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Heat Check: Going All Out

Victoria Monét melds fantasy with reality for her latest, "Moment."
Dana Trippe
Courtesy of the artist
Victoria Monét melds fantasy with reality for her latest, "Moment."

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.

2020 vision — the year and the hindsight — is all about feeling over thinking. After delivering an effortless Tiny Desk in 2019, Raveena is back with the Moonstone EP, featuring tracks that didn't quite fit into her debut album. Cerebral and inviting, singer-songwriter Sevdaliza returns after a year with the glitchy "Oh My God." Haitian-Canadian producer Kaytranada shook up the end of December by dropping his sophomore showstopper, BUBBA, and is luckily getting his roses in the new year nonetheless.

Whether its a bated bpm from New York newcomer Kayla Steen or a shockingly dead-on homage to DMX courtesy of Denzel Curry, these selects will jostle your expectations and fill in the nooks and crannies of your memory. Stream the playlist via Spotify and Apple Music.

Eric Penn, "Sinking Sand"

Sometimes the whole "falling in love" thing just feels like a socially acceptable form of asphyxiation. But with only a piano and some bare percussion, Eric Penn makes the dance of slow death sound all the more necessary. — Sidney Madden

Kayla Steen, "Attached"

Kayla Steen teeters between consoling and cataclysmic while trying to convince her love to reconsider: "I'd go against the world to be your only girl / But you're still running from me / I'm only flesh and bone / Give me some room to grow / You can't keep running from me." Sidney Madden

Liv.e, "SirLadyMakemFall"

What would happen if Erykah Badu, DJ Screw and Sa-Ra had a baby? You'd get Dallas-bred, LA-based Liv.e. "SirLadyMakemFall" is that lo-fi soul I've been looking for. — Bobby Carter

Gil Scott-Heron / Makaya McCraven, "Running"

The late musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron was a predecessor of modern hip-hop. His final studio album, I'm New Here, released Feb. 2010, was re-imagined and released exactly a decade later by drummer, producer and beat scientist Makaya McCraven. The song "Running," off 2020's We're New Again, features familiar protest narratives in Scott-Heron's own voice supported by McCraven's original beat music. — Suraya Mohamed

Denzel Curry, "DIET_"

Denzel Curry only operates on hyper speed. The Carol City, Fl., word wizard teamed up with burgeoning beat doctor Kenny Beats for a joint EP called UNLOCKED and across the project's eight-song run, manages to channel the resonant powers of DMX, Ghostface Killah and Busta Rhymes all at once. — Sidney Madden

Victoria Monét, "Moment"

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Victoria Monét positions herself as the object of some lucky person's desire and appears out of thin air, offering one "Moment." "Life is but a dream that you manifested slowly / So f*** a fantasy, this your mother****** moment." No pressure. — Bobby Carter

Nez, "Wild Youngster (feat. ScHoolboy Q)"

Producer Nez takes it back to his Chicago roots for this club banger and pulls frequent collaborator ScHoolboy Q into his element. Q is sounding surprisingly cozy in this pocket. — Bobby Carter

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Suraya Mohamed is a three-time Peabody Award-winning producer, sound designer and editor. She currently serves as the project manager for Jazz Night In America and is a contributing producer on the Alt.Latino podcast. She also produces NPR's holiday specials package, including Tinsel Tales, Hanukkah Lights, Toast Of The Nation, Pink Martini's Joy To The World: A Holiday Spectacular and most recently Hamilton: A Story Of US. You'll also find her work on the Tiny Desk series as either a producer or engineer.
Sidney Madden is a reporter and editor for NPR Music. As someone who always gravitated towards the artforms of music, prose and dance to communicate, Madden entered the world of music journalism as a means to authentically marry her passions and platform marginalized voices who do the same.
Bobby Carter is the host and series producer for NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts.