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.

Jay Z may be one step closer to becoming hip-hop's first billionaire. The day after appearing on an annual shortlist of hip-hop's wealthiest artists. With an estimated net worth of $810 million, the rapper and entrepreneur has announced a new deal with Live Nation that could put him over the top, Variety reports.

You know what's funny about "Kool Aid," the new Danny Brown song made for the HBO show Silicon Valley? No, it's not Brown's endearing squeal. It's not even the familiar way in which he recycles Kool-Aid as colloquial '80s slanguage to emphasize the importance of people staying out of his, uhh, mix.

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.

Brother Ali is a prophet, plain and simple. Even if you're unmoved by his life story — being a legally-blind albino rejected by society who found identity through hip-hop and the Muslim faith — his music most certainly will move you.

Avery*Sunshine knows what love will make one do: Give up your favorite ice cream. Break up to make up. Even swear off of holy matrimony for good, only to fall head over heels again.

When the soul maven visited NPR headquarters to perform her first Tiny Desk Concert, she gifted us with the story of her own redemptive love. And a whole lot of laughs in between.

Kendrick Lamar has spoken. In his first interview since the debut of his (soon-to-be) chart-topping cultural phenomenon-of-an-album, DAMN., the rapper sat down for the now-requisite interview with Zane Lowe of Apple's Beats 1 Radio.

If, like so much of the general listening public, you have found yourself grappling with the themes and depth of his mystical masterpiece since its release one week ago today, you should find solace in the fact that this is exactly as Lamar intended.

What's weirder? A hip-hop loving Bill Nye the Science Guy, or a science-loving Tyler, the Creator?

The period of anticipation preceding the release of Kendrick Lamar's fourth album, DAMN., was intense, brief but methodically built.

Since its inception, hip-hop has been grappling with the timeless question Marvin Gaye posed on his seminal 1971 album: What's Going On?

This weekend happens to mark the 33rd anniversary of Gaye's own untimely death (on April 1, 1984) resulting from a domestic dispute with his father that happened just one day before the singer/songwriter's birthday. Gaye would've turned 77 this year.

A Tribe Called Quest's latest visual from its four-month-old reunion album, We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your service, dropped Thursday and its a poetic distillation of hip-hop's generation gap.

Kendrick Lamar wasted no time following through on his mysterious "IV" Instagram post. Last night, the Compton MC released a new song, "The Heart Part 4," and it's a no-holds-barred lyrical onslaught.

Within the span of five minutes, over shifting beats produced by Syk Sense, The Alchemist, DJ Dahi and Axlfolie, Lamar waxes philosophical, adversarial and political while dropping heat on everyone from phony rappers to President Trump.

Kendrick Lamar, deservedly hailed as the god MC of his generation, made a peculiar pronouncement from on high (i.e., high-speed Internet) today that has fans genuflecting in collective anticipation.

The rapper's Instagram account was wiped clean Thursday morning, replaced with one cryptic post added around sunrise. The simple white-on-black image of the Roman numeral "IV," with no caption provided, has led to a near-universal interpretation: Prepare ye the way for the impending release of Lamar's fourth studio album.

Leave it to Run the Jewels to find the connection between psychedelic drugs and systemic disorder. The new video for "Legend Has It," the first from the duo's third LP RTJ3, finds Killer Mike and El-P tripping on acid in a police lineup alongside a rotating cast of unusual suspects: a nun, an "innocent" little girl, a fireman, even a clown-faced police officer.

In an industry full of surprises, Drake premiered his new LP the old-fashioned way. In fact, the biggest surprise surrounding More Life — the studio album he's calling a "playlist" — is that it finally came out as predicted. After months of teasing fans with rumored tracklists, a string of potential singles and cryptic Instagram posts hinting at release dates that came and went, the 6 God debuted his seventh solo LP on OVO Sound Radio Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET, and it appeared on streaming services at 8:30 p.m.

Did you know there's a Wikipedia entry for "political hip-hop"? Kind of like having an entry for "wet rain" or "loud thunder," ain't it? Even when totally devoid of overt sociopolitical commentary, rap consistently speaks volumes about the state of The Union.

Chance the Rapper is not leaving the future of Chicago school kids to chance. During a press conference Monday at Westcott Elementary School, on the city's South Side, the newly minted Grammy winner announced plans to donate $1 million to Chicago Public Schools.

"This check that I donated is a call to action," said Chance, calling for politicians and corporations to follow suit as the conference streamed live on Instagram. "I'm challenging major companies in Chicago and all across the U.S. to take action."

Future has made history: the Atlanta rapper's two albums, released back-to-back over two weeks, have each officially landed at the peak of the Billboard 200 albums chart. With the respective releases of FUTURE on Feb. 17 and HNDRXX on Feb. 24, Future is the first solo act in the 61-year history of the album chart to supplant himself at No. 1 with two successive releases, according to Billboard:

Even amongst East Coast traditionalists, talk of bringing back New York rap has become a tired cliché. But a blazing freestyle has a way of elevating the conversation.

Hip-hop took off its cool over the weekend — and lit itself ablaze in the process.

Two seemingly unrelated threads this past weekend served as raucous, yin-and-yang reminders that hip-hop is not just a genre measured by charts, award show accolades and platinum plaques, but an organic culture unbound by industry rules.

The industry has finally seen the light... at least, that's one way to interpret Future's second major-label release in the span of two weeks.

Update: You can now stream Future's album in full on Spotify, Apple and other streaming services.

Future woke fans up Tuesday with a surprise announcement via Twitter: "I was preparing the feast. U walked away from the table too soon," he posted.

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