Sidney Madden

There's a certain unspoken euphoria in knowing exactly who you are. It's like a tiny party-of-one celebration when you check in with yourself, verifying that you're actually living your truth out loud. And yes, the practice of that check-in is always changing because your truth is subject to change. But the moving target is always worth the pursuit.

This week's Heat Check picks stand out not for sounding different, but for already feeling oddly familiar. Though all of these tracks are new releases, there's something lived-in about each one. Sometimes close to home is the best jumping off point.

BJ the Chicago Kid took the roughly 15 minutes we generally allot for a Tiny Desk performance as a challenge. The 34-year old R&B mainstay used his moment at the desk to fit in as many of his most cherished songs as possible — Nine songs in 17 minutes to be exact.

Don't be fooled. Spooky season isn't just reserved for the weeks leading up to Halloween. As the season shifts into colder temps, cradling death is just part of the process.

"I can twerk to anything. I'd twerk to Mozart!"

A bold statement. One I overheard through the chatter and bass of a Halloween party this past weekend. From across the living room-turned-dance floor, whose hardwood bore the scuff marks from shoes, scrapes from Ikea couches and a weird, sticky splotch that definitely fell into the category of "We'll worry about that later," homegirl in a Guy Fieri costume (let that part sink in) proclaimed herself to be a cross-genre twerker.

It's crazy what can change in a year. This time last fall, Megan Thee Stallion was rapping her heart out at local shows, balancing classes at Texas Southern University and occasionally dropping a fire freestyle video shot in a suburban cul-de-sac driveway. Since then, the brilliant and bodacious Houston rapper has ascended to major festival stages, become one of the most sought-after features on other stars' songs and electrified late-night television.

After some confusion, mixed messaging and conflicting timelines, Kanye West's ninth studio album, Jesus Is King, has arrived. In conjunction with the music, the Chicago rapper announced a new documentary film, also called Jesus is King, due out Oct. 25 exclusively on IMAX theaters.

You can stream this playlist on Spotify.

Letting a song take you away has become increasingly difficult. Using music to get through life often means multitasking while you listen; getting ready, commuting, working, studying, showering, practicing, cooking, eating, cleaning...

Letting your thoughts swim in its zenosyne to a curated soundtrack almost sounds like a luxury.

Where FOMO and self-care has become commercialized to justify ridiculous purchases (please don't look at my Amazon Prime history), these songs of catharsis are just what you need to disconnect. Whether you're scorned, scathed and in the midst of plotting or just peacefully seeking a reset, these artists know the feeling.

As always, check out the Heat Check playlist in its entirety on Spotify.


"Music discovery" isn't just some catchy tagline we deploy in press releases. The staff of NPR Music lives for finding compelling, exhilarating, jaw-dropping talent from every genre and giving those artists the space to shine. And not to pat ourselves on the back or anything — *pat pat* — but out of the nearly 900 Tiny Desk concerts we've published, a bunch have created star-making moments for boldface names in popular music.

"I been gone for a minute, now I'm back with the jump off."

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Tyler, The Creator's fifth studio album, IGOR, arrived with little notice back in May.

You can stream this playlist via Spotify.

We recently got a new batch of bright-eyed, music-loving interns here at NPR Music. To get to know the new recruits, we asked them to share the first CD — I know, archaic -- they bought with their own money, to which one hip-hop-inclined cherub answered, "Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak."

Playtime is over.

For me, the last four months of the year always signify a mental flip of the switch. I observe a moment of stillness to realign and take stock of the year's goals, then get a surge of motivating, creative energy to lock in and put those points on the board. Now is the time to kick things into high gear.

A lot of the albums out this week deal with self-discovery and deep reflection on the nature of being human. The members of MUNA look at aging and personal growth on their latest, Saves the World; Lower Dens weighs the madness of a country driven by competition; and the country super group The Highwomen releases its highly anticipated, self-titled album, one that celebrates the power of women while pushing back on the unwritten rules that have allowed men to dominate country radio for so long.

Listen to this playlist via Spotify.

We all love a good plot twist, right? Otherwise you end up in a feedback loop of verse-bridge-chorus monotony you've been spoon-fed for decades and convinced you "like."

In the words of our millennial patron saint, Frank Ocean, "Summer's not as long as it used to be."

Playground ridicule has a way of sticking in your memory. It can haunt you, motivate you or barely phase you now, but still, it lingers. Like many of us, the quality that's most striking about Baby Rose is the same one that used to get her bullied in school. "When I was younger, I used to be teased about my voice," she says with a raspy laugh.

Sleater-Kinney took a lot of chances on its latest album, The Center Won't Hold, upending its much beloved sound to experiment with strange sonics, dark textures and surprising forms. The result is one of the most adventurous, exciting – and best – albums the band has ever made. We open this week's New Music Friday with a look at how and why The Center Won't Hold works and what the recent departure of drummer Janet Weiss means for the band at this point in its quarter-century long career.

Settling into summer's swelter, this week's additions to Heat Check include re-surfaced favorites, lovesick tropes, a gut-punch of a wake-up call and, of course, a couple swerving, drink-spilling bops for good measure.

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Though it may feel like yet another summer is winding down into a low simmer of last-hurrahs and soon-t0-be-memories,

(NOTE: This week's episode was recorded before Bon Iver announced the digital release, three weeks ahead of schedule, of its lovely new album i,i.)

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