Welcome to the 405's Ones to Watch rundown, 2016. In an attempt to hammer home the 'quality over quantity' adage, this year's selection is slightly smaller at just seven artists, but we're confident you'll find someone to fall in love with this week.

Through most of her life, Eritrean/Egyptian singer-songwriter, Sonya Teclai has taken negatives and turned them into positives. She's carved pain into inspiration and eccentricity into art. With her latest EP Heatwave, delivered this past fall, the talented rapper-vocalist hybrid has gained merited attention due to the notable duality within her sound, her content and her fervent mentality to "kill everything." And that's precisely why Sonya is one to watch.

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How was this year like creatively for you and what was that process like of putting together the EP?

I had the EP done around January and basically what I was doing was shipping around for distribution deals. I was going back and forth for a couple months with Empire and interestingly enough, I had had a discussion with someone from Atlantic and they mentioned Empire and I hadn't heard of them. They were telling me how they work with independent artists and oddly enough, I got in contact with the A&R. He reached out to me and I was like, this is crazy. Really, that's what I was looking for, having a distribution deal and having all my cards align to be able to push it the proper way. I feel like it was a lot of this year. The process of making it was pretty much all of last year. Heatwave definitely embodies what I envisioned.

You definitely have a very strong voice and presence on it. What experiences can you directly attribute to the content you covered on the release?

I guess, a lot of my life has been taking pain and flipping it into something constructive. Growing up, my parents are African immigrants and came here when they were teens and their twenties. My country was at war for 30 years, Eritrea, and didn't gain their independence until the '90s. Until then, a lot of family members went through losing family members and having them be killed. The women went to war with the men. Some of my cousins were born on the battlefield. It's like, having parents who have dealt with that growing up and then coming here and trying to provide a better life for their children. That was the foundation for my home and my culture. A lot of pain, and trying to turning it into something productive. There's a lot of trauma that comes with that. I also feel like that with heartbreak, at the same time. I was in a relationship that was a really bad relationship and that kind of turned over my perception of love and people and how a relationship is supposed to be. I feel like through those lessons and learning how to interact with people, it just came to be what it was. I feel like in my music, pain translates pretty well. I try to find the good in things as well. It's a lot of juxtapositions between feelings and perception. A lot of grey area.

But you carry it with a strength. There's a lot of optimism there.

I never try and sit in the pain. I still try and take the realistic perspective and put a positive spin on it and try and keep it real.

That's such a relevant perspective to have, especially now in this year in music and in life. What are your thoughts on the current landscape of rap and R&B right now and where do you see yourself fitting into it all?

I like the direction it's going in. It got pretty dormant. I didn't hear very much new-age R&B or even classic R&B. And hip-hop has taken a rise in the past couple years. Finally, there's an array of so many different sounds in hip-hop rather than everyone doing the same flow, the same projection. Right now, it's at a good place. You have an Alessia Cara and a Bryson Tiller and a Kehlani and The Weeknd, which kind of fit that new-age R&B sound. I think I fit into that sound. There's still a shortage of females in hip-hop but I like where it's going. I have an interesting position, because when I sing, it's almost the polar opposite position of when I rap. I'm really aggressive in rap and really sultry in singing. I don't know anyone else that does that right now as far as the females go. I feel like I can create a place and fill a void.

What's been the most rewarding achievement as an artist so far?

Really having my mom understand. Growing up, she felt like music wasn't a promising career. I feel like now, she is one of my biggest fans. It's crazy to me. If you have African parents, I don't know if it's the same with any other culture, but that's not celebrated to be a musician. For her to be the way that she is with my music now, it's probably one of the craziest things to me. Having worked with Phife from Tribe Called Quest is still a huge thing to me, because I was a huge fan of Tribe before. That was pretty crazy.

What have been your current obsessions this year?

I'm obsessed with finding other artists that have mastered whatever their niche is. I think that's what feeds my creativity. It inspires it. I fien it. Even exploring people that are amazing in other genres. I love damn near every genre of music when it sounds good. It's fascinating. When songs almost sound perfect, because there's so much work put into it.

Where has that brought you? What creative place would you say you're in now?

I'm a little bit more sporadic now. The way that my mind work is that, I'm a super impatient person. I can't quite control my mind sometimes. So for me, whenever I have a focus and I can just tunnel vision into that, that's when I'm most productive. My focus last year was the EP, I knew what sound I wanted so that just became a hunt almost. A hunt to turn it into product. When I hear a beat or something in my head that I really want to get it down, I almost become obsessed with wanting to hear it. I knew exactly what I wanted from there and I went for it until I got it. Nothing else clouded my vision. Now, it's very much about recording freely and looking for something different.

Going into the end of the year, what are your predictions and goals for the coming year?

Kill everything. Making sure my shows and live shows are amazing. Making sure the visuals are amazing. Making sure the music is amazing and that it's true. That is resonates. I feel like a lot of times, we get boxed in as artists and as women period. We have to be one certain way. It's fucked up, because no one only has one element to them. That's the soul element that you see. You come home and you feel different than when you're at work and you feel different when you're out with your friends. There's different aspects to a woman. There's different aspects to a human being and different aspects to an artist. I really felt like the reality of that, I want to be able to completely embody and project. Art imitates life and life imitates art. If you're only going to show one aspect of all of these female artists and project that, then what messages are you really sending to young girls and women? I just want to showcase that. It's the reality of a person.


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