Rodney Carmichael

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).

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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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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.

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.

The last time Macklemore released a solo album, it wasn't ironic to call him a conscious rapper.

The president had ascended to the nation's highest office despite losing the popular vote. The country was embroiled in an immigration debate stoked, in part, by the politics of fear. And a natural disaster in the making would soon highlight the systemic fault lines of race and class in America.

In 2005, The Language of My World touched on all of those social issues and more. It couldn't have come at a more appropriate time — unless it was released today.

Master P and his New Orleans-bred No Limit Soldiers proved to the music industry that Southern hip-hop was "Bout It, Bout It" in the '90s. But beyond the records that flooded the Billboard charts, it was the guerrilla street marketing he brought to rap — as the founder of one of the biggest independent record labels of all time — that changed the game.

In the age of SoundCloud rap, 19-year-old Demo Taped's rise from unknown Atlanta-bred music prodigy to 300 Entertainment signee isn't all that unusual. That he's ascended from hip-hop's bedrock city to the house that Lyor Cohen built while making something other than hip-hop? That's totally out of the ordinary.

Only Young Thug could fail to show up for his own video, unknowingly have that video win an award at the MTV VMAs, then make a post on Twitter the next day that encapsulates how oblivious he was to it all.

"Introduce the melancholy / I've felt since last I saw you." — P.M. Dawn, "The Ways of the Wind"

The year was 1993 and Prince Be was everything rap was not supposed to be. While Snoop and Dre were indoctrinating Middle America in the chronic fundamentals of a "G Thang," the P.M. Dawn lead represented a much softer strain. He rhymed about unrequited love with a delicate lilt. He wore silky flowing garments and his dreads in an updo.

For nearly a decade T-Pain reigned, the ubiquitous King of Auto-Tune.

Syd has developed quite a voice for seduction. Between her solo work and group efforts helming The Internet, her burgeoning discography of softly-sung R&B hook-up anthems could turn any amateur PUA into a pro.

On the same night that torch-bearing white nationalists wound up staging a rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Van Jones stood at a podium, in the nation's capital, telling a theater full of supporters why they should let love rule in the face of racial hatred.

When MF DOOM emerged from the ether just before the last millennium's end, with a metal faceplate masking his grill, a raspy voice and a vicious internal rhyme scheme, he quickly amassed a cult-like following.

His villainous persona, an amalgamation of comic book characters ranging from Dr. Doom to G.I. Joe's Destro, masked his true identity as he exacted revenge on an industry which had metaphorically disfigured him.

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