Rodney Carmichael

When you sell 40 million records and enjoy the kind of crossover appeal Black Eyed Peas have, it usually comes at the cost of street cred. But in "Street Livin'," a dark, haunting new visual, the hip-hop group trades pop success for political commentary on the systemic ills plaguing the streets today.

The retro Cross Colours fits. The New Jack Swing sound. The In Living Color video homage. Bruno Mars has proven time and again it's his prerogative to do what he wants to do — especially when it comes to reigniting the charts with the sounds of '90s funk and R&B.

Open Mike Eagle may have released one of the most political albums of 2017, but Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is also among the most personal. It comes across best in his live performances. For only the second time during his recent tour cycle, the LA-based artist played a set aided by the live instrumentation of musicians Jordan Katz (trumpet, keys, sampler), Josh Lopez (keys, sampler) and Brandon Owens (bass) for his Tiny Desk debut.

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Hip-hop's embarrassment of riches borders on the ridiculous in 2017. So what better way to end the year in which the genre become the most streamed, according to Nielsen, than flooding the market with a Friday full of new releases? A comprehensive list would also include new projects from producers such as Zaytoven and Childish Major, plus a slew of mixtapes. But there's only so much time in a day. Here are quick takes on some of the most anticipated LPs released today.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

"Do you pray at all?"

It may as well have come in all caps, the way it landed like an accusation instead of a question. It wasn't the first time I'd received a text from my mother dripping with good ole Christian guilt. The only sin greater than letting God down is allowing your parents to find out your faith walk is no longer patterned after their footsteps.

Vince Staples is impossible to categorize. A Southern Cali MC who prides himself on his Long Beach bona fides while eschewing the prototypical gangsta rap tag with which he's often mislabeled, he's a natural at bucking the status quo. Yet he also sees clear divisions between art and commerce that lead him to question how institutions choose to define — or fail to distinguish — the two.

Considering all the unique monikers MCs have concocted throughout the history of rap, Aminé — Adam Daniel's middle name by birth — isn't all that strange. But that hasn't kept him from becoming the hip-hop artist with the hardest-to-pronounce name of the moment. He's been called everything from anime (as in Japanese animation) to amino (as in the acid).

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.


Advisory: This album contains language some may find offensive.

Advisory: The above video contains language some may find offensive.

All too often, Southern-bred MCs get squeezed into a stereotypical box to reach the masses. Not so with Pell, the Mississippi-by-way-of-New-Orleans artist whose sound is as eclectic as his look.

"We're here right now because no one ever really dies."

Coming from anyone other than the superproducer Pharrell Williams, that might've sounded like the opening incantation of some esoteric religious experience. But on Saturday night, Williams' pulpit was ComplexCon, where his genre-bending band N.E.R.D. made a surprise reveal.

Advisory: The above video may contain language and imagery some may find offensive.

Rapsody's first video from her recently released LP Laila's Wisdom lives up to the song's title. In a word, "Power" conveys just that, without relying on hip-hop cliché.

Big K.R.I.T. is well-versed in the dual nature of man. His entire discography is packed with lyrics that split the difference between the carnal and the spiritual. Balanced between strip club rituals and Sunday morning salvation, the man born Justin Scott carved a space for himself among Southern rap royalty. Three years after his last proper studio release, it only makes sense that his latest effort, 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, comes as a 22-track double album in which he thoroughly mines his personal, and artistic, dichotomy.

"... Only the exalted come in and rock with us."

With those words, spoken in the opening moments of Shabazz Palaces' Tiny Desk performance, Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, also of Digable Planets fame) lays the ground rules for all present to enter the group's metaphysical headspace.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, Atlanta trap provocateurs Future and Young Thug, coated the world with the surprise release of their collaborative mixtape, Super Slimey.

When it comes to music history, Questlove is an Afro-pick rocking compendium of knowledge. So when the co-founder of The Roots got wind that Keith Olbermann's come-lately compliment of Eminem's Trump smackdown was couched within a tweet that seemed to dismiss the entire genre of rap, he vowed to take the progressive pundit to school.

Content advisory: The video below contains imagery and language that some may find offensive.


Move over, Eminem.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Long before Belly became a Roc Nation signee and award-winning songwriter — credited with co-writing on Beyoncé's lauded Lemonade — he was a young Muslim immigrant navigating life on foreign turf. The Palestinian-born rapper, born Ahmad Balshe, was just a boy when his family emigrated from the West Bank. Yet the poverty they'd hoped to escape greeted them upon their arrival in Ottawa, Canada.

Call it a comeback. After years of absence from the spotlight, Eminem returned to relevance last night with a fierce lyrical condemnation of President Trump.

In times like these, smothered by so much cultural discord, the United States often resembles a tragic oxymoron. That irony isn't lost on Oddisee, whose keen observational eye fuels his latest LP, The Iceberg. In his latest video from the album, he distills America's ills by critiquing how society socializes all of us into darker versions of ourselves.

When Jay-Z appeared on the season opener of Saturday Night Live this weekend, Damian Marley wasn't his only guest in tow. In a silent show of solidarity that spoke volumes, the rapper took the stage donning a teamless No. 7 jersey in honor of Colin Kaepernick.

It capped off a week in which Jay-Z was rumored to have turned down the NFL's alleged offer to perform at next year's Super Bowl LI halftime show for reasons unconfirmed but far from unimaginable.

Sex, drugs, rap and roll. Vic Mensa's transparency about his dysfunctional lifestyle is sobering throughout his confessional Autobiography, released this summer. But on his latest video, "Rollin' Like a Stoner," he gazes back at his real-life battle with addiction through rock-star-colored lenses.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO")

CARDI B: (Singing) Oh, look what you made me do. Look what you made me do. Look what you just made me do. Look what you just made me - oh.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Jhené Aiko is not of this world.

Somewhere between pop-oriented R&B and traditional soul, the singer-songwriter floats like an ethereal voice disembodied from typical format and genre distinctions. So when we talk one week prior to the unannounced release of her epic new album, it comes as no surprise that she's much more interested in easing into the big reveal rather than making a huge splash.

In her rise from the Bronx to the Billboard charts, Cardi B has been many things frequently deemed disposable in the annals of pop culture: an exotic dancer, an Instagram celebrity, a reality TV star. But now there's no denying her place in history. At 24, Cardi B has become the first woman rapper to score an unassisted No. 1 hit since Lauryn Hill nearly two decades ago.

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