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.

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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(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.

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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.

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.

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.

"We manufacture bull---- here in Fresno; there's no way any one person can succeed in Fresno."

JAY-Z opens his latest album, 4:44, by slaying his own ego.

For an MC who's spent his entire career constructing such a formidable facade, it's a tall task. But "Kill Jay Z" sets the stage for what becomes his most personal, vulnerable album yet — and arguably one of his best.

Two decades after his death, Tupac Shakur is still the headline-generating, record-selling, contentious figure that he was in life. From DJ Funkmaster Flex's recent tearful Tupac rant to the fresh diss tracks it generated in response, our obsession with the legend continues to grow. And it's bigger than hip-hop.

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Mar 15, 2017