Rodney Carmichael

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he documented the city's rise as rap's capital outpost for a decade while serving as music editor, staff culture writer and senior writer for the alt-weekly Creative Loafing. During his tenure there, he won awards for column writing, longform storytelling, editing and reporting on cultural issues ranging from gender to economic inequality. He also conceptualized and co-wrote "Straight Outta Stankonia"—an exhaustive look at Atlanta's gentrifying cultural landscape through the lens of OutKast—which was voted as one of the Atlanta Press Club's Top 10 Favorite Stories of the Past 50 Years.

A former Poynter Fellow for Young Journalists, Rodney started his professional career in Waco, Texas. He was enticed by the opportunity to cover religion in the same small town where the infamous Branch Davidian standoff occurred almost a decade earlier. What Waco may have lacked in charismatic cult leaders during his time there, it made up for with plenty of rich stories, and people, that enabled him to explore the cultural crossroads at the center of the Southern Baptist stronghold. He was nominated Rookie of the Year within the Cox newspaper chain for his coverage of religion, health and social services.

Rodney returned to Atlanta and enrolled in his alma mater, Georgia State University—where he'd previously earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and playwriting—to pursue further studies in cultural communications, with an emphasis in hip-hop studies. He was enamored by a new wave of scholarship from the likes of Tricia Rose and Mark Anthony Neal that paired hip-hop criticism with urban sociology and cultural ethnography. It would influence his approach to writing and criticism, even after ditching academia to return to journalism. After covering red carpets (BET Awards, MTV VMAs) and interviewing big names ranging from Quincy Jones to Rick James during his three-year tenure at the fast-paced urban weekly Rolling Out, his passion for storytelling called him to the alt-weekly world. During his first five years at Creative Loafing, he entrenched himself in local music coverage as music editor. He put a young Janelle Monae, already talented beyond belief, on her first cover for the publication's annual music issue. He watched Bankhead, the disadvantaged neighborhood on Atlanta's west side, become the epicenter of a sonic snap-and-trap boom that would overtake the nation and, eventually, the globe. He oversaw coverage of the scenes from the ground-up, as they emerged and submerged around an ever-evolving soundscape of micro-genres and spinoffs.

During the next half-decade, Rodney dug deeper by covering the city's music and culture scenes with an anthropological bent, historical arc and a critical eye. As the city began to be reshaped by cultural upheaval and shifting socioeconomics, he focused on Atlanta's creative economy—expanding from music to include film, TV and tech—and the ways it impacts the character of a city that has long grappled with its identity as a New South gateway, black mecca, human rights hub, strip club capital and hip-hop hotbed. Rodney attempts to make sense of that nexus and all the intersecting identity politics. Now, covering hip-hop from a national perspective at NPR, he's working to expand that lens with regionally-focused coverage. The stories he tells combine reporting, storytelling and criticism to focus on race and place, industry and economy, as well as issues around social justice and its impact on communities of color. As rap music has now risen to become the most popular genre in America, he keeps his ears and eyes trained on hip-hop's indigenous communities and the influence they bear on America's long, storied relationship with black cultural production.

The last decade of music saw major artists break many of the rules about how to release an album. Beyoncé and Drake popularized the "surprise release" — putting out albums with little to no roll-out at all. So in the era of surprise digital drops, and at the beginning of a new year of music, how do you make predictions about what's coming?

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

The first time Raphael Saadiq played Tiny Desk, "it was really a tiny desk."

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

"I'm so excited to be here with you guys," she said one song into a set that features the multi-instrumentalist alternating between keys and guitar. "Wow. Dreams coming true."

Rather than squeezing in a stop by NPR's Washington D.C. headquarters between tour stops, the rapper Dave made a special trip all the way from the UK just for his Tiny Desk performance. If that isn't proof that it was a big deal, his nervousness before the show confirmed it. But he powered through in a performance that puts his gift for making the personal political on full display.

Raphael Saadiq is a national treasure. He played bass on tour with Prince. Penned D'Angelo's biggest hits. Helped Solange grab A Seat At The Table. And stretched the legacy of soul with his own material — from Tony! Toni! Toné! to Lucy Pearl to an impeccable solo discography — in between.

Seconds before the cameras started to roll, Summer Walker showed just how much she was willing to sacrifice for her day at the Tiny Desk: She clipped her nails. It wasn't an aesthetic choice but a pragmatic one. Not even her love for a fresh set of bedazzled acrylics would get in the way of her strumming the soul out of her six-string Fender electric. The guitar wasn't the only thing she'd brought with her from Atlanta.

I want Flying Lotus to score my reincarnation.

"It's kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out," The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR. Even more than the mega-hits he's written for the likes of Beyoncé ("Single Ladies") and Rihanna ("Umbrella"), the self-styled radio killa's early solo oeuvre — known as the Love trio — helped cement the songwriter's saucy way with words.

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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