Rodney Carmichael

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.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

Hip hop's feud of the moment reached a white-hot peak last week — and for once, Twitter wasn't the first place to hear about it.

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?

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Black Thought rarely unmasks.

Not even in our in-depth interview, which lasted more than an hour, did he remove the shades that enable him to observe the world — and reflect a bit of its pain – while concealing his own. Yet the story he shared of personal trauma and transcendence reveals so much more.

Mother's Day 2018 just got real. After years of creative reclusion — intermittently broken by a steady string of dynamic guest vocal appearances on other artists' projects — André 3000 has released nearly 22 minutes of new music in homage to his deceased parents.

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Sometimes, good music is not enough. Not even for Kanye West, the musical genius and G.O.O.D. Music mogul who stooped, and fell, to cretinous levels in the eyes of many fans this week.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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


In this new rap order, that frequently pits the purists against the pluralists, everyone has something to prove. Yet Royce 5'9" and DJ Premier, in the thick of their respective careers at 40 and 51, are primed to defy the ageist divide.

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.

Grandmothers never truly die. Especially not when they bear as much influence on your life as Big K.R.I.T.'s grandmother has on his. The Mississippi spitter has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.

So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

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.

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