Rodney Carmichael

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."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Lots of new music dropped this week. And in case you missed it, don't worry. We've got you covered. My colleague Rodney Carmichael stopped by to share some of his thoughts on two new albums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINGS I IMAGINED")

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.

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.

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.

When Buddy, a preacher's son from Compton, turns to me with eyebrows raised on the elevator ride inside NPR's corporate headquarters, it's hard to tell if the question that comes next is in preparation for his performance or pure provocation.

"Can we smoke in here?!" he asks with a grin that elicits stifled laughter from his bandmates and a few newsroom journalists along for the ride. It's a blunt request, even from a self-professed "weed connoisseur," and it kicks off one of the most dramatic Tiny Desks in recent memory.

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.

Earl Sweatshirt calls himself "a surviving child star" in a press release announcing his new album, Some Rap Songs, out Nov. 30. It's not a label typically applied to prodigies in hip-hop, where being washed before you're old enough to legally drink isn't at all abnormal.

It's been little more than a year since Tyler, the Creator emerged fully formed from post-adolescence to deliver a surprisingly mature quarter-life crisis LP. But if 2017's Flower Boy left fans wondering whether the young visionary Odd Future was losing touch with his inner child, fear not. Just in time for the holidays, he's returned like Secret Santa with a bag of unexpected goodies.

In the Def Jam press release for FM!, the new album Long Beach rap artist Vince Staples released this week with little warning, he calls it a 22-minute project with "[n]o concepts, no elaborate schemes, just music. Because nowadays," he concludes, "who needs more bulls***?"

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."

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