And the winner of the 2020 NPR Tiny Desk Contest is…

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Some of you may know that I was one of the judges for this year’s Tiny Desk Contest. There were over 6,000 entries in this year’s contest. I had a great time watching some of the amazing and creative videos from artists all over the country. The pandemic made it especially a challenging process. I was even able to share some of my favorite videos with All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk host Bob Boilen.

However, we had to pick a favorite, which caused me a little anxiety. So, when all of us judges came together via Zoom (thanks COVID-19), we had a long conversation on who should receive the honor of winning this year’s Tiny Desk Contest. After giving our feedback, one artist stood out the most and it was Linda Diaz’s gorgeous and sublime “Green Tea Ice Cream.”

NPR Music announced singer-songwriter Linda Diaz as the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest winner | photo credit: NPR/Chris Alfonso

It happened to my number one pick after many hours of reviewing the finalists. The song gave me chills and warmth at the same time. The lyrics reminded me to slow down and take care of myself in this year of craziness. Linda’s voice is hypnotic and while listening I forgot where I was.

From the press release:

Hailing from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Diaz is a singer-songwriter — and former scholastic chess champion — with a sparkling stage presence. Her euphoric and calming music swirls R&B hooks with soulful melodies, often wrapping powerful, self-affirming messages in a warm yet refreshing sound.

Diaz’s winning song, “Green Tea Ice Cream,” is rooted in exploring her passions and honoring what brings her peace in a society that often determines someone’s value based on productivity. Her entry video, filmed by Chris Alfonsoat, was chosen out of over 6,000 entries from across the country. Diaz is joined by Jade Che on the keys, Andres Valbuena on the drums and Matthew Fishman on the bass with background vocals from Bianca Muñiz and Jacks Muñiz. Watch the entry and listen to her performance of “Green Tea Ice Cream.”

“Winning the Tiny Desk Contest is such an immense honor. I’m a firm believer that nothing you achieve is achieved alone. When I perform at the Tiny Desk I will be standing on the shoulders of a community that supports me- my family and friends, fellow musicians, my fans- many of whom are Black women speaking my name in rooms that I haven’t yet entered,” said Diaz. “I am overwhelmingly grateful to all of the folks that invest in me. I am also really proud of myself and that’s something that I want people to hear. It’s not just a win. This is an accomplishment. For me, winning the Tiny Desk Contest is an honor and a reminder that I am more than enough.”

Diaz’s entry captivated the Tiny Desk Contest judging panel — including soulful singer and songwriter Brittany Howard, 2019 Tiny Desk Contest winner Quinn Christopherson, passionate Latin pop musician Gina Chavez, Tarik Moody of Radio Milwaukee, Raina Douris of WXPN’s World Cafe, creator of the Tiny Desk series Bob Boilen and Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter.

I voted for Linda Diaz as the NPR Tiny Desk contest winner because I liked her lyrical style, her voice and I really dug her band,” said Brittany Howard. “The musicianship and production is really top notch and it was clear to me that Linda Diaz is ready to meet a wider audience. I’m excited to see where her career goes.”

Diaz is no stranger to NPR. Her song “Magic” was featured in NPR Music’s Heat Check series and she was a backup singer for Jordan Rakei’s Tiny Desk concert in January. In February of 2019, Diaz self-released her debut EP, “V,” which honored her late grandfather and her recent release, “Magic,” is a six-track EP produced by ThankYouFatMatt.

Linda Diaz has a heavenly voice. Her song “Green Tea Ice Cream” encourages us all to live life to its fullest, appreciate what’s around us. It’s a song about slowing down, trying to find moments to enjoy life,”said Bob Boilen. Hearing her sing the line “you should be living out your dreams but you’re tearing at the seams,” is particularly poignant in 2020 as we all struggle to find balance in our lives.”

Linda Diaz’s Tiny Desk (home) concert will premiere on the NPR Music YouTube channel soon

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Watch NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf episode 5, featuring 88Nine’s Tarik Moody

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On Thursday, July 9, Bob Boilen and Tiny Desk Contest judge Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee hosted episode five of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf. Moody’s favorite Contest entries featured creative performances, energizing instrumentation and goosebump-inducing voices.

The hosts invited two artists into the livestream to talk about their entries: Justine Grove from Queens, N.Y. and Lauren Eylise from Cincinnati, Ohio. Grove explained how she and her drummer recorded a synchronized Contest entry while performing in different places, a challenge quite a few Contest entrants have overcome this year. Eylise spoke about the inspiration behind her song “Peaks & Valleys” and how people, especially during these times, can learn to embrace the valleys of life. “The flower needs the sunshine and the rain to grow,” Elyse said.

Artists featured in the episode included:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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Stream 100 songs that define the Southern rap canon

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NPR Music’s canon of Southern rap, created by a team of Southern critics, scholars and writers, is an enthusiastic celebration that recenters the South as a creative center in hip-hop and acknowledges the region’s wide-ranging contributions to the genre. It includes 130 albums, songs and mixtapes that together represent a cultural history of Southern rap, told on its own terms.

Below, you can stream the songs, and selected tracks from the albums and mixtapes, that comprise our list. (Please note that not all the songs and albums from NPR’s list are available on all of these platforms.)

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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Beyonce’s visual ode, ‘Black Is King,’ arrives

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Beyoncé‘s highly anticipated new project, “Black Is King” has arrived (on Disney+). Deemed “a celebratory memoir for the world on the Black experience” in a press release, “Black Is King” includes a cast of notable and familiar faces, such Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, Pharrell Williams and JAY-Z, and moves across the world — from New York, to Los Angeles, South Africa, West Africa, to London and Belgium — to capture the performances of actors and dancers as they appear in varied tableaus.

On Instagram, Beyoncé shared that the film is meant to “celebrate the breadth and beauty of Black ancestry,” and acknowledged that its release takes on new significance in the current climate.

Beyonce
Courtesy of Artist

The film is a companion to 2019’s “The Lion King: The Gift,” which Beyoncé curated for Disney’s photorealistic remake of the 1994 animated classic, “The Lion King.” (She also provided the voice for Nala in the film.) Produced by Beyoncé’s production company, Parkwood Entertainment, “Black is King” also includes four full-length videos for the tracks “Already,” “Brown Skin Girl,” “Mood 4 Eva” and “My Power,” which was featured in the latest trailer.

The last time we heard from Queen Bey was with the surprise-drop of her celebratory new track, “Black Parade,” on Juneteenth. The song asserts a specific connection to Blackness, and through a myriad of references, draws a link to the African diaspora that she has more recently begun to explore in her work. In the context of “Black Is King,” this connection is paramount, as the film seeks to capture a global sense of Blackness, within and beyond the U.S.

Few have as much narrative-bending power as Beyoncé, who sent shockwaves through the canon with 2016’s “Lemonade.” In 2018, Kiana Fitzgerald wrote for NPR that “Bey’s ability to have laser-focused attention on the Black experience didn’t happen overnight: It took years for her to amass a following first. She then constructed a platform strong enough from which to make such bold statements. And since “Lemonade,” Bey has continued to make a concerted effort to put Black bodies in her visuals, and call attention to the importance of Black women and Black love.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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Taylor Swift is releasing an album featuring members of The National and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon tonight

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Taylor Swift has announced she’ll release a new album called “folklore” tonight at midnight Eastern time. She announced the surprise follow-up to her 2019 album “Lover” on Instagram, revealing some unexpected collaborators: The National’s Aaron Dessner co-wrote or produced 11 tracks and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon co-wrote and sings on one (there’s an “are we out of the woods” joke in there somewhere). The National’s Bryce Dessner also assisted with orchestration on the LP, according to the band’s Twitter page.

“Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening, but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen,” Swift wrote of the record.

Taylor Swift | Via Instagram

There were no pre-release singles for the record, a first for a Swift album, but a video that Swift wrote and directed for the song “cardigan” will come out tonight.

See her Instagram posts below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CC-9usjDzUw/
https://www.instagram.com/p/CC–BUtDjav/
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Sylvan Esso announce new album, share a bona fide summer jam

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In a summer that’s been cruelly stingy with the usual seasonal pleasures, we needed this: Sylvan Esso have announced a new album and shared a confection of a new single.

Due Sept. 25, the band’s upcoming album “Free Love” is “a record about being increasingly terrified of the world around you and looking inward to remember all the times when loving other people seemed so easy, so that you can find your way back to that place,” the duo tweeted this morning.

And while that may sound a little dark, the first single “Ferris Wheel” is anything but. It’s slinky and mirthful, full of the slippery R&B hooks and tightly corked electronics this band does better than anybody right now.

Sylvan Esso’s “Ferris Wheel” music video

“‘Ferris Wheel’ is about discovering your power and awkwardly figuring out how to wield it,” they tweeted. “It’s for the summer, it’s for you, we hope you like it.”

You can stream the video below. You can probably already guess where it’s set.

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Bandcamp, much-loved indie music marketplace, launches a Juneteenth tradition

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Bandcamp, the online music marketplace used by tens of thousands of independent artists and labels, has once again announced plans to donate its cut of one day’s sales to a progressive cause, this time adding an annual commitment. On this and every subsequent Juneteenth — the June 19 holiday commemorating the end of African American slavery — the platform intends to direct its usual revenue share to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In a statement, Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond described that fund as “a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education.” Diamond added, “We’re also allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.”

This year’s sales event, which runs from 12 a.m. Friday through midnight that evening, will be bolstered by the participation of many artists and labels who have pledged to donate their own proceeds to various racial justice initiatives and organizations. The independent artist Jennifer Vanilla, based in New York, plans to direct proceeds to the advocacy group Justice for Black Girls. The Munich-based dance music label Public Possession will direct its money towards Die Initiative Schwarze Menschen, a German-focused black rights organization. The Chicago-based Numero Group, a label known for reissuing lost gems, has said it is forming an employee-led fund to support equality initiatives.

Bandcamp has promoted similar campaigns as far back as 2017, spurred on by President Trump’s executive order around immigration that January. This March, after the global lockdown had decimated many musicians’ bottom lines due to the lack of live performances, the company announced a similar campaign directed instead towards financial relief for those artists, which it has repeated on the first Fridays of May and June, with another planned for July 3. The company reported that on the first of those “Bandcamp Fridays,” $4.3 million in revenue (of which roughly $516,000 would ordinarily have gone to the company) was paid directly to the artists and labels whose work was purchased.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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Phoebe Bridgers surprise releases her fantastic sophomore album ‘Punisher’

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It’s been an unusually quiet few weeks for the music industry, as artists across genres have delayed albums and silenced promotional campaigns in solidarity with the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Rather than delay her sophomore album “Punisher,” though, Phoebe Bridgers took a different tactic: She released it a little early, sharing it this morning via social media.

“I’m not pushing the record until things go back to ‘normal’ because I don’t think they should,” she wrote. “Here it is a little early. Abolish the police. Hope you like it.”

Phoebe Bridgers | Courtesy of the artist

Along with the link to stream it, she shared a list seven organizations she encouraged listeners to donate to, including Movement For Black Lives. Once you’ve donated, you can listen to the album below via Bandcamp or Spotify. You’re in for a treat: It’s a stunner.

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Radio Milwaukee joins more than 150 radio stations to honor George Floyd

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Bright Eyes share lush new single ‘One And Done’

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Bright Eyes has shared “One and Done,” the third single released in anticipation of the band’s forthcoming new album, set for release sometime this year.

Afloat in a swirl of eerily prophetic lyricism, “One and Done” is a picture-postcard from the crumbling Anthropocene. In his gravelly monotone, Conor Oberst details the familiar view: “This whole town looks empty but we knew it wouldn’t last/ Behind bulletproof windows they’re still wiring the cash/ Whatever they could scrape up, whatever that they had/ There’s a lot of mouths to feed through this famine.” A stringent flurry of haunting strings, arranged by Nathaniel Walcott, coalesce with Flea on bass and vocals from Miwi La Lupa.

Bright Eyes | Photo credit: Shawn Brackbill

“One and Done” is armed with the same interior claustrophobia as the band’s previous single, “Forced Convalescence,” and falls in line with a number of recently released tracks that seem to confirm the zeitgeist of 2020 as a kind of dystopian stuck-ness. But at least it’s pretty lovely.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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