Bobby Carter

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.

SiR, the R&B singer from Inglewood, CA, seemed lost in thought as he stood behind the Tiny Desk. While his bandmates curiously bounced around the desk, joking and even searching for Bob Boilen, SiR remained particularly focused. About halfway through the performance, he eventually revealed what had been weighing on his heart. He told the NPR crowd he'd lost his infant godson a few days prior and dedicated the performance to him. "We're doing this for him.

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Many bands make considerable adjustments to their playing style in order for their sound to properly fill the Tiny Desk space. LA-based trio Moonchild, along with three background singers and a drummer, arrived promptly for their load-in time, unpacked their gear and were ready to go within minutes. Aside from being especially efficient, their natural musical instincts made for a custom fit in our corner.

While preparing for Burna Boy's Tiny Desk appearance, it was evident early on that his performance would be strictly business. After exchanging pleasantries on the phone with his mother and manager, Bose Ogulu, she made it clear there wouldn't be time for much of anything else. "Burna has been working really hard so please bear with us," she told me. "The band will arrive well before him. Let me know the latest time at which he can arrive."

Washington D.C. rapper Wale stands as one of the most distinctive figures in hip-hop today. More than 10 years ago, the man born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin created a local buzz in the D.C. area through a host of mixtapes showcasing his skills atop popular instrumentals. What separated him from the hundreds of hopeful MCs trying to make names for themselves online was his ability to fuse go-go music — D.C.'s homegrown spin on funk — with hip-hop. Well, that and a mixtape tribute to Seinfeld.

When Ari Lennox entered NPR Headquarters to perform at the Tiny Desk, we soon learned she was a little under the weather. Draped in a long, leopard-print coat, she greeted the band and approached the desk. I asked her if she was in any shape to sing, and she assured me she was. "Oh, I'm fine and I'm ready!" With that, she slipped off her coat, took her place behind the desk and began her warm up.

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.

Georgia Anne Muldrow is all about showing and spreading love. That fact became clear as we discussed the set list for her Tiny Desk performance. She and the band were floating the possibility of swapping the duet with her partner in music and life, Dudley Perkins with another song. But she decided it was more important to showcase their shared love on the song "Flowers," originally from Perkins' 2003 album A Lil' Light.

"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.

Daniel Caesar and his band had a clear vision for their Tiny Desk performance. While already confined to a small space, they opted to congregate at the piano, where producer and music director Matthew Burnett sat to create what feels like a fly-on-the-wall moment. We're presented a purity that's nearly impossible to capture on an album.

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.

After quietly releasing one of the best R&B albums of 2017, Gabriel Garzón-Montano seems determined to ratchet up the noise levels this year.

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.

"Classic Man," the 2015 debut single from Nigerian-American MC Jidenna, caught everyone off guard. The song found him teetering between rapping and singing about elegance, politeness and Nat "King" Cole, and the melody felt irresistible. Then there's the look: He rocks thrift-wear tailored to a T. The song eventually went double platinum and earned a Grammy nomination. Jidenna followed it with a few more club bangers before releasing his debut album, The Chief, earlier this year. A tribute to his father, a Nigerian chief, the record is peppered with African rhythms and themes.

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.

Formed in the early 2000s, New Zealand-borne electro-soul purveyor Ladi6 is slowly and surely building a reputation by taking everything that was (and remains) great about '90s soul music and updates it, sprinkling cosmic effects and big synths throughout.

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