NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts are the best thing on YouTube.
Ten years ago, the genius idea to host intimate live music performances at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen was born. Over the next decade, the desk has hosted over 400 performances that have been viewed over two billion times collectively. This year has been one of the best years ever for Tiny Desk Concerts because as its popularity soars, featured artists are really pushing boundaries and peaking creatively.
If you’re looking for an easy way to spend the afternoon, block out the next hour or two on your calendar and dive into this list of the seven best Tiny Desks of the year. Featuring the late, great Mac Miller, the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, the ethereal Erykah Badu, and more.
Masta Ace – March 30, 2018
One of the best things about Tiny Desk Concerts is that they often introduce you to your new favourite artists. Masta Ace’s performance is a prime example of that for me—even though he’s been making music for the last 30 years. I don’t know how it took me this long, but I’m really glad I got here in the end. How cool is his voice? How easy is his flow? Also, how soulful does hip hop sound performed by a live band with those crisp horns? Take me back to the old days.
boygenius – Nov 16, 2018
What happens when you put three of the most haunting female vocalists in a band together, and then you put that band in a small room together and press record? You capture a performance so stripped back and soul-bearingly honest, you’ll spend the next week defrosting your thoroughly chilled spine. Wouldn’t be surprised if after this performance by the new indie supergroup comprised of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, NPR staff went to HR with a group therapy request.
Saba – Oct. 1, 2018
Everyone is talking about 24-year-old Chicago rapper Saba after the release of his critically acclaimed sophomore album, Care for Me. The hype is more than deserved, but there is one thing people keep getting wrong about him, and that’s this idea that he is on the cusp of greatness. He’s already arrived. This Tiny Desk Concert confirms just that. Backed by the same performers who appear on the album (including his father, Chandlar), Saba delivers one of the most memorable performances of the year. You can just feel the love in the room, too. Saba’s gratitude for the opportunity radiates through his whole being, and you can tell he’s an artist who loves sharing his gift with anyone who’ll lend an ear.
St. Vincent – Jan 22, 2018
I recently got to see St Vincent perform live while touring her MASSEDUCTION album. I was expecting this huge production, a big live band, and a crazy stage design. Instead, I got to see Annie Clarke shred her way through her discography solo, much like in this performance. I was as happy then as I am now, watching this. Just proves that when your presence is as commanding as Annie’s, you don’t need anybody else.
Wu-Tang Clan – Dec 5, 2018
The OGs of hip hop had me worried for a while with the release of 2014’s A Better Tomorrow—an uninspired 15-track grasp for relevancy—but this performance proves Shaolin’s finest still got it. Enjoy this 20-minute medley of all the classics performed by Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, Masta Killa, U-God, and Ol’ Dirty’s son, Young Dirty Bastard.
Erykah Badu – Aug 15, 2018
In the blurb accompanying legendary R&B singer Erykah Badu’s Tiny Desk performance, the writer says, “Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note.” I think that sums up the vibe of this one pretty well. That voice, tho. Literally didn’t even realise her fingers are all dyed orange until about the 12-minute mark, that’s how good it is.
Mac Miller – Aug 6, 2018
Oh, what an incredible performance tainted by the saddest of circumstances. Just one month after this Tiny Desk concert, Mac Miller died of an accidental drug overdose. Though it’s near impossible to watch his recent Tiny Desk with feeling a real sense of despair—please try to. Because it’s hands-down the best Tiny Desk Concert of the year, if not one of the best of all time. If you weren’t a fan of the Pittsburgh rapper before, you will be now. And if you were, what a beautiful parting gift to be left with.