Tiny Desk Concerts is one of the best concert series online, showcasing a regular rotation artists old and new in an intimate setting in the NPR offices. Specifically, they’re performing at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen. The idea started in 2008, but it wasn’t until rappers started showing up that critics accepted it as more than just a showcase for acoustic, folk, and hipster rock.
Like MTV’s Unplugged, Tiny Desk has proven itself a great place to showcase what artists can do with minimalism. Rappers like T-Pain, Mac Miller, and Anderson Paak are among the highest-viewed performances of the series. In an age where electronic music rules, Tiny Desk is a breath of fresh air. Check out these 10 masterful performance by rappers in the NPR offices.
10. Rakim June 25, 2018
Eric B and Rakim are hip-hop gods at the top of your favorite emcee’s favorite emcee’s list of inspirations. His three-song set includes “King’s Paradise”, “Paid in Full”, and “Know the Ledge”, showcasing his lyrical skills from across millennia. Rakim is legend for a reason – check out this Tiny Desk concert to learn why.
9. Tyler, The Creator December 14, 2017
You knew Tyler, The Creator would find a way to stick out in the Tiny Desk series. He did it with a nighttime performance that changed the entire setting, allowing his team to create the perfect mood lighting. The three-song set includes “Boredom”, “See You Again”, and “Glitter”. The entire group stays talkative and keeps the conversation going well into the night. It’s a lot more mature family atmosphere than we would’ve imagined from a younger Tyler.
8. Chance the Rapper July 5, 2017
You can tell from the beginning that the NPR staff loves Chance the Rapper, and he gives them something special by performing “Juke Jam” from Coloring Book, before reading a spoken-word poem (which is interrupted by the intercom) and doing a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go”.
7. Saba October 1, 2018
Saba is a Chicago rapper who jumped on Chance the Rapper’s bandwagon to create a lane for himself and his band. They perform “Busy/Sirens”, “Logout”, and “Heaven All Around Me/Life”, showing off a jazzy sound while Saba performs lyrical acrobats. It’s a chill session that almost seems to be exactly what Tiny Desk was created for.
6. Run the Jewels February 13, 2017
Anytime El-P and Killer Mike hit the stage, you know you’re about to be treated to an audio experience. They skip the live band to bring a DJ to stick to the album sound. It’s an interesting choice and makes for a unique performance of “Talk To Me”, “Legend Has It”, and “A Report to the Shareholders”. Their consciousness shines through as they promote RTJ3 and rap their asses off.
5. GZA & The Soul Rebels May 2, 2018
GZA is a shy guy, but he showed up to the NPR office to turn in a three-set acoustic set that pleased old-school hip-hop fans. Playing through “Living in the World Today”, “Duel of the Iron Mic”, and “Liquid Swords” with a brass band he’s only performed with a handful of times. It’s a reminder that legendary Wu Tang emcee is still a Genius in his 50s.
4. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals August 22, 2016
Anderson .Paak’s musical genre is hard to pin down, as he blends soul, hip-hop funk, R&B, blues, rock, and everything in between. They play through “Come Down”, “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”, “Put Me Thru”, and “Suede”, which is a surprise request from the crowd, and he laughs about how much he calls women bitches and how simple the song is. Even in that small setting, Paak rocks it.
3. The Roots Ft Bilal October 30, 2017
The Roots always bring the noise, which is how they became the Tonight Show‘s house band. They bring Bilal with them to perform “Gimme Some More” and “It AIn’t Fair”, reminding everyone how they made Jay-Z’s Unplugged performance legendary and brought a level of artistic expression to Jimmy Fallon’s talk show. The Roots are legendary in the hip-hop community for a reason – never forget that.
2. Mac Miller August 6, 2018
Released and released just a month before his untimely death of a drug overdose at the age of 26, Mac Miller’s three-song Tiny Desk set includes “Small Worlds”, “What’s the Use? (ft Thundercat)”, and “2009”. Even the NPR staff noted the shift in his demeanor when he moved into the last reflectionary song. It’s an essential performance for fans of the versatile rapper.
1. Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko August 29, 2018
Strange Music’s dynamic duo brings an amazing energy all the way from Kansas City to show off their skill and professionalism in an amazing four-song set. They move through “Dysfunctional”, “Aw Yeah? (InterVENTion)”, “Fragile”, and “Speedom (Worldwide Choppers 2)” while discussing the stories behind each one. It reminded me of watching Paul McCartney live a decade ago. Tech N9ne will always be one of the most important independent artists in music history, and this performance proves he can shine in any environment.