Rodney Carmichael

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he documented the city's rise as rap's capital outpost for a decade while serving as music editor, staff culture writer and senior writer for the alt-weekly Creative Loafing. During his tenure there, he won awards for column writing, longform storytelling, editing and reporting on cultural issues ranging from gender to economic inequality. He also conceptualized and co-wrote "Straight Outta Stankonia"—an exhaustive look at Atlanta's gentrifying cultural landscape through the lens of OutKast—which was awarded the Atlanta Press Club's Top 10 Favorite Stories of the Past 50 Years honor.

A former Poynter Fellow for Young Journalists, Rodney started his professional career in Waco, Texas. He was enticed by the opportunity to cover religion in the same small town where the infamous Branch Davidian standoff occurred almost a decade earlier. What Waco may have lacked in charismatic cult leaders during his time there, it made up for with plenty of rich stories, and people, that enabled him to explore the cultural crossroads at the center of the Southern Baptist stronghold. He was nominated Rookie of the Year within the Cox newspaper chain for his coverage of religion, health and social services.

Rodney returned to Atlanta and enrolled in his alma mater, Georgia State University—where he'd previously earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and playwriting—to pursue further studies in cultural communications, with an emphasis in hip-hop studies. He was enamored by a new wave of scholarship from the likes of Tricia Rose and Mark Anthony Neal that paired hip-hop criticism with urban sociology and cultural ethnography. It would eventually lead him to apply a similar lens to his own writing upon returning to journalism. After covering red carpets (BET Awards, MTV VMAs) and interviewing big names ranging from Quincy Jones and Rick James during his three-year tenure at the fast-paced urban weekly Rolling Out, his passion for storytelling called him to the alt-weekly world. During his first five years at Creative Loafing, he entrenched himself in local music coverage as music editor. He put a young Janelle Monae, already talented beyond belief, on her first cover for the publication's annual music issue. He watched Bankhead, a disadvantaged neighborhood in West Atlanta, become the epicenter of a sonic snap-and-trap boom that would overtake the nation and, eventually, the globe. He covered the scenes from the ground-up, as they emerged and submerged around an ever-evolving soundscape of micro-genres and spinoffs.

During the next half-decade, Rodney dug deeper by covering the city's music and culture scenes with anthropological bent, historical arc and a critical eye. As the city began to be reshaped by cultural upheaval and shifting socioeconomics, he focused on Atlanta's creative economy—expanding from music to include film, TV and tech—and the ways it impacts the character of a city that has long grappled with its identity as a New South gateway, black mecca, human rights hub, strip club capital and hip-hop hotbed. Rodney attempts to make sense of that nexus and all the intersecting identity politics. Now, covering hip-hop from a national perspective at NPR, he's working to expand that lens with regionally-focused coverage. The stories he tells combine reporting, storytelling and criticism to focus on race and place, industry and economy, as well as issues around social justice and their impacting communities of color. As rap music has now risen to become the most popular genre in America, he keeps his ears and eyes trained on hip-hop's indigenous communities and the influence they bear on America's long, storied relationship with black cultural production.

The follow-up to Chicago artist Noname's 2016 debut Telefone is out today, and it's a must-listen. On Room 25, she returns with another literary tour de force, delivered in the conversational tone she's known for and that makes her music feel so intimate, like she's telling you a secret. It's personal, it's provocative, it's political, it's playful.

The hardest thing about being a hip-hop fan in 2018 is watching legends turn into cannibals. Not to suggest that rap should ever be above self-critique – that's always been a major tenet of the genre. But certain artists seem to have forgotten what it's like to be young, dumb and numb. In their hunger for lasting relevance, some have even begun to feast on their own babies.

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

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During a career nearly three decades in the making, Tech N9ne has dodged the fickle rap industry while surfing his own wave, stylistically and professionally. The Kansas City native has been a beast for years now, a musical misfit who laid a track record of underground success and struggle before building his own independent empire with Strange Music.

UPDATE: This audio has been removed from SoundCloud.

Staying true to his own musical vision has always come first for PJ Morton. So when he expressed his desire to squeeze a 10-piece string section behind the Tiny Desk for his three-song performance, we were more than happy to oblige him.

Morton showed off the soulful Fender Rhodes chops that helped him earn a mentor in Stevie Wonder and membership to Maroon 5, while backed by percussion, bass and the same Matt Jones Orchestra that accompanies him on his soulful solo releases, Gumbo and Gumbo Unplugged.

It's a gray, overcast day and Drake seems lost in thought. The Toronto native haunts the grounds of an unknown waterfront estate in a pensive mood. Not yet ready to cede his spot on the throne, he rises from his resting place and pilots his Cadillac SUV to another undisclosed location, this one a recording studio. There, with nothing but the red glow from neon bulbs lighting his way, he stands alone before a microphone.

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

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On Saturday, one of the highest-profile and most scrutinized marriages in pop music became an official collaboration with the surprise release of Jay-Z and Beyoncé's album Everything Is Love, credited to The Carters, alongside a video for the album's first single, shot in the Louvre. The album had been rumored since the release of Beyoncé's 2016 album Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44, both of which addressed fault lines in the artists' marriage, and in a summer of major hip-hop albums, this instantly marked a new high-water mark.

Please note: The album below contains explicit language.

Just when it seemed June couldn't get any hotter for lovers of rap and R&B, the inevitable has finally happened: After a collaboration built on musical legacy and love for the past 15 years, Beyonce and Jay-Z have released a joint album as The Carters.

Hip hop's feud of the moment reached a white-hot peak last week — and for once, Twitter wasn't the first place to hear about it.

On Friday, June 1, Kanye West released his eighth studio album, titled ye, after revealing it during a live-streamed event held at a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Later that day, two of NPR Music's critics, Rodney Carmichael and Ann Powers, discussed what they heard in the album's seven songs, and whether they could separate the music from the mania that surrounds it.


Rodney Carmichael: This is going to be the most polarizing album of the year. That's my one-sentence review. Of course, we already knew that, right?

Black Thought rarely unmasks.

Not even in our in-depth interview, which lasted more than an hour, did he remove the shades that enable him to observe the world — and reflect a bit of its pain – while concealing his own. Yet the story he shared of personal trauma and transcendence reveals so much more.

Mother's Day 2018 just got real. After years of creative reclusion — intermittently broken by a steady string of dynamic guest vocal appearances on other artists' projects — André 3000 has released nearly 22 minutes of new music in homage to his deceased parents.

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

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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.

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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.

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