Sidney Madden

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of hip-hop's brightest young stars has died according to his record label. Bashar Jackson, who performed as Pop Smoke, was 20 years old. The details surrounding his death are still emerging. NPR Music's Sidney Madden joined me here in the studio to talk about Pop Smoke's music and legacy.

SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: For those who don't know his music, who was Pop Smoke, and what space did he occupy in the hip-hop scene?

You ever been to a party and, for some reason, it's hard to get a handle on the vibe of the room? I'm not talking about the visual representation of who's there (or who's not), but more the collective energy surging through the space is just ... off.

It's taken me a few years, but through my vast research, I've concluded that eight times out of 1o, this amorphous feeling is a consequence of the DJ switching up their music selection too quickly. You can always spot a rookie DJ by an ill-timed switch up. You gotta be able to transition accordingly.

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.

Don't say she didn't warn you!

Back when Megan Thee Stallion graced the Tiny Desk Fest in the fall of 2019, she gave fans a hint about what — or who — her new music would sound like.

"My next project I will be introducing a new lady. Her name is Suga. She's besties with Tina Snow," Megan said in an exclusive post-show interview.

Damn, y'all. This year has been long. (I have no scientific proof, but I'm pretty sure it's been longer than most.) Naturally, in a time when almost everything feels like it's spiraling out of control, music is the constant mirror to the chaos — both personal and prolific — just as much as an escape to solace.

"No Cap" is yet another phrase that has bubbled up from the hip-hop community to the top of the layman's lexicon. The term is basically synonymous with "no lie" and is applicable in a whole swath of situations, especially when, ironically, there is a lot of lying going on.

Music has a way of adding some glitter to lies – lies we tell ourselves, dreams out of reach, fantasies on replay. Balancing glitchy, pithy pop with raucous reggae, trap and R&B, this week's Heat Check picks capitalize on the fantasy, giving us a moment's escape from the ordinary.

It's the time of year for reflection and gratitude. It offers a moment to look back and take stock in where you've triumphed, faltered and learned along the way. Even if this year has felt inexplicably long or this decade has challenged and changed you in ways you couldn't imagine, new music discovery is something to always be thankful for — a taste-making process that's in your control and wholeheartedly your own.

There's a certain unspoken euphoria in knowing exactly who you are. It's like a tiny party-of-one celebration when you check in with yourself, verifying that you're actually living your truth out loud. And yes, the practice of that check-in is always changing because your truth is subject to change. But the moving target is always worth the pursuit.

This week's Heat Check picks stand out not for sounding different, but for already feeling oddly familiar. Though all of these tracks are new releases, there's something lived-in about each one. Sometimes close to home is the best jumping off point.

Don't be fooled. Spooky season isn't just reserved for the weeks leading up to Halloween. As the season shifts into colder temps, cradling death is just part of the process.

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