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.

Thirty years after becoming rap's first sex symbol, LL Cool J will be the first hip-hop artist to receive Kennedy Center Honors in its 40-year history.

The rapper-turned-actor born James Todd Smith will be inducted with a prestigious 2017 class — including pop stars Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie, television icon Norman Lear and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade – on Sunday, Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C.

The honorees will be saluted by performers while seated alongside President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

Talk about arrogance.

Three days after topping the pile of MTV Video Music Award nominees with eight nods for "Humble.," Kendrick Lamar is back to test our "Loyalty." Now the most pop-worthy song from DAMN. has a video as epic as the collaboration behind it.

"Righteous rachetness is the wave."

Rap's fashionable attack has come a long way since Russell Simmons had to cajole Adidas into cutting a check for Run-D.M.C.

When history ranks 2017 among hip-hop's wonder years — and from the sounds of the previous six months it certainly qualifies — Vic Mensa's long-awaited full-length debut will be a big part of the reason why. The Chi-town native has created a work in The Autobiography that's equal parts confessional and confrontational, gut-wrenching and uplifting. Steeped in a personal story arc that envelopes Mensa's hometown, it echoes with the pain of a generation.

"I'm working on the SoundCloud thing," Chance the Rapper tweeted last Thursday, sounding like an angel tasked with yet another miracle after rumors — later denied by the company — that SoundCloud's collapse was imminent. After having what he called "a fruitful call" with SoundCloud cofounder Alex Ljung, Chance tweeted "SoundCloud is here to stay," a day later.

When an artist of Dr. Dre's stature releases a new song, it's always an event – especially since he averages about a record a decade.

When you're born with a musical bloodline and the perfect rap moniker to match, dropping dope lines on your daddy's critically-acclaimed album is almost inevitable. Just ask Blue Ivy.

After a week of Tidal/Sprint exclusivity, three additional bonus tracks from Jay-Z's 4:44 leaked last night — including one featuring freestyle bars from the first daughter of music's royal couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

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. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Editors Note: Shabazz Palaces' Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines is the second of two albums that Ishmael Butler released the 06/14. We recommend listening to his first installment, Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star, before pressing play here.

JAY-Z opens his latest album, 4:44, by slaying his own ego.

For an MC who's spent his entire career constructing such a formidable facade, it's a tall task. But "Kill Jay Z" sets the stage for what becomes his most personal, vulnerable album yet — and arguably one of his best.

Sounds like Independence Day has come early for Public Enemy. After recently leaking plans to release a new album, Nothing Is Quick In The Desert, on July 4, the iconic rap group has uploaded the entire LP to its Bandcamp page.

When Biggie Smalls is nearly banished from Bed-Stuy, the writing is on the wall. An outside mural dedicated in 2015 to the deceased hip-hop icon and Brooklyn native Notorious B.I.G. barely avoided permanent removal last month after the building's landlord threatened to do away with it for major renovations.

The BET Awards, like black America, is never a monolithic affair.

Just when it seems Atlanta's done all it can to decimate rap's beloved traditions, someone hops out of bounds again, crosses another line, slaughters a sacred cow.

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.

For more than half a decade Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have been an inseparable creative duo, racking up record sales and Grammy awards. But the premiere of "Glorious" — the first single from Macklemore's new, unnamed album — comes today with news that the Seattle rapper's next release will be a solo effort.

The Southern dialect is a complex thing, especially when pouring out the mouths of three of the regions best rappers ever. From the marble-mouthed flow of trapper du jour Gucci Mane, to the elongated vowel sounds of the dearly departed Pimp C, to the sticky, multi-syllabic delivery of OutKast's most consistent player Big Boi, it comes in all drawls and colors.

Geopolitics might not be the first thing that comes to mind as you watch the NPR premiere of the new Higher Brothers video for "Franklin," featuring Jay Park, but the global implications are real.

We already knew Nick Grant was a sick lyricist. Then he arrived at NPR headquarters with a mild case of the flu and quickly demonstrated why the title of his debut — Return of the Cool — should be taken quite literally.

Hailing from a region where rap's young guns and lil innovators tend to defy tradition, the South Carolina-by-way-of-Atlanta native proves being a purist is not just for the old heads.

Sometimes life confronts us with the very things we're attempting to flee. That's the raw inspiration behind the first video from Philly-based artist Ivy Sole's sophomore EP East. The visual for "Life," premiering on NPR today, depicts the story of a protagonist battling his own demons.

Two decades after his death, Tupac Shakur is still the headline-generating, record-selling, contentious figure that he was in life. From DJ Funkmaster Flex's recent tearful Tupac rant to the fresh diss tracks it generated in response, our obsession with the legend continues to grow. And it's bigger than hip-hop.

A year ago today, Gucci Mane emerged from an Indiana federal penitentiary a slimmer, sober, reformed version of his old self. Though still confined to house arrest, the Atlanta rapper quickly began picking up the pieces of a career left in limbo when he received a 39-month sentence on gun and drug charges in 2014.

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.

When the story of Atlanta's turn-of-the-millennium sonic boom is told 100 years from now, Organized Noize — the production trio of Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown and Rico Wade — will be the sound architects credited with putting the Dirty South on the map.

The only thing bigger than a classic beef in hip-hop is a monumental collabo. And when Kendrick Lamar, the artist with the biggest selling album of the year (DAMN.), hooks up with Future, the artist responsible for making history in 2017 with back-to-back No. 1 albums (FUTURE, HNDRXX), it's bound to be the best of both worlds. That's exactly what happens on a newly released remix of Future's runaway hit "Mask Off," featuring an inspired verse from Lamar.

The pairing is not their first, but here's what makes it so compelling and dope.

When Vince Staples releases his sophomore album Big Fish Theory next month, he won't be the only lanky rapper from Long Beach, Calif. with new music in the marketplace. Big Uncle Snoop Dogg, whose solo debut Doggystyle dropped the same year Staples was born, released his 15th studio album this week. And like the title Neva Left not-so-subtly suggests, his ubiquitous industry presence over the last quarter century is unprecedented in hip-hop.

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