Rodney Carmichael

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

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.

Advisory: This interview contains profanity.

Rejjie Snow takes pride in being an anomaly. An Irish-born rapper with a world perspective, outspoken views and jazz-inspired beat selections, Rejjie, born Alexander Anyaegbunam, has always been an outlier.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

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.

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.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

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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.

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