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Ab-Soul: Tiny Desk Concert

This year's Black History Month celebration at the Tiny Desk features a carefully crafted lineup spanning many genres, generations and walks of life. Each artist represents the best in their class and will be performing at the Tiny Desk for the first time.


Hip-hop artists arguably make the most significant adjustments to play behind the Tiny Desk. The essence is two turntables and a microphone which, in time, evolved into bands for some. Ab-Soul, rarely seen with a live band, hand-picked a group of musicians he deemed the "Soulersystem" for his turn at the Desk. This display of raw honesty and next-level lyricism comes from his latest album, HERBERT. Before launching into some brand-new bars, he reminded us we'd approached a landmark in hip-hop culture this year: "We just here to restore the feeling. What you say? Fifty years of hip-hop?"

Herbert Stevens IV is a prime example of how rap music has grown. There's always a song to feel good and party to. Soul can do that, but he's best known for his music's depth, vulnerability and wordplay. The Carson, Calif., native has spared few details about what he's endured and how much he's lost. The opening frame of his performance shows the back of his customized jacket, featuring an image of one of his best friends, DoeBurger, who passed in 2021. The framed pictures surrounding the desk are from his childhood, some graphically detailing his bout with Stevens-Johnson syndrome. This rare disorder ravaged his skin and eventually left him legally blind.

Between the HERBERT songs, Soul delivers more never-heard-before rhymes over instrumentals from 2012's Control System. He perfectly conveys the emotional shift between the two "BE LIKE THAT" verses, and throughout the entire set, the band adds even more subtle nuances. He closes with "GOTTA RAP," but not before another exclusive verse that will surely get people talking. Ab-Soul wanted to release his Tiny Desk on his birthday, which feels suitable as he considers this his "second second chance."

SET LIST

  • "MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE"
  • "Bohemian Grove"
  • "IT BE LIKE THAT"
  • "FOMF"
  • "Terrorist Threats"
  • "FALLACY"
  • "DO BETTER"
  • "The Book of Soul"
  • "GOTTA RAP"
  • MUSICIANS

  • Ab-Soul: vocals
  • Amaire Johnson: keys, music director
  • Josh Rose: bass
  • Taylor Hecocks: guitar
  • Timothy McLaurin: drums
  • David Young: trumpet
  • Kevin Woods: trumpet
  • Gabrielle Garo: saxophone, flute
  • Noleac Yahsin: vocals
  • Lance Skiiiwalker: vocals, effects
  • Zacari: vocals
  • TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin
  • Creative Director: Bob Boilen
  • Director/Editor: Joshua Bryant
  • Videographers: Joshua Bryant, Catie Dull, Sofia Seidel, Maia Stern
  • Audio Assistant: Alex Drewenskus
  • Production Assistants: Ashley Pointer, Jill Britton
  • Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Marissa Lorusso, Hazel Cills, Kara Frame
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bobby Carter is a leader on the Tiny Desk Concerts team for NPR Music. He's brought an ever growing roster of big names and emerging artists through NPR's HQ to squeeze behind the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and record standout performances, including Usher, Mac Miller, Noname, Anderson.Paak and H.E.R.