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Clockwise from top: Nikki Swarn, DJ Cavem, Jay Triiiple, and Jae Wes. Photo illustration by Sean Parsons (Photos courtesy of Anthony Smith [Nikki Swarn], Courtesy of DJ Cavem [DJ Cavem], Courtesy of Vvonskiii [Jay Triiiple], Courtesy of Chris Opher [Jae Wes], Getty Images [boombox])

Meet the Emerging Musicians Defining Denver’s Sound

Nikki Swarn, general manager of 104.7 The Drop, tunes us in to three can’t-miss Mile High artists—plus, a list of local bangers to add to your playlists ASAP.

Hip-hop highbrows often knock Denver for lacking a distinctive sound. But Nikki Swarn, general manager of 104.7 The Drop—a rap and R&B station that has been streaming online as part of Rocky Mountain Public Media since 2019—hears the scene differently. “Mile High City rap and R&B is unique for its vulnerability and openness and commitment to cause and community,” she says. Swarn tuned us in to these three local artists, whose principles, lyrics, and lived experiences are all their own.

A Stigma-Free Zone

Aurora native Jay Triiiple moved back to Denver from Illinois when she was 15. Now 30, the unabashedly Black and gay emcee delivers sharp lyrics full of irony and self-assurance. “She’s fearless,” Swarn says. Who’s Triiiple?, her 2017 EP, laid bare the artist’s personal struggle with depression. Her latest project, an Instagram-first video series called I Rap Better Than Your Boyfriend (@irapbetterthanyourboyfriend), offers icy braggadocio fused with mantras like, “Instead of running, I’m understanding my feelings. Let it flow on out my pen and express when I’m done healing.” Listen here.

Poetic (Food) Justice

An artist, educator, and vegan chef with roots in Five Points, DJ Cavem has shared the stage with hip-hop royalty like Stic.Man of Dead Prez and even landed the ultimate gig: an invitation from then First Lady Michelle Obama to rhyme, reason, and season at the White House in 2015. Swarn loves BIOMIMICZ, DJ Cavem’s 2019 full-length album, which (still) comes with a starter pack of kale, arugula, and beet seeds as well as recipes to prepare them. “He views access to healthy foods as a struggle for justice,” Swarn says, “and sustainable cultivation as a way of honoring the land and paying homage to our ancestral [agrarian] roots.” Listen here.

Soul Meets Classical

Crooner Jae Wes is a Denver School of the Arts graduate with a love for classical cello—but not the orchestra. So, after majoring in music performance at Holland College on Prince Edward Island in Canada, Wes returned home to make music that blends classical strings and contemporary R&B. After institutional bias largely excluded Black artists and traditions from classical music for centuries, Swarn says, “[Wes] is dismantling that ideology brick by brick.” His 2020 single “ACO” (slang for Aurora, Colorado) and 2021’s “Coastin” are odes to summer with Frank Ocean–esque harmonies. Listen here. 


Heavy Rotation

Get hip (and local) by adding these emerging artists’ bangers to your playlists ASAP.

Kayla Rae | “Tell Me”
Hip-hop has a reputation for often being homophobic and misogynistic. This rapper-singer’s latest album, 2021’s Tell Me, upends that trope by delivering sexy-yet-empowering musings on its eponymous track.

Khalil/AfroConnexion | “Partyin & Drinkin”
The high-octane Caribbean beat of “Partyin & Drinkin” will send you looking for that margarita mix in the back of your pantry.

Xiuhtezcatl | “Take It All Back”
This Boulder-based Indigenous artist’s newest single is an anti-colonial anthem, rhyming for the return of lands stolen from Native peoples.

Mizta Sandman | “Concrete Rose”
His O.G. status is solidified by 14 years of songwriting. So who better to school us on perseverance, as Sandman does on this 2021 single?

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