The best debut albums, EPs, mixtapes of 2021 (so far)!

Despite another wonky year, these rising artists have made essential first statements

In (another) half a year that has often made no sense at all, creating, releasing, and promoting new music has been an uphill battle. Emerging artists have had to navigate an ever-shifting and currently congested music industry, and continue to be left without the opportunity to build up momentum via career-changing live gigs and festival slots.

Yet lockdown-induced creative bursts have resulted in some stellar releases being delivered into an unfamiliar and anxious world. There’s been plenty of richly vivid club music despite the continued lack of a dancefloor, powerful hip-hop that has spoken to the tension of the moment, and a flurry of smart, emotional, self-produced pop that has uplifted us throughout a semi-apocalypse.

They say that the best music always breaks through – and that certainly rings true for this lot. Here are 15 essential debut albums, mixtapes and EPs from this wonky year worth diving into.


Contributors: Andrew Trendell, Ben Jolley, Cyclone Wehner, Gemma Samways, Georgia Evans, Hannah Mylrea, Jenessa Williams, Kyann-Sian Williams, Luke Cartledge, Max Pilley, Nicolas-Tyrell Scott, Sophie Williams, Thomas Smith, Will Richards

24kGoldn – ‘El Dorado’

Who: Viral rapper with a penchant for pop experimentation
What NME said: “Whether it’s rap, pop, or something completely different, 24kGoldn will always have the midas touch.” Read more
Key track: ‘Mood’ (featuring iann dior)

Arlo Parks – ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’

Who: BRIT-nominated singer making soothing, poetic indie-pop for bleak times
What NME said: Arlo Parks may be the voice of Gen Z, but there’s no doubt that this is a universal collection of stories that’ll provide solace for listeners of all ages and backgrounds for decades to come.” Read more
Key track: ‘Black Dog’

Bad Boy Chiller Crew – ‘Charva Anthems’

Who: Unashamedly Yorkshire trio honouring Bradford’s bassline legacy
What NME said: “‘Charva Anthems’ definitely hints at a growing ambition. The production is shinier, the hooks are pitched higher and the rap delivery is so urgent that it recalls the kind of value-for-money rush you see in the dying minutes of a Student Union happy hour, double-fisting VKs until the walls spin.” Read more
Key track: ‘Don’t You Worry About Me’


Black Country, New Road – ‘For The First Time’

Who: Experimental septet that dare to challenge at every turn
What NME said: “‘For The First Time’ is a triumph, both as a document of who this band have been up to now, and a thrilling hint as to where they may head next.” Read more
Key track: ‘Track X’

Central Cee – ‘Wild West’

Who: West London rapper with a spirited now-or-never attitude
What NME said: “Amongst the acknowledgement of drill’s past and present, figures like west London’s Central Cee are informing the genre’s future.” Read more
Key track: ‘Loading’

Dry Cleaning – ‘The Long Leg’

Who: British post-punk’s achingly funny storytellers
What NME said: “Following their two hype-building EPs ‘Sweet Princess’ and ‘Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks’, the quartet’s debut album sees them wade further into lyrical surrealism and musical experimentation.” Read more
Key track: ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’

Easy Life – ‘Life’s A Beach’

Who: Brilliantly charismatic five-piece straddling elements of alt-R&B, indie and pop
What NME said: “The Leicester band ruminate on modern living and mental health with sincerity and breezy wit.” Read more
Key track: ‘Skeletons’

For Those I Love – ‘For Those I Love’

Who: Dublin-born producer exploring the many facets of human emotion
What NME said: “‘For Those I Love’ is not only an immaculate debut, but a beautiful record that speaks to anyone who’s ever loved and lost, anyone who might be mourning or just processing the days of youthful abandon.” Read more
Key track: ‘I Have A Love’

Genesis Owusu – ‘Smiling With No Teeth’

Who: Australia’s wickedly sharp hip-hop funkster
What NME said: “With ‘Smiling With No Teeth’, Genesis Owusu has delivered a riveting album that underscores the power of self-knowledge, perspective and art – one that should be cranked loud.” Read more
Key track: ‘Don’t Need You’

Griff – ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’

Who: Enviably talented pop star and producer with infectious ambition
What NME said: “From killer singles (the other wordly ‘Black Hole’) to introspective slowburners (‘Earl Grey’), Griff has created her own world of pop supremacy, one in which she creates the rules and calls the shots.” Read more
Key track: ‘Black Hole’

Greentea Peng – ‘MANMADE’

Who: Super-smooth vocalist with an immersive and hypnotic mix of R&B and neo-soul
What NME said:Greentea has succeeded in crafting a collection that is as much a multi-sensory experience as it is an album.” Read more
Key track: ‘Free My People’

Kojaque – ‘Town’s Dead’

Who: The firebrand Dublin MC speaking for the city’s disenfranchised youth
What NME said: “Town’s Dead is an evocative, diverse and shatteringly real reflection of the current state of the city that spawned it.” Read more
Key track: ‘Sex N’ Drugs’

Olivia Rodrigo – ‘SOUR’

Who: Record-smashing sensation lacing confessional pop with alt-rock influences
What NME said: “An almost-masterpiece that’s equal parts confident, cool and exhilaratingly real. This is no flash-in-the-pan artist, but one we’ll be living with for years to come.” Read more
Key track: ‘good 4 u’

Sarah Kinsley – ‘The King’

Who: Self-producing singer-songwriter beautifully capturing the essence of growing up
What NME said: “An immersive collection of indie-pop songs that evoke how momentous it feels to stand at the edge of adulthood.” Read more
Key track: ‘The King’

Sofia Kourtesis – ‘Fresia Magdalena’

Who: One of dance music’s most vital new stars
What NME said:Kourtesis paints a vivid picture on ‘Fresia Magdalena’ of the locations and moments that she is inviting the outside world to discover and understand through her music.” Read more
Key track: ‘By Your Side’

Squid – ‘Bright Green Field’

Who: Boundary-pushing Bristolians that are not afraid to deconstruct post-punk
What NME said: “They do their multifaceted creativity justice by never compromising on any front.” Read more
Key track: ‘Narrator’