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 voted as one of the Atlanta Press Club's Top 10 Favorite Stories of the Past 50 Years.

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 influence his approach to writing and criticism, even after ditching academia to return to journalism. After covering red carpets (BET Awards, MTV VMAs) and interviewing big names ranging from Quincy Jones to 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, the disadvantaged neighborhood on Atlanta's west side, become the epicenter of a sonic snap-and-trap boom that would overtake the nation and, eventually, the globe. He oversaw coverage of 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 an 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 its impact on 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.

As an art form, sampling has been evolving for 35 years now. That's about how long ago it's been since the legendary producer Marley Marl revolutionized hip-hop production when, almost by accident, he figured out how to sample a drum beat from an existing record. It makes this a perfect time to look at the legacy, but also the trajectory, of sampling through a handful of snapshots.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, prisons and jails remain some of the most vulnerable places for its transmission.

New York City jails are dealing with an outbreak of their own: The Department of Corrections told NPR it's dealing with 364 confirmed cases among inmates and already has two deaths as of April 16.

Rikers Island Jail is the city's most infamous facility. Prisoner Daryl Campbell is currently under quarantine after another inmate came down with a high fever.

"This is what real love sounds like."

From any other new artist, a Tiny Desk declaration like that might sound a tad bit presumptuous if not altogether premature. But when the voice behind those words is as seasoned and vintage as Baby Rose's, everything it utters reverberates like the gospel truth. The D.C. native — who came of age in Fayetteville, N.C. before coming into her own as an artist in Atlanta — returned to her birthplace, backed by a big band including strings, to perform songs from her 2019 LP To Myself.

Ann Powers: Here we are, Rodney, to talk about one of the weirdest, most emotionally fraught and repressed, most resistance-fueled yet frequently deluded awards shows I can recall seeing in recent years: the 2020 Grammy Awards. Let's start with Lizzo, not quite the spirit of the night that I expected her to be. "This is the beginning of making music that moves people again," the flute-wielding dynamo exclaimed when picking up an early statue, the only one she took during the televised performance. (She claimed three in total).

The last decade of music saw major artists break many of the rules about how to release an album. Beyoncé and Drake popularized the "surprise release" — putting out albums with little to no roll-out at all. So in the era of surprise digital drops, and at the beginning of a new year of music, how do you make predictions about what's coming?

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

The first time Raphael Saadiq played Tiny Desk, "it was really a tiny desk."

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

"I'm so excited to be here with you guys," she said one song into a set that features the multi-instrumentalist alternating between keys and guitar. "Wow. Dreams coming true."

Rather than squeezing in a stop by NPR's Washington D.C. headquarters between tour stops, the rapper Dave made a special trip all the way from the UK just for his Tiny Desk performance. If that isn't proof that it was a big deal, his nervousness before the show confirmed it. But he powered through in a performance that puts his gift for making the personal political on full display.

Raphael Saadiq is a national treasure. He played bass on tour with Prince. Penned D'Angelo's biggest hits. Helped Solange grab A Seat At The Table. And stretched the legacy of soul with his own material — from Tony! Toni! Toné! to Lucy Pearl to an impeccable solo discography — in between.

Seconds before the cameras started to roll, Summer Walker showed just how much she was willing to sacrifice for her day at the Tiny Desk: She clipped her nails. It wasn't an aesthetic choice but a pragmatic one. Not even her love for a fresh set of bedazzled acrylics would get in the way of her strumming the soul out of her six-string Fender electric. The guitar wasn't the only thing she'd brought with her from Atlanta.

I want Flying Lotus to score my reincarnation.

"It's kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out," The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR. Even more than the mega-hits he's written for the likes of Beyoncé ("Single Ladies") and Rihanna ("Umbrella"), the self-styled radio killa's early solo oeuvre — known as the Love trio — helped cement the songwriter's saucy way with words.

Ever since Jay-Z announced a partnership between his Roc Nation entertainment company and the NFL — ostensibly to help the league step up its Super Bowl halftime show and amplify its social justice program platform — the whole thing has played out like a tragic blaxploitation flick. One powerful scene in particular from the era keeps replaying in my mind, like an eerie precursor to last week's press conference and the resulting fallout.

I am Nina and Roberta
The one you love but ain't never heard of
Got my middle finger up
Like Pac after attempted murder
Failed to kill me
It's still me — from "Nina"

One year ago, Rapsody had an epiphany. She felt it so deep in her soul, as an artist and a black woman from the backwoods of North Carolina, that it was almost strange it hadn't revealed itself sooner. Sometimes, even the anointed among us need a word from on high to get the message.

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Rapsody is not playing with us. (Disclaimer: She. Never.

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If a '90s boy band had dropped a new single bearing the title "I Been Born Again" 20 years ago, we would've instinctively braced ourselves for some un-ironic urban-crossover Christian

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Editor's note: This story includes includes brief mentions of suicide.

Magical things keep happening to Lil Nas X. Crazy, serendipitous things. Take last Sunday, just two days before his 20th birthday: He's sitting in the stands at L.A.'s Staples Center, when out of nowhere the ball in play falls into his possession. "Like literally, I was at the Lakers game, and the ball flew in my hands," he says. "It was just a sign in a way. Or, at least, that's how I felt. And I'm not even a superstitious person, but yeah."

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Updated at 9:05 p.m. ET

Grammy-nominated rap artist, entrepreneur and community philanthropist Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed Sunday. His death was announced on Twitter by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Nipsey Hussle was 33.

The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner's office confirmed Monday that he died of gunshot wounds of the head and torso.

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


"Everything is a weapon," Quelle Chris says in the middle of a phone conversation about his forthcoming album Guns. Like a lot of things about the underrated rapper and producer — who hails from Detroit but now calls Brooklyn home — the nuance in the title is liable to sail over your head.

Remember that scene in The Color Purple when Shug Avery was somewhere between the juke joint and her daddy's church, singing at the top of her lungs, and the Saturday night sinners got all mixed in with the Sunday morning saints, and it was hard to tell if they were praising the high heavens or raising holy hell?

That's what Leikeli47's Tiny Desk felt like in the flesh.

For the last two years Tank And The Bangas have been so busy trotting the globe, becoming festival favorites and making new disciples with every mesmerizing live show, that releasing a new album almost seemed secondary.

But, finally, the wait is over.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. It might sound cliché, but there's really no better way to describe the circumstances that led to prolific producer Zaytoven's impromptu Tiny Desk.

Only in America. Where else could a Swedish composer named after Beethoven help soundtrack a cinematic year of blaxplaining and black magic that held the whole world captive?

Our picks for the best albums out this week include an epic treatise on Americanism from Gary Clark Jr., the delicate and beautiful sounds of Julia Jacklin, Atlanta rapper Gunna, a gorgeous study in the healing powers of restraint from Lowland Hum, and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael and Stephen Thompson as they share their top picks for Feb. 22.

Featured Albums

  • Gary Clark Jr., This Land
    Featured Song: "Gotta Get Into Something"

Hip-hop pulled a Marlo on the Grammys this year.

In a classic scene from season 4 of The Wire, the HBO crime drama that used one city's drug epidemic to expose the institutional collapse of America, Marlo Stanfield, a young, ambitious kingpin disrupting the natural order of things, provokes a two-bit security officer to anger by stealing candy from the convenience store he's charged with guarding. When the officer steps to the young man, frustrated beyond belief that he would make such a boldfaced move in the officer's presence, Marlo stares him dead in the eye.

Live Blog: The 2019 Grammy Awards

Feb 10, 2019

This is NPR Music's live blog of the 2019 Grammy Awards. The telecast of the awards show is scheduled to run from 8:00 until 11:30 p.m. ET. We'll be here the whole time, updating this post with every award or performance.

On a sun-baked intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue, a street named for the Spanish colonizer whose false claim to fame was discovering the fountain of youth, sits one of the most conspicuous cultural attractions in Atlanta. Mister Car Wash may be the busiest destination of its kind in a Southern capital where car washes are outnumbered only slightly by churches and chicken wing stops. It also happens to be the location of a pivotal pit stop in the rapid rise of one of hip-hop's brightest new stars.

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