Bobby Carter

"There's nothing new under the sun / It's never what you do, but how it's done," Nas rapped on "No Idea's Original."

We all love a good redemption story: We're front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we're witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

BADBADNOTGOOD made a name for itself by reworking songs from the likes of Nas and Ol' Dirty Bastard, eventually catching the attention of Odd Future leader Tyler,

Lots of us try to be cool, but the trick has always been in the subtleties; they're what allow us to walk that thin line between cool and corny. Enter Ro James.

Good luck trying to classify Anderson .Paak and his band The Free Nationals. Much of their sound is layered atop a soulful hip-hop foundation; from there, your safest bet is to call it a hodgepodge of genres in the best way possible. Guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalez inject a hard-rock edge into the Hi-Tek-produced "Come Down," this set's opening number. When you hear them play the first few jazz chords of "Heart Don't Stand A Chance," it's hard to simply call this R&B.

Anthony Hamilton's soul sound was refined in the churches of Charlotte, N.C. Watching the Grammy winner perform, you get the hunch that it's harder for him to keep the soul inside than it is to actually unleash it. What he and his backup singers, The Hamiltones, do would be better classified as a musical purge, with a stage show that can double as couples therapy and church service. Their warm harmonies have the ability to shrink theaters and stadiums, so we knew this intimate setting was perfect for them.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


KING excels at setting a mood. The group's music conjures an all-encompassing, dreamy, Utopian vibe, rather than a mad dash to assemble a who's-who of writers and producers. From the get-go, KING's instant fan base embraced that approach, and that's where the years-long demand for We Are KING took hold.

For more than 10 years, fans have been drawn to Dutch singer-songwriter Benny Sings' ability to layer R&B, jazz and pop over hip-hop foundations. While it was only a matter of time before he'd play behind the Tiny Desk, we never expected the performance to be his very first in the U.S. This is also where he performed with background vocalist Jennah Bell for the first time.

Rapsody has waited patiently for her time to shine. Through seven solo projects, she's grown as an MC, crafting her own style while developing her thesis in the rap game. True breakthroughs are commonly marked by a pivotal moment, and hers came when she provided the sole rap guest verse on the most talked-about album of 2015, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly.

Teedra Moses is a miracle worker. The Crescent City native has managed to remain near and dear to R&B lovers' hearts despite releasing only one studio album in 11 years. A large part of that oversized adoration is due to the tremendous impact and cult appeal of Moses' debut, Complex Simplicity; the other hook in her lasting allure has been her extraordinarily intimate live performances, which have continued steadily despite a lack of a new album.

If there was a loop on TOKiMONSTA's thick kicks, cowbells and keys in the first sixteen seconds of "Surrender," we could leave it there to flourish. But singer/songwriter Gavin Turek quickly hops in the pocket, elevating the song, and cobbling together a dance-floor gem.

The notion of "doing one thing and doing it well" simply does not compute with Mayer Hawthorne. He's inspired by all things music and has expressed as much influence as possible since his 2009 breakout. During his live show, he's liable to perform anything from Aerosmith to Nancy Wilson.

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