Bobby Carter

Wyclef Jean doesn't get his just due. It was only after The Fugees had the world in their collective palms, and then disbanded, when we got to know his unadulterated abilities as a musician — his first solo album The Carnival was a project equal to (if not greater than) his greatest successes with The Fugees. From there, his focus shifted to discovering and producing stars, stretching all genres in his solo mission, and philanthropic work for his homeland of Haiti.

Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, is willing and able to shape-shift to fit into just about any box you show him — he just won't stay in there for long. Whether fusing his talent for jazz while a bassist with punk legacy act Suicidal Tendencies or as a member of Snoop Dogg's band — maybe running a little too far with a solo here and there — the focus seems to eventually drift his way.

"Classic Man," the 2015 debut single from Nigerian-American MC Jidenna, caught everyone off guard. The song found him teetering between rapping and singing about elegance, politeness and Nat "King" Cole, and the melody felt irresistible. Then there's the look: He rocks thrift-wear tailored to a T. The song eventually went double platinum and earned a Grammy nomination. Jidenna followed it with a few more club bangers before releasing his debut album, The Chief, earlier this year. A tribute to his father, a Nigerian chief, the record is peppered with African rhythms and themes.

The pairing of Tuxedo is a natural feel in person, but highly unlikely on paper. Seattle-based producer Jake One has a who's-who client list, from Rick Ross to 21 Savage — while DJ, singer-songwriter and producer Mayer Hawthorne is a renaissance soul man from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They stealthily debuted three tracks on SoundCloud in 2013 with only a black square stamped "Tuxedo" as the cover art, leaving fans wondering where this new funk was coming from.

Formed in the early 2000s, New Zealand-borne electro-soul purveyor Ladi6 is slowly and surely building a reputation by taking everything that was (and remains) great about '90s soul music and updates it, sprinkling cosmic effects and big synths throughout.

I was, admittedly, thrown for a loop when Gabriel Garzón-Montano told me that he wanted to perform unaccompanied, just him and a piano. The meticulousness of his work is clear on his debut album, Jardin, a three-year creative process in which Gabriel plays most of the instruments, tracking them to two-inch tape, layering its overall sound. Jardin takes its title as an umbrella; fruits, bugs and other plants are the driving metaphors tying together this dense work, which blooms over successive listens.

Here's a fun fact about Noname's Tiny Desk Concert: It almost didn't happen. Around the time of their D.C. stop, she (born Fatimah Warner) and her bandmates got their first dose of tour sickness. Thanks to rest, medicine and our mutual excitement, she made her way into the NPR offices the following day. If there ever was a 'Noname' way of doing things, this is definitely her signature method. It's in the way she's able to muster a smile while performing a heartbreaking tale of abortion. It's those sometimes bleak, melancholy lyrics over brilliant, colorful production.

"There's nothing new under the sun / It's never what you do, but how it's done," Nas rapped on "No Idea's Original."