By Jesse McMann
Rap Music Journalist
I would like to take this time to draw readers attention to another channel of music I have discovered. This new music outlet is called Tiny Desk Concerts by NPR. The quality of artists and setting in which the concerts are created work together to fulfill NPR’s vision of using music to further our nation’s cultural understandings, and open up conversations about justice in America.
The mission behind NPR music is to “Work in partnership with Member Stations to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” This goal is seen in the legendary types of artists from rap, hip-hop, soul, jazz, reggae, and indie brought in to speak on American society and perform the music they love. John Legend used part of his time to speak about “12 Years a Slave” and the struggles some of his ancestors faced in slave ownership. Common performed a spoken word inspired by a film called the 13th, which looks at the modern incarceration system as the “New Jim Crow Laws.” Chronixx used his time to perform reggae that stepped away from the dance hall vibe, and back to the original island sounds.
NPR puts the listener in the room with the artist by setting in intimate tone. Artists are placed in front of a bookshelf similar to what one would find sitting in their own home. The few viewers lucky enough to be present for these concerts are not shown or heard, and the camera is continuously centered on the performer. This all serves to bring comfort to the listener and increase the intimacy felt between the viewer and listener. All distractions are taken away and the viewer is left with nothing else to do other than to listen to every word of the artist for their 12 minutes of spotlight.
Tiny desk concert exists to give performers a space for the message in their art to be heard. They have done away with big venues and fancy production to put the listener together with the artist in a setting that tricks one into feeling like you’re sitting alone with them. All of this allows for the soul of an artist being heard in each piece they write. I am hoping projects like this that allow musicians to open up conversations on the inspiration behind their art continue to be cultivated.