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Rodney Carmichael

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.

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(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.

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.


"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.

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.

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."

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.

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

Hip-hop's embarrassment of riches borders on the ridiculous in 2017. So what better way to end the year in which the genre become the most streamed, according to Nielsen, than flooding the market with a Friday full of new releases? A comprehensive list would also include new projects from producers such as Zaytoven and Childish Major, plus a slew of mixtapes. But there's only so much time in a day. Here are quick takes on some of the most anticipated LPs released today.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

"We're here right now because no one ever really dies."

Coming from anyone other than the superproducer Pharrell Williams, that might've sounded like the opening incantation of some esoteric religious experience. But on Saturday night, Williams' pulpit was ComplexCon, where his genre-bending band N.E.R.D. made a surprise reveal.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, Atlanta trap provocateurs Future and Young Thug, coated the world with the surprise release of their collaborative mixtape, Super Slimey.

Content advisory: The video below contains imagery and language that some may find offensive.


Move over, Eminem.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Call it a comeback. After years of absence from the spotlight, Eminem returned to relevance last night with a fierce lyrical condemnation of President Trump.

When Jay-Z appeared on the season opener of Saturday Night Live this weekend, Damian Marley wasn't his only guest in tow. In a silent show of solidarity that spoke volumes, the rapper took the stage donning a teamless No. 7 jersey in honor of Colin Kaepernick.

It capped off a week in which Jay-Z was rumored to have turned down the NFL's alleged offer to perform at next year's Super Bowl LI halftime show for reasons unconfirmed but far from unimaginable.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO")

CARDI B: (Singing) Oh, look what you made me do. Look what you made me do. Look what you just made me do. Look what you just made me - oh.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Jhené Aiko is not of this world.

Somewhere between pop-oriented R&B and traditional soul, the singer-songwriter floats like an ethereal voice disembodied from typical format and genre distinctions. So when we talk one week prior to the unannounced release of her epic new album, it comes as no surprise that she's much more interested in easing into the big reveal rather than making a huge splash.

In her rise from the Bronx to the Billboard charts, Cardi B has been many things frequently deemed disposable in the annals of pop culture: an exotic dancer, an Instagram celebrity, a reality TV star. But now there's no denying her place in history. At 24, Cardi B has become the first woman rapper to score an unassisted No. 1 hit since Lauryn Hill nearly two decades ago.

For nearly a decade T-Pain reigned, the ubiquitous King of Auto-Tune.

Syd has developed quite a voice for seduction. Between her solo work and group efforts helming The Internet, her burgeoning discography of softly-sung R&B hook-up anthems could turn any amateur PUA into a pro.

On the same night that torch-bearing white nationalists wound up staging a rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Van Jones stood at a podium, in the nation's capital, telling a theater full of supporters why they should let love rule in the face of racial hatred.

When MF DOOM emerged from the ether just before the last millennium's end, with a metal faceplate masking his grill, a raspy voice and a vicious internal rhyme scheme, he quickly amassed a cult-like following.

His villainous persona, an amalgamation of comic book characters ranging from Dr. Doom to G.I. Joe's Destro, masked his true identity as he exacted revenge on an industry which had metaphorically disfigured him.

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