1. ‘Mona Lisa’ — Monte Booker and Naji


Monte Booker is a hip-hop and electronic music producer best known for co-founding Zero Fatigue, a Chicago-based rap group. Blending soul, rhythm and blues and electronic sounds, Booker never fails to deliver. “Mona Lisa” exhibits his killer production skills, dropping a punchy 808 bass line while a quietly confident organ synth creates a laid-back sense of motion in the background. Over the synth, American singer and songwriter Naji spills out a beautifully casual melody. His signature mix of indie, rhythm and blues and electro-pop styles perfectly complement Booker’s vocals, resulting in a fresh and dynamic track.

2. ‘Smoking With Her’ — Mounika


The origin of Mounika’s eclectic mix of sounds is unknown, but he is nothing short of genius to pair French soundbites with a chilled-out drum loop. Though cleaner than the classic intentionally low-fidelity, unpolished sound, the detailed distortion of guitar strums and crisp rim shots are reminiscent of a lazy, late Sunday afternoon. “What’s the difference between smoking and drinking?” the song asks at one point, in between full-bodied kicks. The question lingers at the back of your mind as a poignant atmosphere emanates from your speakers.

3. ‘Blue Bossa’ — Dexter Gordon


A jazz standard, “Blue Bossa” has been masterfully handled by various legends of the genre. However, something about Dexter Gordon’s rendition of the iconic bossa nova-inspired piece by Kenny Dorham is especially striking. Gordon’s tenor saxophone bops its way through pentatonic riffs all while singing richly and regally. Meanwhile, Barry Harris’ dexterous piano solo features staggered chord hits that exemplify his talent. The reserved richness of Sam Jones’ bass plucks, tempering the powerful mellow voice of his instrument, round out the distinct sound of Gordon’s rendition. The song’s myriad elements make it the perfect introductory piece for those who typically prefer other genres, and a great tune for jamming out or watching the autumn leaves fall.

4. ‘I Like U’ — NIKI


NIKI’s label, 88rising, is not just boasting when it presents its “Double Happiness” motto. The record label and management company has brought a number of great tracks to the table. While its stars Rich Chigga and Keith Ape will be familiar to fans of the emerging Asian rap scene, 88rising’s lesser-known members are no less talented. NIKI is one of these quiet superstars. I instantly fell in love with “I Like U” the first time I heard it. The song’s music video description describes NIKI as the “next R&B princess straight out of Indonesia,” and her powerhouse vocals on this track prove that she is not to be taken lightly. She sings of a boy she developed feelings for despite their “just physical” relationship, effortlessly radiating both ease and desire.

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