Bobby Carter

NPR Music's Tiny Desk series will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four weeks of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and playlists by Black artists spanning different genres and generations each week. The lineup includes both emerging and established artists who will be performing a Tiny Desk concert for the first time. This celebration highlights the beautiful cornucopia of Black music and our special way of presenting it. We hope you enjoy.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

The Tiny Desk team had huge plans for 2020 — including what should have been the taping of our 1000th Tiny Desk concert — only to pivot madly as COVID-19 forced the closure of NPR headquarters in mid-March. By the end of that month, we'd launched a new companion series: Tiny Desk (home) concerts, which gathered intimate, Tiny Desk-style performances from all over the world. It's been a feat of forced innovation, made possible through inspired performances and our incomparable Tiny Desk team of producers, videographers and engineers.

Hip-hop has been an integral component in Tiny Desk's success for quite a while now. Rappers from across the globe have played the Desk and helped to enrich our ever-evolving legacy. With hip-hop in particular, geography plays such a large part in 'how' artists express themselves, and none quite so much as Southern emcees. To celebrate the launch of NPR Music's Southern Rap canon this week, we're picking five performances from Southern hip-hop artists.

In the liner notes to John Coltrane's 1964 album Live At Birdland, Amiri Baraka (then writing as Le Roi Jones) contemplated the gift the saxophonist and his band offered with this music inspired by the horrific deaths of four Black girls in a Birmingham church bombing inspired by white supremacist hatred. "Listen," Baraka wrote. "What we're given is a slow delicate introspective sadness, almost hopelessness, except for Elvin [Jones], rising in the background like something out of nature... a fattening thunder, storm clouds or jungle war clouds.

As a black man on the Tiny Desk team, I've always felt a responsibility to amplify black artistry. In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the subsequent protests and the fight for legislative reform, I sit in this moment and reflect on how many artists have used their Tiny Desk concerts to express themselves, including songs of protest, cries for help, and messages of hope and rage.

Anyone else starting to feel like the concept of time is a mushy, nebulous, philosophical joke? Feeling fully in the throes of a never-ending limbo, leaning on music as a grounding source of energy has felt more important than ever.

Luckily for fans of R&B, hip-hop, pop and soul, our favorite artists have kept new music coming. Whether they're making daily creations or finally letting go of months' worth of work, we're thankful for new sounds to fill these moments of unrest and static.

Every now and then, you want to be shaken up and thrown off balance just a little, just to make it all still feel fresh. Consider these new tracks from Jenevieve, Yebba, Siddiq and more the audible smelling salts needed to wake up your "new releases" playlist. These Heat Check additions fall into that sweet spot of musical discovery that keeps you on your toes with every flip, pun and chord change. Some might even have you digging for samples and jumping down digital rabbit holes to track the points of musical progression.

Kick-in-the-door debuts, lowkey scorchers and dynamic rap duos fill this memorable edition of Heat Check. These are tracks that stop you in your skips and snuggle up real close with your hippocampus. The kind of songs you'll reference in conversations with your friends as big moments, either for the artists involved or the genres they hopscotch around.

One silver lining during this isolated reality is that new music is flowing like wine these days. Some artists are moving up album release dates while others are previewing long-held tracks on Instagram Live, Twitter and Soundcloud. Like many things we used to take for granted, the need for good music has never felt more urgent and we're indebted to these creatives who are getting the itch to share.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

"I just want you to know," Raveena told the NPR office, "that in this space that we're in, you're extremely, extremely loved." I get chills when I think about it now.

In a week of news updates on COVID-19, social distancing and looming uncertainty, music serves a unique purpose right now. Music has the power to soothe, amplify and excavate our emotions.

After years of simultaneously trendsetting and meandering in a creative purgatory, Lil Uzi Vert finally unleashed his sophomore album last Friday.

This is not a drill: Heat Check is back! After a short hiatus and some stellar, late-breaking 2019 releases, Heat Check has returned to recap you on the world of experimental R&B, hip-hop and everything in between.

Today, Aug. 8, marks the one-year anniversary of when NPR Music published the late Mac Miller's Tiny Desk. Last week, Ty Dolla $ign visited NPR headquarters to record a fantastic Tiny Desk concert of his own that will air in its entirety soon.

After giving us a series of baffling ads in the London Tube and the back pages of the Dallas Observer, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke finally released his third solo album, ANIMA, on Thursday — meaning you won't have to listen to "Not The News" on speakerphone anymore. On this week's New Music Friday, we dive into Yorke's vivid dreamscape and its accompanying film, as well as The Black Keys' electrifying Let's Rock (their first record in five years), Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's fresh collab Bandana and more.

"I wish I could've savored that moment longer," Phony Ppl lead singer Elbee Thrie said to me as we rode the elevator down, following the band's Tiny Desk performance. "I'll never forget this."

Throughout the set, you see Thrie scan the entire office, taking mental inventory of the entire experience. Phony Ppl is a group that emits a vigorous energy on and off stage. In this case, the spirit was exchanged between the band and the NPR staff from the moment they gathered behind the desk and gave a zesty greeting.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

It was the year that trolls and tabloid fodder took over. It was the year that beef became the chief marketing strategy. It was the year that hype trumped truth. And we're not even talking politics yet.

It's been said that you only get one chance to make a first impression. In H.E.R.'s case, you get two. She stunned us as a special guest for Daniel Caesar's Tiny Desk concert earlier this year, in an appearance that showcased her vocal mastery. That earned her an invite to play again, front-and-center. She attacked her second go 'round with more fervor than the first, highlighting her skills as a multi-instrumentalist, maneuvering between acoustic and electric guitars, then the Fender Rhodes.

Last Friday, rapper and producer Mac Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick, was found dead in his San Fernando Valley home. His fans, who had heard Miller openly address drug use in interviews and in his music for years, immediately speculated that the cause was an overdose, though postmortem toxicology tests have not been released.

There was a shift in Mac Miller's boisterous demeanor as he started the third of his three-song Tiny Desk set. It's the first time he's performed tracks from his new album, Swimming, in front of an audience. On "2009," he rubbed his chin with clinched eyes, looking like a young man who's beginning to crack the code. Backed by a piano loop and a string quartet, he reflected on his journey's peaks and valleys thus far.

I learned a few things while watching Tom Misch perform at the Tiny Desk that should've been obvious to a longtime fan like me: He produces beats with a live audience in mind. As much as his drums slap, guitar is the foundation for most of his songs and he showcases a burgeoning talent on the instrument throughout his set.

Witnessing The Crossrhodes perform at the Tiny Desk instantly snapped me back to their early beginnings, just a few miles away from NPR headquarters. In 2001, on any given Monday night on U Street, music lovers would be treated to a magic show. Bar Nun's open mic night unearthed some of the finest MC's, poets and singers from the area, but they all took a back seat once the Crossrhodes stepped on stage. Week after week, the band passionately performed original material that jumped between society's woes and their own love lives, going from mere contestants to the main attraction.

Looking back on Common's gripping Tiny Desk performance at the White House in 2016, I recall a couple of prophetic moments. The first was that the rapper confessed his desire for an Emmy Award while fixated on Bob Boilen's trophy on the desk in front of him.

Wyclef Jean doesn't get his just due. It was only after The Fugees had the world in their collective palms, and then disbanded, when we got to know his unadulterated abilities as a musician — his first solo album The Carnival was a project equal to (if not greater than) his greatest successes with The Fugees. From there, his focus shifted to discovering and producing stars, stretching all genres in his solo mission, and philanthropic work for his homeland of Haiti.

Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, is willing and able to shape-shift to fit into just about any box you show him — he just won't stay in there for long. Whether fusing his talent for jazz while a bassist with punk legacy act Suicidal Tendencies or as a member of Snoop Dogg's band — maybe running a little too far with a solo here and there — the focus seems to eventually drift his way.

The pairing of Tuxedo is a natural feel in person, but highly unlikely on paper. Seattle-based producer Jake One has a who's-who client list, from Rick Ross to 21 Savage — while DJ, singer-songwriter and producer Mayer Hawthorne is a renaissance soul man from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They stealthily debuted three tracks on SoundCloud in 2013 with only a black square stamped "Tuxedo" as the cover art, leaving fans wondering where this new funk was coming from.

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