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.

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.

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