Sidney Madden

You gotta respect when an artist stays consistent with their artistry, no matter how long they're deemed to be "still bubbling," niche or just generally under the radar. Sometimes it's those who stay underrated for years and then finally "pop" who savor the success in more humble and innovative ways.

In a week of rapid headlines, surprise releases and cautious re-opening of businesses, the world is attempting to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Still, on the other side of the 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak and the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement offer proof that nothing will really ever be the same. This week's Heat Check picks attempt to balance the high-wire of restoring the feeling without disregarding reality.

Music is canonizing this moment in history at rapid speed. Across rap, R&B and avant-garde soul, we're hearing the creative juices flowing, giving reason and song to racing thoughts. Some artists remain on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others turn inward to journal their time in isolation. And some commit to album roll-outs that show their maturation even in the mayhem.

Whether it's a trap anthem for the protests or a tale of petty deceit, this week's Heat Check considers the bigger picture during a period of time that we're never going to forget.

As Black Lives Matter protesters remain loud and consistent in the streets of America, the artists who've always spoken truth to power are doing so once again, giving the fight a beat to stay on course. Hip-hop has always carried the message of Black resistance in its cultural DNA — you can hear rowdy escapism, intimate self-preservation, glitzy and iced-out opulence or straight-up defiance against oppression. As for soul and R&B?

If you saw the first Heat Check Live on NPR Music's Instagram this past weekend, you rocked with us for a live DJ set of all your favorite new songs. Afterward, New York-based artist Linda Diaz, whose work has been featured on Heat Check before, reminded us why we create spaces for the playlist to exist: "Community is invaluable. Black joy is radical," she wrote.

Anyone else starting to feel like the concept of time is a mushy, nebulous, philosophical joke? Feeling fully in the throes of a never-ending limbo, leaning on music as a grounding source of energy has felt more important than ever.

Luckily for fans of R&B, hip-hop, pop and soul, our favorite artists have kept new music coming. Whether they're making daily creations or finally letting go of months' worth of work, we're thankful for new sounds to fill these moments of unrest and static.

The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest closed for entries on April 27, 2020. We've received entries from every state in the country — and now, while our judges comb through our entries to find a winner, NPR has been sharing some of its favorite entries to this year's Contest. This week, Heat Check salutes contenders who could definitely hold their own among the usual selections from the worlds of R&B, hip-hop, reggae, pop and more.

Every now and then, you want to be shaken up and thrown off balance just a little, just to make it all still feel fresh. Consider these new tracks from Jenevieve, Yebba, Siddiq and more the audible smelling salts needed to wake up your "new releases" playlist. These Heat Check additions fall into that sweet spot of musical discovery that keeps you on your toes with every flip, pun and chord change. Some might even have you digging for samples and jumping down digital rabbit holes to track the points of musical progression.

Kick-in-the-door debuts, lowkey scorchers and dynamic rap duos fill this memorable edition of Heat Check. These are tracks that stop you in your skips and snuggle up real close with your hippocampus. The kind of songs you'll reference in conversations with your friends as big moments, either for the artists involved or the genres they hopscotch around.

When reality feels more like a neurotic moving target, a few snaps of the synapses couldn't really hurt right about now, right? If you're fiending for a mental reset the likes of Men in Black's Neuralyzer — brief, fuzzy, just enough to take the edge off — divergent heat from Octavian, Tora and Kali Uchis will do the trick.

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