Coventry rapper Pa Salieu has topped the BBC’s latest tastemaking Sound of… poll, which tips music artists destined for success each year.
The 23-year-old of Gambian heritage released his debut mixtape in November, described as “fresh and inventive” by the Guardian’s head pop critic Alexis Petridis. Salieu is yet to reach the UK charts, but tracks such as Frontline and My Family have quickly become cult classics in the country’s rap scene.
Salieu said: “I was just really happy to even be included on the list alongside some amazing artists, a few of who I know personally. They’re all crazy talented, so to be the winner of something like this so early in my journey just feels mad.”
Runner-up in the Sound of 2021 list is 21-year-old singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone, from Lincolnshire, who has won acclaim for her earnest and emotional contemporary pop (including in the Guardian’s tips for 2021), and has toured with Lewis Capaldi. Also in the top five are two London-based vocalists who draw on R&B and neo-soul while blending rap and song – Berwyn and Greentea Peng – plus another confessional British pop singer in the Humberstone mould, Griff.
The poll was voted in by industry figures plus artists including Billie Eilish, Stormzy, Jorja Smith, Wolf Alice, AJ Tracey, Yungblud, Foals and Charli XCX.
The BBC’s list has anointed big stars including Adele, Sam Smith, Haim, Ellie Goulding and Michael Kiwanuka in the past, though its hit rate has faltered somewhat. Only one poll winner in the last five years has scored a UK Top 20 single: Norwegian pop singer Sigrid, who won in 2018 and went on to have hits with Strangers and Don’t Feel Like Crying.
Last year’s winner, Celeste, who soundtracked John Lewis’s 2020 Christmas campaign, is gearing up to release her debut album in February.