Heat Check Roundup: Stormzy, GloRilla and Cardi B, SiR and more
The Heat Check playlist returns in a new form. In the two years since the last edition a lot has changed, and Heat Check has changed, too, but the steady stream of fresh songs never stops, and we still long to meet the demand. The section was originally created to emphasize bubbling and undiscovered acts, and while the rebooted playlist aims to stay true to that mission, it also embraces new music more broadly. In its new form, Heat Check is more of a menagerie — a roundup of notable songs curated by hip-hop and R&B enthusiasts from around NPR Music.
Whether it's throwbacks from Baby Tate and FLO or loosies from OT7Quanny and jaydes, this week's Heat Check playlist gathers songs from across the spectrum: a grime king retaking his throne, Cardi B signal boosting one of the summer's most exciting newcomers, and cuts from other risers, stalwarts and covert stars.
Stormzy, "Mel Made Me Do It"
Since 2017, the London rapper Stormzy has emerged from the U.K. grime scene to become a formidable international player, from headlining Glastonbury to making the Powerlist. He returns, after a two-year layoff, with the seven-minute polemic "Mel Made Me Do It," reasserting his position as a rap titan. This feels like the big throat-clearing before a statement album, but the song is also a capsule exhibition of what makes Stormzy so special — his casual flexes, his seemingly effortless rhyming and his thunderous voice. He maneuvers so painlessly through the Knox Brown-produced synth patterns that it's hard not to believe he's everything he says he is: young, Black Biden with a trim; a genius that could've clocked Harvard; the GOAT. — Sheldon Pearce
GloRilla and Cardi B, "Tomorrow 2"
The rising Memphis rapper GloRilla already took the summer with her breakthrough hit "F.N.F. (Let's Go)," but with Cardi B by her side, on the remix "Tomorrow 2," she's making a strong play for the fall, too. The song's raw, optimistic message is offset by a hardcore delivery befitting the sparse beat. And while GloRilla's bars are just as piercing and catchy as ever — "Ain't f**ked up 'bout no credit score / I might be rich as f**k tomorrow (Duh) / Every day the sun won't shine / but that's why I love tomorrows" — Cardi's verse and voice are welcome refreshments, especially when she inserts an Ice Spice taunt into her showboating with a smirk: "That n***a a munch and he gon' eat me like a mango." — Gabby Bulgarelli
NBA YoungBoy, "Like a Jungle"
Almost every line in C-Murder's 1999 song "Like A Jungle" is cold, bleak and haunted, a picture of death lurking around the corner. In 2009, the New Orleans rapper was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty for the murder of Steve Thomas. The verdict remains controversial; in the last few years, multiple witnesses have recanted their statements that he shot the gun.
YoungBoy, who's himself spent close to a year on house arrest in Utah, converses directly with C-Murder in his thrilling interpolation of "Jungle": "Just know I'm with you, you in a compound, I'm in a mansion feelin' chained right now," he raps. An adaptive, fluid stylist who drops music relentlessly, YoungBoy is in many ways the blueprint for a streaming-era rap star. But "Jungle" feels like a gem you'd unearth on a Wayne tape in the mid-aughts, a product of reverence and spontaneity. — Mano Sundaresan
SiR, "Nothing Even Matters"
On "Nothing Even Matters," the latest single from his upcoming album Heavy, SiR unabashedly confesses the love he has for his melanin queen and embraces her impact on his life: "Can't even picture my life without my girl / Diamond in the rough / Shine any brighter and you might save the world / Baby, when we touch / Nothin' even matters, no one loves me better / I want this forever, ever," he sings. The track, which is crafted around a chopped sample of D'Angelo's 2000 neo-soul classic "Send It On," melds turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia together with elements of contemporary R&B, adding another feel-good, timeless hit to the SiR catalog. — Ashley Pointer
Kiana Ledé, "Irresponsible"
The new single from the singer-songwriter Kiana Ledé is a masterclass in bringing new perspective to a familiar theme. Blues music was built on songs of infidelity, but here Ledé plays a different angle: It isn't the act of cheating itself that warrants the response, it's the fact that he chose her specifically, and that his thoughtlessness could feel so personal. "Could've played someone else, you chose me / Of course I feel some way," she sings. "And if you weren't ready, maybe / You should've at least stayed your a** out in them streets." She has a honeyed, soft-spoken voice that really sells the song's sense of betrayal, and how a universal experience can seem so singular. — Sheldon Pearce
I've been listening to a lot of jaydes as the seasons change. The Broward County teenager's dreamy EP heartpacing, from August, is warm enough for the last days of summer, but blued by his raincloud voice and the pangs of transition. This loosie "south" could've slotted right into that tape. As he shrugs off romantic interests left and right, he seems a little sad, even if his writing is resolute. His music is a refreshing counterpoint to the style-over-substance of a lot of trending internet rap. — Mano Sundaresan
Day Sulan, "Teach You How to Play"
The Compton rapper Day Sulan, signed to YG's 4HUNNID imprint, shares many similarities with her label boss: she's brusque, brash and assertive in her verses. On "Teach You How to Play," she adds an entry into scamming-men-as-self-care canon, presenting her findings as a how-to manual; she rattles off pointers with the clarity of a bulleted list. She doesn't just take his cash and go on shopping sprees with his credit, she takes his crypto, too. Over a punchy bass line, Sulan seems to push right up to you, sneering all the while. — Sheldon Pearce
Baby Tate, "Ain't No Love"
Over an interpolation of Ciara's '04 bop with Ludacris, "Oh," Baby Tate reimagines Usher's "Love in This Club" for the modern independent baddie. Resurrecting the trance-like hip-pop sounds of that era, she smoothly shifts between rapping and singing in this final tease to her upcoming double-sided mixtape, Mani/Pedi, an exploration of both modes. With 2Chainz as a laidback foil for Luda, the track is definitely as sauced as his syrup-drenched pancakes in the late-night-diner-turned-club-set music video. — Gabby Bulgarelli
OT7Quanny, "Dame Lillard"
The first thing you notice listening to the Philly rapper OT7Quanny is he loves to periodically slap a low-pass filter on his songs. The gimmick will probably run out of steam at some point, but right now, I can't get enough of it. With its cooing sample, icy brags and Quanny's trademark effect, "Dame Lillard" feels like a gritty fever dream. — Mano Sundaresan
FLO, "Not My Job"
The British girl-group FLO spawned fully formed this year, and soon garnered support from Missy Elliott and SZA for retro-leaning music powered by the pop craftsman MNEK. In July, the trio made good on the buzz surrounding their composed debut single, "Cardboard Box," with an EP called The Lead, which pulled liberally from Y2K R&B. The group's new single, "Not My Job," relies even more on throwback appeal, channeling groups like Blaque and 3LW. But the song, like the group itself, is elevated beyond functional pastiche by some truly lush harmonies. FLO was manufactured through a label audition process, but a chemistry seems to have naturally developed between the members, displayed in their shared understanding of nostalgia. — Sheldon Pearce