Strawberry Cadillac (Hyperdrive Motivator)
Poetry slams and rap battles: The former led to the latter for Milwaukee's Melissa Czarnik. A listen to her StrawberryCadillac debut makes it clear how that evolution came about. Though alt-soul ladies such as Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott are easy enough to hear as influences, so are Ani DiFranco (complex, feminist folk) and Edith Piaf (torchy cabaret).
Czarnik's participation in AmeriCorps and community activism informs her rhymes, but her political views leave room for the vulnerability of doubt. Her musicality is inclusive enough to envelop folk, jazz and pop sensibilities in loops and live instrumentation amid her hip-hop beat-box arsenal. Czarnik may not be out to set the world ablaze as a female counterpart to Eminem, but she'll fire up listeners to grab notebooks and microphones and set their observations to sounds not beholden to any commercial R&B radio format.