Rodney Carmichael

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.

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.

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.

Forget being on the wrong side of history, the NFL is on the wrong side of the culture. In two weeks, Super Bowl LIII will kick off in Atlanta, the black mecca and current hip-hop capital, but the league has had to scramble to find black artists willing to perform at the halftime show.

It was the year that trolls and tabloid fodder took over. It was the year that beef became the chief marketing strategy. It was the year that hype trumped truth. And we're not even talking politics yet.

Video director Dave Meyers has long been synonymous with hip-hop's most mind-bending visuals. He made Kendrick Lamar the pope of egomania in "HUMBLE.," Missy Elliott the star in a house of hip-hop horrors for "Get Ur Freak On" and transported OutKast to a housing project with purple grass in "Bombs Over Baghdad."

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.

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Updated 9:40 a.m. ET on Sept. 24 with official embed.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

The 2018 South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas has come to an end. But before the week-long fest finished, Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras and NPR Music hip-hop correspondent Rodney Carmichael met up at a barbecue joint in Austin to dish about their favorite performances from the week.

Tierra Whack

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.

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.

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Now the best album of 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DNA.")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.

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