Rodney Carmichael

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Sometimes, good music is not enough. Not even for Kanye West, the musical genius and G.O.O.D. Music mogul who stooped, and fell, to cretinous levels in the eyes of many fans this week.

Forget that old adage about hip-hop being a product of the streets. Nowadays, if you really want to keep your finger on the pulse, you better follow the tweets.

Consider the events this week in rap as exhibits A, B, C and D: In the last five days, three of the biggest, most elusive names in rap have taken to social media to tease fans with forthcoming album release dates, while rap's reigning G.O.A.T. collected the big cheese.

In the annals of American culture, Kendrick Lamar's unprecedented Pulitzer win in music for DAMN. will stand alongside a recent influx of hip-hop firsts: Jay-Z's 2017 induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, LL Cool J's 2017 Kennedy Center Honors and the entire slew of artists who — to paraphrase a George Clinton classic — helped paint the White House rap during Obama's presidency.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DNA.")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) I got - I got - I got - I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA, quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Sacha Jenkins was just a nine-year-old kid coming of age in Queens, New York when Blondie's "Rapture" broke big in 1981. An early harbinger of hip-hop's crossover appeal, it became the first song featuring rap vocals to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Today, rap regularly owns the top 10 and Jenkins, an O.G. even among the original generation of hip-hop journalists, has been documenting the culture from the inside out since its golden era.

When A Tribe Called Quest released We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service days after the November 2016 presidential election, it felt as if the group had recorded the album in a prescient state.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Editor's note: This song and its title contain explicit language.


Vince Staples possesses a particular kind of black genius so shrewd, humorous and antagonistic that it can be hard to translate his POV into confectionary pop. Thankfully, he's immune to oversimplification. Instead, the Long Beach native has spent most of his career since his 2015 Def Jam debut (Summertime '06) applying an almost experimental approach to hip-hop that has drawn acclaim, but also plenty of naysayers critical of his creative complexity.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


In this new rap order, that frequently pits the purists against the pluralists, everyone has something to prove. Yet Royce 5'9" and DJ Premier, in the thick of their respective careers at 40 and 51, are primed to defy the ageist divide.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


"As we go into the well of the black pool of genius," Common intones during the opening bars of August Greene. It's a fitting incantation for a time in which black culture increasingly defines America's pop consciousness, even as black people are defiled by the sociopolitical will of a restless nation.

Grandmothers never truly die. Especially not when they bear as much influence on your life as Big K.R.I.T.'s grandmother has on his. The Mississippi spitter has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.

So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

We remember D.W. Griffith's Birth Of A Nation today for the lasting impact of its racist propaganda. Although it sparked a wave of national protests led by the NAACP at the time, the film's monstrous portrayal of black America persisted, shaping the specter of race relations for the remainder of the 20th century.

Advisory: This interview contains profanity.

Rejjie Snow takes pride in being an anomaly. An Irish-born rapper with a world perspective, outspoken views and jazz-inspired beat selections, Rejjie, born Alexander Anyaegbunam, has always been an outlier.

If the whole world's a jungle, Kendrick Lamar and company have a penchant for continuously scaling its upper heights.

Pioneering DJ and rapper Lovebug Starski, who helped develop the nascent form of hip-hop in the Bronx in the late '70s, died Thursday afternoon of a heart attack at his Las Vegas home, his manager has confirmed to NPR. He was 57.

There's a line in "Culture National Anthem," the surprisingly chill closer on Migos' new album Culture II, that sums up how much has changed for the group in a year's time: "Believe me when I say we create our own sound," the trio's leader Quavo croons in a melodic wisp. "I know you see it now, what they be screaming 'bout."

Apparently, betrothal isn't the only thing Jean Grae and Quelle Chris were celebrating while on vacay in Barbados last month. Little did fans know at the time — while positively reacting to the couple's tweets announcing their commitment to tie the knot — that the longtime creative and romantic partners already had a bun of sorts in the oven.

"OhSh" is right.

Sometimes the things we do to escape our pain end up sinking us into deeper depths. It's a cycle of desperation all too familiar to Abhi the Nomad.

"Binge and drink again, smile and pretend again / Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to rock bottom," the rapper/singer intonates on "Marbled." The song serves as a mixed metaphor of sorts, with Abhi narrating the life of a loner whose stage name is not just for show.

We're dang near a quarter-century into the new millennium and George Clinton is still out here slingin' gut buckets of funk. At this point, the good Dr. Funkenstein is more than a living institution; he's half-man, half-amazing.

When you sell 40 million records and enjoy the kind of crossover appeal Black Eyed Peas have, it usually comes at the cost of street cred. But in "Street Livin'," a dark, haunting new visual, the hip-hop group trades pop success for political commentary on the systemic ills plaguing the streets today.

The retro Cross Colours fits. The New Jack Swing sound. The In Living Color video homage. Bruno Mars has proven time and again it's his prerogative to do what he wants to do — especially when it comes to reigniting the charts with the sounds of '90s funk and R&B.

Open Mike Eagle may have released one of the most political albums of 2017, but Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is also among the most personal. It comes across best in his live performances. For only the second time during his recent tour cycle, the LA-based artist played a set aided by the live instrumentation of musicians Jordan Katz (trumpet, keys, sampler), Josh Lopez (keys, sampler) and Brandon Owens (bass) for his Tiny Desk debut.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Pages