With celebs giving him endorsements and his first single getting glowing reviews, Stanaj is the hottest artist to watch in 2017.
R&B junkie: Stanaj pulls a range of influences—Donny Hathaway, Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men—into his of-the-moment sound.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” notes 23-year-old vocal dynamo Albert Stanaj. “Literally a year ago, I never would have been at a record label or recording music.” Indeed, his rise has been swift: Instagram snaps with Drake and Jay Z; social media shout-outs from Chris Brown and Kim Kardashian West announcing him as an artist to watch; and then a performance of his explosive track “Ain’t Love Strange” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that propelled him onto Billboard’s Next Big Sound charts. Now he’s opening for JoJo on her North American tour, with a May stop at New York’s Irving Plaza.
For a performer in his twenties, a fast rise can lead to losing his vision or identity—but not for Stanaj. “I’m very lucky, I have my family and my team and they tell me what’s really good.” His EP, The Preview, which was released in August, shows a confident artist on the right track: Stanaj’s sound combines ’90s R&B (think Boyz II Men) and big, clacking beats (Sia, Zayn) in tracks focused on showing off his vocal chops.
As a singer, he’s high-flying and adventurous, and the musical influences of his youth—Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, Prince—are definitely present. “I wanted to emulate that,” he says of ’90s R&B style, “but in a new, 2017 sort of way.”