London-based neo-soul singer Kwabs went from posting covers on YouTube to a contract with Atlantic in three short years, thanks to tips from the media and the willingness of some hot producers to believe in his talent.
Born Kwabena Sarkodee Adjepong in Ghana in 1990, he grew up in Bermondsey in central London, spending part of his childhood in the foster care system. Raised on a combination of soul, electronica, rock, classical and jazz, he was first noticed by his school music teacher, who introduced him to the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, where he was a lead vocalist for three years. After finishing school, he went on to study jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, and then was chosen to appear in the 2011 reality TV series Goldie's Band, in which '90s drum 'n' bass star Goldie put together a band of kids from troubled upbringings for a royal performance at Buckingham Palace.
Nonetheless, Kwabs never had any notion of seriously pursuing music as a career until his unadorned YouTube cover of Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star" became a massive viral hit, racking up 100,000 views. He was approached with a management contract, and decided to take music farther. He released a few original songs on YouTube, leading to his being hotly tipped by MTV and BBC radio and securing a deal with Atlantic. On his 2014 debut EP, Wrong or Right, he collaborated with London-born, Vienna-based producer Sohn. The melancholy songs on the EP set his smooth, powerful baritone voice to a minimalist, synthesized backing somewhat reminiscent of the Human League. The style was dubbed "Synth&B," and the collaboration drew comparisons to that between Seal and Adamski back in the '90s. A second EP, Pray for Love, and a more upbeat single, "Walk," followed. Kwabs also worked with Plan B and Dave Okumu on his debut album, which was expected to be released in 2015. ~ John D. Buchanan, Rovi