Heat Check: ‘Black Joy Is Radical’

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.

With the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery erupting into protests across the country and the world against racism and police brutality, the joy of being Black has felt stolen and replaced with the reality of being Black.

Heat Check cosigns many artists of color, specifically Black artists, whose music stands out so much that it doesn’t deign to fit in anywhere else. This playlist expresses all emotions and gives reason to rhyme.

To celebrate radical Black joy in a time of great pain, here’s a round-up of new tracks from the worlds of jazz, R&B and rap, all to remind you that they can’t hijack happiness. Because we deserve it. Stream Heat Check in it’s entirety each week on Spotify.


Nubya Garcia, “Pace”

London-bred saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia has the kind of convincing panache listeners would just follow anywhere. The sonic peaks and valleys of “Pace,” Garcia’s latest single, do little to allow the listener to nestle into a groove for too long — it goes from mellow, warm and spongy to hurried and hectic. For Garcia, this composition is all about diving into the many layers of joy.


Savannah Cristina, “Comfortable”

Even when ease feels hard to come by and even harder to maintain, Savannah Christina’s “Comfortable” cradles and confides in a few moments of balance. There’s power in letting the walls down.


KeiyaA, “Hvnli”

I’ll admit I’ve had KeiyaA’s Forever, Ya Girl marinating on my personal playlist for a while, but haven’t focused in enough to pinpoint which of the 16 tracks really send me soaring. Much like the recent masterpieces by Solange (A Seat At the Table) or Kamasi Washington (The Epic), KeiyaA’s album colors outside the lines and humbly shines light on the nooks and crannies of Black existence.

If I have to pick one track as a primer to this project, the warbling keys and self-supported melodies on “Hvnli” is a great start.

And my soul loves carelessly / My God’s always there for me (Heavenly) / And my love is heavenly (Heavenly).


Caleb Giles, “Diamonds”

With range, perspective and a conviction behind his cadence, Caleb Giles has the ability to usher in a Renaissance of New York rap. As he spells out on “Diamonds,” even with serpents in his garden now, the Bronx emcee prioritizes the months and years of harvest ahead.


Lil Yachty and Tierra Whack, “T.D. (feat A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator)”

Lil Yachty’s third studio album Lil Boat 3 docked this past week after weeks of hints and build up, officially completing the Atlanta rapper’s trilogy. Although the 19-track bounce house of sounds still hits in that jovial and disorienting fashion Yachty’s come to be known for, it’s Tierra Whack who gets the last laugh. Gliding over a sample of “Tokyo Drift” courtesy of The Teriyaki Boyz (yes, from The Fast and the Furious movie circa ’06), the Philly rapper easily takes the boys to the cleaners with her haywire wordplay.

“I did it all with the passion, I’m a god in this fashion / N****s tryna fit in with their arms in the jacket / Had to pull myself together like it’s all elastic.”


TeaMarrr, “I’m That (feat. Rapsody)”

TeaMarrr and Rap don’t mince words with this one. Not in the slightest. With a growl and a grin, the Boston-born artist flips relationship roles and assumes the power position on both sides.

“I lick my lips like LL Cool J / I play the game but it ain’t not 2K / Take a sip like, ‘Oh oh bay-bay’ / I’m smooth like rosé and I / Shoot it like Carmelo and I got that whine, Merlot / Red bellow, your booty sweet, come cuddle / My net worth Billy — Gates!”

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