Rico Nasty’s unexpectedly heavy NPR Tiny Desk concert makes a star of Strandberg-toting guitarist Liso Lee

Rico Nasty and Liso Lee performing live for NPR Tiny Desk
(Image credit: NPR Music/YouTube)

Time and time again, NPR’s popular Tiny Desk concert series has been responsible for curating some of the most epic small-scale concerts in recent memory, championing artists such as Mdou Moctar and Tom Misch to name but a few.

In the latest instalment of the series, it was American rapper Rico Nasty – aka Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly – taking center stage, in a concert that will be largely remembered for two things: Nasty’s own lyrical masterclass and the flawless showing from South Korean electric guitar star, Liso Lee.

The almost-show-stealing run-out saw the Strandberg Boden Classic 6 Trem-armed young guitarist decorate the set’s opening track, Magic, with a series of crystal-clean flurries, before the entire performance takes an unexpected – yet entirely welcome – turn.

Launching into Rage and continuing into OHFR? and Trust Issues, Lee layers on the insanely gritty gain, tapping into a distinctly heavy sonic repertoire that sees her let loose on some head-sway-inducing open-string chugs and booming riffs. 

The latter track also gives Lee ample opportunity to flex her jaw-dropping lead playing powers – an opportunity grabbed via some sublime two-hand tapping, whammy-laden licks and wailing bends.

Lee’s exquisite playing culminates during the set’s grand finale, Smack A Bitch, in which she dives head first into a quick-fire, rip-roaring solo, helping Rico Nasty close the song – and the set – out in style.

Lee, who has amassed a following of over 13,000 on Instagram, is not short of experience in the upper echelons of the music industry. Having graduated in Associate of Arts in Performance (Guitar) from Hollywood’s Musician Institute in 2013, she went on to tour with Cee Lo Green and Zayn Malik, among others.

She is also currently in the midst of a stint playing with Gwen Stefani as part of the pop icon’s Las Vegas Residency at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, though her latest outing with Nasty has showcased a marked shift away from pop towards a distinctly heavier repertoire.

Kudos must also be given to Rico Nasty and the rest of her session band, which boasted the air-tight basslines of Kyla Wright and the rhythmic foundations of Tiffani Walker. It’s a session masterclass, with each musician sitting comfortably in the pocket while Rico Nasty does her thing.

Consider Liso Lee firmly established on our radar. We wait with eager anticipation to see what this Strandberg-wielding player has in store for us next.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.