock with a brooding edge to its jangle, or maybe a dreamy edge to its brooding.

Where did they come from?

“We’re a post-Covid band,” Saad says. Loser Magnet emerged from the band Shadow Party; as that group fell apart, Saad and its rhythm section formed a band of their own, adding Marxen on guitar, who they’d met at the White Squirrel, a venue that became a sort of home for the new band after they played a residency there. (Draper and Thies would later replace the bassist and drummer, so Saad is the only remaining Shadow Partier in Loser Magnet.)

What have they done?

Their 2022 EP Empty Year had critics (or at least a critic) (or at least me) raving. “You can be a dreamy and atmospheric guitar band without being all vague and woozy about it,” I wrote as I named it one of my top albums of the year. Two excellent singles, “Big Mouth” and “Cinnamon,” followed. 

What will they do next?

There’s a new album in the works that Saad considers more cohesive than what preceded it. “The EP was stuff that I had written as a solo artist, with us piecing us together,” she says. “Now that we’ve solidified our sound, and I’ve gotten better at writing, we’ve come together as a group.” Marxen also wrote a couple of the new songs, adding “a little more of the lead guitar voice, making it a little more complicated—I write simple because I’m a rhythm player.” Saad also raves about the addition of Thies. “She plays upright, she plays electric, she’s an overseas basketball player—we’re just a much tighter band with her.”

Where should you start?

Why not the song “Loser Magnet” itself? The closing track from the band’s EP is speedy and full of attitude.

Riotgrrrldarko

Who is she?

Bray’Jana Coleman—rapper, rager, rocker, doula, mom.

What does she sound like?

In the past, she’s called her mashup of pop, rap, and punk “grimecore,” a neat way to sum up how she highlights the gunky underside of each genre. But she uses “bitchcore” to describe her latest project, Kiss the Ring, which leans more toward the pop-punk side of hyperpop. 

Where did she come from?

Riotgrrldarko hadn’t even considered making music till she was goofing around one day with her fiancé, the rapper 6RIPS, and recorded a track with him. “I was like, ‘Y’all playin’ but lowkey I’m kinda better than you,’”she says now. “I went from me not taking it seriously, to doing recordings during my 30-minute lunch breaks from the daycare where I worked.” 

What has she done?

She released her first EP, Diary of a Mad Black Rager, in 2019. Last year, she followed it up with Kiss the Ring. “This EP honestly came about because I’m really into Jersey Shore as a comfort show,” she says. “My influences are literally stuff that I’m watching at the moment, so I’ve been blending early-2000s poppy sounds with my grunginess.” She adds, “I thought when I was 20 that’s how my life would be.”

What will she do next?

“I’m looking for a steady producer,” she says. “I’m tired of finding artists through Instagram and having to pay all these different prices.” Oh, and she’s also raising a six-year-old and a two-year-old (audible throughout our conversation) and has a piercing apprenticeship. “That’s actually been my dream.”

Where should you start?

All of Kiss the RIng bangs, but “wtvr i want” is a standout. Auto-Tuned vocals are tweedled hyperpoppily, candied guitars rush forward like glitter-coated pop-punk, and when Riotgrrrldarko claims to “never give a fuck 'bout what a bitch might have to say,” you won’t doubt her.

RZ Shahid

Who is he?

A Minneapolis rapper who also runs his own clothing line, Art of Xanadu.

What does he sound like?

Thoughtful and keyed in on the mic, usually with languid, funky beats underneath.

Where did he come from?

“I was always the kid in school who had headphones on when you weren’t supposed to have headphones,“ Shahid recalls. He expected he’d eventually try his luck as a songwriter, a producer, or an engineer, but performing wasn’t really on his mind. ”I’m not someone who’s big on having the spotlight on me,” he says. That changed after a feature on a friend’s song “kind of got around the city.” 

What has he done?

Shahid dropped a mixtape called JTTX in 2018, which he followed up two years later with   Ahh Shii. He’s performed at an impressive range of venues, from the Art Shanties (three times) to a Mall of America gig organized by the Minnesota Music Coalition. He received a Cedar Commission and developed a project called I've Got Something to Say, which he performed last week with a full band. He also co-founded the People’s Protection Coalition, a mutual aid group.

What will he do next?

“I’ll be doing an artist’s residency in Lanesboro, out there creating, making music and working on film ideas,” he says. “I’m also in the middle of yoga teacher training.”

Mostly, Shahid feels rejuvenated musically. “After Ah Shii dropped, I took a couple years off,  processing everything that was going on,” he says. “Now it’s like I’ve got a battery back in my back again, and I’m working through thoughts I’ve had in the midst of 2020 going until now—things going on in the uprising, the idea of love, putting everything that I have yet to put out there before.”

Where should you start?

Try the dreamy, wobbly “Immune,” from Ahh Shii, where Shahid drifts along before speeding into a smooth flow for “Look in my eyes/You’ll be surprised/About the things you might just find/Will all the pain just leave you blind?”

True Green

Who are they?

True Green is novelist/songwriter Dan Hornsby’s musical project, with friends pitching in on other instruments and singing to flesh it out.

What do they sound like?

Word-drunk indie rock, lo-fi and unrushed, with shaky guitars supporting sturdy melodies. 

Where did they come from?

Hornsby, who has published two novels (most recently Sucker in 2023), moved to Minneapolis from Memphis a little over two years ago. 

What have they done?

Hornsby had written and recorded some of the songs on True Green’s recently released album, My Lost Decade, before his move but, he says, “when I got to Minneapolis, I realized I wanted to make a complete album.” Friends from around the country participated in the recording. “You have people in Memphis, in Georgia, friends from Kansas, my high school girlfriend, my wife sings on a track,” Hornsby says. “The album is kind of an imaginary space that was assembled in a little bedroom in Minneapolis.” 

What will they do next?

True Green has an album release show on Friday at the Eagles 34, which has become Hornby’s home away from home. (He’s a big fan of Tiny Tuesdays’ “curated open mic.” He says, “I’ve heard someone do unaccompanied folk songs, someone else did a strange atonal opera.) Then True Green is off for a small tour, hitting Chicago and Memphis. “And I’m working on a couple more songs, sending some tracks with some buddies,” Hornsby adds.

Where should you start?

My personal fave is “My Peccadillos,” which sets a shaggy-dog story driven primarily by the cleverness of its rhymes to a Malkmusian melody with appropriate guitars attached. And the moral lesson that the chorus offers up is pretty clear: “'It’s a dog-eat-dog world,’ said the dog with a taste for dogs/'Every man for himself,' said the man for himself.

Zora

Who is she?

Zora Grey, a Black transwoman who moved to Minneapolis in 2022.

What does she sound like?

Herky-jerky dance pop with deep bass and diva attitude.

Where did she come from?

Zora Grey, who was born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, started making music at 14 as part of an English project and produced her first album at 15. “I come from a family with a long jazz history that traces its musical heritage back to the 1800s,” she says. “I dedicate everything I do to them.” After the pandemic started, she dropped out of Berklee College of Music and moved to Minneapolis to be closer to her family.

What has she done?

In 2022, Zora released her debut, Z1:The Cuntification of Zora Grey, and landed a Rolling Stone feature. She’s also been active in the local ballroom scene as part of the House of Escada. More recently, she’s been collaborating with other up-and-comers, including the trans producer Storyboards from L.A.

What will she do next?

Zora promises plenty of new music in 2024, beginning with the single “Hutch” at the end of February. “Last year was my awkward growth year,” she says, explaining why she didn’t release much music. “I felt very young. My new music feels more mature, and so do I—I turn 25 in April.” That same month, she has a performance scheduled at the Walker. 

“The new album is a lot darker than Z1,” she says. “It’s about embracing femininity and womanhood. My music has always had heavily sexual themes,  in a lighthearted way, but I wanted to address some of the dangers that come with being sex positive. I dedicate this album to all women. It’s my way of processing what I’ve been through, and putting it on a record.”

Where should you start?

You get a good taste of Zora’s personality and taste in beats on “Runnitup,” which begins with an imagined phone call: “Hello?” “Bitch it’s me/Gimme the money or meet these hands for free.”

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