Best Tiny Desk Concerts, Ranked
There isn’t enough to talk about NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Tiny Desk Concerts began as a quaint side project in the year 2008 at the NPR studio. Now about 12 years and approximately 1,000 performances later, this series is now a music industry mainstay and has become a common ground for artists from different genres and walks of life who showcase their stripped down, up-close and personal performances to the world. Below are some of the best Tiny Desk Performances.
- Mac Miller (2018)
- Tom Misch (2018)
- Sting and Shaggy (2019)
- Anderson .Paak (2016)
- T-Pain (2014)
- Jacob Collier (2020)
- Tyler, The Creator (2017)
- Common (2016)
- The Roots (2017)
- Blue Man Group (2016)
- Khruangbin (2018)
- Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (2019)
- Tash Sultana (2017)
In 2008, the NPR All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen was frustrated with his recent outings to music shows in D.C. Loud and disrespectful crowds along with sub-par sound systems led him to announce the beginning of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. In the years since a massive range of artists and groups have stopped by to give intimate and raw performances to the internet. At Loud News Net, we compiled the best of underground hip hop’s moments on the show. What are you waiting for? Get watching!
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
The contemporary face for underground hip hop, Freddie Gibbs holds a long career and discography that rivals some of the most prolific rappers of our time. Alongside the master, MC was the legendary producer Madlib. The duo brought with them a full soul band to flesh out their favorite cuts like “Education” (from 2020’s collab album Bandana) and “Gat Damn.” This is a prime example of the versatility of hip hop, with Gibbs bringing his hardest bars into harmony with the relaxed spirit of such a small show.
25 years had passed since the iconic Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) when the storied group reconvened at NPR headquarters to give us a blast from the past. With vital members like GZA, Masta Killa, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, and U-God keeping it as real as ever, we even get a unique appearance from Young Dirty Bastard (the son of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard). Coming in at a fat 20 minutes, this performance was jam-packed with hits. Opting for a medley of songs, the group covers nostalgic tracks like “Triumph,” “Glaciers of Ice,” and of course “C.R.E.A.M.”. Trading verses and rocking together, it’s nice to see so many of the original members back together performing again. As always, it’s Wu Tang Forever.
Run The Jewels
Fresh off the back of their latest album RTJ3, the duo of El-P and Killer Mike take the stage (*ahem* desk) in classic fashion. The loud and proud rapping machine Run The Jewels graced us with 3 songs off the new project, “Talk To Me,” “Legend Has It,” and “A Report To The Shareholders.” Bringing the energy that they are known for, the two effortlessly switch off between lines and adlibs. Laughing mid-track and leaning off each other like the brothers they are, this is a performance in every sense of the word and we’re here for it.
With 9th Wonder and The Storm Troopers backing her up, Rapsody shines on a platform that seems almost made for her. NPR Tiny Desk seems to dampen the spirit of many rap songs, but she seemed to use it to her advantage, the lyrics and heart spilling out in front of you on your screen. “This is dedicated to you know, the boys who had to grow up fast, and the good fathers who are there,” she says, before smoothly laying down the heavy-yet-uplifting “The Man.” Taking the time to tune into Rapsody’s performance here will leave you with incredible respect for her skill and undeniable musical skill. Intimate but elevated, this is undeniably one of the series’ hidden gems.
TH1RT3N, Pharoahe Monch’s Rock Band
While COVID took its toll on the production of NPR Tiny Desk, we were lucky enough to find a slew of “Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts.” This led to many groups having a little more room to spread their wings and turn up the speakers. Taking the chance by the horns was Pharoahe Monch himself, showing up with his new band TH1RT3N, a rap-infused rock band that is as badass as it sounds. A 17-minute face-punch of energy and skill, the band covers their tracks such as “The Magician” and “Scarecrow.” Daru Jones and Marcus Machado make up the rest of the group, with incredible drumming and guitar (respectively) laying the soundscape for the Monch bar the world has been needing.
Where is NPR’s Tiny Desk Filmed?
The Tiny Desk Concerts have run since 2008, and until the pandemic, most of them were filmed in the NPR HQ, which artists visit in order to squeeze a set between workers’ cubicles. The most popular of all time with the most number of video views is by Anderson.
Wu-tang Tiny Desk Members
The Wu-Tang Clan made their debut by entering The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) twenty-five years ago. Since then, the clan has been influential to multiple generations of hip-hop artists, and its members and affiliated friends have released more than 50 albums together. The Wu performed their Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, in which they performed a medley of their notable records, including “Triumph” and “Protect Ya Neck,” which resembled a traditional rap cipher.
Rappers RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, U-God, and Cappadonna were all at the event, along with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, Young Dirty Bastard. A 20-minute performance of the Wu reminds us how good they have been for so long, except for a moment when RZA appears to self-censor his raps because of the #MeToo movement. RZA served as the DJ for Wu-Tang, while The Green Project provided the band’s only strings.
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