Meet 10 of the most exciting musicians working today -- and check out the wildly diverse ways they redefine the theme of our April issue: the American Dream.

Photo by Albert Sanchez; Shamir wears a shirt by Jacob Davis, pants by Jenny Schwarz; Styling by Dana Goldenberg at Wilhelmina; Location: Apex Studios

Shamir Bailey
Last year, Shamir Bailey turned heads with the soulful choirboy vocals and house grooves of his Northtown EP. Then the Las Vegas native mixed things up with the rap-heavy, balloon-poppin' YouTube hit "On the Regular" and ditched the teen rocker garb in favor of bright colors and loud patterns. Once XL drops Bailey's full-length debut, Ratchet, in May, there will be no stopping this 20-year-old.

Bailey grew up a half-hour outside of the city, across the street from a pig farm. While fans may suspect that his pumping sound is informed by years of listening to house jams, he was unfamiliar with the genre when he got started; Bailey's early solo tunes were attempts to make dark synth music à la Zola Jesus and Austra.

For Bailey, the American Dream is about the freedom to move between city chaos and country quiet. That's been the singer's life lately, as he darts from SXSW to the West Coast before jetting off to gigs in the U.K. and France. When pressed, though, Bailey's allegiance is clear: "I'm definitely a desert boy," he says. [Liz Ohanesian; read our extended interview with Shamir here.]

Photo by Albert Sanchez; Zendaya wears a dress by Elenareva and a pearl ring by Wanderlust + Co Pearl; Styling by Dana Goldenberg at Wilhelmina, hair by Kim Kimball for the Celestine Agency, makeup by Zendaya; Location: Mack Sennett Studios

Zendaya
Millions of kids know Zendaya Coleman from the Disney shows K.C. Undercover and Shake It Up! and for her 2013 debut album, but the 18-year-old artist impressed a more mature audience back in February with her thoughtful replies to Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic's comments about her Oscar night dreadlocks: "There is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair," she said.

She's moved on from that incident, but it's a safe bet that the Oakland native will remain both outspoken and fashion-forward. "I believe in wearing whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident," she says. "I've never worried about what people thought based on what I wear."

Though she was recently spotted around New York Fashion Week, the young star's focus is on her work, which right now includes wrapping up the first season of K.C. Undercover (Zendaya is also a producer on the series) and recording her sophomore album. Whether she's acting, singing or speaking out, Zendaya continues to "share love and positivity through my art forms." [Abby Schreiber; read our extended interview with Zendaya here.]

Photo by Diggy Lloyd; Kelela wears a jumpsuit by Maryam Nassir Zadeh and earrings by Wouters & Hendrix; Styling by Jessica Zamora Turner, hair and makeup by Elena Perdikomati at Utopia the Agency for M.A.C. Cosmetics; Location: Dune Studios

Kelela
With her first full-length due out this fall, Kelela is the queen ascendant of the recent R&B/pop mutation that's both instantly accessible and uncannily restrained. A child of Ethiopian immigrants, the Washington, DC, native trades in vulnerability and confusion pushed to sensual extremes. She hints that the album will move beyond the decidedly heartbroken mood of her just-out EP, Hallucinogen, but don't expect her to break the spell: "Whether it's heartbreak or about being in love, it's definitely tears of some sort."

This emotional ambiguity "comes from having been othered, and then finding solace in it," Kelela says. "Being the child of East African immigrants and not really being able to identify as African-American culturally, but also growing up in the United States and being black... Being on the outside is very comfortable for me."

That love of unknown frontiers is perhaps Kelela's most distinctly American trait. "I don't think I'll ever feel like I've truly arrived," she says. "I never want you to think I have it all figured out."

[James Rickman]


Photo by Anna Webber, makeup by Jessi Pagel

Dej Loaf
When Drake starts quoting your lyrics on his Instagram, you know it's about to get good. Such was the case for Detroit-born rapper and singer Dej Loaf, whose DDS-produced single "Try Me" blew up last year, attracting the attention of Drizzy as well as Wiz Khalifa and E-40, who both put out remixes.

With casually half-sung lines like "Put that burner to his stomach / make it bubbly," it's no wonder she also caught the ear of fellow Detroit-bred rapper Eminem, who put her on his track "Detroit vs. Everybody." "I'm proud of my city and the music scene," Dej says. "People are coming together and realizing that this can really happen... they're seeing how far I've come."

Having signed a reported million-dollar deal with Columbia, Dej is working on her first full-length album and planning some time alongside Nicki Minaj on the Pinkprint Tour. When it comes to getting it done, Dej is "not big on excuses. I understand what it takes to move around and really be able to do whatever you want to do. And I don't feel sympathy for people who don't get up and follow their dreams." [Emily Warman]

Photo by Kathy Lo; Steve wears a Givenchy shirt and NO. 21 pants; Chris wears a Prada shirt and sweater; Styling by Jessica Zamora-Turner, makeup by Alexis Williams at LVA Artists using Chanel Cosmetics, hair by Aleksandra Sasha Nesterchuk using Kerastase France; Stylist Assistant: Jordyn Payne; Location: Dune Studios

The Martinez Brothers
Life has been pretty good to Steve and Chris Martinez, two Bronx-bred DJs currently rocketing through the house and techno scenes. They've got their own label, Cuttin' Headz; another, Tuskegee, with Seth Troxler; and some major fashion cred -- they recently jetted to Paris to play Givenchy's menswear and womenswear shows for the label's fall and spring collections.

The duo grew up listening to church music and getting into clubs underage, eventually finding their way into NYC's close-knit house scene. They played parties organized by their dad and the buzz grew; before they knew it, they'd nabbed a residency at Ibiza's DC10.

American Dream? For them it's about doing what they've always done. "Whatever it is you love to do, you just have to go out there and do it," says Chris. "You're going to be working every single day; it's got to be worth it to you. And if we can do what we want to do, anybody can." [EW]

BØRNS
Last year he floored us with his single "10,000 Emerald Pools" -- a California pop daydream whose chorus, a marriage of Washed Out and Sigur Rós, is one of the most thrilling in recent memory. Later this year, Interscope will release his first album, and the 23-year-old LA transplant (via Grand Haven, MI) shows every sign of bringing his limpid voice, preternatural charm and T. Rex-conjuring powers into the mainstream. [JR]

Downtown Boys
With a name like Downtown Boys, you don't really expect a thrashing feminist sax-punk collective, especially one whose music has no place for irony. Full Communism, out May 5, uses anthemic -- not to mention bilingual -- punk rock to address "the prison-industrial complex, racism, queerphobia, capitalism, fascism, boredom, and all things people use to try to close our minds, eyes and hearts." Emphatic yes to these Providence kids. Heavy shit never sounded so good. [Molly Beauchemin]

Our dream is flawless: we are completely nasty and imperfect but completely drunk by hope and struggle. Our dream is ours, not that of White and Patriarchal Supremacy. We keep dreaming because we don't have the privilege to give in to despair and cheap nihilism. It is our duty to win.
--Downtown Boys

Young Thug
ATL native Jeffrey Williams, aka Young Thug, has risen above the industry noise with his instantly compelling warble. Getting shoutouts from the likes of Drake, Kanye and Nicki Minaj, the eccentric MC channels Weezy sensibilities in a style all his own. With breakout tracks like "Danny Glover" and "Stoner" and Black Portland, his acclaimed 2014 mixtape, the skinny-jeaned 22-year-old is finding a new space for rap and crawling right in. [Jacob Muselmann]

UNiiQU3
UNiiQU3 is credited with the nascent popularity of "Jersey Club" -- a remix style that can roughly be described as "EDM meets trap somewhere in Newark." Between chillin' with Cashmere Cat in San Francisco and holding it down in Jersey, UNiiQU3 has made a name for herself with infectious samples and bouncy grooves that are turning heads across the coasts. Check out her "This Pxssy Will Drive You Crazy" remix for a refreshing counterpart to the anodyne club music that qualifies as trap but is nowhere near as hypnotic. For now, she's planning a bunch of shows in the Northeast, but her upcoming L.A. performance at the Lash suggests bigger things are on the way. [MB]

"We live in a time where things are kind of messed up. Money is essential and without it, life can definitely be restricted. I embody the American Dream because I have aspirations that I have already fulfilled off my talents, yet I still have many goals I have yet to accomplish. Talent was and still is my currency, despite it being priceless." -- UNiiQU3

Missy Mazzoli
You'd think being the leading lady of the all-female experimental ensemble group Victoire would sap your time and creative juices, but Missy Mazzoli has a knack for surprise. After turning New York's Kitchen into a sold-out opera house with 2012's Songs from the Uproar, the Brooklyn composer and keyboardist played Carnegie Hall and the New York and L.A. Philharmonics. Her genre-smashing new solo album, Vespers for a New Dark Age, which features Wilco's Glenn Kotche among others, rides on vast soundscapes, haunting melodies and -- no surprise -- tons of critical acclaim. [JM]

In some ways I embody a certain type of American Dream: the one in which you can grow up to reinvent yourself as much as you want. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and am now a working artist in New York City. While this was always my plan, it was probably the last thing anyone around me expected.