Tiny Desk Concerts by Caribbean-Americans

In the age of heavy autotune and lip synced live performances, one obscure YouTube channel is changing the narrative. If you haven’t heard of Tiny Desk Concerts, a feature of the NPR Music channel, you’re not alone. Although the channel has nearly 10 million subscribers, to the everyday music listener it’s more of a niche phenomenon. The show is very simple: a small office, whatever instruments and band players you can fit into that small space, and live, unfiltered music with admittedly some of the best sound engineering that video production has to offer.

And while huge names like Taylor Swift, Post Malone and Mac Miller have graced the stage — or should we say cubicle — Tiny Desk is commended for its feature of smaller artists and local talents, with a large portion of lesser-known artists actually getting discovered by their soon-to-be fans through the platform.  

With all this said, some of our favorite performances have been from artists of Caribbean descent that showed a new level of skill and dimension to their craft. 

T-Pain

Have you ever wondered what “Buy U A Drank” would sound like without autotune? Tiny Desk answers it. A Tallahassee, Florida native with Bahamian roots on his mother’s side, Faheem Rashad Najm, better known by his stage name T-Pain, was one of the most popular rappers of the early 2000s. Hit songs like “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper),” “Buy U A Drank,” “Up Down (Do This All Day)” and a feature on Jaimee Foxx’s 2008 hit “Blame It” were R&B anthems of this generation.

In this Tiny Desk Concerts performance, T-Pain leaves the autotune at home and instead we get a rich, soulful sound that had one commenter saying “T-Pain is the only person who could sing about strippers and still make it feel like a love story that is relatable.” Strap in for 13 minutes and 47 seconds of T-Pain like you’ve never heard him before.

Sting And Shaggy

An unlikely duo, English musician Sting (who started his career as part of British reggae band The Police) and Jamaican reggae artist Shaggy have created music together that blends their distinct styles. Shaggy, whose full name is Orville Richard Burrell, rose to fame in the late ’90s and early 2000s with hits like “Boombastic” and “It Wasn’t Me,” tracks that continue to be featured in DJ mixes today. He remains active in the music scene, recently teaming up with DJ Cassidy and Rayvon for a remake of “If You Like Pina Coladas.”

In this laid-back Tiny Desk Concert that feels like an intimate jam session, Sting and Shaggy cover classics such as “Englishman in New York,” “Don’t Make Me Wait,” and “Shape of My Heart/Lucid Dreams,” showcasing the seamless blend of their musical talents.

WILLOW

Many know Willow Smith for her 2021 radio hit “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” and her famous actor parents, but the singer-songwriter of Jamaican and Barbadian descent (her mother’s parents were emigrants from Barbados and Jamaica) has a rich discography that blends funk, rock, pop-punk and R&B. In this Tiny Desk Performance, WILLOW showcases her unique artistry and musical versatility, starting off strong with a jazz-infused rendition of “Symptom of Life” from her new 2024 album “empathogen.”

She then delivers a stripped-down version of “Split” from her 2022 album, followed by a bass-heavy fan-favorite, “Wait a Minute!” from her 2015 album ARDIPITHECUS before closing with “Big Feelings” that showcases her switching between screaming highs and emotive soft vocals backed up by a band that is clearly having fun with their unique sound. 


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