Heat Check Roundup: Masego, Fousheé, Boldy James and more
The Heat Check playlist is your source for new music from around the worlds of hip-hop and R&B with an emphasis on bubbling, undiscovered and under-the-radar acts. Who's got the hot hand? Who's on a run? It's a menagerie of notable songs curated by enthusiasts from around NPR Music.
In this week's Heat Check selects, dueling sounds of the new New York, roiling raps from a middle-aged street rapper and sugary, off-kilter pop birthed on TikTok. Elsewhere, a multi-hyphenate star rises, a classically trained jazz musician continues her descent down the R&B rabbit hole, a sax enthusiast embraces his vibrant musical lineage and more. Stream the playlist on Spotify. Check in.
Masego, "Say You Want Me"
The future soul artist Masego makes colorful music with jazz and funk flourishes, often channeling the saxophone as an instrument of desire. He's a South African-born Jamaican-American and his songs reflect that musical sprawl (See: "Prone" and "Queen Tings" from his wonderful 2018 album, Lady Lady). But nothing he has released before has pulled from that lineage quite like his single, "Say You Want Me," a vibrant cut that sets the sax aside, settling somewhere between amapiano and dancehall. (He does so literally in the song's video, performing seated between two of the brass instruments.) The song feels substantially bigger and more robust than the music he was making before. "I seek the love drum / I seek communion," he sings. So much of his best music basks in the glow of a woman's presence, and here he seems to find his thesis: "I fought for you right / I never wanna see the day that I'm not in ya light." — Sheldon Pearce
Yung Fazo, "Steal da Swag"
This singsong New York rapper exists in the same sonic ecosystem as nu-trap characters like Yeat and ssgkobe and former slayworld collective members like Autumn! and Summrs. Only his music can feel like it's moving at warp speed, down to the pitched-up, distorted vocals that feel like they're blurring by you as you listen. "Steal da Swag," from his new project, me vs me, might be his most thrilling song yet. Its zaniness sounds like rap as cartoon. — Sheldon Pearce
Two years after blowing up on the clock app, the singer-songwriter Fousheé has made sure to surpass her 15 minutes with consistently off-kilter heat, each time sounding like she's fed her hard drive of sugary pop song pitches through an industrial shredder. "supernova" finds that sweet spot between categories again. With sly bass and her helium-like key changes, the latest single to her upcoming album, softCORE, rides perfect timing within the presumed polarity of genre. — Sidney Madden
Sha Ek, "O to the G"
Recent drill music has been defined by great, singular rap voices: the late Pop Smoke, of course, but also Headie One in the UK, and now Ice Spice. Sha Ek has such a voice — a shout that threatens to tear his songs open at the seams. In 2021, the Bronx rapper exploded into view with the Blockwork-assisted "D & D," among the most twisted drill hits of its era. On "O to the G," it's as if he's picking up where he left off. This time, he navigates the wheeze of a bagpipe sample, his shot-out-of-a-cannon energy propelling him through as the beat thumps and whines around him. "No security, n****, just me and my gang you know we movin' dirty," he raps, his hurtling flows only adding to the sense of reckless abandon. — Sheldon Pearce
Rufus Sims, "What's the Word"
Rufus Sims looks to bury the past on "What's the Word." Formerly known as Weasel, like his father, a drug kingpin in Chicago, he distances himself from the title, taking on his own name and making sense of the transition. "I had to kill Weasel / It was just too much evil beneath dude for me to sleep peaceful," he raps. "I had to kill Weasel, for the skeletons in my closet / Let's be honest, most bones I had to pick was with my own people." Over a spiraling soul sample that feels like a nod to the Windy City's rap history, he shows growth as both a rapper and thinker, and as he tries to lay the old version of himself to rest, he seems to emerge as something more. — Sheldon Pearce
Coco Jones, "ICU"
In an attention economy where everybody's showing off all the time, true, multi-hyphenate talent is getting harder to come by. Luckily, we got Coco Jones. The singer/actress has proven she can do both with her debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You. Even with SWV samples and big co-writing credits on the project, it's the songs most free of frills, like "ICU," where Jones' vocal range gets to fly highest. The mic is most definitely on! — Sidney Madden
Allyn, "Player Ways"
As a classically trained jazz musician still transitioning into R&B, the Sacramento singer Allyn has a small catalog of atmospheric, lovelorn songs. Her music has steadily evolved over the years, and "Player Ways," from her new EP, After Hours, demonstrates just how much her perspective has shifted. On "Locked In," from 2018, she positioned herself as the "real woman" among "thots" holding her man down at home. Now, she has embraced the other role, which means embracing agency. "You ain't the only man that I got," she sings, responding to his desire to break things off. In a post-"Irreplaceable" world, this has become a dominant mode among women in R&B — lining up a replacement as you show the last man the door — but here Allyn preempts the damage. The next man is already on the way. Her honeyed vocals, and the lack of concern in her tone, help sell her indifference. — Sheldon Pearce
Boldy James, "Jam Master J"
Rap is youth culture, but, in recent years, older rappers have carved out more and more space to tell the stories of middle-age. 40-year-old Detroit rapper Boldy James has taken it a step further: he has really found his voice in maturity, acclimating to a composed persona, first as an original signee of Nas' Mass Appeal records and recently as a member of the indie stable Griselda. His songs bear the wariness that comes with experience and the poise that comes from a hard-scrabble life navigating obstacles. James, always prolific, has been particularly productive since 2020, releasing his best music across nine projects, and his streak continues with the Futurewave-produced Mr. Ten08. The standout, "Jam Master J," is full of his patented roiling flows but it is the imagery that elevates them: a plate that looks like shaving cream on a straight razor, a cup of lean so noxious it should bear the health hazard symbol, a lost rap icon as an avatar for achieving greatness. — Sheldon Pearce
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