In 2008, the NPR Music Tiny Desk Concerts came about in after a frustrated night at a bar show. Music editor Stephen Thompson and host Bob Boilen couldn’t hear the music over the crowd noise and joked that the artist, Laura Gibson, should just perform at Boilen’s desk. They arranged the stint a month later and with an impromptu recording posted online, the Tiny Desk Concerts video series was born. We picked out our top five favorite shows to help you get through the week:
5.) Leon Bridges, September 2015
Without the help of visual aid, Leon Bridges comes straight out of the 1960s. His voice is untouched—no overproduced mixing, no overhyped lyricism, just pure soul. Comparisons to the likes of Otis Redding and Same Cooke are constantly made, but Bridges’ sound in the overly-pop 21st century is refreshing. This Forth Worth, Texas singer-songwriter released his debut album “Coming Home” in 2015 and received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. His Tiny Desk Concert video consisting of a saxophonist, two guitarist, and a fervent female backup has garnered over three million views so far.
Favorite song: “River”, “Been travelling these wide roads for so long / My heart’s been far from you / 10,000 miles gone”
4.) Jake Bugg, March 2014
If you fancy Bob Dylan, Jake Bugg is an artist that you’ll automatically fall in love with. Without a guitar in his hands, the first impression a person gets from him usually falls under “expressionless”. However, many of his tracks stem from his personal experiences growing up in his native of Nottingham, England. Bugg might not show much with his facial expressions, but his straightforward yet heartfelt lyrics will put you in his shoes.
Favorite song: “Storm Passes Away”, “Your radiance runs deep in my color scheme”
3.) Chance the Rapper, July 2017
We obviously love Lil Chano. His Tiny Desk Concert gave us a new appreciation for his song “Juke Jam”; the electric piano and backup chorus on top of Nico Segal’s soothing trumpet made all the difference. Chance recites a poem titled “The Other Side” which he wrote during his transit from the hotel to the NPR Music office. We’re reminded of the genius in his artistry with this set.
Favorite song: “Juke Jam”, “The rink was the place but at that space and time, I was too young for you”
2.) Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, August 2016
.Paak starts off strong on the drum kit with a funky set of musicians who are all dressed for the occasion. There really is no defining what genre they fall under and at this point, it doesn’t even matter. The beauty of Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals heavily involve their music’s fluidity and fusion of soul, R&B, hip hop, and whatever genre they can think of next. If they play Laneway Singapore 2018, peep us for a feature because this is one act we’re not going to miss.
Favorite song: “Come Down”, “But don’t I make it look easy / Don’t I make it look good”
1.) T-Pain, October 2014
Of course, this is the holy grail of Tiny Desk Concerts. Rapper/singer T-Pain pushed the entire world into a frenzy with his set. He dominated the 2000s Billboard charts with Auto-Tune so no one expected the pureness of his actual singing voice. He really, really sings and his voice is soulful and heavenly. The video currently stands at almost 11 million views, and its popularity prompted a full concert set up from NPR. A YouTuber tagged it as “the most soulful stripper music” and we couldn’t agree more. He recently announced a short acoustic tour inspired from this set beginning this October, so try to catch it if you can.
Favorite song: “Up Down (Do This All Day)”, “I ain’t got no problem spending all of my money / Tryna see wassup now / I can do this all day like it ain’t nothin'”
It’s amazing how much the NPR Music Tiny Desk Concerts have grown over the years. With over 500 videos and counting, we’re looking out for sets from SZA, King Krule, and Mount Kimbie next. Don’t let us down, NPR!