Sidney Madden

Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden are the hosts of Louder Than A Riot, a new podcast from NPR Music that investigates the interconnected rise of hip-hop and mass incarceration in America.


On Feb. 22, former No Limit Records artist McKinley "Mac" Phipps appeared before the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole. It was a chance he'd been waiting on for two decades.

Mac Phipps, the New Orleans-area rapper who has been in prison since being convicted on charges of manslaughter in 2001, was recommended for clemency this week. The recommendation for immediate parole by the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole puts the rapper, who has maintained his insistence that he is innocent of the crime he was accused of, one step closer to freedom.

It was less a specific dance sequence and more of a stylistic template: a pliant sway, a kind of two-step dressed up with silky swagger. The Shmoney Dance, 2014's viral craze, juxtaposed with the grimy lyrics of 19-year-old rapper Bobby Shmurda's breakthrough hit "Hot Boy," rocketed the kid from East Flatbush into pop culture's stratosphere. But then, just as quickly as he'd entered the spotlight, he disappeared.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

You gotta respect when an artist stays consistent with their artistry, no matter how long they're deemed to be "still bubbling," niche or just generally under the radar. Sometimes it's those who stay underrated for years and then finally "pop" who savor the success in more humble and innovative ways.

In a week of rapid headlines, surprise releases and cautious re-opening of businesses, the world is attempting to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Still, on the other side of the 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak and the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement offer proof that nothing will really ever be the same. This week's Heat Check picks attempt to balance the high-wire of restoring the feeling without disregarding reality.

Music is canonizing this moment in history at rapid speed. Across rap, R&B and avant-garde soul, we're hearing the creative juices flowing, giving reason and song to racing thoughts. Some artists remain on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others turn inward to journal their time in isolation. And some commit to album roll-outs that show their maturation even in the mayhem.

Whether it's a trap anthem for the protests or a tale of petty deceit, this week's Heat Check considers the bigger picture during a period of time that we're never going to forget.

As Black Lives Matter protesters remain loud and consistent in the streets of America, the artists who've always spoken truth to power are doing so once again, giving the fight a beat to stay on course. Hip-hop has always carried the message of Black resistance in its cultural DNA — you can hear rowdy escapism, intimate self-preservation, glitzy and iced-out opulence or straight-up defiance against oppression. As for soul and R&B?

If you saw the first Heat Check Live on NPR Music's Instagram this past weekend, you rocked with us for a live DJ set of all your favorite new songs. Afterward, New York-based artist Linda Diaz, whose work has been featured on Heat Check before, reminded us why we create spaces for the playlist to exist: "Community is invaluable. Black joy is radical," she wrote.

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