Here Are the Best Tiny Desk Hip-Hop Performances Ranked
NPR Music’s Tiny Desk series has been providing performance gems for over a decade now. Since the platform sparked off its intimate performances at a desk inside the media organization in Washington, D.C., plenty of major league musicians have graced the stage—or office corner in this case. Each generation of talent, from the Wu-Tang Clan to Roddy Ricch, have performed roughly 20-minute live shows that pull in the viewer as if they're seated right in front of the artist.
For rappers who typically use heavy instrumentation in their songs, playing with a live band can create a magical experience. Take for example Anderson .Paak's use of that approach. He obviously bodied his 2016 Tiny Desk performance with The Free Nationals, which surprises no one. Another notable example is Mac Miller’s 2018 performance, which captures his transmissible charisma and further epitomizes that he grew into an actual artist, rather than just a rapper. May he rest in power.
Sometimes, the spotlight is taken off of vocals, too. Mega producer Zaytoven comes to mind off rip. In addition to his solid showcase with Gucci Mane, Zay's solo performance in 2019 had the passion of a Sunday church service in the South: the ones where everyone has a paper fan that they're waving at their face to cool off. Future was supposed to appear for thatTiny Desk event, but since he was a no-show, Zaytoven, with a band backing him, performed instrumental versions of some songs he produced for the rapper.
Elsewhere and on the note of classic material, one of the most classic Tiny Desk performances in NPR Music history belongs to T-Pain. In 2014, the Florida rapper went viral for this performance because people were weirdly shocked that he could sing without Auto-Tune. Related to rap and R&B, Usher's recent performance in 2022 has "legendary" written all over it as well, from the execution of the sounds to the memes that came from the visuals.
Though there were dozens on dozens to sift through, XXL watched them all and highlighted the very best of NPR Music's Tiny Desk performances of the last 10 years. Tap in below to see where they rank against one another. And shoutout to all of the dope artists who took part in creating these moments.