1. Jen Hess
If Patti Smith could pass her torch to someone in Philly, it would be Hess, 42, a singer-songwriter who first found her sound as a kid on a set of drums. Since then, she’s written more than 2,000 songs on her guitar, inspired by everything from folk to rock operas, Hair—and girls. She has two records under her belt and regularly sells out the Tin Angel and has been on stage at Sisters. Once, after she played the famed Bowery Ballroom, Michael Stipe told her she has great command of the stage. Listen here.
2. Sgt. Sass
“This scene is not what it appears to be. And that seems to be the fire that is motivating me. I came to see some change. I came to change the game,” rap DeShawn Seymore, 27, and DaQuan Motley, 29, who make up hip-hop duo Sgt. Sass. They’ve been performing together for five years, weaving the queer black experience into elaborate rhymes inspired by everyone from Lil’ Kim and Jay-Z to the Banshees and Bikini Kill. Their album, Black Nail Polish, comes out later this year. Listen here.
3. Shara Dae
Her soulful sound follows in the footsteps of Phoebe Snow and Norah Jones. Dae, 35, is working on her first LP, but she started singing with her mom as a kid. Between gigs at The Fire and World Cafe Live, the chanteuse is also busy writing songs, learning piano and sharing the stage with acts including the Disco Biscuits, Taylor McFerrin and Gravy. Listen here.
4. Aiden James
It all began on a Muppet Baby keyboard on the back porch. That’s when James, now 29, got his first taste of music at age 4. “So many things around me inspire me,” he says, “walking home up Walnut Street, a first date or that inside joke that doesn’t get old.” James has toured the country and abroad, sharing a bill with stars including Andy Bell of Erasure, covering Gaga, and writing and producing a new album, Trouble With This (his third). “It’s a heavy vocal pop, rock, electronic record,” says James, “with a strong singer-songwriter element.” Listen here.
5. Dena Underwood
Raised in North Philly, she stands out behind the piano at Tavern on Camac. “As a teenager I used to walk past Tavern, and I would think to myself ‘I would like to play here someday,’” says Underwood, 36. Inspired by jazz greats like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, she has sung on Wade in the Water by Jim Wade and Room 323 with the Temple University Jazz Ensemble. “Growing up, everyone in my family had some type of music talent,” she says. “And there was always a piano in our house.” Listen here