2018 was an instrumental year for womxn-identifying musical artists in the Bay Area and beyond. As an intersectional platform celebrating creative women from all industries and walks of life, Women Sound Off (formerly known as Women in Music Festival) is honored to have worked and collaborated with a variety of Bay Area talent since its founding in 2016. In the spirit of reflection and in celebration of phenomenal womxn in music, we bring you just a few notable artists who made waves in the Bay Area music scene in 2018. These are the ones to watch.
Comprised of producer XOA (Allie Howard) and rapper/vocalist MADlines (Maddy Clifford), Oakland-based hip-hop duo FR333 debuted in 2018 with the release of two EPs — “Th3 Mind” and “Th3 Body” — comprising a multi-part project with a third release titled “Th3 Spirit” on the way. Through their rhythmic beats accompanied by soulful, hard-hitting prose, it’s evident that the two women share a passion for music’s capacity to heal, inspire, and bring people together. The two have performed on a variety of stages throughout the year, including an appearance the Women Sound Off SoundOn winter showcase, held on December 1st at Red Bay Coffee.
Queens D.Light, whose work as both an emcee and founder of creative agency House of Malico has long been appreciated and celebrated by many in the East Bay community, continued to make a name for herself this year when she released her project Flavor of Green in June. The 6-track EP explores topics of spirituality and sexuality layered over atmospheric, experimental beats. In addition to performing for the Women In Music 2017 showcase and booking a number performances throughout the year of 2018, Queens took to the stage at the Craneway Pavilion for Feels VI in June alongside Kelis and Princess Nokia. To end the year on a high note, Queens was featured in a cypher as part of the Best of Thizzler 2018 award show, released on December 18.
Ah Mer Ah Su captured the hearts and souls of Women Sound Off when she performed at the headlining concert for the 2018 Women in Music Festival in April of this year. The oakland-based interdisciplinary artist draws upon her experiences living loud and proud as a black transwoman to create music and art dealing with topics of intersectionality. Star has performed three consecutive years at the San Francisco Pride Trans March and has graced international stages with her “poptronic” musical style. Following the release of her self-titled album Star in July of 2018 in addition to an EP, Heartbeats, Ah Mer Ah Su was selected by Billboard as one of the top 20 albums by LGBT artists in 2018.
Oakland-based singer Astu released her anticipated EP Patterns early in 2018. The soulful, mellowed-out R&B project echoes themes of love and new beginnings. Following the release of her project, Astu has been a consistent figure in the Bay Area live music scene with stunning performances on stages, such as at the 2018 Hiero Day Festival. Astu is known for her continued collaboration with other local artists and groups such as the Futurelics and FR33.
Oghosthaze (pronounced O-G GHOST HAZE) is a queer Black musical artist who recently broke into the Bay Area music scene with the debut of their single “19” and accompanying visual project. Their melodic, sentimental musical style draws influence from the genres of rock, R&B, folk and soul. “As an artist and songwriter,” states the artist, “much of my music-making centers on the exploration of identity and existence, creating and finding selves, worlds, and realities.” Exploring both creative and business sides of the music industry, ohghosthaze is also president of the independent record label MicSteady Records, an entity focused on limitless existence and creation through music-making. They are expected to release their first EP, titled Ghost Haze, in the coming months.
Breaking slightly from the ever-so-inundated R&B/hip-hop scenes of the Bay Area, Madi Sipes and the Painted Blue is based in San Francisco and fronted by singer and electric guitarist, Madi Sipes. With her captivating voice and mature songwriting, Madi started gaining fans at a young age in her hometown of Placerville, California. This year the group released their feature project titled Privacy, as well as a remix EP for their track “Sex & Sadness.” The group also recently collaborated on a project with Spotify for Artists and has consistently put on performances across the Bay Area throughout the year, including an appearance at the Women Sound Off SoundOn winter showcase in December.
Bay Area R&B darling Rayana Jay took her career to a whole new level this year. She released a short EP on Valentine’s Day by the name of Love, Rayana which featured the standout love ballad “Swoon.” Shortly after, Jay earned a spot on Paper‘s “100 Women Revolutionizing Pop” list. The Richmond singer-songwriter then teamed up with ESPN to create the original track “Undefeated,” an inspirational anthem for Black women who defy the odds. 2019 will bring Rayana Jay’s final EP before her highly anticipated full-length album arrives.
It’s been a busy year for rapper Rocky Rivera. The San Francisco-based emcee uses her music and influence as a platform to spread messages about social justice, community empowerment and intersectionality. As a mother of two, a wife, and an artist who was born in the Philippines and raised in the Bay, Rocky is open and candid about her life journey and draws upon those experiences when crafting her carefully-thought-out lyrics. Following the release of her powerful album Rocky’s Revenge in October, Rocky has held a string of live performances, including a set at UNDSCVRD SF, a creative night market celebrating Filipino-American arts and culture, featuring an all-Pinay musical lineup.